The New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks struck a deal Tuesday evening with several interchangeable pieces. The Yankees answered a need in the infield, the Diamondbacks filled a void in the outfield with the departure of JD Martinez, and the Rays continued its fire sale, picking up some very nice pieces.
Robert Murray of FanRag Sports got the domino effect moving on Twitter.
Source: #Rays acquiring 2B Nick Solak from the #Yankees. Return unknown.— Robert Murray (@RobertMurrayFRS) February 20, 2018
The Yankees had some question marks entering the 2018 season in the infield. With a lack of depth of star players in the infield, many felt that the Yankees could turn to two rookies — Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres — at third and second base. Torres, of course, is the Yankees top prospect, but hasn’t played live ball since Tommy John surgery. Andujar is a special player, but for every person who’s excited for his arrival, there is one (like myself) hoping he starts in the minors to work on his big swing and defense.
The Yankees got Brandon Drury to help solve some of those questions. Drury isn’t a star by any means, but plays second and third base at a very favorable cost. While he’s roughly a league average player (102 wRC+ in 2016 and 92 wRC+ last year), he brings versatility and some nice pop to Yankees Stadium.
Arizona wasted little time replacing Martinez. Monday, they picked up Jarrod Dyson and now they add Steven Souza. Souza was once one of the Washington Nationals prized prospects, regarded a Top 50 prospect in all of baseball by many. He was part of the crazy deal that (kind of) sent Trea Turner to the Nationals and Wil Myers to the San Diego Padres, amongst a bevy of other players.
Souza has yet to reach elite status, but there is no denying his power. Last year he slashed .239/.351/.459 with 21 doubles, 30 home runs and 16 stolen bases. He comes relatively cheap, and won’t be a free agent until 2021. There’s plenty to like there.
The Diamondbacks also got Taylor Widener from the Yankees. The Yankees selected Widener in the 12th round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of South Carolina. He’s listed at 6-foot and 195 pounds.
Widener is a promising righty, who transitioned well from the bullpen into the rotation last season in Tampa. He posted a 3.39 ERA and 1.15 WHIP while throwing together a 129-to-50 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 119.1 innings.
Our own Ricky Keeler spoke to Widener last month. Here’s how he described his pitches:
As Widener continues to develop as a starting pitcher, he does have a strong fastball to go with his secondary pitches, which he used more in that transition into the rotation. Of course, he still has the strikeout stuff when you go off of the fact he had 59 strikeouts in 13 games as a reliever in 2016 and struck out seven on three different occasions.
John Sickels had Widener the 17th-best Yankees prospect for 2018, and saw progress in both his slider and change. It’s hard to disagree that Widener could use some improved command, but it wasn’t too worrisome considering the increased work load. Widener was possibly a bullpen candidate on a Yankees team deep in talent, but has a chance to be a solid back of the rotation arm in a less deep Diamondbacks system.
The Rays got back some very nice pieces from both teams.
I am big on Solak. So much so that he was one of the 3 Yankees prospects to know. Here’s why:
Solak was selected by the Yankees in the second round of the 2016 MLB Draft. He was part of a big Louisville Cardinals draft class, seeing six players off the board before the fifth round. Solak is living proof that not enough people watch college baseball or the low minors.
He was good in Louisville and the Cape Cod League. He was really good in professional debut at Staten Island. And he continued to be good this year in what many felt was his breakout season.
Solak has shown a keen ability to make consistent contact and get on base in the ACC, Cape Cod League, New York-Penn League and now High -A and Double-A ball. He spent most of 2017 in Tampa, but handled a late season promotion to Trenton with relative ease.
Combined, Solak slashed .297/.384/.452. He did have a little more swing-and-miss in him this season than in the past, striking out 100 times in 538 plate appearances, but he also walked 63 times, a fantastic 12 percent walk rate. Despite being an overwhelming ground ball hitter (nearly 60 percent of his batted balls) Solak generates enough power to stick at second, blasting 12 home runs and 26 doubles. Six home runs went to right field, six to left, so his right-handed bat isn’t a victim of pure pull-power.
The bottom line was that the Yankees seemed set on Torres as the future at second base, and pretty confident that Andujar will come around. That made Solak expendable. He will likely become one of the Rays top prospects.
The Rays also snagged lefty Anthony Banda. Banda was the Diamondbacks top prospect at one point. John Sickels had him at No. 5 entering this season. Here’s what he had to say:
Age 24, split 2017 between Triple-A (5.39, 116/51 in 122 innings) and the majors (5.96, 25/10 in 26 innings) but still rookie eligible for 2018; solid fastball in low-90s, curveball is excellent on the right day and his change-up is often above-average; results don’t always match the stuff since his command within the zone is behind his general control; he’s got more talent than the ERAs imply and it wouldn’t take many adjustments for him to improve quickly. ETA 2018.
Banda’s numbers are a bit askew last year. He posted a high ERA in both the bigs and Reno, but a big league debut and the Pacific Coast Leagues have been unfavorable to many a prospect before him (his FIP in his MLB debut was 3.24, while his FIP in Reno was also almost a point lower than his ERA). We know Banda can throw innings, surpassing 145 the past three seasons.
Banda’s time in the bigs and inconsistencies in the minors leave much uncertainty. He has the stuff — a mid-90s fastball and solid breaking ball — to be a mid-rotation arm, but also looked pretty solid out of the bullpen. Banda should have every chance to crack the Rays big league roster this season. A solid spring, and a few more trades, he may be there for opening day.
The Diamondbacks will reportedly send two players to be named later, and we will update when that information is released.
(Thanks to Ricky Keeler for help getting all the pieces moving for this article.)