Today, the baseball world refers to the blockbuster trade between the Rangers and Phillies as "The Hamels Deal". The truth is, one day everyone might be calling it "The Williams Deal" or "The Alfaro Deal". All five prospects traded to Philadelphia have impact potential and are close to establishing themselves at the major league level. I'll break the trade down, one piece at a time, to analyze who is leaving the Rangers and packing their bags for Philly.
Widely viewed as the best prospect in the trade is outfielder Nick Williams. Before this season, Williams combined incredible contact skills - thanks to quick hands - with an uncomfortable approach at the plate. He lacked selectivity and aggressively swung at balls without proper judgement. Thankfully though, Williams has put that approach behind him and looked formidable at the plate, showing patience and confidence in what he swings at. The 21-year-old has cut his strikeout rate down from 28.7 percent in A+ Myrtle Beach in 2014 to 18.7 percent in AA Frisco. The plate discipline gains have resulted in Williams flying up prospect lists, landing at #21 overall in Baseball Prospectus' Midseason Top 50. He's not a finished product; however, and will require further sharpening of his reads on the base-paths and routes in the outfield. Williams' 39 stolen bases in 62 chances make for a disappointing ratio for someone with plus speed. His below-average arm limits his potential in RF, but he still has a shot at being a solid defender in LF or CF.
On the statistical level, Williams ranks as the fifth best batter (wRC+) in the Texas League, and is a significantly better prospect than the four ranked ahead of him when factoring age and defensive abilities. He has an above average BABIP right now but that may gradually change as the season progresses, ultimately leading to a batting average hovering between .290-.300. William's hit tool is truly a plus asset, combining newfound pitch judgement with the bat speed to launch line drives and fly balls. The 2015 spray chart, below, demonstrates how often Williams will sting the ball to the opposite field (MLBFarm.com).
Catcher Jorge Alfaro will also be sent to Philadelphia in the trade. The 22-year-old has been located in AA Frisco for the entire season but suffered a season-ending left ankle injury in June. Despite the high-level assignment, Alfaro is still regarded as being a raw talent. His arm is praised as an 80-grade tool; however, the rest of his defensive skills need sharpening. In fact, Alfaro's defensive miscues can at times limit what he can do with his cannon of an arm. Nevertheless, he is progressing thanks to an unusual amount of athleticism for a catcher. If he cannot handle catching duties, his glove might be able to work at 3B or RF. Alfaro doesn't steal many bases, but he does possess average, if not better, speed. His bat also needs refinement, especially when dealing with breaking balls. Alfaro commonly looks too hard for a fastball, which leads to fairly worrying swing-and-miss issues. His 29.5 K% ranks 3rd in the Texas League among batters with more than 200 plate appearances. Alfaro's power is another major weapon from the catcher position, with some scouts grading it as plus tool.
From 2013 to 2014, Alfaro managed to hit 35 home runs in 890 at-bats ranging from the rookie to AA level. Before his injury this season, he was on pace for only about 12 home runs if given 450 at-bats. For most, the tools have yet to develop into game-usable skills, something that needs to be mastered before Alfaro can become a viable catcher. In the most likely scenario, he does have the profile that invokes comparisons to current Rangers' catcher Robinson Chirinos: strong arm, above average power, weak bat, and average defense at catcher. Definitely not worthless but a far cry from what Alfaro has the potential for.
Before the trade, the Phillies' farm system was stocked fairly well with pitchers that could turn into reasonable #4 or #5 starters. Franklyn Kilome being an exception, newly acquired Jake Thompson has the highest potential out of any pitching prospect in the organization. Sporting a fastball that hovers around 90-94 mph, he can reach back for more in relief stints. His slider proved to be much more effective as a reliever, but still held up fairly well as a starter for AA Frisco this year. What was once deemed a 65-grade pitch, now lies somewhere in between a 55 and 60 grade. Thompson also throws an average changeup and curveball. Even though his arsenal hasn't held up as well this season, Thompson still has the potential to become a solid #3 starter.
Jerad Eickhoff is major-league ready. The 25-year-old starter has pitched much more successfully than his AAA Round Rock ERA might have you believe. He brings a heavy 91-95 mph fastball and downer curve to the table, along with a fringy but usable changeup and slider. His path to prospect status has been a long one, with a breakout season in 2014 in AA largely where scouts discovered his potential to be a backend starter. Seeing as how Aaron Nola is the only remaining Phillies starter with an xFIP below 4.11, I wouldn't hesitate to place Eickhoff at the back of the rotation and see how he handles the job for the rest of the season.
The last prospect in the deal is also close to major-league ready. 23-year-old Alec Asher starts for AAA Round Rock, and has a keen awareness of the strike zone. Ranked as the #13 prospect in the Texas system entering 2015 by Baseball America, Asher has a workhorse starter's frame with the potential to be a #5 starter. He repeats his delivery well and averages a fastball in the low 90's. His 6'4" frame and heightened release point leads to a great pitcher's angle, but may result in a high rate of home runs. His fastball can flatten out at times, and he combines it with an average slider and changeup. Given the Phillies' rotation woes, I'd also stick Asher in there and hope he learns on the job, ready for a full 2016 campaign by season's end.
Forgotten by all but the most extreme Rangers fans, Matt Harrison (and his $28 million remaining salary) was moved to Philadelphia in the deal as a means of payroll distribution. He has attempted a comeback in every season since his great 2012, but has failed to log more than 20 innings in any given year. All in all, Harrison has suffered through numerous injuries on the road to recovery, and while it would be great to see him regain form next season, I highly doubt this is anything more than a salary dump.
I really think this is a fair trade for both sides. Texas receives Cole Hamels, who will front-line the Rangers' rotation for years to come in exchange for a healthy group of near-MLB-ready prospects.
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