This article focuses on the prospects recently acquired by the Rays and Cubs in exchange for Blake Snell and Yu Darvish, respectfully. For analysis on Snell and Darvish, along with Zach Davies and Victor Caratini, be sure to read the article by Scott Chu.
The Rays and Padres pulled off a blockbuster on Sunday night with Blake Snell heading to San Diego in exchange for prospects Luis Patiño, Cole Wilcox, Blake Hunt, and Francisco Mejia. It was a very on-brand move for both sides, with the Rays continuing to churn pitchers before they become expensive and San Diego dealing from a deep system to fully open their window of contention.
But the Padres were not done.
Just 24 hours later, the Padres swung a deal to acquire Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini from the Cubs in exchange for Zach Davies and prospects Reginald Preciado, Owen Caissie, Yeison Santana, and Ismael Mena.
With these trades—not to mention the signing of Ha-Seong Kim sandwiched between—the Padres took advantage of other team’s financial constraints to assemble the makings of a super team. I reject the notion that Snell getting pulled in the World Series forced the Rays to trade him—I think he was getting traded this offseason regardless. The Rays are fully committed to sustainable winning at the lowest possible cost and their roster moves over the years very much reflect that. The Cubs are also facing a supposed lack of financial flexibility, and with the contracts of Bryant, Rizzo, and Baez expiring soon, moving Darvish became the best way for the Cubs to clear salary while still getting prospect value in return. It’s worth noting the Padres pulled off both these trades while keeping 7 of their top 8 prospects.
AJ Preller is playing fantasy baseball, payroll and prospects be damned.
Speaking of those prospects, here is a rundown of the 8 prospects traded in these deals;
RHP Luis Patiño
Highest Level: MLB
Luis Patiño is the headliner in this package. The athletic righty is a consensus top-20 MLB prospect who debuted out of the bullpen with the Padres in 2020 and should fit in well with the Rays stable of multi-inning power arms. Patiño vaulted his way through the Padres farm system after adding nearly 10 mph of velo since signing out of Columbia in 2016. He dominated at every minor league level, with a cumulative 2.35 ERA and 29% K-rate across 234 career minor league innings.
At 6’1″ 192lbs, “athletic” has been the oft-used buzzword to describe Patiño. As a professional athlete, he is in fact very athletic—and has shown the drive to improve, taking aspects from other pitchers to tinker his own profile (like the pause he reportedly learned from Mackenzie Gore). Though his 5.19 ERA and even worse 6.03 xFIP in 17.1 major league innings were less than stellar, that athleticism, improvement, and baseball IQ show why Patiño is one of the more electric arms in the minors.
The nice part about Patiño’s 2020 debut is that despite his relative struggles, we have a larger sample of peripheral metrics to support his prospect status and more video on him than just his impressive Futures Game outing. Armed with a FB/SL/CH repertoire, the four-seam fastball is his most intriguing pitch. Sitting 96-99 mph, it has a slight natural cut and even with an 88th percentile spin rate still has above average vertical movement. This movement profile doesn’t miss many bats (just 19% whiff rate) as it tends to run into barrels over the plate, but it’s a fixable pitch and one that resembles the original versions of John Curtis and Peter Fairbanks before their Rays breakouts. They will likely use a similar blueprint to help Patiño.
His changeup and slider command are also more works-in-progress, but both have plus-plus characteristics. The fastball dominates his pitch mix at 64% usage but the secondary depends very much on batter handedness, with the slider being his go-to off-speed pitch vs RHH (22% vs RHH to just 10% vs LHH), while favoring the changeup more vs LHH (28% vs 10%). Though he struggles to command it, the slider sits 84-86 mph with average vertical drop (37 inches) but a whopping 11 inches of vertical break. It was effective when he could control it, with a 47% whiff rate in 2020. The changeup has similarly promising characteristics, with a 33% whiff rate, .211 xwOBA against, and 33% putaway rate. It’s a firm changeup at 86-90 mph with less-but-late movement.
