The New York Yankees sure have a thing for low minors pitching right now, don’t they? A day after acquiring two young fireballers from the Astros for Brian McCann, they brought in another young arm who pitched at A-ball this season for the Mariners.
Having to make room on the 40-man roster before yesterday’s deadline, the Yankees sent 25-year old left-handed reliever James Pazos to the Seattle Mariners for their 21-year old righty Zack Littell. Pazos is a nice reliever, know for high strike out numbers but inconsistencies in his command, however, Littell seems to have a very promising future and this appears like an unbalanced trade at first glance.
True, Pazos has big league experience. He made his big league debut in 2015, not allowing a run over 11 appearances. But 2016 didn’t fare as well for the lefty, as he was done in by the long ball, allowing five runs over his brief stay in the Bronx (just 3.1 innings). He missed nearly all of June and July with injury as well and was sharp in his final five regular season appearances for the RailRiders, not allowing a run.
Littell — who was an 11th rounder for the Mariners in the 2013 MLB Draft — made huge strides last season. The most impressive thing that jumps off the page was that the 6-foot-3 right-hander did it in the hitter-friendly California League, putting up some of the best numbers of his career. Heading into this season, Littell had never seen a winning season, nor had he posted an ERA below 3.91 or a WHIP south of 1.34.
That all changed this season.
Pitching across two levels, Littell had his best season to date. He went 13-6 with a 2.66 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP, while striking out 8.50 batters per nine and limiting free passes to a very impressive 1.85 walks per nine. His time in the power-happy California League was where he was at his best, going 8-1 behind a 3.20 FIP (a more impressive 2.51 ERA stranding 78 percent of his runners) while allowing just three home runs in 68 innings for the now-defunct Bakersfield Blaze.
Those 68 innings are a tad bit worrisome. When you combine it with his 97.2 innings in the Midwest League to start the season, Littell tossed 165.2 innings this season. That’s more than some big league pitchers.
It was noticeable in late season scouting reports. MLB Pipeline lists his fastball as a low-90s offering that tops out at 94 miles per hour, however when California League expert Bobby DeMuro caught up with him in August, that velocity was already down. DeMuro clocked him in the high 80s, topping out at 91. This is by no means a red flag, as the reasoning behind it is obvious, but you have to wonder how it will effect his 2017. DeMuro also notes that his 11-to-5 curve (which he clocked at 70 to 74 mph) and his change were vastly improved pitches, with his curve being swing-and-miss at its best, but somewhat predictable at its worst. Fortunately, his best outweighs his worst, leading Baseball America to coin it the best in the California League. It certainly has the makings of a big league strikeout pitch.
As one of the youngest pitchers in the California League, it is certainly a huge positive to see the improvements that Littell made. While he is likely at least one year away, if not two, he has shown that he could in fact be starting pitcher material. While he may never be a staff ace, his ability to strand runners behind a high ground ball rate paired with the command to rifle up a strike out when he needs it -- and the obvious ability to throw a ton of innings -- seem to suggest he can stick.
Pazos was highly expendable with the bevy of arms the Yankees have been stockpiling over the past few seasons. While he could likely impact the Mariners bullpen this season, the Yankees won’t miss a beat without him. This was a very nice pickup that get the Yankees younger, and seemingly stronger, in the pitching department.