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Rays Deal Steve Pearce to O’s for Catching Prospect

The Tampa Bay Rays sends infielder Steve Pearce to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for 21 year old catching prospect Johan Heim.

One of the Orioles deadline acquisitions, Steve Pearce.
One of the Orioles deadline acquisitions, Steve Pearce.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay made a trio of moves before the 4 pm deadline hit on the first of August. The headliner is easily the deal centered around Matt Moore, which John broke down in detail earlier, but the trade of Steve Pearce is notable as well. The Tampa Bay Rays walk away with catching prospect Jonah Heim while the Baltimore Orioles bring Pearce back. Now for a closer look at Heim's scouting report.

Drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 draft out of Amherst High School in Snyder, New York, the switch hitting catcher eschewed a Michigan State scholarship in favor of going pro with a $389,700 signing bonus. He had a sluggish professional debut, hitting just .185/.275/.247 in the Gulf Coast League as an 18 year old. The only silver linings to that year was a solid 10:13 walk to strike out ratio and that he threw out 38% of would-be base thieves. In 2014, he returned to the complex leagues after a dreadful start to the year in Short Season A Aberdeen (.167/.188/.300 in 32 PA). There he hit .244/.306/.359 over 25 games which earned him a promotion back up to Aberdeen. He finished his stint there with a .143/.164/.214 line. He was once again solid defensively, gunning down 33% of runners but did allow 16 passed balls.

Last season Heim was able to break into the full season minor leagues, being sent to play with Low A Delmarva. He made it into a total of 43 games with the Shorebirds, hitting .248/.280/.336 while battling a left foot injury that required surgery. He managed lefties far better at the plate, hitting .315/.339/.426 over 56 plate appearances, compared to facing righties where he only managed a .218/.259/.297 triple slash. While donning the tools of ignorance, Heim drastically improved his passed ball count, only allowing four, but only caught 28% of base stealers.

Despite the so-so numbers, Baltimore's front office felt it was enough to warrant a promotion to High A Frederick to begin the 2016 campaign. The 21 year old has managed to stay healthy this year, and through 329 trips to the plate, Heim is sporting a .216/.300/.344 line with a career high seven homers, 14 doubles, and a 33:51 walk to strike out ratio. He's been good for an 83 wRC+ and a .305 wOBA, neither of which look terribly encouraging. Once again he's been better while standing in the right handed batters box, hitting lefties at a .241/.344/.422 clip over 96 plate appearances with nearly half of his extra base hit output. Batting lefty, Heim is only hitting .207/.281/.313, which makes you start to wonder if he would be better off ditching switch hitting and sticking to the right side. Defensively, he's made a few mistakes with eight errors and 11 passed balls, but he's also gunned down 31% of runners so far this year.

For a player playing a premium position against peers that are on average a year and a half older, Heim has been holding his own. He's continuously drawn rave reviews about his defense and makeup from higher ups in the Orioles organization, noting he has a plus arm and good receiving skills. Right now his best offensive attribute is his eye, but is seen as a potentially average hitter with decent pop. Despite his 6-foot-3, 190 pound frame, he doesn't run very well with a below average grade being generous. See the video below for a look at Heim during BP last April, taken by Tucker Blair.

In return, Baltimore is bringing infielder Steve Pearce back into the fold. Pearce emerged as a legitimate offensive presence in 2014 while with the Orioles. In his age 31 season, Pearce came out of nowhere to hit .293/.373/.556 in 383 plate appearances with 21 bombs, 26 doubles, and a nifty 40:76 walk to strike out ratio. That was good for a .930 OPS, a 161 wRC+, and a .404 wOBA. Combined with positive marks from the defensive metrics, his 2014 season came out to 4.9 fWAR and 5.9 rWAR. While he hit right handers well (.279/.360/.496 over 272 plate appearances), he feasted on southpaws to the tune of a .327/.405/.704 line in 111 PA's. He also benefited from Camden Yards' friendly nature towards hitters, mashing a .329/.416/.600 line across 197 PA's.

The 2015 season wasn't as kind, as he only hit .218/.289/.422 in 325 trips. While he hit 15 bombs and 13 doubles, his wRC+ was only 91 and he was only worth 0.3 fWAR and -0.4 rWAR. His dominance over left handed pitchers faded as he only hit .196/.266/.357, and his numbers at home cratered as well. He was useful in the field making just two errors all year despite starting at least 10 games at first base, second base, and left field. Advanced metrics like DRS showed him to be slightly below average at each position. while UZR saw him as average in the infield, but a mess in left.

Pearce has returned to form after signing with Tampa Bay as a free agent in the offseason to a one year, $4.75M contract in late January. Now 33 years old, the 5-foot-11 200 pound utility man is hitting .309/.388/.520 with 10 homers, 11 doubles, a 26:40 walk to strike out ratio, 2.2 rWAR and 1.9 fWAR. His splits are back to his 2014 levels, mashing lefties at a .377/.476/.736 clip and righties to the tune of a .285/.355/.444 triple slash. The Rays have used Pearce at first and second base mostly, with a handful of starts as the designated hitter, and a few emergency appearances at third base for the first time in five years. He's once again viewed as average in the field according to both DRS and UZR.

The deal seems like a win-now move by Baltimore, sacrificing from the depth they have behind the plate to improve the big league squad. Pearce will likely be in a platoon situation with incumbent first baseman Pedro Alvarez or possibly with left fielder Hyun Soo Kim as well. At the end of the day, it's up to Buck Showalter how he is deployed, but I have a feeling he's going to hit no matter what. As for Heim, I believe he could be a major leaguer, but likely as a reserve or injury fill in. It all depends on if his bat develops as his body fills out.