Patiño lacks the command to be a consistent starter right now but should fit nicely within the Rays’ multi-inning usage plans. He could probably benefit from some refinement in the upper minors, but he’s young and athletic enough to make the necessary changes and can still push for a rotation spot in 2021 after the departures of Snell and Charlie Morton. The Rays could also opt to let him develop in a multi-inning capacity out of the bullpen as the Padres did in 2020. I think changes are afoot for Patiño, and that paired with a move from the pitcher-friendly NL West to the AL East could push his fantasy impact back a bit, but overall this trade should improve both his present prospect stock and long-term outlook.
C/OF Francisco Mejia
Highest Level: MLB
Mejia has technically graduated from prospect status, but he’s not far removed from being a consensus top 100 prospect (2017-2019). Previously dealt from Cleveland in the Brad Hand trade, this marks the third team Mejia will join in just over 3 calendar years. Mejia’s prospect pedigree has faded, but I believe he’s a prime example of someone the Rays value more than other teams.
Looking throughout the Rays farm system, a preference for certain profiles becomes clear. Wander Franco gets the attention, and deservedly so, but he is not the only undersized contact-oriented switch-hitter in the Rays pipeline—not by a long shot. The Rays have targeted these players and specifically shown the ability to unlock power from players with contact-oriented approaches. Prospects Vidal Brujan, Xavier Edwards, and Taylor Walls notably fit this profile, while Brandon Lowe, Randy Arozarena, and Joey Wendle represent developmental success at the major league level.
In case you haven’t caught on yet, Francisco Mejia fits this profile to a T. With an abysmal 2020 and career slash of .225/.282/.286 Mejia has yet to live up to the prospect hype, but between two IL stints in 2019 showed a glimpse of at least league-average offensive contribution. I think there is a good chance the Rays can extract more out of Mejia’s bat than his two previous teams could. That only leaves his defensive capabilities in question and while he has a great arm, the receiving skills are sub-par and have led to experiments at both 3B and corner OF. He should be set to join Mike Zunino in a timeshare behind the plate in 2021 with the ability to DH if his bat gets hot. He is overshadowed in this trade by true prospects, but with the profile parallels and a clear path to playing time, Mejia could be a sleeper fantasy option in 2021.
C Blake Hunt
Highest Level: Low-A
Hunt is a 2021 sleeper prospect who became a not-so-sleeper after this trade. Even dating back to his draft year Hunt was lost in the mix of talented So-Cal prep players, but a big senior season at Mader Dei led the Padres to take him 69th overall in 2017. Hunt is much more than his 6’3″ 215lbs R/R profile leads you to believe. He has great bat speed but the lower half of his swing is remarkably quiet for someone his size, with no leg kick and a simple load leading to a—you guessed it—contact-oriented approach. As if the Rays needed any help, Hunt has already started tapping into some power, with added lower-half movement and promising reports from his showings at 2020 instructs. This power development comes after consecutive seasons with already above-average offense (.251/.348/.384) and no qualms about his ability to stick behind the plate (unofficially clocking 1.88 pop times). Catcher was perhaps the only weakness in an otherwise loaded Rays system, but the addition of Hunt (and Mejia if he can stick) changes that outlook. He surpasses Roberto Hernandez as Tampa Bay’s catcher of the future and should be ready to debut by 2022 if not before.
