The J.T. Realmuto Situation, Part Deaux: The Saga Continues

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The Winter Meetings have come and gone. While J.T. Realmuto still remains property of the Miami Marlins’, the annual conferences between MLB GMs and executives provided us with a clearer picture of where, how and for whom the Marlins will flip J.T. sometime in the near future, a reality that, although Michael Hill says otherwise, is all but a foregone conclusion; that according to members of the media who were present in Las Vegas in mid-December.

While several teams that were thought to be viable suitors for Realmuto’s services such as the Rockies and Mets dropped out of the race either during the meetings or just after, the Braves have remained engaged, the Astros have come, gone and come back again, and a few new teams — the Rays, Dodgers and Yankees — have emerged as potential trade partners. Without forgetting about a potential Braves or Astros trade both of which I previewed here, here is a look at those aforementioned organizations, what they have to offer and what the Marlins’ asking price could be.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays, who were predicted to go 71-91 by SBNation, shocked the baseball world, finishing nearly exactly the opposite of that forecast, going 90-72. With a record that would have been a half game shy of winning the AL Central, the Rays proved they are closer than anyone thought to competing with the top dogs in the AL East and at the very least, becoming a wild card favorite. This coming year, the Rays will be without their stolen base leader Mallex Smith who they flipped in a trade and minus their home run leader CJ Cron who fled in free agency. Also departing the Rays is the man who started the most games behind the plate for them last season, Wilson Ramos, a .297/.346/.488 bat and 3.73 CERA backstop, as well as their most frequently used first baseman Jake Bauers. While the acquisition of Yandy Diaz will serve to quell the absence of Bauers and while the their rotation, with the return of Brent Honeywell, stands to get even better than the 3.68 ERA, 1.17 WHIP marks that they posted last season, Tampa still has a big question to answer: who will catch receive for them without creating a hole in the lineup? While Mike Zunino, who the Rays acquired in the Smith trade, can do the former (he’s coming off of +12 DRS, 35% CS% season), the .207/.276/.406 career hitter can barely do the latter. The only other catchers on the Rays’ 25-man roster are prospects Nick Ciuffo and Michael Perez. Accordingly, the Rays have recently emerged as a major player in the Realmuto sweepstakes. And they have plenty of organizational strength, perhaps the most of any team still involved in talks, to get a deal done.

The Proposal

To Miami:

OF Jesus Sanchez
SS Lucius Fox
C Mike Zunino

To Tampa Bay:

C J.T. Realmuto

OF Jesus Sanchez
2018 (A+-AA) – .282/.324/.433, 11 HR, 75 RBI, 92/26 K/BB

Signed out of the Dominican in 2014 as BaseballAmerica’s 27th-best ranked prospect during the international signing period, Sanchez broke into pro ball with the DSL Rays that same year. After continuing to annihilate pitching in his home country by hitting .335/.382/.498 with 24 XBH in 2015, Sanchez came to America a year later. There, Sanchez proved his abilities weren’t exclusive to the DR as he hit .329/.351/.549 with 25 XBH and 39 RBI across two levels. Sanchez then spent all of 2017 in full season A with Bowling Green where he hit .305/.348/.478, marks which ranked 2nd, 16th and 6th in the Midwest League. Furthermore, Sanchez’s 82 RBI led the league and his 29 doubles tied for fourth. This past season, Sanchez spent his first 90 games in A+ where he hit .301/.331/.462 with 35 XBH including 10 homers before a call to AA at age 20. He lived out 2018 hitting .214/.300/.327 as a Montgomery Biscuit.

Not 21 until October of next year, Sanchez has ridden overseas stardom and a high international draft slot with the according big pay day to immediate sustainable success as an American pro. The tools he has to thank for that are natural physical and raw power exploits that he has advantageously grown into via a well-balanced load. His upper half utilities including snappy wrists through the zone partner well with his mid-level front leg timing trigger and explosively active hips through his lofty swing with natural lift and his knack for keeping the barrel in the zone. Sanchez will struggle against quality breaking stuff, especially when behind in the count, leading to an elevated K rate. However, despite being very aggressive, Sanchez has enough plate presence and more than enough bat-to-ball skills to foul plus breaking stuff off early in counts, to work into advantageous situations and to force pitchers to come to him. His innate abilities including that to notice, see, time and stride in to high velocity, allow him to make the most of those occurrences, leading to the plus average and plus-plus power numbers he’s been able to translate.

