Just weeks after the Boston Red Sox acquired the most dominant relief arm in the game (Craig Kimbrel of course) for a hefty package, the Houston Astros brought in a younger, cheaper version of Kimbrel. I'm alluding to flame throwing right hander Ken Giles of course. The man who forced Jonathan Papelbon out of Philly was dealt away himself in exchange for a package of players that could be even more impressive than what San Diego got for Kimbrel (you can read John Sickels' take on the Kimbrel deal here).
So what were the terms of the deal? Heading to the City of Brotherly Love is a group of five players headlined by former first overall pick Mark Appel. Joining him are LHP Brett Oberholtzer, RHP Vincent Velasquez, RHP Thomas Eshelman, and RHP Harold Arauz. Out of the five pitchers headed to Philadelphia, only Oberholtzer and Velasquez have MLB time under their belts and are no longer considered rookies. Appel has high minors experience while Eshelman was the Astros second round pick in 2015, and Arauz has yet to hit full season ball. Headed the other way with Giles to Houston is teenage international bonus baby Jonathan Arauz, a short stop with no relation to Harold. Let's dig a little deeper on the prospects here.
RHP Mark Appel, 24 years old
6-foot-5, 220 pounds
Photo courtesy of Jayne Hansen
It seems like millions of words have been said and written about 24 year old Mark Appel since his days at Stanford University. Prior to his illustrious college years, Appel was actually selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 15th round of the 2009 draft out of Monte Vista High in Danville, CA. Then he turned down a fat stack of cash from the Pittsburgh Pirates following his junior year at Stanford in 2012, after being chosen eighth overall. He doubled down and returned for his senior year and went first overall in the 2013 draft, one of a select few to be chosen in the top ten twice. The sizable right hander struggled once he turned pro, then the struggles continued into the 2014 campaign,
Entering 2015, Appel had seen his fair share of shade thrown his way with many people already calling him a bust. At 23 years of age the California native debuted in the AA Texas League with the Corpus Christi Hooks, posting a solid, if unspectacular, 4.26 ERA and 4.37 FIP over 13 starts spanning 63.1 frames. In this time he only struck out 49 (7.0 K/9, 17.8 K%) while issuing 23 free passes (3.3 BB/9, 8.4 BB%). Hitters tagged him with a .279/.339/.422 triple slash with a sightly elevated .314 BABIP and average 70.9% strand rate. Nothing about his performance said "#1 overall pick", but the scouting reports still said he had the stuff to suggest better.
Appel received the call to AAA Fresno of the Pacific Coast League at the end of June and again posted mixed results. Over 12 starts and 68.1 innings, he posted a higher ERA at 4.48, but his 4.36 FIP was nearly identical to his stint in AA. Appel struck out more batters with 61 (8.0 K/9, 20.3 K%), but walked more with 28 (3.7 BB/9, 9.3 BB%). Appel limited the opposition to a .250 average, down 29 points from AA, despite a modest 10 point drop in BABIP to .304. His strand rate worsened to a 66.2% mark, which may account for the slight uptick in ERA.
All told, the big righty mustered a 10-3 record and 4.37 ERA in the high minors with an identical 4.37 FIP. A total of 110 batters went down with a K in the books, good for a 7.5 K/9 and 19.1 K% marks. He issued 51 walks (3.5 BB/9, 8.9 BB%), allowed 13 homers (0.89 HR/9), and 135 hits (.261 batting average). His batting average on balls in play stood at .309 when it was all said and done, and he posted a 68.5% strand rate as well. An increasingly favorite stat of mine, K-BB%, put Appel at 10.3% which is solidly average, and for comparison's sake is around what Chris Heston and Alex Wood posted last year at the MLB level (all sorts of caveats apply).
Now back to the scouting reports previously mentioned. Despite usually sporting above average velocity on his fastball, which sits in the mid 90's and can scrape 98 mph, the pitch features little arm-side movement and can be squared up easily. His velocity has also been known to drop into the low 90's, even as low as 89 mph. Combine a flat, inconsistent fastball with a delivery that has zero deception, and you get a pitch that just can't be the centerpiece of an arsenal. The slider is the real money pitch, showing plus potential in the 82-85 mph range with some serious bite. He also will throw a low 80's change up with some tumble and good arm speed.
