As Spring Training winds down, teams inevitably realize that the players they brought to camp with them just aren't going to cut it. That's when they look to the trade market to see if anyone is willing to deal someone that can address their needs. The Mets happened to be in the predicament as three of the five players they brought to camp as left handed bullpen options - Scott Rice, Jack Leathersich, and Dario Alvarez - were not ready for full time duty.
The 33 year old Rice allowed six runs, five of which were earned, on five hits in just 4.2 innings of work while only striking out two and also issuing a pair of free passes. Leathersich, 24, didn't fare any better with five runs also scoring on his watch on the heels of five base on balls, three hits, and four punch outs. Alvarez was a long shot as he started last year in Low A and finished it with a brief stint in Citi Field. Over 7.1 innings this spring the 26 year old struck out nine and only allowed four hits, but he also walked five with four runs crossing the plate.
This led GM Sandy Alderson to explore what was available elsewhere, and he found a pair of teams willing to swing a deal. He got on the horn with Padres GM AJ Preller and swapped left hander Alex Torres for right handed starting pitcher Cory Mazzoni and a player to be named later. Just hours later it was announced that GM Mike Rizzo of the Nationals parted ways with lefty Jerry Blevins in exchange for outfielder Matt den Dekker.
Lets take a look at the Padres return first, then the Nationals before getting to the MLB players involved.
Photo courtesy of Bryan Green
The Mets drafted the 6'1, 200 pound right hander in the second round of the 2011 amatuer draft out of North Carolina State University. It was the second time Mazzoni had been selected in the draft, going in the 26th round of the 2008 draft to the Washington Nationals out of high school. He obviously chose to go the college route and it certainly paid dividends as far as draft stock goes. He split his debut season between Brooklyn in the short season New York-Penn League and St. Lucie, New York's High A affiliate in the Florida State League. In a brief 13 inning showing he was impressive with an 18:3 strike out to walk ratio, a 1.38 ERA and 12 hits allowed. He split 2012 between the St. Lucie rotation and AA Binghamton's with 144.1 innings accumulated over 26 starts. A solid strike out to walk ratio of 2.89 was overshadowed by allowing 154 hits and a 3.93 ERA.
In 2013, the Mets had Mazzoni start the year back in AA, but he season was cut short in early July with a torn meniscus in his right knee. He underwent surgery to correct it, but was not able to return by the end of the season. In 66 innings, the right hander's strike out rate spiked 10% while maintaining a walk rate of 6.7%. He allowed four home runs and 70 hits, but was bit by the BABIP bug which was .361 and he also sported an unsightly 56.2% strand rate. Despite those two metrics normally wreaking havoc on surface stats, he posted a 4.36 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, but with a much better 2.82 FIP.
Mazzoni didn't make it into a professional game until mid June due to lat issues, debuting with a rehab start with the GCL Mets, and then two more with A+ St. Lucie. Two more solid starts with AA Binghamton was enough to get him jumped to the AAA Las Vegas rotation. He made nine starts and tossed 52 innings with Vegas to finish out the year with an impressive 4.08 K/BB ratio, 54 hits, and six home runs allowed. For the entire year, he toed the rubber for 77 innings of work, striking out 22.9% of batters with a 6.1% walk rate, good for a 3.75 K/BB ratio, a 4.68 ERA, and a 3.56 FIP. He worked around a .330 BABIP and 64.5% strand rate for a .262 opponents batting average.
He can hit the mid 90's with his fastball as a starter, but sits in the low 90's with excellent sink. In a relief role he's been reported as high as 97 mph. A solid low 80's slider is his top offspeed pitch, grading out as potentially above average that he has good control over. An average splitter rounds out his repertoire and serves as a weapon to combat lefties. He's athletic, defends his position well, and has a repeatable delivery, but still has issues commanding the ball in the zone.
San Diego has a pretty full rotation right now and there are a number of options that are likely ahead of Mazzoni on the depth chart like Robbie Erlin, Casey Kelly, Odrisamer Despaigne, Brandon Morrow, Matt Wisler, and a few guys returning from injury in Cory Luebke and Josh Johnson. For now it looks like he's AAA depth in the rotation, or he could transition to the bullpen where his stuff can play up almost a full grade practically across the board .
Here's what John had to say about Mazzoni in The 2015 Baseball Prospect Book (which is on sale now!) -
A torn meniscus cost Cory Mazzoni half of 2013. A triceps injury cost him half of 2014. In between health problems he’s shown solid stuff, with a 92-94 MPH fastball, a cutter, a slider, and a splitter for usage in change-up situations. His control is usually pretty good although he’ll occasionally have a game where he gets blown up for no apparent reason, which has kept his ERAs a little elevated. Mazzoni has a shot at being a fourth or fifth starter, although his stuff would play up in relief and that may be his long-term role in New York. Grade C+.
Matt den Dekker
Photo courtesy of Brad Barr/USA Today Sports
A 5th round selection back in the 2010 draft, the Mets drafted Matt den Dekker out of the University of Florida as a senior, signing him with a $110,000 bonus. He debuted with the GCL Mets and with Low A Savannah, showing well in his draft year. He went gangbusters in 2011, splitting the year between A+ St. Lucie and AA Binghamton where he hit a combined .256/.337/.460 with a 119 wRC+, 32 doubles, 11 triples, 17 home runs, and 24 stolen bases while striking out 25.3% of the time and drawing 51 walks (8.3%). This marked the beginning of a trend for den Dekker where he would be terrific in the first half of the year, but would tail off at the end after being promoted. 2012 was a similar year; den Dekker hit .274/.321/.458 with 112 wRC+, 31 doubles, eight triples, 17 homers, and 21 stolen bases. The strike outs were an issue once again, going down 154 times (26.3%) while working a pretty bad 5.8% walk rate between AA and AAA Bufflo. It's worth noting that in each of his first three seasons, he was rated as the best defensive outfielder in the Mets system by Baseball America.
