The trade deadline passed at 4 PM ET this afternoon, and the Jays played it just about how you’d have expected them to — provided you’d been paying attention to the things they’ve been saying in the weeks leading up to this point. Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro dealt away rentals Francisco Liriano and Joe Smith for some pieces that genuinely will help their depth down the line. They kept one foot in 2017 (albeit with an eye perhaps on making deals in August), keeping José Bautista and Marco Estrada. And they kept hope alive for 2018, by not moving anybody else.
Let’s review it all! We began in Part One with the Liriano deal. Now, it’s Joe Smith to the Cleveland Baseball Team for Tom Pannone and Samad Taylor.
It turns out that I was probably wrong in my belief that Joe Smith was the best trade piece among the Jays’ impending free agents. Left-handed relievers are not easy to come by, and the fact that Smith has been, without question, a better pitcher than Liriano this season maybe didn’t mean as much as I thought. Liriano’s got a well-earned reputation for sometimes having trouble finding the plate, but with just one walk to the 63 lefties he’s faced this season, that simply hasn’t been the case (given the role that the Astros intend to use him in). He’s walked 42 in 67 innings worth of work against right-handers.
After the Liriano deal, I must admit I got my hopes up a little bit for what would come next. So when this one was announced, it was a little underwhelming. I think even to a lot of fans who didn’t have their hopes up it seemed underwhelming. And, naturally, the stooges who spent all day with their flies down waiting to piss on anything and everything that “Shapatkins” (seriously, please stop with that) did not like the deal very much either.
That we were underwhelmed, though, probably says more about our reliance on scouting sites than it does on what the Jays have actually done here.
Tom Pannone wasn’t on Cleveland’s top 30 prospects list at MLB Pipeline. He wasn’t on the pre-season top 18 at FanGraphs, or the top 20 at Minor League Ball, or any of the top 10 lists from the various big scouting services. But there are reasons for that that we can go deeper than simply assuming, like some braying dipshit, that this means he’s a non prospect and Smith has been given away to Cleveland for nothing — as a gift, both to Shapiro and Atkins’ old organization, and (it later turned out) to Smith himself, who now can be closer to his mother, who is sick with Huntington’s disease.
If the latter was part of the reason the Jays chose to move Smith to Cleveland, all else being equal, good on them. But it doesn’t take a lot of digging to see that this deal makes a lot of baseball sense, too.
For starters, we have this:
While Pannone (1.96 ERA at AA/A+ in '17), isn't on CLE's @MLBPipeline Top 30, source says some rival clubs view him as Top 10 CLE prospect.
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) July 31, 2017
Pannone maybe reminds me Ryan Borucki a little bit. Oh, I’ve never seen either one of them pitch, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were nothign like each other in a lot of ways, but there are a bunch of general similarities that are pretty striking. Both are left-handers, and both are 23. Both were not high profile picks (Borucki a 15th rounder in 2012, Pannone a 9th rounder in 2013). Both spent quite a bit of time in the lower minors, not reaching High-A until last season. Both have been somewhat late bloomers, really coming into their own in the last two seasons (Borucki because of injury, Pannone because he needed refinement due to the fact that he was an outfielder until his draft year). Both are doing it without overpowering stuff, but a pretty good a feel for pitching. And both are maybe a little more easily overlooked because they’ve been slightly old for the levels they’ve truly excelled at.
“Borucki has an 88-92 mph fastball that peaks at 94, with late movement that helps him to generate ground balls. His plus changeup plays nicely off of his heater because he throws it with similar arm speed, and it gives him a chance against right-handed hitters. Borucki’s slider is less advanced than his changeup, with varying shape and pace, but it has the potential to be another Major League-average pitch. Despite missing parts of three seasons due to injury, Borucki has never lost his feel for pounding the zone with his entire arsenal,” explains MLB Pipeline on their Jays number 15 prospect.
And on Pannone, now ranked 21st on the Jays list: “Pannone can run his fastball up to 92-93 mph but usually sits more in the 88-91 mph range. Though not overpowering, Pannone’s heater plays above its velocity on account of his deception, allowing him to induce whiffs inside the zone. He has good feel for his curveball, showing the ability to throw it for a strike and also bury it in the dirt when vying for whiffs, and he’s adept at adding and subtracting with the pitch as needed. His changeup gives him a third average-or-better offering, albeit one he uses sparingly, and he has good command of all three pitches.”
