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July 31, 2015

Transaction Analysis

Relievers, Left and Right

by R.J. Anderson, Christopher Crawford, Matthew Trueblood, Jeff Long, Dustin Palmateer and Kate Morrison

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired OF-R Junior Lake from the Cubs in exchange for RHP Tommy Hunter. [7/31]

Junior Lake is one of those guys who has seemingly been around baseball for the last two decades. Lake was once the apple of every Cubs fans’ eye, a toolsy infielder who certainly looks the part of a major-league regular. Lake never reached the ceiling that Cubs fans thought that he’d one day attain, and now he joins an Orioles club that’s full of post hype prospects and Quadruple-A all-stars.

The 25-year-old has raked in Triple-A this year to the tune of a .315/.404/.876 slash line, though it’s worth noting that this is his third rodeo at the highest level of the minors. Lake has also moved to the outfield, where his bat will need to perform more than ever to surpass the replacement level in a corner-outfield spot.

Unfortunately, Lake hasn’t made big strides with his strikeout rate, and his walk rate was cut in half in going from Triple-A to the Cubs’ major-league roster. Those tools are still there and the accompanying flashes of brilliance provide some hope that he’ll finally figure it all out. That just hasn’t happened yet. There’s plenty to like about the tools here, but the product has yet to equal the whole of the parts.

The O’s will use Lake like they’ve used countless other Quad-A stars like Chris Parmelee, Jimmy Paredes, and Nolan Reimold. He’ll provide valuable depth to the O’s major-league roster, and likely be deployed skillfully by Buck Showalter. Dan Duquette is using this trade to shed a few million dollars from his bullpen while giving himself more flexibility with option-able arms. In the process he’s adding some useful outfield depth who can step in to the right-handed side of a platoon.

Junior Lake isn’t anything to write home about, but he’s a nice return for a decent bullpen arm that was out of options with an escalating paycheck. He’s the prototypical Dan Duquette pickup, and things have worked out for Duquette and his methodology over the past few seasons. —Jeff Long

BOSTON RED SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Ryan Cook from the A's in exchange for a player to be named later or cash. [7/31]

Cook was a mainstay in the A's ‘pen from 2012 through 2014, but he slipped just a tick last season, and, after 4 1/3 ugly innings this year, Oakland abruptly dumped him to Triple-A Nashville. Perhaps predictably, given the A's quick hook, Cook's struggles carried over to the minors, as he posted a sub-2.00 K:BB ratio in 33 1/3 innings. The Red Sox are somewhat thin in middle-relief options at the big-league level, and Cook's power-fastball/slider repertoire makes him an interesting buy-low candidate for a team that can afford a seventh-inning implosion or two down the stretch. Cook's arbitration-eligible through the 2017 season, so if he rediscovers his form, he might stick around for a while. —Dustin Palmateer

CLEVELAND INDIANS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired OF-S Abraham Almonte from the Padres in exchange for LHP Marc Rzepczynski. [7/31]

Almonte has been yo-yoed between Triple-A and the majors over the last three years, and at this point feels a lot like the organizational-soldier type. He's tallied a .239 TAv in about a half-season's worth of major-league work, and even in hitter-friendly El Paso, he's only slashing .275/.361/.414 as a 26-year-old. On the plus side, the fielding metrics (small-sample alert) say he can handle center and he has enough speed to work as a decent pinch-runner. With Brandon Moss shipped to St. Louis and Michael Bourn struggling, the Indians may be in a position to see if Almonte can develop into something more than Quad-A fodder. —Dustin Palmateer

MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Kevin Jepsen from the Rays in exchange for RHPs Chih-Wei Hu and Alexis Tapia. [7/31]

Terry Ryan's first deadline move sees the surprising Twins grab Jepsen, an experienced late-inning arm who won't qualify for free agency until after next season. Jepsen is a beefy, drop-and-drive righty who uses his mid-90s fastball to get ahead and his above-average breaking ball to finish at-bats. His control hasn't been as good as usual this season, and his changeup remains an unimpressive pitch (in appearance and results), yet there's enough here to make him a worthwhile set-up option for a team with some legitimate bullpen concerns. —R.J. Anderson

SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired LHPs Nick Wells, Rob Rasmussen, and Jake Brentz from the Blue Jays in exchange for RHP Mark Lowe. [7/31]

In return for a reliever the Mariners weren't sure would contribute to the big league club, Seattle gets three talented, if flawed left-handed pitching prospects.

