(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)
The 2018/2019 MLB off-season is officially in full swing with the news of a big trade between the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners. In this trade, the #20 starting pitcher from Nick Pollack’s “Way Too Early top-100 Starting Pitchers List,” James Paxton, was traded to the Yankees for 3 prospects. Those 3 prospects going to the Mariners are SP Justus Sheffield, SP Erik Swanson, and OF Dom Thompson-Williams. Let’s take a more in-depth look at the prospects involved in the trade below!
Justus Sheffield (SP, Seattle Mariners) Age: 22, Level: MLB
Written by new Pitcher List staffer, Adam Lawler: Most of what you will read about Sheffield is warmed over. His name has graced the headlines the previous two seasons of top 100 fantasy prospect lists and he was considered by many to be the top prospect in the Yankees organization at the time of the trade. Allow us to summarize: Sheffield has good stuff. He produced 2.48 ERA this past season in the minors split between AA and AAA with 123 strikeouts against 50 strikeouts over 116 innings pitched. He could, might, maybe be good if he ends up a starting pitcher, but we’re not entirely sure if that will happen. All the potential is buoyed by a low-to-mid 90s fastball and two plus off-speed offerings. The qualifiers are based on concerns of his height (5’11”) and the lack of repeatability in his jerky delivery which impacts his command as evidenced by a 12.5 BB% at AA and 9.9 BB% at AAA this year in the minors. Here is some video evidence:
If you took a few minutes to watch video of Sheffield above, the optimism and the criticisms are fair. My biggest hang up on Sheffield was the undetermined timeline and his club’s commitment to his role. Well, throw that all out the window because Sheffield certainly has a role in the Mariners rotation with plenty of leash. According to RosterResource, the biggest threat to Sheffield losing a spot in the rotation is something called a Max Povse (bad) and a 31-year-old journeyman waived by the Blue Jays. In other words, you’re going to find out quickly if Sheffield can carry and succeed in a starter’s role. Still, I’m not a believer. I have a hunch he may have some initial success and fade midseason, which will feed more hope in the form of “growth/improvement for next year” narrative. In the end, I suspect he will be a guy who will have tantalizing stuff for a few innings and would do well in a long reliever role. There’s a place for that in fantasy, just not on your roster when identifying cornerstone rotation pieces.
Erik Swanson (SP, Seattle Mariners) Age: 25, Level: AAA
Swanson was an 8th round MLB draft pick in 2014 by the Texas Rangers and came to the Yankees as part of the Carlos Beltran trade in 2016. He had a big breakout year in 2018 including an absolutely dominant 42.2 innings run in the Eastern League at AA Trenton in which he posted a 0.42 ERA with 55 strikeouts against 15 walks. His 14.1% swinging-strike rate at AA was elite (note that MLB average this past year was 10.7%) and would have led the league if he had enough innings to qualify (ranked 15th best in the league among those with at least 40+ innings pitched which includes a number of relief pitchers). He proved near unhittable at the level, posting a .155 batting average against which finished 3rd in the Eastern League among pitchers with at least 40+ innings pitched, and it along with the ability to miss bats and throw strikes contributed to a dominant 1.88 FIP at the AA level. He continued to throw well upon a promotion to AAA in May where he threw 72.1 innings of 3.86 ERA ball. Over those 72.1 innings, Swanson was able to rack up 78 strikeouts against 14 walks with only 63 hits allowed. He continued to miss bats and limit contact with an above-average 11.4% swinging-strike rate and .229 batting average against respectively. His FIP and xFIP both finished below his actual ERA at AAA and so there’s a case to be made that he was somewhat unlucky, particularly HR wise as his HR/9 spiked to a minor league career worst of 1.24 at the AAA level.
Scouting report wise, Swanson is known for throwing hard, reaching 99 MPH in the past, and reports are that his secondary weapons have ticked up slightly this past year, particularly the changeup which plays well off the high-end velocity. The fastball is the key to the whole profile as it is both hard and offers late-life which helps keep it off of opposing barrels. He has a curveball that some call a slider because of the firmness, but it is a good get-me-over sort breaking ball that he can throw for strikes and also bury below the zone. His changeup reportedly saw more velocity separation this past year and that further allowed the pitch to play up despite average movement. Overall, it’s a profile with 1 plus pitch and 2 average pitches along with above-average control and that plays as a power #4 SP in an MLB rotation. Important to note that there is some relief risk here too where his fastball and slider both can play up! Consider him a deep dynasty league option at this point with some potential mid-size relevance considering his proximity to the majors.
Dom Thompson-Williams (OF, Seattle Mariners) Age: 23, Level: AA
Similar to Erik Swanson, Thompson-Williams had a breakout 2018 season which was largely spent at Advanced-A Tampa in the Florida State League. While there, Thompson-Williams slashed .290/.356/.517 over 375 PAs with 17 HRs and 17 SBs, and supported it with an 8.3% walk rate and 25.3% strikeout rate. All told it was worth a very impressive 147 wRC+ which ranked 3rd best in the circuit among qualified hitters. His 25.3% strikeout rate may not look too bad, but it’s important to note that it came with a below-average 14.5% swinging-strike rate while being nearly 2 years older than league average. Those sort of contact skills aren’t terrible by any means but they do suggest that there is some risk in him hitting enough to get the most out of his tools, both in real life and in fantasy baseball. He’s athletic and tooled up though and sometimes those sort of profiles sometimes take a little longer to develop. Speaking of tools, Thompson-Williams combines above-average speed with above-average raw power that he’s begun to tap into more this past year by raising his launch angle (51.4% GB rate at A- in 2017, 46.8% GB rate at A in 2017, 42.9% GB rate at A+ in 2018) and becoming more pull-happy. He’s kinda selling out for power which explains some of the contact issues in 2018. Overall I think there is a realistic 20/20 skill set here at the major league level with the upside for more, but I have questions on how his bat will translate at the higher levels of the minors and into the majors. Consider him a deep dynasty league option only at this point.