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Revisiting the Zac Gallen for Jazz Chisholm trade

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The Diamondbacks traded a former top prospect for Gallen, and it’s worked out to this point.

MLB: Houston Astros at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Diamondbacks’ acquisition of Zac Gallen didn’t come without risk, but it’s paid off handsomely thus far.

Arizona traded a former top prospect in shortstop Jazz Chisholm to the Miami Marlins for Gallen at the MLB Trade Deadline last season. Gallen made just seven starts with the Marlins, but showed enough promise for Diamondbacks general manager Mike Hazen to trade Chisholm to Miami.

Gallen has blossomed into a top-of-the-rotation starter, which couldn’t have come at a better time after the starting rotation’s struggles. With Gallen’s production on the mound, it’s safe to say Arizona has made out well from the transaction to this point.

For the Marlins, Chisholm has a chance to develop into a potential star at the next level, but strikeouts have limited his full potential at the plate. The 22-year-old has shown flashes of supreme power and speed while adding to Miami’s farm system.

It is still a bit early, but it’s been a full “year” since the trade occurred on July 31, 2019. COVID-19 has shortened the 2020 baseball season while cancelling the minor league season. Regardless, let’s revisit this trade and the dynamics from both franchises.

Arizona gets impact starter in Gallen

Gallen, 25, came off arguably his best outing in Monday’s 4-3 victory over the Oakland A’s at Chase Field. He pitched seven innings, giving up just one earned run on three hits and one walk with eight strikeouts.

The right-hander carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, forcing multiple whiffs from Oakland’s dangerous lineup to help the D-backs win their fifth straight game and climb up the NL West standings.

Gallen’s most recent performance is becoming a common occurrence since Arizona acquired him last season. He has posted a 2.40 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with 30 strikeouts over five starts and 30 innings this season.

Over 20 starts and 34 total games in the majors, Gallen has a career 2.70 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over 130 innings.

The acquisition of Gallen may have slipped under-the-radar after the D-backs traded Zack Greinke to the Houston Astros just hours afterwards during the trade deadline. But his emergence with Arizona has put the league on notice.

The St. Louis Cardinals drafted Gallen in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of North Carolina. Since his MLB debut last season, his ERA is amongst the league’s top arms.

Lowest ERA since June 20, 2019 (Courtesy of mlb.com)

Min. 15 starts

1. Jack Flaherty — 1.76

2. Gerrit Cole — 1.86

3. Jacob deGrom — 1.87

4. Sonny Gray — 2.21

5. Shane Bieber — 2.52

6. Justin Verlander — 2.60

7. Mike Clevinger — 2.79

8-T. Zac Gallen — 2.80

8-T. Lance Lynn — 2.80

10. Zack Greinke — 2.88

Gallen has put his advanced repertoire on display this year. He comes equipped with a four-pitch mix of fastball, changeup, curveball and cutter. His fastball has an average velocity of 92.3 mph, but he commands it well to get ahead of the count.

Once Gallen establishes the fastball, his deceptive off-speed pitches are effective offerings against lefties and righties. His changeup has given opposing batters fits this season, and it’s one of the reasons why he’s posted a 23 percent whiff rate or better on four different pitch types.

Gallen showed signs of “ace” potential in eight starts with the Diamondbacks last season. He’s built upon it this year to solidify Arizona’s struggling starting pitching staff.

It is still early, but Gallen’s potential is through the roof. The D-backs took a swing of faith that Gallen would continue to grow into an effective starter, and it’s turned into a grand slam up to this point.

Miami holding onto Chisholm’s potential

Since the Diamondbacks signed Chisholm for $200,000 out of the Bahamas in 2015, he quickly turned into a promising talent. Chisholm was viewed as the consensus No. 1 prospect in Arizona’s farm system and MLB Pipeline rated him as the No. 59 overall prospect to start 2019.

Heading into his first season with Double-A Jackson at 21 years old, Chisholm had big expectations to succeed in the minors. He produced a .204/.305/.427 slash line in 89 games with the Generals before the trade to Miami for Gallen.

Chisholm ended the year with Double-A Jacksonville and batted .284/.383/.494 in 23 games, finishing with 21 homers and 54 RBIs. The change of scenery was a nice way to conclude an up-and-down 2019 campaign.

Chisholm’s aggressive pull-heavy approach is a risk-reward scenario each plate appearance. He can launch a 395-foot home run to the right field bleachers with ease, as he showcased in spring training this year.

While Chisholm comes with plenty of pop at the plate, strikeouts have plagued his potential. He struck out 147 times and drew just 57 walks last season. His hit tool isn’t the most polished aspect of his game, which has him selling out for power at times.

Chisholm enters 2020 as MLB Pipeline’s No. 72 overall prospect and No. 4 prospect in Miami’s system. He was optioned to Triple-A Wichita and was expected to begin the year there, but the cancellation of Minor League Baseball disregarded that plan. Instead, the Marlins added him to their 60-player pool as he develops at their alternate training site.

Despite his struggles last season, Chisholm has the makings of a potential 20-20 player at the next level. His lightning-quick hands produce plus-power along with his sneaky speed to steal bases. He showcased an improved plate approach in Jacksonville, which carried over to an impressive spring training debut with the Marlins.

For this trade not to become heavily favored toward the Diamondbacks, it relies on Chisholm’s ability to make consistent contact and limit his strikeouts. If it all comes together, his power and speed will produce at in the big leagues.

Final Thoughts

This trade seems obviously favored for the Diamondbacks at the moment due to Gallen’s ascension, but it’s still too early to tell. Chisholm has a chance to become a premium player on both sides of the ball.

Not having a MiLB season hurts Chisholm’s growth against opposing teams, but he can play throughout the year on the expanded rosters. If Gallen continues to pitch at a high level, even more pressure will be placed upon Chisholm to make his awaited MLB debut.

A possible reason that Arizona traded Chisholm was due to its organizational depth at shortstop. Dominican Republic shortstop Geraldo Perdomo is ranked as MLB Pipeline’s fourth prospect in the D-backs’ system, and versatile infielder Blaze Alexander is another option in the infield.

Overall, this trade is currently a huge win for the D-backs thanks to Gallen’s dominance. Time will tell if Chisholm’s star potential translates to the next level. Either way, it was a risky transaction that can potentially benefit both organizations.