Clearing the Path for Prospects
Change can be a good thing. Whether it comes from clearing a logjam at a certain position or merely granting a change of scenery, the trade deadline often opens up spots for big leaguers and prospects alike to really show what they can do and hopefully to set the foundation for their careers moving forward. This year, several prospects changed teams. You already know about Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Lewis Brinson, and the other top-tier names. They’re good anywhere. Other names, however, may have been given a new lease on life by the 2016 trade deadline.
Harold Ramirez, OF, Toronto
In one of the most cheapskate
cost-efficient confusing moves of the deadline, Ramirez was sent to Toronto along with former top 12 pick, catching prospect Reese McGuire in a Francisco Liriano/Drew Hutchison swap, serving a sort of “Lirano Tax”, if you will. Before being a sweetener to incentivize the Jays to pay Liriano’s $13.6 million 2017 salary, Ramirez kicked around top 100 prospect lists. He entered 2016 as the 80th best prospect in the game, according to Baseball Prospectus. Signed at age 17 by the Pirates, Ramirez was seen as a speedy outfielder known for putting the ball in play. Thus far in his career, he has been, well, a speedy outfielder known for putting the ball in play.
Ramirez spent 2012 playing for the Pirates’ rookie league team in the Gulf Coast League. While he didn’t set the world on fire (.259/.310/.333), he showed strong contact rates, and struck out only 13.7 percent of the time, a very impressive number for a 17-year-old. Since then, he has continued his trajectory of hitting for average, albeit without much power. In nearly 1500 minor league plate appearances, Ramirez carries a career line of .304/.362/.409. Obviously you would hope for a little more slug out of the bat, but that just doesn’t seem to be part of his game. In his two best seasons (2013 and 2015), Ramirez still produced ISOs under .125 (.124 & .121, respectively), numbers that would be below major league average. Still, he might be able to get away with sub-par power totals and remain serviceable as a high contact and speed guy.
Speaking of speed, Ramirez has it. Outside of his campaign as a 17-year-old in Rookie League, Ramirez has never had a BABIP below .332. Some point to BABIP as a measure of luck, however Ramirez’s speed, aversion to striking out (career 15.3 percent strikeout rate), and knack for making contact allow for the high numbers to be more sustainable. While Ramirez has used his speed and athleticism to positively impact his batting average, it has not completely translated to the base paths. Sure, he has stolen over 20 bases twice in his career, but he’s kind of bad at stealing bases. He carries a career 62 percent success rate in stolen base attempts, a number low enough that it appears his green light may have turned yellow in 2016 (7 for 17 in stolen base attempts). Whether that changes in a new organization with new development strategies will remain to be seen.
Like many prospects, Ramirez has his flaws, but he was also fairly blocked from playing time in Pittsburgh. With a loaded outfield of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, and Gregory Polanco, there was nowhere for Ramirez to go, even if he did iron out some of his issues. Add that to the fact that the Pirates’ top prospect, Austin Meadows, also roams the outfield, Ramirez was going to be hard pressed to be anything more than a fourth outfielder for the Pirates. By moving to Toronto, Ramirez could find himself in line for a starting spot as soon as next season, provided that his development continues.
Dilson Herrera, 2B, Cincinnati
A late addition to the trade for Jay Bruce, Herrera has shown a propensity to hit at every stop in the minor leagues. Signed by the Pirates in 2010 as a 16-year-old from Colombia, Herrera showed promise immediately, slashing .308/.413/.472 in his first 260 plate appearances as a pro. He got his first taste of the hot stove (well, let’s say lukewarm stove, it was an August trade) in 2013 when he was shipped to the Mets in a trade for Marlon Byrd. Herrera just kept on hitting.
In 2014, Herrera got the call to the big club as the roster expanded in September. Despite the fact that the Mets were toiling in mediocrity, he only managed to scrape together 66 plate appearances. To be fair, he did not make the most of them, hitting a meager .220 and slugging .407. The lackluster finish to the season earned him a ticket to Triple A Las Vegas. In 2015, Herrera hit the jackpot (Get it? Because Vegas?). In 364 plate appearances, he produced an impressive line of .327/.382/.511, smacking 11 homers and stealing 13 bases along the way. The breakout earned Herrera another shot with the Mets, but again, he failed to turn heads, hitting .211 in 103 trips to the plate.
By looking at his big-league plate discipline numbers, admittedly a small sample, it’s possible that Herrera just wasn’t aggressive enough at the plate. According to Pitch f/x he showed excellent patience in not chasing pitches outside of the zone, swinging around 21 percent of the time, a number nearly 10 percent better than league average. That said, pitchers did challenge him, pumping pitches in the zone at a 52.3 percent clip, which was also higher than league average. Despite seeing more pitches in the zone, Herrera only swung at these pitches 62 percent of the time, a rate slightly lower than league average. Yes, that’s a lot of percentages to be tossed around, but the bottom line is that, in an attempt to draw more walks, Herrera may have been a little too patient for his own good.
Herrera’s career minor-league numbers have been quite impressive, with a line of .299/.362/.469 in over 2,000 plate appearances. Further, with above average strikeout and walk rates around 18 and eight percent, respectively, it seems like Herrera should be the type of player you could bet on (Because Vegas, again. Remember?). For some reason, the Mets just didn’t feel the same way. Rather than using him in an everyday role, they decided to piece together an infield of retreads and guys with, um, baggage. Despite the fact that he’s only 22 years old, for Herrera, a move to the Great American Ballpark could be a life-preserver for his career, provided that he receives more organizational support (which shouldn’t be hard).
Adalberto Mejia, LHP, Minnesota
Earlier this season, Mejia was seen as someone who could potentially work his way into the Giants’ rotation. It was always going to be a stretch with relics such as Peavy, Cain, Hudson, and Zito (fine, not the last two, but I got on a roll naming Giants’ old guy starters) ahead of him on the depth chart. A swap with the Twins for future World Series MVP Eduardo Nunez could clear the path for Mejia, as breaking into the Twins rotation doesn’t seem, um, quite as daunting.
The 23-year-old lefty has been solid, if unspectacular, for most of his minor-league career. In 539.2 innings, Mejia has posted a 3.27 ERA and 1.180 WHIP while averaging a little under eight strikeouts per nine innings. A somewhat unheralded prospect early in his career, he showed enough promise to warrant a spot on the Baseball Prospectus Top 100, slotting in at number 86 before the 2015 season. However the highs were accompanied by lows, as later in the offseason Mejia was suspended 50 games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Upon his return, Mejia dazzled in Double A Richmond, tossing 51.1 innings with a 2.45 ERA. Somewhat troubling though, he only struck out 38 batters in those innings.
He returned to Double A in 2016, and dominated. In 65 innings, Mejia produced a 1.94 ERA and 0.985 WHIP, while giving up only 16 free passes. More importantly, he increased his strikeout rate to eight per nine innings. On June 18, he got the call to Triple A Sacramento and continued his success. He kept the walk rate down (2.2 per nine innings) and increased the strikeout rate even more (9.5 per nine innings) in 40.2 innings of work. His ERA spiked to 4.20, but that could partially be a product of pitching in the PCL and giving up 1.1 homers per nine innings, when he had averaged merely 0.6 per nine innings in his career prior.
If Mejia’s strikeout improvement is real, he could be a very interesting prospect for the Twins moving forward. Even if he reverts to striking out less than a batter per inning, Mejia should find himself as a middle to back-end of the rotation starter in Minnesota, something he likely could not have done in San Francisco.
Follow Mark Barry on Twitter @hoodieandtie