He's got the build to be a workhorse, his arm action is clean, and the stuff suggests he should be a top of the line starter. But when does the lack of results trump the scouting reports? My brain is telling me to believe the numbers and downgrade my expectations with him. Perhaps he winds up as a mid, maybe even back end rotation piece. My gut is telling me something different though, and it's saying believe the stuff. Believe in the nasty slider, the underrated change up, and believe that he can figure out a way to make his fastball play up.
One take believes he could return to ace status if he goes back to his Stanford delivery and heavier use of a two-seamer rather than the straighter four seam fastball. One running theme with Appel though, is that some in the scouting world don't think he has the, lets call it chutzpah, to lead a rotation as noted by Baseball Prospectus (subscription required). He lacks the mean streak and presence on the mound you want in an ace, but having him develop into a solid #3 starter isn't exactly chopped liver. I think a #3 is what we're looking at here with flashes of absolute brilliance, but his fair share of clunkers as well. The only real reason for worry I have is he's going to be pitching in a home ballpark that is very susceptible to the long ball.
RHP Thomas Eshelman, 22 years old
6-foot-3, 212 pounds
Photo courtesy of FullertonTitans.com
Those that follow the collegiate level will be very familiar with Thomas Eshelman, the control maestro from Cal State Fullerton. Nobody in the history of the college game was stingier when it came to allow the free pass than Eshelman, who walked a total of 18 batters in his three years with the Titans. Lee Jenkins at SI.com penned a piece in May about Eshelman, recounting a priceless story from his freshman year -
"... he arrived at Fullerton’s Goodwin Field, where the coaches tie a white string to a chain link fence in the bullpen and run it across home plate, knee-high. "Hit the string," they told Eshelman. He peppered that twine like a banjo picker."
His exploits on the mound and career college K/BB of 17.83 brought all the scouts to the yard, with each trying to get a good read on the man allergic to walks. The Astros front office liked him enough to pop him with the 46th overall pick in the 2015 draft in the second round. $1.1 million later and he was officially a pro. After accumulating 137 innings his junior season, the Astros took it easy on him; only allowing him to make four starts before shutting him down for the year.
Eshelman split those starts evenly between the Gulf Coast League and thHe'e Midwest League, with a composite 4.35 ERA in 10.1 innings of work. His trademark control was off, walking five batters, leading many to believe he was gassed from his longest season to date. He struck out eight while allowing 12 hits and five earned runs. Due to the small sample size, much of these stats are to be taken with a grain of salt, but bear mentioning nonetheless.
On the mound, the redheaded righty works with an average fastball which sits in the 87-92 mph range while scraping 93 mph occasionally. He gets good sink on the pitch which generates a good amount of balls on the ground, and he mixes that with a pair of breaking balls and a solid straight change. The hook has been a mainstay in his repertoire, but he added a slider in the last year for a different look. He sells the cambio well, maintaining his arm speed, but it's nothing more than an average pitch. The control and command is what makes all these pitches play up since he can literally put any pitch, anywhere in the zone, whenever he wants. I've even heard some say he has plus command already, not "he could eventually have plus command", but it's already a plus MLB quality attribute despite just 10 pro innings. I harp on this because it is incredibly rare for that to happen.
The attractive thing when it comes to Eshelman is that he has a very high floor. Many believe he could be an option at the back end of a rotation in short order. I'm of the opinion that a guy with his profile can out-pitch those projections. By all accounts, he's very knowledgeable when it comes to the finer points of pitching like sequencing, setting hitters up, and getting the most out of his four pitch mix. I believe he could be at least a #4 starter with the potential for more if pro coaching can coax a little more out of his stuff.
RHP Harold Arauz, 21 years old
6-foot-2, 185 pounds
Photo courtesy of TuBeisbol.com
The elder of the Arauz's involved in this deal, Harold Arauz began his journey through the minors in 2012 after signing his first pro contract in 2011 for $300,000. The Panama native spent two season in the Dominican Summer League before making his way stateside in 2014. He split that year between the Gulf Coast League and Greeneville of the Appalachian League, making 11 appearances for the GCL Astros and three in Greeneville with a composite 3.23 ERA and a 3.01 FIP. Then a 19 year old, Arauz tallied 53 innings with 68 strike outs (11.6 K/9, 31.2 K%), 19 walks (3.2 BB/9, 8.7 BB%), and just 37 hits alllowed (6.3 H/9).