With 60 grade hit, power and arm tools that should only improve with age and physical growth, Sanchez profiles as a very low-risk middle of the order corner outfielder at the big league level within the next two years. Scouts place his big league ceiling extremely high: .300+ BA, 30+ HR. Despite Miami’s strong organizational outfield depth, Sanchez is a guy the Marlins simply cannot pass up in a potential deal with Tampa Bay.

SS Lucius Fox
2018 (A+-AA) – .268/.351/.341, 3 HR, 20 2B, 39 RBI, 99/51 K/BB, 29/9 SB/CS

Judging by every decision the new Marlins regime has made and everything they have said, it is easy to assess they hold certain player traits in very high regard: versatility and athleticism. Lucius Fox is the physical embodiment of both of those traits.

Fox played high school ball locally at high-flying, world-renowned American Heritage Academy in Del Ray Beach where he was a 6.4 60-yard runner, an advanced infielder with hard-charging instincts and a quick arm and where the switch-hitter showed good mechanics from both sides of the plate including flashy hands to the ball and good barrel placement. At 17, Fox who was born in the Bahamas, forwent a commitment to NC State and instead declared himself an international free agent. The day he turned 18, Fox became a multi-millionaire, signing with San Francisco for $6 million.

The following August, Fox completed a .207/.305/.277, 25 SB, 76/37 K/BB, 75 game rookie season at full season A against competitor that, on average, was nearly four years older than him. Despite flashing his 70-grade speed very early in his career, the Giants sold extremely low on Fox, dealing him to the Rays along with Matt Duffy who had a 2.4 WAR last year and Michael Santos who is Tampa’s number two prospect and stands to figure well with within their future plans. Going back to the Giants was a lone figure: lefty Matt Moore. Moore had a 242.2 IP, 12-20, 5.12 ERA, 1.475 WHIP career in San Francisco before moving on to Detroit. Fox’s and Santos’ development pending, the trade stands to be considered one of the worst fleecings in Giants’ franchise history. And that’s after Tampa agreed to drop a protest they raised upon finding a bone bruise on Fox’s foot during preliminary medical tests, a grievance that could’ve gotten them even more.

As it turns out, it would’ve taken a lot more than a foul ball off the foot to slow Fox down, both literally and figuratively. In 2017, Fox continued to torch the low A ranks on the basepaths, stealing 27 bags in 37 attempts. He made those 37 attempts in just 77 games via the quick maturation of his hit tool which allotted him a .278 BA and .362 OBP and earned him a call to high A at the MiLB midseason mark as well as an appearance in the Futures Game during the MLB All-Star break. He finished 2017 by hitting .235/.321/.287 in a 30 games with the Charlotte StoneCrabs.

Fox’s steady progression continued this past season when the 20-year-old hit .282/.371/.353 in 89 games for Charlotte. The best power numbers he’s ever posted at any level (20 total XBHs) came in one of the toughest leagues to hit in in all of MiLB, the FSL. His speed on the bases also persisted as he stole 23 more bags in 30 chances. Late in the year, Fox received a promotion to Montgomery. As one of the youngest players in all of AA and against the most advanced competition he has ever faced, he stole six more bases on eight attempts and slashed .221/.284/.298.

One of the fastest runners and most successful in all of professional baseball, Fox’s best tool, his speed, serves him just as well in the field where he shows great range as it does on the basepaths where he can turn virtually any ball in play into a hit. Through his minor league career, Fox has caught his approach against righties up to his further developed approach from the right side of the plate, showing similar pitch recognition and the same short step to the ball. From the right side, he has calmed down attempting to do too much with pitches, leading to better swing mechanics and a better balls in play average. If the past two years in which Fox returned to the level in which he ended the previous season only to completely dominate (as well as his impressive .326/.437/.352 Arizona Fall League appearance) are any indication, it isn’t hard to perceive that Fox, who already shows 4/5 tools and is still physically growing, will be ready to contribute to a big league team by midseason 2019.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Through a massive trade on Thursday. the Dodgers sent Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer all to the Cincinnati Reds for two prospects, Jeter Downs and Josiah Grey. The most significant factor in this trade is that the Dodgers will save $7 million in salary and nearly $15 mil off their luxury tax payroll, making them a major player for the season’s biggest name free agent, Bryce Harper. However, without the services of Yasmani Grandal who left in free agency, the Dodgers still have a glaring hole at catcher. Who better to fill that spot on what would become a World Series favorite than the best catcher in baseball who still has two seasons of club control to his credit? But do the Dodgers have enough prospect power to get the deal done? After the aforementioned trade, the answer is yes, they do.

