Two D's in Didi, no Didis in Diamondbacks
In an oft-derided statement concerning Didi Gregorius, former GM Kevin Towers said, "When I saw him he reminded me of a young Derek Jeter. I was fortunate enough to see Jeter when he was in high school in Michigan and he’s got that type of range." While it doesn't appear new management viewed Gregorius with quite the same sense of optimism, Didi's departure for the Bronx suggests that he may well now literally become "the next Jeter," as Towers' statement was sometimes misquoted. Strange how the world turns. Maybe they were impressed by his hitting a home-run against the Yankees in his first AB for us.
Gregorius's role on the Diamondbacks went to the superfluous side of questionable, after he was supplanted as shortstop of the future by Chris Owings. The arrival of new management, with no loyalties to previous acquisitions, probably sealed his fate [In quite likely related news, I see that Mark Trumbo has finished selling his house]. Didi largely proved as expected for Arizona. He was a generally slick-fielder, with an absolute cannon of an arm (albeit one that had the occasional tendency to misfire), but had obvious weaknesses at the plate, particularly against left-handed pitcherrs. Still, his overall offensive stats for Arizona [OPS+ of 88] weren't that bad for his position.
But it's his glove for which Gregorius will be remembered by Diamondbacks, and you could spend a happy hour watching his defensive wizardry. Feel free to do so. We'll wait. However, the more reliable defensive performance of Owings, combined with Didi's lifetime .490 OPS vs. LHP, tilted the balance away from him. While Gregorius still started most for Arizona at shortstop last season, that was only 66 games, and was likely only that high due to Owings' injury, which caused Chris to miss all of July and August. Unlike 2013, where Towers was happy to keep both and let them fight it out in spring training. Gregorius seemed all but certain to be dealt this winter.
The Say-Ray Kid
Mission accomplished for the quote to the right, it seems, with the acquisition of Robbie Ray, a 23-year-old left-handed starting pitcher. The Tigers got him from Washington in the Doug Fister trade, almost exactly a year ago [a deal called the worst of the winter, for the Nats, by Dave Cameron]. Ray spent most of the 2014 season in the minor-leagues but did make six starts and three relief appearances for the Tigers, making his major-league debut in May, then also being called up for August and September. The results, however, weren't impressive, as he went 1-4 with an 8.16 ERA and a 19:11 K:BB ratio in 28.2 innings.
Befoire the season, he was ranked the 10th-best left-handed pitching prospect in the majors by MLB.com. Fangraphs analyzed his debut, complete with GIFs showing his arsenal, and wrote "Ray looks like a major-league starter. He has the components of a major-league starter. At issue is how good of a major-league starter. A lot of that is going to come down to how his curveball progresses. Already, he’s a back-of-the-rotation type. The Tigers believe he can be more than that.:" Minor League Ball also wrote about Ray at the time of his debut, saying:
Ray threw 92-95 MPH in high school, then dropped down into the 80s in '11. With maturity and mechanical refinements he has gradually regained his velocity, back into the low-90s and occasionally as high as 95-96. His changeup has always been solid, but the key over the last year has been an improved breaking ball. It's not terrific but it is better than it was two years ago when he was getting hammered in the Carolina League. He's shown excellent command of all three pitches this spring, another reason for his step forward.
If Ray continues to progress with his breaking ball and maintains the command he's shown for Toledo, he could be a fine mid-rotation starter. His delivery helps his pitches play up against left-handed hitters, making bullpen usage a backup option if he fails as a starter.
It currently seems quite possible he'll become a starter in our rotation, joining Jeremy Hellickson, Josh Collmenter, Trevor Cahill and Wade Miley. Though it's also possible he could begin the season in the minor-leagues, depending on whether the team thinks he needs more seasoning. He did only turn 23 since the end of the regular season, so if he makes it, would certainly be young - younger than any pitcher the Diamondbacks used this year, in fact. But he still probably has a higher upside than the other options for the back of the rotation, e.g. Vidal Nuño. Randall Delgado, etc. Though what will happen as Patrick Corbin + Bronson Arroyo return, remains to be seen.
All the shortstops!
New management or not, what would a Diamondbacks trade be, without us acquiring another shortstop? However, before we flog that dead horse into oblivion, it's worth noting that this one a) had his 19th birthday in September, so is some way from the majors, and b) has some considerable amount of promise. Indeed, at least one writer thinks he was perhaps the key to this trade.
Leyba's the interesting player the Diamondbacks get. Ray, not so much.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) December 5, 2014
As an 18-year-old [so 3.4 years younger than league average], he destroyed pitching for the A-ball West Michigan Whitecaps, hitting .397 over 30 games for them. As a result, he was ranked Detroit's #5 prospect last month by Baseball America, albeit in a farm system described as "light." Leyba is a product of the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) initiative, playing on the team that won the Minneapolis junior division title in 2011, and then signing for Detroit the next year, receiving a fee of $400,000. Bruce Fields, the Tigers’ roving minor-league batting instructor, said this year, "He’s a nice little line-drive hitter and he hits the ball all over from both sides because he switch-hits,"
Also worth noting: while currently a shortstop, there seems to be a consensus of opinion that he may be better suited to a change of position. He played in the Arizona Fall League last month, and mostly played second. His manager at Double-A, Lance Parrish, said at the time, "He's got good hands. He's got pretty good range. I think the arm strength is there to play short, but I think he's better suited to play second base, to be quite honest with you." Here's a video of Leyba in action.
In general, I like the trade, because there's a case to be made that it helps the club get better now, and also down the road. The former is because Gregorius's impact was likely to have been very limited next year, unless the club could somehow get Aaron Hill's contract off the books. As such, trading him for someone who may well be a better option as a fifth starter makes sense. Getting Leyba is clearly much more of a long-term move, and it may not be until 2018 or beyond that we see him in the majors. But it certainly adds to our farm depth - I'm curious to see where about he will slot in on John B's prospect rankings.
This certainly crosses off one of the tasks for the new front office this winter. Plenty more work to do though, and if those rumblings I'm hearing prove accurate, there may well be other trades to report, sooner rather than later.
Clear shortstop logjam
- Get out from under Miggy's contract
- Deal surplus outfielders
- Improve our starting rotation significantly