Opponents posted a meager .189/.258/.306 triple slash with the benefit of a .260 BABIP, he posted an impressive 2.62 ground outs per fly out, and even more exciting is the 22.5 K-BB%. There was a sharp home/road split with a 1.82 ERA at home and 4.45 ERA on the road, but he was death on right handed hitters no matter where he pitched (.168/.222/.262). He hit on a lot of positive markers, namely the high strike out rate, low opponents avg, and excellent ground ball tendencies.
The Houston front office kept moving him up the chain, beginning 2015 in short season A ball with the Tri-City ValleyCats of the New York-Penn League. Things weren't so rosy as the 20 year old faced much older competition with college experience. Over 15 appearances including 10 starts, Arauz threw 51,2 innings with an unsightly 5.75 ERA, but a 3.98 FIP paints things a bit better. He struck out 52 (9.1 K/9, 21.3 K%) with 18 walks (3.1 BB/9, 7.4 BB%), and 72 hits allowed (12.5 H/9). When looking at the advanced metrics, the .404 BABIP and 62.8% strand rate stand out as potential statistical indicators for why he was hit so hard. He was hammered pretty hard both on the road (.372/.410/.488) and by lefties (.381/.465/.557), with a .442 BABIP in each of those circumstances. The ground balls were less plentiful as well, only generating 1.25 ground outs per fly out.
The book on Harold Arauz is headlined by a low 90's fastball with heavy cut action to his glove side. He also mixes in a developing change up and showed the ability to spin a curve with some good depth to it. He's shown decent control in his short career with an easy delivery and a loose arm. He's still got some projection left in his 6-foot-2, 185 pound frame as well. Arauz has a better feel for pitching than most 20 year olds.
As far as projecting Arauz, it really hinges on the development of his change up. Of course, that can be said of many players still unable to buy their own beer. The cutter/curve combo has worked well against righties, but if that platoon split becomes the norm, I could definitely see Philly moving him to the pen in hopes he adds a few MPH's to his cutter. If the change becomes an average pitch, Arauz could be a back end option or swing man in the pen.
SS/2B Jonathan Arauz, 17 years old
6 foot, 147 pounds
Now we get to the Astros return in the deal. One of the youngest players in the 2014 international class, Jonathan Arauz joined the Phillies organization with a $600,000 signing bonus. This wound up being the largest bonus bestowed to a Panamanian during the signing period. Prior to inking his deal, Arauz was a regular in the Panamanian junior leagues, playing a lot of games instead of just doing the showcase circuit like a number of Latin American prospects have done. He also ditched switch hitting once signing, sticking to the left handed batters box. Among other attributes, this gave the Phillies comfort in having him skip the Dominican Summer Leagues and make his pro debut stateside.
At the tender age of 16, Arauz held his own against much older competition while sharing short stop duties with fellow 2014 IFA bonus baby Arquimedes Gamboa. Over 44 games and 188 plate appearances, the skinny middle infielder batted .254/.309/.370 with a .679 OPS and a 105 wRC+. He slapped 10 doubles and parked two over the fence with a pair of triples and stolen bases as well. The left handed hitter only struck out 29 times (15.4%) while working 13 walks (6.9%), and only showed a slight platoon split over an admittedly small sample size (.260/.317/.370 vs RHP, .239/.286/.370 vs LHP). In the field he made just three errors, a pair in his 19 games at short, and one in his 25 games at second base.
At the plate he's known to wear out the gaps with a line drive swing. There's not much present power to speak of, but he's also got a lot of growing to do. He's much more polished than your normal 17 year old, showing a high baseball IQ and smooth actions in the dirt. Despite being a below average runner, he's got enough quickness to stay at short, and positions himself well. If Houston wants to keep him at short, I think he could pull it off, but some see a move to the keystone as inevitable. He's got an above average arm and can roll a pretty twin killing.
Arauz looks like a solid middle infield option in the long run and doesn't seem to just be a throw in. Odds are that he was already on Houston's radar, but were outbid last July. They got their man now along with a great closer. Houston makes a win-now move while Philly keeps on rebuilding. It looks like the rare win/win deal.