The Proposal

To Miami

OF Alex Verdugo
C Keibert Ruiz
IF Jeter Downs

To Los Angeles

C J.T. Realmuto

OF Alex Verdugo
2018 (AAA, 91 G) – .329/.391/.472, 19 2B, 10 HR, 44 RBI. 47/34 K/BB

Verdugo is the Dodgers second round pick from 2014 out of Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Arizona where, as a senior, he showed off his ahead-of-his-time skills by hitting .532 and hitting 95 MPH with fastball with developing breaking stuff from the mound. Where most teams preferred Verdugo as a pitcher, the Dodgers selected him as an outfielder. Since 2014, they haven’t regretted that choice for a minute but rather have looked like geniuses.

Since his selection by LA, the All-USA selection has grown into one of the most complete hitting prospects in all of Minor League Baseball. Slashing .309/.367/.444 in 512 games on the minor league circuit including .273/.336/.407 with 13 HR in AA in 2016 and .314/.389/.414 in AAA in 2017, the outfielder hit .329/.391/.472 in 91 games with Oklahoma City before receiving his first major league call late in the year. In that 37-game cup of coffee with the Dodgers, Verdugo hit a respectable .260/.329/.377 with six doubles and his first career MLB homer.

Still just 21, Verdugo is touted for his clean and quick simple swing, snappy wrists, great contact rates and the ability to cover the whole plate, allowing him to go to all fields and making him nearly impossible to strike out. His compact line-drive hitting approach and pitch recognition abilities likely tab him for two-hole hitting duties in the future, though if he adds a bit of uppercut to his swing, he could become a guy who reaches fences more often, making him a daunting middle-of-the-order threat.

Though he may lack some “boom” offensively, he doesn’t have that problem at all on defense. Scouted as a 70-grade arm, Verdugo, a former pitcher, trades just average speed for good initial reads and a canon arm, tools that have allowed him to hold down center field in the minors and that make him a more than viable candidate to man right at the big league level.

With a plus-plus hit tool that would become elite with the addition of some plane to his swing and similar defense at multiple positions, Verdugo has little left to prove in the minors. As a potential Marlin, he would start in right field on Opening Day along with Lewis Brinson in center and Austin Dean in left. His addition would also allow the Marlins to make available Dean as well as Magneuris Sierra and Brian Miller in any future dealings.

C Keibert Ruiz
2018 (AA) – .268/.328/.401, 14 2B, 12 HR, 47 RBI, 33/26 K/BB

Signed out of Venezuela for $140,000 as an international prospect at age 16, Ruiz has wasted no time making a name for himself stateside. After starting his career by hitting an even .300 with a .340 OBP and .360 SLG with a 36% CS% behind the plate in the Dominican Summer League, Ruiz made his American baseball debut by slashing .374/.412/.527 between the Arizona League (8 games) and the Pioneer League’s Ogden Raptors (35 games).

In 2017, Ruiz made the jump to full season A ball and continued raking, slashing .317/.372/.423. Ruiz spent the final 38 games of that year with A+ Rancho Cucamonga. There, the 18-year-old, competing against guys that averaged 22 years old, nearly matched his Midwest League slash line (and showed more power), hitting .315/.344/.497 with six homers.

This past season, Ruiz made the jump to AA where he played against competition that were nearly five years older than him, making him the youngest player in the Texas League. Still, Ruiz managed a respectable .268 BA, a .728 OPS and a career high 26% CS% behind the plate.

Ruiz is considered the most complete of Los Angeles’ young crop of catchers which also includes Will Smith and Diego Cartaya. Despite being listed and grown as a switch hitter thus far in his career, Ruiz is much more comfortable from the left side of the plate and his numbers prove it. With a more upright stance, a better swing plane and less pull-happy instincts, Ruiz covers the plate much more advantageously as a southpaw. This past season, he hit .276/.334/.420 as a lefty versus .238/.304/.333 as a righty. In his future as a big leaguer, Ruiz will likely be asked to drop hitting from the right side altogether.