The headliner here is Wells, a 2014 third-rounder who will show two plus pitches, in a 92-94 mph fastball and a curveball that has hard downward spin (though is rarely located for strikes and often looks closer to a solid-average offering). The third pitch and command are not there yet—scouts tell me Wells has made some progress this summer—but if either can reach 50 on the 20-80 scales, then he has a chance to become a mid-rotation arm.

Brentz was the Blue Jays' 11th-round selection in 2013, but that is more a reflection of concerns about his reported high bonus demands than his standing with scouts coming out of high school. While he's still filling out his frame, his fastball is already a plus offering and there's a chance the pitch becomes plus-plus in the future. Unfortunately, his breaking ball just isn't there yet—multiple scouts gave it a 35 grade when he was a prep, and it hasn't made much progress in his time in the Toronto system. If the secondary stuff ever comes Brentz is an arm who could make a dramatic rise; right now he looks like a bullpen arm.

Rasmussen is the least talented southpaw coming back to Seattle, but is the one the most ready to contribute to the big league club. He's a two-pitch reliever, with the fastball consistently in the 92-93 range with some movement, and a slider that can give left-handed hitters trouble because of the arm slot. He's strictly a second left-hander out of the bullpen, but you can do a lot worse. —Christopher Crawford

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHPs Chih-Wei Hu and Alexis Tapia from the Twins in exchange for RHP Kevin Jepsen. [7/31]

Hu was one of the most pleasant surprises for the Twins system, and is a solid headliner in return for a middle reliever. He features a 90-92 mph fastball, and the pitch moves up into the above-average range because of his ability to command and sink the offering. He throws four different offspeed pitches, but that's both a strength and a weakness, as his palmball and change often run into each other, as do the slider and curve. He pounds the strike zone with all four offerings, though, and if he were to narrow the arsenal—I'd go with the palm and slider, but they're all really similar in terms of quality—he has the stuff and command to be a durable back-end starter.

Tapia's calling card is his control, as he's walked just 18 innings in his 122 1/3 innings of work. The overall stuff though is fringy—think a less-talented Erasmo Ramirez—and the arm action isn't the cleanest. The ability to pound the strike zone gives him a chance to advance, but the upside here is extremely limited. —Christopher Crawford

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Sam Dyson from the Marlins in exchange for LHP Cody Ege and C Tomas Telis. [7/31]

The natural follow-up to the Cole Hamels trade. Dyson is little righty with impressive arm strength and ground-ball tendencies. His sinker is lively and is often clocked in the mid-to-upper-90s, and he leverages it to the point where his ground-ball percentage is one of the highest in the majors. The negatives to Dyson's game are his control and limited ceiling—he's not necessarily someone you trust against a left-handed batter in high-leverage situations due to his long arm action and arsenal. Nonetheless, Dyson works as a cheap, productive ground-ball specialist. —R.J. Anderson

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Mark Lowe from the Mariners in exchange for LHPs Nick Wells, Rob Rasmussen, and Jake Brentz. [7/31]

Here's how quickly a middle reliever's stock can change: Lowe went from signing a minor-league deal for the third consecutive winter to being traded for three minor-league arms in just over seven months' time. Always a bit of a tease, Lowe can still pump his fastball in the mid-to-upper-90s. The key to his career resurgence, however, has more to do with the improvements he made to his slider and control, which has left him throwing strikes 68 percent of the time—a huge improvement from the career 62 percent clip he entered the season with. Provided Lowe's improvements stick, he should be a competent two-way middle reliever for the new-look Jays to lean on. —R.J. Anderson

CHICAGO CUBS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Tommy Hunter from the Orioles in exchange for OF-R Junior Lake. [7/31]

The fascinating thing about the rumors this week that Aroldis Chapman or Craig Kimbrel might be traded was the fact that that just never happens. Relievers change hands in big volume every year at the deadline, but they tend to be interchangeable arms, many of them with eerily similar profiles: the left specialist, the ancient strike-thrower, the guys with huge stuff who still, somehow, can’t miss bats.

Tommy Hunter fits among that last group. Despite his four-seamer and sinker both routinely reaching the mid-90s, he’s never struck out more than 20.2 percent of opposing batters, and that’s as a one-inning reliever. Of the 334 pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched this year, Hunter ranks 162nd in ground-ball rate and 218th in strikeout rate. He doesn’t give up a ton of walks and he mostly stays off opposing hitters’ barrels, so he survives, the way Jason Motte and Joakim Soria do. He doesn’t dominate, though, and only watching him pitch in a single outing or two, without the benefit of numbers to inform one’s analysis, could fool anyone into thinking he does.

That said, Hunter helps. He helps because he’s an average, or thereabouts, big-league reliever, and every team has at least one or two below-average relievers in their bullpen. The Cubs should be able to call upon Hunter instead of Yoervis Medina or Ben Rowen—who was designated for assignment Friday—in future medium-leverage spots, and if Hunter shows something or Jason Motte continues to struggle, Hunter could even move into a truer set-up role. At any rate, he’ll give them adequate innings, and should certainly replace a pitcher who stood to give them less.

Junior Lake, from the Cubs’ end, is no great loss. He’ll always have his tools, just the way Greg Golson will, but there aren’t enough other things there to make him a decent ballplayer. He never figured out how not to whiff on 40 percent of his swings. He never discovered a feel for center field that might have made him an above-average defensive asset. He’s frustrating, in that he has so much unrealized potential, but it was long past time to admit that that potential was not coming to fruition. —Matthew Trueblood

MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired LHP Cody Ege and C Tomas Telis from the Rangers in exchange for RHP Sam Dyson. [7/31]

A short, stocky Venezuelan, Tomas Telis worked his way into lower-tier-prospect status during the 2014 season, displaying solid development both at the plate and behind it. A switch-hitter, Telis has always displayed a good hit tool, hitting around .300 all eight seasons he’s been in the Rangers’ farm system. This hasn’t translated to the majors quite yet, as Telis is hitting .240 in 24 total games, but it may resolve itself with more regular appearances at the highest level. Defensively, Telis was previously regarded as a fairly weak catcher, but work across the last two seasons has turned him into someone who can make the most of his game. He has increased the utility of his arm by shoring up his footwork, and has thrown out 48% of would-be base stealers in 50 games at Triple-A Round Rock this season. At only 24, Telis is a young-enough catcher to be surprised that Texas would include him in this deal, their desperate need for relief pitching notwithstanding.

Back when Facebook groups were a “thing,” Cody Ege probably would have belonged to the clunkily named “Pitchers Who Vary Their Arm Slot On Purpose And To Some Effect.” The lefty, drafted in the 15th round out of the University of Louisville in 2013, mostly employs a slingy side-arm action for a fastball in the 80s, an upper-70s changeup and mid-70s slider, but occasionally will come from over the top with a fastball or a harder slider. Though the stuff isn’t top-shelf, his deception gives him an edge, particularly against left-handed batters. Ege’s a bullpen piece with a possibly limited ceiling, but his ability to mix pitches and make the most of his funk has made him an effective reliever at his last two stops, including pitcher-killing High-A High Desert, where he only allowed a single home run while striking out 25 in 13 1/3 innings pitched. —Kate Morrison

SAN DIEGO PADRES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired LHP Marc Rzepczynski from the Indians in exchange for OF-S Abraham Almonte. [7/31]

A.J. Preller waited, then he waited, then he waited… and then he pounced, swinging spare outfielder Almonte east for Rzepczynski. All kidding about the Padres' strangely quiet deadline aside, Rzepczynski does throw with his left hand, and the Padres' 40-man roster includes other four other southpaws—one is perpetually injured (Cory Luebke) and another posted a 1.38 K:BB ratio in 28 1/3 big-league innings this year (Frank Garces). If the Padres really believe they can make a miracle run at a playoff spot this season (their playoff odds currently sit at three percent), then they could use a LOOGY, and there are worse LOOGYs out there than Rzepczynski. —Dustin Palmateer


R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Christopher Crawford is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christopher's other articles. You can contact Christopher by clicking here
Matthew Trueblood is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here
Jeff Long is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here
Dustin Palmateer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Dustin's other articles. You can contact Dustin by clicking here
Kate Morrison is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kate's other articles. You can contact Kate by clicking here

Related Content:  Relievers,  Trades,  Trade Deadline,  Relief Pitchers

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