The 6'1, 200 pound center fielder would miss the first two and half months of the 2013 campaign with a wrist injury suffered in Spring Training. His season didn't start until mid June where he made 14 rehab appearances with A+ St. Lucie. Once deemed healthy enough, he was sent to the Mets new AAA affiliate in Las Vegas before a September call up with the big club. His minor league numbers tallied up to a .291/.352/.443 triple slash to go with a 110 wRC+, 10 doubles, four triples, six home runs, and nine stolen bases over 264 plate appearances. He struck out just 19.7% of the time to go with 23 walks (8.7%) before heading to New York for the final month. den Dekker would only step to the plate 63 times in the majors with a .207/.270/.276 line that included a 58 wRC+, 12 hits, one double, one home run, and four stolen bases. He struck out 23 times to four walks and posted a .250 wOBA and was worth exactly zero fWAR.
The 2014 season couldn't have gone any better statistically for den Dekker as he took full advantage of the friendly confines of his home park. He put together an incredible .334/.407/.540 triple slash with AAA Las Vegas, hitting 31 doubles, seven triples, eight home runs, and nine stolen bases with a 145 wRC+. He posted a career best by striking out just 16.9% of the time while also posting a career best 10.4% walk rate. His offensive outburst was aided by an incredibly unsustainable .392 BABIP, but it was good enough for den Dekker to earn 53 games of playing time with the Mets. He hit .250/.345/.322 for the parent club in his second try, posting a 98 wRC+ and was worth 0.9fWAR. While he didn't put one over the fence, he did rope 11 doubles with seven stolen bases, 21 walks, and 34 punch outs.
The calling card for den Dekker is excellent center field defense which both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference's versions of Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) put him at four runs saved. His Ultimate Zone Rating prorated to 150 games puts him as having saved 21.3 runs in center. He's graceful and athletic out there with above average speed and range. The arm is accurate with average arm strength, but as you can probably tell, the issues come with the stick. He's done a lot of work over the last two years to get his walk and strike out rates to actually become better than league average, but he hasn't had the power from his minor league days show up in MLB games yet.
Now heading into his age 27 season, he will be entering his physical prime and should hold down a backup role for the time being with Washington as their outfield deals with some injuries. Depending on his early season performance, he could stick around a bit longer in the same capacity. I'd be intrigued by what den Dekker could do with 500 plate appearances in the majors with his improving plate discipline and great defense, but I don't see it coming anytime soon as Michael Taylor and a healthy Denard Span are firmly ahead of him on the Nationals depth chart.
This is where I would normally put John's notes on the player from the most recent Baseball Prospect Book, but den Dekker eclipsed rookie status and was ineligible for the 2015 edition.
Major League Assets
Alex Torres took a step back after a stellar rookie campaign in 2013 with Tampa Bay. He was dealt to the Padres along with Jesse Hahn in January of 2014 in a six player deal. This past season in the Friars bullpen, he posted solid surface numbers with a 3.33 ERA to go with a 1.46 WHIP over 54 innings of work. He struck out 51 (21.2%) while walking 33 (13.7%) and giving up 46 hits. His BABIP and strand rate normalized after being heavily skewed in his favor in 2013 to .289 and 72%, respectively. Torres' FIP registered at 3.72 with a 4.11 SIERA, and 4.27 xFIP with a 47% ground ball rate.
Looking at his splits, he does show a reverse platoon split, handling the opposite handed righties much better than left handed hitters, limiting right handed batters to a .209/.275/.282 triple slash while lefties tagged him with a .256/.415/.322 line. He somehow forgot how to throw strikes to lefties, walking 25 batters while only striking out 23 of them. The Mets are looking for him to remember that as he's likely to be used in conventional left-on-left match ups, even though he's better suited to handle full innings or just right handed hitters according to the numbers.
Jerry Blevins came over from Washington when the Nats decided he was going to be the odd man out in the pen, The organization decided to go with Matt Thornton and Xavier Cedeno as their left handed options while Blevins immediately jumps to the top of the depth chart with New York. The 6'6, 185 pound southpaw only spent one season with the Nationals, coming over in a December 2013 trade from Oakland for speedster Billy Burns. He had been solid the previous three years with the A's, posting a 2.81 ERA over 153.2 innings of work with a 140 ERA+, less than seven hits per nine, and with a 2.36 K/BB ratio.
In 2014, Blevins had his ERA jump to 4.87, the worst of his seven year career, but he clocked in with his best FIP ever at 2.77, his best strike out rate at 27.5%, and his best K/BB ratio since his 2009 campaign at 2.87. One of the main contributors to his elevated ERA was a brutal 60.5% strand rate, over 13% lower than his career average. The other factor was a big jump in his line drive rate which went from 18.7% in his last season with Oakland to 24.5% with Washington last year. He had a rough spring, allowing eight earned runs in eight innings with nine hits, and four long balls, but he did strike out 11 to just two walks. It looks like New York is buying low on Blevins and hoping the 2014 season was an aberration.
I like what the Mets did here, leveraging starting pitching and outfield depth to shore up their bullpen. Mazzoni was likely the 9th or 10th option for New York while den Dekker was out of options and ticketed for AAA again. Kudos to Sandy for pulling the trigger and picking up two portsiders with upside remaining without affecting his Major League squad.