(Author’s note: I won’t lie, this one stings a little bit. I have no shame in admitting I am a Yankees fan, but I was a huge Ben Gamel guy — I even caught up with him at this year’s All Star Game to talk Yankees. I understand that it makes some sense from the business side of baseball — the Yanks had an abundance of outfielders, it makes room on the 40 man roster and now the Yankees have two teenage arms under some cost control — but it still hurts.)
The New York Yankees continued to reshape their roster yesterday by dealing Ben Gamel to the Seattle Mariners for righties Jio Orozco and Juan De Paula. The Yankees dealt from a position of strength, especially with the addition of Clint Frazier at the deadline, for a position of weakness, although they have taken great strides in rebuilding it. Almost on cue, Aaron Hicks left the game hurt and the Yankees could have used Gamel’s services on National Callup Day, but now he heads west to an outfield in which he should have every opportunity to compete for a starting position.
Gamel rose from obscurity to top 20 Yankees prospect in 2015 behind one of the bigger breakout seasons in all of the minors. The 10th round draft pick out of Bishop Kenny High School (Jacksonville) in the 2010 MLB Draft had never hit double digit home runs, and struggled to be a .300 hitter. Last season, it all came together.
The now-24 year old left handed hitter slashed .300/.358/.422 with 28 doubles, 14 triples, 10 home runs and 13 stolen bases in his International League Rookie of the Year performance. He proved it to be no fluke as this season he was named the International League Most Valuable Player. He slashed .308/.365/.420 with 26 doubles, five triples and six home runs while adding in 19 stolen bases en route to his first ever All Star appearance.
Gamel enjoyed two call ups to the Bronx is his magical 2016. He registered a mere hit in eight at bats, but skipper Joe Girardi rarely used him, primarily using him as a defensive replacement for the majority of his innings. He did get to score the game winning run against the Kansas City Royals in his first career start.
He does strikeout a bit, a career 18 percent, but he seems to have honed in on a consistent walk rate between eight and ten percent. His defense has proven to be more than adequate over the past two seasons, and whereas the Yankees were very deep in ready-to-go young outfielders, the Mariners aren’t as much. Gamel should compete for a roster spot in 2017.
Let’s defer to our own John Sickels who had Orozco pegged as a 2016 sleeper candidate after a quality debut 2015 season that starter at the age of 17:
SLEEPER ALERT!! Jiovanni Nikolas Orozco was drafted by the Mariners in the 14th round last June from high school in Phoenix, Arizona. He could have gone as high as the fourth round but he had a University of Arizona commitment. Even with college in the picture it is puzzling why he lasted until the 14th round, given that the Mariners were able to sign him for just $100,000. That looks like a huge bargain. Orozco is physically mature for his age and is not going to pick up much additional velocity. That’s OK since he already hits 93-94. Both his curveball and change-up are very good for his age and his control proved excellent in rookie ball. He could open 2016 in A-ball and must be watched carefully. Grade C+.
Orozco’s numbers seem to suggest he took a step back this season, as he allowed more baserunners in the hits and walks department. He still has nice stuff, although at 6-foot-ish and 200 pounds, there isn’t much growth to be expected as from a bigger pitcher. He still has a very attractive strikeout rate — 11.65 per nine — and a very good walk rate for a teenager — 2.96 per nine — so freshly 19 years old (his birthday is August 15), the young righty brings a lot to the table and still could be a sleeper next season.
Juan De Paula
De Paula was Orozco’s teammate in the Arizona League. The 18 year old righty (he will be 19 on September 22) numbers in his second season seem much more on par with his 2015 debut campaign. He has a more projectable frame than his counterpart, standing at 6-foot-3 but is wiry at just 165 pounds.
Last season, he made 14 starts in the DSL posting a nice 2.32 ERA behind a 2.92 FIP, while striking out 68 and walking 15 over 77.2 innings. He was hard to hit, as opponents tagged him at a .218 rate, leading to a 0.99 WHIP. This season, he has improved his strikeout rate by nearly four per nine — 7.88 in 2015 to 11.63 in 2016 — while walking a respectable 2.41 per nine. He has seen a rise in his ERA to 3.07, but a 2.98 FIP suggests he is still doing much of what he did last season. He has been more hittable, as opponents are hitting .253 against him, but that too has been a bit unlucky behind a .365 BABIP. He seems to keep the ball in the yard, allowing three home runs over 118.1 career innings.
Both pitchers seem to have a good feel for their arsenals, seemingly strike throwers by looking at their strikeout to walk ratios. They both possess a 90s fastball to go along with a curve and a change, with reports that De Paula has actually seen his velocity rise this season. Both have the stuff and feel that seem to be beyond their teenage years and make them intriguing -- if not exciting -- prospects.
Both De Paula and Orozco are young projects, a long way off from the big leagues. Gamel was who he was and that was a scrappy player who can do a little bit of everything well and is ready for the big leagues. It’s entirely too early to deem a winner in this trade, but as it stands right now, it doesn’t seem that there is a clear cut loser either.