RHP Cole Wilcox
Highest Level: 2020 draftee
Wilcox was widely regarded as a first-round talent both coming out of high school and in this past draft. After choosing the college route, he slipped to the 3rd round this year as a draft-eligible sophomore due to signing bonus demands. The Padres gave him a hefty $3.3 million over-slot bonus to forego his final season at Georgia before shipping him to Tampa in this deal. Wilcox spent the majority of his freshman season pitching in relief, where his fastball played up into the high-90s and at times touching 100. He moved into the rotation in 2020 where the fastball was back in the 94-96 mph range but benefited from improved command, walking just 2 batters over 23 innings. His breaking pitch is an effective slurvy thing that sits 85-89 mph and appears to have more vertical movement than a typical hard slider, though college camera angles can be deceiving. Those two pitches alone likely make Wilcox a high leverage bullpen piece, with the good command giving him an outside shot to start. He teased a changeup at times in 2020 after ditching it completely from the bullpen. At present, it does not appear to be a relevant pitch, though the addition of a third pitch would greatly improve his chances of starting. He is another pitcher I think fits the Rays’ multi-inning blueprint, and along with Nick Bitsko will help replenish the top of a Rays pipeline with multiple pitchers close to graduating.
SS Reginald Preciado
Highest Level: R
While there is no true headliner to the Cubs package, Preciado appears to be the best of the bunch. The 17-year-old Panamanian SS signed with the Padres for $1.3 million as one of the top IFAs in the 2019 class and should be ranked near the top of Chicago’s farm. He is more than a few years from making a big league impact, and already at 6’4″ 185lbs may not be able to stick at SS. Wherever he plays, the real value lies in his bat. Preciado has impressive bat control for a switch-hitting teenager and is likely to develop more power as he grows into his lanky frame. He’s a good runner and could have sneaky 10-15 steal speed depending on growth. He’s an extremely raw player but with some generous projection has potential for stardom. I am pretty confident he grows into 20-30 HR power over the next few years, but likely moves to third base in the process.
SS Yeison Santana
Highest Level: R
Unlike Preciado, Santana has a good chance to stick at SS and projects to be an above-average defender. He was a tier below the top IFA targets in 2017, one of many to sign with the Padres for around $300,000, but quickly emerged as a more promising prospect. He slashed .346/.429/.494 in 2019 and with a patient approach and better on-base skills than most 18-year-olds in the AZL. Further, he showed better contact ability than most had projected while also starting to hit for more power. Defensively he is sound, with athleticism, range, and fluidity at SS. In many ways, Santana is a less volatile but lower potential version of Preciado. He is more advanced in all aspects and the glove should carry him to the big leagues fairly quickly. Less offensive potential limits his value from a fantasy perspective, but I think he’s good enough to be a .280/.350/.440 10-15HR average regular at peak. He should enter the back of Chicago’s top-10 prospects.
OF Owen Caissie
Highest Level: 2020 draftee
Caissie is a slugging Canadian outfielder the Padres took 45th overall in 2020. He forewent a commitment to Michigan to sign under slot ($1.2 million), which helped enable the Padres to take Cole Wilcox in the following round. He has potential 30 HR power, which he flashed by homering against the Blue Jays in an exhibition game for the Canadian Junior National Team. At 6’4″ 190lbs, he has adapted biomechanical aspects from other big framed hitters, specifically mentioning guys like Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa, and Barry Bonds in pre-draft interviews. As with most slugging corner bats, Caissie’s long swing is prone to whiffs, but he should be able to make enough contact to enable the power. He has a good arm (hitting 90 mph from RF) and decent speed for someone his size, which projects him to be a regular corner outfielder. I see a profile trajectory towards someone like Jay Bruce.
OF Ismael Mena
Highest Level: R
Mena is a wiry athletic CF with good speed and contact skills. Signed for $2.2 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2019, he has the traits of a future top of the order bat. Standing at 6’3″ 185lbs, his lanky build has room for more power, but he has shown good plate coverage with an inside-out approach thus far. Speed is his best present tool, projecting to be a 20-25 SB threat at peak and utilizing it to be an above-average defender in CF. Scouts have praised his outfield reads and jump to track balls in the gap, with an arm that should be at least average. Fantasy-wise, his speed and contact skills provide a floor for production though he will need at least some power output to provide consistent fantasy value. Even as a contact hitter though the defense should get him to the big leagues. He’s a raw but toolsy lottery ticket, much like the other 3 prospects in this deal.
Featured Image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)