July 30, 2011
A New Ranger in Town
The Texas Rangers just shipped two very large men to Baltimore—Davis and Hunter—who are both currently on the 25-man roster and should find themselves with larger roles going forward for the AL East cellar-dwellers. Once considered the Rangers’ future first baseman, former fifth-round pick Chris Davis has slowly emerged as the modern poster boy for the Quad-A player, mashing beyond belief at the Triple-A level, and proving too vulnerable to hit quality major-league pitching when promoted to the big stage. Davis has some versatility in the field but is better suited for first base, where I have graded him as an above-average defender with good footwork, a Velcro glove, and a very strong arm (not often utilized at the position). He can play some third base and some left field, and he has enough athleticism to make it interesting, but he won’t excel at either position, and his overall grades would struggle to reach the lip of average.
At the plate, Davis has elite-level power potential (80), but the swing has a lot of miss in it, he struggles with pitch recognition, and loads up every swing like he is swinging for his life. It’s a bad approach and exploitable at the higher levels. He could run into 30-plus bombs if he could make enough contact, but the strikeout totals make Rob Deer feel better about himself. Davis is also a player that lives in a very small sample, meaning he lets single at-bats linger in his thoughts, affecting the subsequent adjustments that need to be made as the game (or even at-bat) continue. In simpler terms: Davis is hard on himself and it can affect his performance.
As a tweener type (for now), Davis needs to have as many major-league opportunities as possible to help end the Quad-A debate. If he can shorten his stroke and refine his approach to put himself in better situations to hit, Davis can put up stupid power numbers. He’s always going to swing and miss, but without a better sense of contact Davis is going to swing-and-miss his way back to the minors. I like the move by Baltimore, as Davis didn’t have a home in the Texas lineup, and like I said, he needs major-league opportunities to properly define his role.
Hunter’s shadow weighs more than Uehara, and I was shocked to see his name attached to this deal. After getting popped in the supplemental first round in the 2007 draft, the University of Alabama product made quick work of the minors, reaching the majors in his first full season. Because of his big frame, clean delivery, and solid-average arsenal, Hunter was pegged as an innings-eating rotation horse, a pitcher capable of becoming a quality fourth starter in the bigs. But as a starter, Hunter was a bit empty, with good but not great numbers, and showed some stuff, but not the kind of stuff that is going to miss many major-league bats.
Hunter is more athletic than he appears, but his body isn’t going to impress you with its chiseled aesthetic. Despite being a former judo champion and therefore more flexible than most of us non-judo champions, Hunter was the victim of several conditioning-related injuries, limiting his effectiveness as an innings-eater. After returning from the disabled list this season, Hunter was moved back to the bullpen, a role some projected as the better fit for his skill set. Armed with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s in bursts out of the pen, Hunter is able to showcase a more electric arsenal, pitching off the heater to set up his curve and cutter, two major league-quality pitches. However, Hunter’s electric bullpen arsenal hasn’t translated into electric results—more specifically, dominating the opposition. You expect guys with mid-90s heat and two quality secondary pitches to find a way to miss bats and limit solid contact, but Hunter’s stuff always seems to play down.
Hunter’s inclusion in this deal makes sense if you think ahead. Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is going to make several more moves before the deadline is over, and that might include another reliever or two, making Hunter superfluous to the roster. Hunter at his best could still become an innings-eater out of the rotation, but he’s never going to blossom beyond that distinction. That’s fine. Mid-rotation starters have value. But the Rangers saw an opportunity to acquire an above-average reliever, and the asking price was two players who didn’t really have a role on the current club. Call this a win for the Rangers and the Orioles, as the Rangers get a quality arm that can help bridge the gap between starter and closer, and the Orioles get two players that need opportunities to show they are more than just roster filler. —Jason Parks
Acquired RHP Koji Uehara and cash from the Orioles for IF Chris Davis and RHP Tommy Hunter. [7/30]
This is a fantastic deal for the Rangers in the sense that they got a better reliever than Heath Bell without giving up a single prized prospect from their system. Uehara provides a classic lesson for why velocity isn't everything. He rarely tops 90 mph with his fastball, yet while pitching in baseball's toughest division, he has struck out 117 batters over 91 innings in the past two years while handing out just 12 unintentional walks. He's the ultimate trick pitcher, the ultimate command and control guy, as he not only throws strikes, he throws good ones by hitting the corners and using both sides of the plate. Uehara's best pitch is a mid- to upper-80s split pitch that almost dances as it arrives to the hitter, and his plus changeup gives him a weapon against left-handed hitters that features the same highly-deceptive motion he uses on all of his offerings. He's as fun to watch as Aroldis Chapman, but for entirely different reasons, and the Rangers will surely be thrilled to pay half of his $4 million option in 2012 as well. —Kevin Goldstein
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus.