The New York Yankees have been in heated discussions for Sonny Gray. As the talks go back and forth, the Yankees made sure they bulked up the rotation with a veteran presence for a playoff run. They sent exciting right-handed pitching prospect Zack Littell and left-hander Dietrich Enns to the Twins for the 31-year-old lefty.
With two Jaime Garcia trades, the Twins essentially turned RHP Huascar Ynoa and $4 million into RHP Zack Littell and LHP Dietrich Enns.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) July 30, 2017
ZACK LITTELL, RHP
Less than a year ago, I wrote right here about Littell. That was when he was first acquired by the New York Yankees, in one of the many moves by Jerry Dipoto in his prospect purge of the Seattle Mariners’ farm system. Littell — an 11th-round draft pick of the Mariners in 2013 — made tremendous strides last year and he did it in the power-happy California League.
(video from Bobby DeMuro)
The key for Littell was improved secondary weapons. Bobby DeMuro, now of Baseball Census and my go-to for all things California League, saw a lot of Littell in Bakersfield and we spoke about him a lot last year. He noticed his 11-to-5 curve and changeup were much better, the former a true swing-and-miss weapon, and the latter keeping batters off balance. He also noted that his mid-90s heat was down later in the season, but that could have simply been from fatigue. It has been reported back to the usual 93 mph levels in which he’s always been known.
This season, Littell continued to climb. He began the year in High-A Tampa where he went 9-1 with a 1.77 ERA, striking out 57 and walking 15 in 71.1 innings. He was more impressive against more advanced hitters in Double-A after his promotion.
The numbers are incredible. Littell went 5-0 in seven starts with Trenton. He posted a 2.05 ERA (behind a 2.31 FIP, so we know it’s pretty real) and a 52-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 44 innings. Here are the important things to look at though. Littell improved his strikeout rate to over 10-per-nine for the first time in his career, while maintaining his impeccable control. He has only walked over two-per-nine once in his career, and that was back in 2015. You add in a ground ball rate of over 50 percent and the few runners that reach are being stranded and erased.
Littell has also shown the ability to go deep into games this year as well. He has thrown over 100 pitches five times and has gone seven or more innings eight times, two of which went the distance. His walk counts speak volumes, as he pounds the zone and works hitters with much more finesse than power. He could jump on the fast-track at Minnesota.
DIETRICH ENNS, LHP
Enns is another Yankees prospect I have written about several times. The 26-year-old southpaw was once highly-regarded as an under-the-radar help to the big league rotation. He may now be seen more as a bullpen weapon.
Either way you view Enns, he has some nice stuff. Here’s the big thing with Enns, much like with Littell as well. With an improving farm system, comes big decisions, particularly surrounding the 40-man roster. Not only would they need to clear an immediate spot on the current 40-man (which Enns is on), Enns likely wouldn’t have been protected this offseason. After another injury-riddled season, he likely wasn’t heading to the Bronx anytime soon either.
The Yankees thus found value. Enns and Littell wouldn’t survive the Rule 5 Draft, so instead of deciding to on whom to protect, they traded them away, much like they did with Ian Clarkin. Littell, however, is a bit younger and with a second consecutive “breakout” campaign, the Yankees were more likely to find room for him.
Enns was on the 40-man roster this season coming off yet another strong campaign. He entered the season at No. 20 on John Sickels’ Yankees Top 20. Here’s what he had to say:
Age 25, 19th round pick in 2012 from Central Michigan; added to 40-man roster after going 14-4, 1.73 in 135 innings between Double-A and Triple-A with 124/56 K/BB, 102 hits; like Gallegos, there are guys with higher ceilings below but Enns will be ready for a trial this year and would get more attention in other farm systems; fastball in 88-90 range might play up in bullpen, has a very good change and workable curve and slider, throws strikes. ETA 2017.
His breakout 2016 showed a lot of who he is. He is not a power-pitcher, but he controls hitters with a nice array of pitches. This was my assessment from the first time I saw Enns in 2016:
Enns has a four-pitch arsenal, highlighted by a fastball that usually hits in the high-80s or low-90s. He seems to have solid command of his changeup, using it as a successful out pitch and mixes in a slider which, like the change, works in the mid to low-80s. He has an adequate curveball as well. His issues have always been surrounding his high walk rates, which has been less of an issues this season than in the past, as he walked two or less in eight straight outings. He also seems to be working more ground balls of late, which is always helpful.
Enns has dealt with his fair share of injury in his career. He had Tommy John in 2014, which made his strong 2015 return all the more impressive. This season he spent nearly three months on the disabled list with a shoulder strain. He has been typical Enns in his five starts since his return. Nothing overwhelming, but incredibly consistent and successful.
He posted a 2.54 ERA in July, behind an impressive 1.16 WHIP. He had a surprisingly high amount of strikeouts (29) in 28.1 innings, paired with just seven walks. He continues to be a menace to left-handed hitters as well. This season, they are hitting just .157 against Enns, as he limits lefties with a 0.87 WHIP. The lefty doesn’t allow many to advance behind his now-typical high ground ball rate (45 percent in 2017) which often heavily outweighs his fly ball percentages.
Both pitchers are excellent gets for Minnesota who continues to search for consistency and its identity. The Yankees have always believed in the power of veteran pitchers, so they were able to get what they wanted as well.