It’s always Sonny in the Bronx.
After a week of drama as intense as the start of the Game of Thrones seventh season, Sonny Gray is finally headed to New York (and I am now done with my television show references). Names like Estevan Florial and Domingo Acevedo were thrown out all week, however, both of those prospects remain.
The cost was high. Unlike many other big-name trade deadline deals, the Yankees received a star pitcher (when healthy) with several controllable years left on his contract.
Who did the Billy Beane regime in Oakland get for their ace?
JORGE MATEO, IF/OF
Mateo has been an absolute stud since his promotion to Trenton. He should be an absolute stud for the Oakland Athletics as well. There simply wasn’t any room for the Yankees former top prospect.
The 22-year-old’s rise to the top of the Yankees system was well documented since his 2012 signing out of the Dominican Republic. He had a huge break out in 2015 split between Charleston and Tampa. Mateo slashed .278/.345/.392 with 23 doubles, 11 triples and two home runs, swiping 82 of 99 stolen base attempts. He entered the season as the Yankees top prospect.
Then came Gleyber Torres. Then came the suspension. Then came the inflated strikeout numbers and swing-and-miss issues. Then came the position changes. Yes, Mateo’s star lost some of the luster last year, but he still showed the skills to succeed. Despite the down season, John Sickels still had him ranked as the Yankees fourth-best prospect entering 2017.
Age 21, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2012; hit .254/.306/.379 with eight homers, 36 steals, 33 walks, 108 strikeouts in 464 at-bats in High-A; outstanding 80-grade speed is best tool; can also flash power but strike zone judgment is erratic, as is his defense; made summer headlines for wrong reasons due to two-week suspension for insubordinate behavior towards team officials; young enough to overcome makeup concerns; not a bad infielder but may wind up in outfield or in super-utility role; ETA. 2019.
Last week I wrote about how the time was right to trade Mateo. That’s because he had an unreal month in his Double-A debut. He hit safely in 23 of his 30 games. He was still very aggressive at the plate, attacking early, but the strikeout rates came back down and walk rates went back up. He struck out 32 times in 140 plate appearances while walking 15.
The problem with Mateo was that he was pretty solid at three positions — shortstop, second base, and the outfield — but he wasn’t elite at any. Torres is the young infielder of the Yankees future, while Florial is quickly becoming the prized prospect for centerfield. Throw in veteran pieces still performing well — like Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro — and there was nowhere to put Mateo anytime soon.
Though he isn’t your typical Moneyball player — with just a career .335 on base percentage and 80-grade speed — he will have a chance to quickly climb the Oakland A’s ladder.
DUSTIN FOWLER, OF
Fowler quickly became a fan favorite after a tremendous 2016, displaying quality skills to be a 5-tool player. He entered 2017 as John’s 13th-ranked prospect:
Age 21, 18th round pick in 2013, hit .281/.311/.458 with 30 doubles, 15 triples, 12 homers, 25 steals, 22 walks, 86 strikeouts in 541 at-bats in Double-A; rather under-the-radar nationally in a deep system but has intriguing tools including 60-grade speed and 50/55 power, 55 throwing arm; can handle center field; main concern is an aggressive hitting approach that may hamper his OBP, but he’s still young enough to improve that. ETA 2018.
Of course, we know how Fowler’s 2017 ended. Not even one inning into his big league debut, Fowler suffered a gruesome injury sliding into the right field wall. It was a sad way to end a highly-anticipated debut.
Fowler now takes his talents to Oakland. What are those talents?
Fowler has excellent speed and sneaky good power. He has a strong arm and excellent instincts and reads in the outfield. As he showed in 2016 he has a penchant for extra base hits thanks to the aforementioned speed, and was truly a 20/20 threat at the next level.
The lefty’s power is clearly all pull looking at the above spray chart. Going the other way is something he can improve on, especially leaving the right-field friendly confines of yankees Stadium. He also struggled taking a walk with an aggressive approach, but that being said, he really never stuck out a lot, constantly making good contact. He struck out just 17.5 percent of the time in his minor league career. Had his walk rate been higher (just 4.4 percent) it would hardly be noticeable.
Fowler has a long road to recovery ahead of him, but has all the makings of an everyday big-league outfielder.
JAMES KAPRIELIAN, RHP
The Yankees 2015 first-rounder out of UCLA came with a lot of excitement. Three years later, he has made just eight appearances, currently on the shelf after Tommy John surgery.
There is a lot to like about Kaprielian. John had him as the sixth-ranked prospect heading into the season:
Age 22, first round pick in 2015 from UCLA; limited to 18 innings in High-A by strained flexor; recovered to pitch well in Arizona Fall League; in college had reputation as a polished arm; he still shows the polish with his curve, slider, and change-up but his velocity has spiked, up to 94-96, giving him a complete arsenal; will have to prove his durability but he has the stuff and command to be a number two or three starter if his arm holds up. ETA 2018.
I never got to see Kaprielian as he was skipped over the South Atlantic League, going from the New York-Penn League to Florida State League action. The promising news is that he is a strike thrower and command has seemingly never been a problem. He had a four-pitch arsenal when he came out of college and just needs the reps to fine tune them.
The two things that stand out about Kaprielian was that he added about four to five miles of velocity to his fastball from college to his pro debut. That’s taking advantage of a 6-foot-4, 200 pound frame. It was also impressive this October when he returned to the Arizona Fall League. There were reports that his slider was hitting 90 coming off a season full of injury.
While getting his mid-90s velocity back is part of the challenge of post-Tommy John surgery, control is sometimes the bigger task. Kaprielian’s track record hints he should be able to bounce back quickly there.