The question this offseason has not been “will the Rays trade a starting pitcher?” It has been more like “who will it be? To what team? And when?” The answer(s): James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals on December 9th.
After days of speculation – and in reality weeks and months of talks between the two clubs – the Rays and Royals completed a seven-player trade late Sunday evening. Kansas City receives Shields, Davis, and a player to be named later while the Tampa Bay receives prospects: outfielder Wil Myers, right-handed starter Jake Odorizzi, left-handed starter Mike Montgomery, and third baseman Patrick Leonard. In the next few days, we will break down the trade in a few different ways, but for now let’s get familiar with the newest members of the organization.
Wil Myers is the most well-known piece of the deal for good reason. I recently covered him in-depth, so I’ll hit the highlights here. The reigning Minor-League player of the year is a top-tier offensive prospect. Excellent hands, and exceptional bat speed, should allow him to hit for a decent average with plus-power and solid plate discipline at the next level. In time, the former catcher should be a steady defender in the right field, where his plus-arm plays well. He is a decent, yet not fast, runner, who is credited with working hard and good makeup. In a perfect world, Myers becomes an All-Star, teaming up with Evan Longoria in the middle of the Rays’ lineup for years to come. Meanwhile, he is still a prospect – one who is not without flaws – so the risk of him not reaching that potential is legitimate.
Myers’ service time will be a hot button issue this March. With outfield options already on the roster, the Rays may choose to start him in Durham, delaying his arbitration clock which would keep his salary lower for longer.
Either way, Myers is the stud here; the type of talent you depart with starting pitching for, and one who can help the Rays win in 2013 and beyond.
Also figuring in the Rays’ 2013 plans could be right-hander Jake Odorizzi. Blockbuster trades are a familiar thing for Odorizzi, who was the crown jewel in the Royals-Brewers trade for Zack Greinke. A first-round pick in 2008, he made his major-league debut in 2012 and figures to return to the big leagues at some point this year.
Odorizzi gets high marks for his athletic frame and smooth delivery. Meanwhile, his stuff grades out as more solid than spectacular. He leads with a low-90s fastball that can hit the mid-90s with downward movement. His secondary pitches include a changeup and two forms of a breaking ball: curve and slider. The breaking stuff generally receives higher grades while the changeup is mostly average. With a strong, athletic body, future workload should not be an issue for Odorizzi.
He throws strikes with more substance than flash. He has multiple pitches to attack hitters with a feel for pitching, and not just throwing. He will give up the occasional home run, and sometimes battle with command. He should also rack up innings on a consistent basis.
I’m speaking about Odorizzi here, but a lot of that describes James Shields too. Of course, Shields has been successful at the major-league level – one with a defined knockout pitch – but Odorizzi appears to be in that mold. With more refinement on his secondary offerings, he could help fill the void Shields leaves in the rotation sooner than later.
Many are calling this trade a knockout victory for the Rays, however, the true winner may be determined by the left arm of Mike Montgomery. Like Odorizzi, Montgomery was a first-round selection in 2008. However, unlike Odorizzi, his projection is largely built on stuff more so than results.
A 6-foot-4 lefty with the ability to hit the mid-90s, Montgomery has an arm teams covet. In addition to the heater, he has a decent curveball and his changeup was rated as the best in the Royals’ system according to Baseball America. He was a top-10 organizational prospect heading in 2012, but sub-par performances at the higher levels knocked him down a notch. Although he has natural ability, his mechanics are a bit messy.
After two unimpressive seasons in 2011 and 2012, Montgomery, 23, comes to Tampa Bay as a reclamation project. If the Rays’ can clean up his mechanics, and maximize his talent, he has higher upside than Odorizzi. He likely starts the season in Durham, where he becomes pitching coach Neil Allen‘s top priority. Should things go well, he could find himself pitching in the big leagues later in the year.
The forth piece of the puzzle, Patrick Leonard, is also the farthest from impact. A fifth-round pick in 2011, the Houston product made his professional debut in 2012. Playing in the Appalachian league, he showed considerable power from his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame, belting 14 home runs in 62 games. He also walked more than 10 percent of the time which was impressive for a teenager. As of right now, he is a third baseman with a big arm, but could shift across the diamond as he progresses. Some project a breakout year is on the horizon, but he is several years away from the big-league level. In a system lacking positional player prospects, Leonard is more than just a throw-in, and could be one to watch.
We will have more on this deal in the days to come, but for now we welcome the new additions and say farewell to Shields and Davis. Thanks for the memories.
Personal note: Over the past few seasons, I have come to terms with trading Shields; however, I feel a bit numb now that it has actually happened. I always figured I would have many more words to say about his departure, but at least for right now, few come to mind. What does come to mind is my gratitude for his contributions on the field and his work in the community off of it.
I have no qualms about saying Shields is by far my favorite Rays’ player of all-time. And as much as my analytical mind is drawn to advanced metrics, I have learned an invaluable amount about pitching by simply watching and talking to him about his craft.Unfortunately, Shields will be picked apart in the next few days as critics rush to judgement on such a huge deal, but know this: The Kansas City Royals just got themselves one hell of a pitcher. Best of luck, 33.