I think Borucki is very possibly a better prospect than a lot of the lists are giving credit, but he’s the type of pitcher who will need to keep proving himself. And even as he has started to prove himself — he’s now made two starts in Double-A, allowing just one rune over 14 innings, striking out 11, walking just three, keeping the ball in the ballpark, and producing ground balls at a 70% rate — the samples are too small for his ranking to really start to reflect it. And even if he may be proving he’ll have a high-ish floor, it’s still harder to buy in on the ceiling — whereas a Conner Greene, who is all stuff and no results, has the kind of fastball you can really dream on, and is consistently ranked as such.
I suspect that Pannone fits this mold somewhat as well. He’s spent more time in Double-A, having now made 14 starts, and while they haven’t been as good as Borucki’s first two, or his incredible five starts in High-A this year (zero earned runs, seven walks, 39 strikeouts over 27.2 innings), they’ve still been quite nice. He’s thrown 82 innings over 14 starts, piling up 81 strikeouts, walking 21, and producing a 2.62 ERA and a 2.94 FIP in his first taste of the level.
Now, I don’t want to just scout the stat line here, and ceiling is obviously really important. I’m not saying there aren’t really good reasons for these guys to be questioned. But that’s where the Jays having their own, well resourced, independent scouting department can give them an edge.
Surely they’ve had their eyes on Pannone. Surely the fact that Shapiro and Atkins were in Cleveland when he was drafted helps. Surely they know him just about as well as anybody outside of that organization.
Does that mean they can’t be wrong here? Of course not.
But there’s more to like about Pannone, if you’re the Jays, than just the fact that you think there’s a nice shot he can be better than his floor. Panonne is also a pitcher that fits quite nicely into a gap in the club’s pipeline. Sure, Sean Reid-Foley and Jon Harris have more starts at Double-A, and Conner Greene has quite a few more starts at the level (37 to Pannone’s 14), but none of those higher ceiling guys have yet had the kind of success that demands a promotion. But Borucki could get to Buffalo fairly quickly in 2018. So, too, could Pannone. And Chris Rowley is already there.
These are pretty important pieces! They’re the kinds of pieces this front office has been trying to acquire since the day they arrived. Young, cheap, controllable starters in the upper minors who can fill out a rotation in a pinch and be sent back down, and eventually make the case that they deserve a spot of their own. Guys who’ll eventually — if not in 2018 — minimize the need for the kinds of retreads we’ve seen through Buffalo all this season and last: TJ House, Brett Oberholtzer, Jarrett Grube, Cesar Valdez, Mike Bolsinger, Lucas Harrell, Matt Latos, Scott Diamond, Chris Leroux, Wade LeBlanc, Scott Copeland.
Given all those names, obviously three pitchers aren’t going to solve the problem themselves. But this is a pretty OK start — and much better than what they started this season with. And it’s is how the pipeline is supposed to work. Reid-Foley and Greene and Harris will eventually force their way into the picture, ideally. Keep filling up the lower levels in the draft and eventually things will, hopefully, start looking pretty bright.
Yes, yes, that’s a lot to put on Tom fuckin’ Pannone! But you see how it all fits, or at least is supposed to.
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Oh yeah, the Jays also got switch-hitting shortstop (or, more likely, second base) prospect Samad Taylor in the deal. Taylor was a 10th round pick last year, who this season in Low-A, with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, has shown a little bit of pop, but not a whole lot else — and especially not much of an ability to take a walk, with 5 BBs in 130 plate appearances (3.8%). The power (.167 ISO, .467 SLG) isn’t enormous, but it surprising for a young shortstop (he turned 19 this month) and one listed at 5’10 and 120… which is exactly what Jim Callis said when he signed.
— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) June 17, 2016
The fact that he went under slot was apparently a small surprise, as he was committed to play at Arizona. Jeff Ellis of Cleveland Baseball Team Prospect Insider last June that Taylor “did not have a lot of exposure heading into the Area Code Games last year, because he was a home school kid as a junior. So he only got to play in a league with kids sitting out the high school season. He did very well in the Area Code Games, which helped to elevate his profile. The name of the game with Taylor is quick twitch athleticisms. He has good bat speed, quick hands, and runs well. The switch hitter has a chance to stick at short, but could also play second. The Indians could use more depth up the middle, and Taylor would give them quite the athlete there.”
Maybe a hidden gem will one day emerge from here. But he’s so far away that I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath.