On Wednesday afternoon the Washington Nationals acquired the outfielder they were looking for: Chicago White Sox flycatcher Adam Eaton. But the price was high: three premium pitching prospects, right-handers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and Dane Dunning. Let's take a look.
Dane Dunning, RHP: Dunning is the least-known of the trio but has plenty of talent. Drafted in the first round this past June from the University of Florida, Dunning pitched 79 innings for the Gators during the spring, making five starts and 28 relief outings, posting a 2.29 ERA with an 88/12 K/BB with 68 hits allowed. In pro ball he posted 2.14 ERA in 34 innings in the New York-Penn League with a 29/7 K/BB.
Dunning is a 6-4, 200 pound right-hander born December 20, 1994. The 21 year old features a sinking fastball at 90-94 MPH with peaks at 95-96, along with a very good change-up. His slider is inconsistent and needs more work, but with further refinement should be at least workable. He throws strikes most of the time and projects as a workhorse starter, though if he returns to the bullpen at some point he could be quite dominant. He rates as a Grade B/B- prospect right now.
Lucas Giolito, RHP: Drafted in the first round in 2012 from high school in California, Giolito was widely-regarded as one of the very best arms in the class but saw his stock drop due to an elbow injury. He rehabbed Tommy John successfully and has been among the very best pitching prospects in baseball the last three seasons. In 2016 he posted a 2.97 ERA in 115 innings between Low-A, Double-A, and Triple-A with a 116/44 K/BB. He made four starts and two relief appearances in the majors, posting a 6.75 ERA with an 11/12 K/BB in 21 innings, giving up 26 hits.
Giolito is 6-6, 255, born July 14, 1994. Although he entered 2016 as the top pitching prospect in baseball according to most observers, his poor major league performance has led to questions, not so much due to the weak stats, but more due to the radar gun: he topped out at 95 in the majors and averaged 93, well down from the 95-100 MPH readings reported in the minors. His curveball is excellent when it is on and his change-up can be at least average, but command and control of all his pitches were disappointing in his first look.
The decline in fastball velocity and strikeout rate is worrisome, but given his overall track record and youth, Giolito remains a highly intriguing asset. He could still develop into an ace and rates as a Grade A-, but his stock dropped just enough to move him out of the untouchable prospect category.
Reynaldo Lopez, RHP: The Nationals signed Lopez out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, giving him a small $17,000 bonus. That's turned out to be a terrific bargain given his development. He posted a 3.21 ERA in 121 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2016, with a 126/35 K/BB and just 90 hits allowed. He earned six starts and five relief outings in the majors, posting a 4.91 ERA with a 42/22 K/BB in 44 innings, but retains rookie eligibility for 2017.
Lopez is listed at 6-0, 185, born January 4, 1994. He actually throws harder than Giolito at this point, averaging 96 MPH in the majors with peaks at 99. His curveball is a plus pitch, while the change-up varies between below-average and solid depending on the day. He did a decent job with his control in the minors but still needs additional command polish within the strike zone, mainly due to mechanical inconsistency. It remains uncertain if he starts or relieves in the long run, but looked more comfortable in the bullpen in the majors.
He had an unusual reverse platoon split in the majors, limiting left-handed hitters to a .185/.291/.375 line while right-handers smashed him at .345/.415/.471. That seems like something that should be correctable given that his minor league splits were more normal. Right now he rates as a Grade B+ prospect, on the assumption that he still has a chance as a starter.
Adam Eaton is one of my favorite players but this is a lot to give up for him. That doesn't mean it is wrong, of course. There is no guarantee with pitching prospects but this is very much a win-now trade for the Nationals. For the White Sox, Giolito and Lopez are ready for full trials and Dunning is pretty advanced for a guy who was just drafted. The Sox are in full rebuilding mode and this trio gives a solid foundation for the future pitching staff.