No matter what side he is hitting from, Ruiz has a fantastic hitters eye, one that allowed him to post a 33/26 K/BB against AA pitching this past season, part of a 128/74 career. He also has the baseball IQ needed to make adjustments mid-count and will rarely press or chase waste pitches, an innate trait rarely found in players his age.

Like many hitters at his level of development, Ruiz trades a high leg kick timing trigger for a less-advantageous step into the ball, a habit that is extremely coachable (as Brinson and Monte Harrison, both of whom have a less advanced hitters eye than Ruiz, proved this past season). The lefty-hitting 20-year-old still has room to grow physically, which should aid his offensive power numbers as well as his his arm strength and his blocking skills behind the plate. Though his framing skills need some polish, Ruiz is a plus receiver who exhibits good lateral and vertical movement, leading to good pop times. Not far from completing a 4/5 tool skillset, Ruiz profiles as a middle-of-the-order threat with plus plus on base skills, a ceiling not too distant from the man that would be going to the other side of this potential trade.

IF Jeter Downs
2018 (A) – .257/.351/.402, 23 2B, 13 HR, 47 RBI, 103/52 K/BB, 37/10 SB/CS

Jeter, Miami acquire Jeter’s namesake, Miami’s Jeter Downs? Seems like a match made in journalistic heaven… and, given the middle infielder’s talent level, a perfect match for the current state of the Marlins’ system.

Jeter Downs was born on July 27, 1988 in San Andreas, Colombia where his father, Jerry named him for then Yankees infielder turned Marlins owner Derek Jeter. Since then, Downs has honored his namesake by becoming one of the fastest rising middle infield prospects in all of Minor League Baseball. 

“I have always loved it,” Downs told last May. “Jeter was one of my favorite players growing up, just the way he carried himself, on and off the field. He was never in trouble, he was a good role model to look up to as a kid growing up.

In 1992, the Reds passed up Derek Jeter in the Draft. In 2016, when the name Jeter became available to them at pick #37, the club made sure not to make the same mistake twice. Upon signing with Cincinnati, Downs, who had a .430/.529/.849 prep career all while wearing the number 2, spent 2017 in short season ball. There, in 50 games with the Billings Mustangs, Downs hit .267/.370/.424 while he posted a low .288 OBP. Against competition nearly three years older than him, Downs showed off his extremely mature plate discipline, posting a walk percentage of nearly 13% and a 1.19 K/BB.

This past season, Downs got his first taste of full-season ball. In his 120 games, Downs proved his durability both in a physical and in a statistical sense as and in a statistical sense as he slashed a similar .257/.351/.402 with a 10% walk rate and a 1.98 K/BB. More games meant much more opportunity for Downs to show off his plus-plus speed and he did so very regularly. The 19-year-old went 37/47 in stolen base opportunities, a 79% success rate. That same 70 grade speed tool allotted Downs 23 doubles. Though power was the main question mark surrounding Downs coming out of high school, he proved his plus bat speed and elite contact rates can allow him to reach the fences at a respectable rate as he homered 13 times. The only thing working against Downs is a pull-heavy tendency, something that should work itself out with age and lead to an even better BA.

Paired with a lean-but-athletic build with plenty of room to grow and a present 60-grade arm at shortstop, Downs represents a future a five-tool talent well worthy of recognition within the top 10 middle infield prospects headed in to 2019.

New York Yankees

The Yankees, another squad that plays in the most competitive and most formidable division in Major League Baseball, the AL East, won 100 games in 2018 but still finished eight games behind the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox. In a great division that is only getting better with the rise of the Rays and the near-future projection of the Blue Jays, the Yankees seek to fill their biggest hole, backstop, with a controllable asset. They’d like to make Realmuto that man.

The Proposal

To Miami

IF Miguel Andujar
RHP Garrett Whitlock

To New York

C JT Realmuto

IF Miguel Andujar
2018 (MLB) – .297/.328/.527, 47 2B, 27 HR, 92 RBI, 97/25 K/BB

The Yankees sixth ranked prospect headed into 2018, 23-year-old Miguel Andujar enjoyed a .267/.306/.622 spring, the capping of a .274/.323/.412 MiLB career including a .315/.352/.498 2017 campaign between AA and AAA. Those exports earned Andujar a spot on New York’s Opening Day roster. 120 games later after a seven game hit streak and 18 game on base streak, the Yankees’ starting third baseman held down a .296/.327/.528 slash line. While his 49 doubles and 96 RBIs led all MLB rookies, Andujar’s 27 homers tied Daniel Palka for most amongst them. When it came to rookies with at least 100 games played, Andujar also lead the way in BA and ranked third in slugging. He garnered 5% if the first place Rookie Of The Year vote, but ultimately lost out to two-way Japanese standout Shohei Ohtani.

Still, Andujar provides the on-the-cusp Yankees with a massive bartering chip. The number three third base prospect in baseball after he hit .315/.352/.498 between AA and AAA in 2017, Andujar showed the same plus bat speed and uppercut power swing plane needed to succeed against MLB velocities and above all, the ability to cover the plate. While his 16% K rate didn’t look too terribly impressive at first glance, Andujar made contact with pitches outside of the zone at nearly a 70% rate, up nearly 7% from the league average (as a rookie) proving he didn’t regularly chase too far out of the zone. On pitches inside the zone, Andujar has a 92% contact rate, up 6% from the league average. Accordingly, his 82% contact rate ranked 5% higher than the average MLB player.

In his rookie season, Andujar proved he is a special combination of contact, strike zone knowledge and elite plate coverage, capable of providing both average and power. And he’s still just 23. Though he has good range and a great arm, Andujar’s throwing accuracy has been a historic question mark, including last year when he committed 15 errors and posted a -2.2 dWAR. Accordingly, his future in MLB could, and, as a Marlin, would be at first base, a position in which Miami owns little organizational depth. Andujar’s acquisition would immediately lock up that position for years to come. With the capability of being a franchise cornerstone, if the Marlins have a chance at reeling in Andujar, even though he has surpassed prospect status, they should not pass it up.

RHP Garrett Whitlock
2018 (A-AA) – 120.2 IP, 1.86 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 122/41 K/BB

With Whitlock, the Yankees truly found a diamond in the rough. Not heavily recruited as a high schooler, Whitlock decided to commit to  one of his few interested parties, UAB. Following two seasons’ worth of good but not eye popping 3.56 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 2.00 K/BB ball in Conference USA, the Yankees took a chance on Whitlock in round 18 of the 2017 Draft. After some debating, Whitlock ultimately decided to sign with New York for $247K.

Since then, Whitlock has pushed the far end of the plus side of his low-risk, high-reward profile. After getting his feet wet in pro ball by tossing 21.2 innings worth of 3.77 ERA, 0.98 WHIP ball to end 2017, Whitlock pitched at three different levels last season, holding down a collective 1.86 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP and a 122/41 K/BB. It was his first year in full season ball. Following a 40 IP, 1.13 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 44/7 K/BB start in low A, Whitlock was called up to A+ Tampa where spent the bulk of his season. There, he posted a 2.44 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 74/27 K/BB in 70 IP. The highlight of his breakout season was a 43.2 IP streak in which he allowed just one earned run and had a 42/11 K/BB. On June 23, against the Miami-affiliated Jupiter Hammerheads, Whitlock struck out a career high 11 in seven innings of shutout, three hit ball. In his single start in AA, a 5.2 IP, 1 ER effort, Whitlock threw a career high 103 pitches. An outing later, he was shut down for the year with general arm fatigue. Despite the slightly abbreviated finish to his season, Whitlock proved the ability to hold up against professional talent and workloads, providing him with plenty to offer a big league rotation. At 6’5”, Whitlock shows great extension in his release and the ability to limit his opposition’s reaction time. He creates even more deception with a low 3/4 arm slot and good control over his deep arsenal of quality pitches. Those offerings include a low-90s two seam fastball, a mid-90s four seamer, a power slider and a piggybacking changeup.

Whitlock shows a well advanced pitcher’s IQ, selecting pitches well and managing his stamina even better, holding velocity deep in to his starts. A contact-first thrower who has seen his swing-and-miss stuff take a jump due to his frequency of use and coachability, Whitlock is a mechanically sound hurler who pounds and commands the zone with all four of his pitches, generating weak contact and/or swings and misses, giving him the floor of a back end starter/swing man and the ceiling of a 3-4 rotational piece. Still just 22, there’s plenty of time for Whitlock to reach that ceiling as he reaps the benefits of professional coaching.

One response to “The J.T. Realmuto Situation, Part Deaux: The Saga Continues”

  1. Man I would take the LA’s offer all day !

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