I guess the Angels aren’t so worried about hoarding all their starting pitching anymore. The club dealt top pitching prospect Ricardo Sanchez to the Atlanta Braves on Thursday in exchange for two other minor leaguers: third baseman Kyle Kubitza and righty reliever Nate Hyatt.
The 17-year-old Sanchez was either the second- or third-best pitcher in the Angels farm system, depending on how one feels about his ceiling in relation to Sean Newcomb’s. Being a top-three arm in the organization was a bit of a dubious honor at the beginning of 2014, when the top end consisted of guys with utility but limited upside. Now, though, after a wave of additions through the draft and trades in the last year to restock the franchise’s pitching depth, it means the Halos have bid farewell to a young left-hander with serious potential.
Signed out of Venezuela in July 2013, Sanchez made his organizational debut in the Arizona Rookie League this past summer and was quick to make an impact despite being the second youngest pitcher in the league. The diminutive southpaw posted a 3.49 ERA and struck out 10 batters per nine in 38 ⅔ innings, never going more than four frames in any of his 12 appearances. His control (5.1 BB/9) left a bit to be desired, but that’s the case with just about every teenage arm ever. The most important thing—the thing that probably caught Atlanta’s attention—is that Sanchez more than held his own against guys three and four years his senior, and did so with a three-pitch arsenal that belies his age. The Braves potentially have a special pitcher on their hands, and I’m sure they’re excited to add him to their growing list of young, promising arms.
Why, you may be asking, did the Angels give up Sanchez when he represents something the farm system has been without since maybe the Dan Haren trade? Well, there are (at least) two reasons:
1) Even with his inaugural success, Sanchez is still several years and many developmental hurdles away from contributing at the big-league level. The Angels could afford to part ways with him simply because his future is still so volatile. If everything goes well and Sanchez is able to avoid major injury in the next few seasons, he could break into the Braves rotation by 2018. But there’s a reason an acronymic axiom like TINSTAAPP exists: even a single stumble in his race to the show could send him careening off track for years. Considering the Angels are going into 2015 expecting to repeat as AL West champs, it makes more sense to invest in potential contributors for next season and beyond than guys who, in the best-case scenario, are still four seasons away.
2) The Angels are pretty set so far as pitching depth goes, even with Sanchez gone. The additions of Tyler Skaggs, Hector Santiago, Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano, Jose Alvarez, Cesar Ramos, and Sean Newcomb, among others, have given the club the leeway to add depth elsewhere on the diamond via starting pitching. It’s a bit strange to write sincerely that the Halos have rotation depth to spare, but it’s true. Jerry Dipoto has worked some serious magic over the last year-plus to turn the weakest point in the organization into a strength, and now he’s using it to shore up other potential holes.
Speaking of which, the hole that existed behind David Freese at third was a massive one before Kyle Kubitza joined the fold. Before Thursday, the Angels’ only line of defense between Freese and having to bring John McDonald out of retirement was a quartet of infielders with a combined 10 games of MLB experience at third base. And seeing as how three—Grant Green, Josh Rutledge, and Johnny Giavotella—of those four are widely regarded as below-average defenders at second base, I can’t imagine how bad things might have gotten at the hot corner should they have needed to spell Freese for a chunk of time. Kubitza, unlike his roster competition, is a third baseman by trade and a pretty good defensive one at that. When rating him as the Braves’ No. 8 prospect in November, Baseball Prospectus noted that Kubitza has a “plus arm,” “quick feet,” and “soft hands,” which sounds like a pretty solid combination.
The 24-year-old will likely begin 2015 with some seasoning at Triple-A, but he shouldn’t be long for Salt Lake. He hit .295/.405/.470 with eight homers, 11 triples, and 31 doubles in 529 plate appearances at Double-A this past season, and seems primed to put up even bigger numbers in the PCL. Kubitza’s biggest strength at the plate is easily his patience: He walked in 14.5% of his plate appearances in 2014 and has averaged nearly 80 free passes in each of his three full seasons thus far. On the flip side, his biggest weakness is the swing-and-miss: His strikeout percentage hovers right around 25% at every level. That’s a slightly better than Brandon Wood managed at Double-A, but not much.
If Kubitza had (quite a bit) more pop to go with his two true-outcome tendencies, one might squint into a mirror and see a slightly smaller Troy Glaus. As it is, though, Kubitza’s power is much more of the gap variety—his current high for home runs is 12. With his 6’3 frame, there’s always a chance he’ll start clearing the fence more often, but failing to develop that kind of pop shouldn’t make or break his chances. So long as the extra-base hits are coming regularly, it doesn’t matter if they go off the wall or over it. It’s impossible to say whether Kubitza is the “Third Baseman of the Future” just yet, but he’s certainly a helluva lot better than anyone else the club had roaming around.
Nate Hyatt, 24, spent the last two seasons pitching well in High-A, where he posted a 3.20 ERA, struck out 10.5 per nine, and allowed just four home runs in 109 ⅔ innings. What held him back from a promotion to the high minors were control issues. The right-hander not only walked 4.7 batters per nine in his 100+ innings in the Carolina League, he also managed to throw 15 wild pitches. The Angels have shown no hesitation in recent years promoting relievers with questionable control–see: Michael Kohn, Jairo Diaz, Nick Maronde, etc.–so there’s no reason to believe Hyatt can’t make his way from Double-A to a September appearance in Anaheim next season. Well, except for the fact that the club still has about 15 righty relievers ahead of him on the depth chart…
Of note: Kubitza was on the Braves’ 40-man roster, so the Halos were forced to DFA recent waiver claim Marc Krauss in order to make room on theirs. Krauss will probably clear waivers and remain with the club, but it shouldn’t be catastrophic if he doesn’t. He was likely no more than an emergency DH option when the Angels picked him up. Now that Matt Joyce is on the scene, Krauss’ role has been relegated to organizational depth.