|Righthander Zack Greinke, a 2002 first-round pick, has been the best thing about the Royals franchise for several years. He won the 2009 American League Cy Young Award, and while he wasn’t as successful in 2010, he’s still acknowledged as one of the game’s few elite No. 1 starters. With the Royals mired in a decade-long big league slump, general manager Dayton Moore has focused on rebuilding through the draft and has built a deep farm system packed with impact prospects. That core likely won’t be ready to compete in the majors in the next two seasons—the last two of Greinke’s contract before he hits free agency.
So the Royals looked to shop Greinke this offseason and found plenty of suitors. While the Brewers weren’t one of the most prominent names in the rumor mill, they pulled off the deal to acquire Greinke on Sunday. They sent shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and righthanders Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi to Kansas City for Greinke, shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and $2 million.
The deal makes Milwaukee an instant contender in the National League Central, with Greinke and Yovani Gallardo at the top of a rotation that also includes recently acquired Shaun Marcum and veteran lefty Randy Wolf. Milwaukee has first baseman Prince Fielder headed for his final year under contract and has most of the key pieces back from an offense that ranked second in the NL in home runs and fourth in runs, while significantly bolstering a pitching staff that ranked 14th in the 16-team NL in ERA, and 15th in home runs and walks allowed.
For the Royals, the return for Greinke includes no sure-fire stars but two projected strong up-the-middle defenders and two power arms. Odorizzi will rank as the Brewers’ No. 1 prospect in BA’s Prospect Handbook—the transaction deadline for the book has passed—while Jeffress ranks third. Escobar was the clubs’s No. 1 prospect the last two seasons but posted just a .614 OPS in 2010, his rookie season, while playing erratic but at times excellent defense at short. Cain lost his rookie eligibility and hit .306/.348/.415 for Milwaukee last season.
|Jake Odorizzi, rhp
Born: March 27, 1990 in Highland, Ill.
Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 175. Bats: R. Throws: R.
School: Highland (Ill.) HS.
Career Transactions: Selected by Brewers in supplemental first round (32nd overall) of 2008 draft; signed June 20, 2008.
The Brewers selected Odorizzi as their minor league pitcher of the year. He showed how dominant he can be by throwing eight innings of a no-hitter against Cedar Rapids. Odorizzi showed consistent command of a fastball that he threw in the 89-95 mph range with sinking and boring action. He maintained his velocity deep into games and showed an easy, repeatable delivery. He still is settling on a breaking ball though scouts like his curveball better. He is learning how to display consistent arm speed with his changeup. Odorizzi’s fluid delivery allows him to get pitches in on hitters quicker than they expect, resulting in a high strikeout rate (10.04 Ks per 9 innings). He also draws praise from coaches for his poise and confidence on the mound. In our Midwest League ranking of Odorizzi, two scouts compared Odorizzi to a lesser version of Zack Greinke.
|Alcides Escobar, ss
Age: 24. Position: SS (138 G), RF (2 G), LF (2 G), CF (1 G).
Born: Dec. 16, 1986 in La Sabana, Venezuela.
Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Bats: R. Throws: R.
Career Transactions: Signed as nondrafted free agent by Brewers, July 9, 2003.
The Brewers hoped for a bigger rookie season out of Escobar, who had a strong spring training, but he was erratic defensively with flashes of brilliance. A career .293 hitter in the minors, Escobar has the swing to hit for average in the major leagues and has fringe-average raw power to go with it. However, he didn’t control the strike zone, rarely got himself into hitter’s counts and was generally overmatched as a rookie. Scouts like his defensive tools, and he grades out above-average. He generally played that way in 2010 and fills an organizational hole for the Royals, who didn’t have a defender of his caliber up the middle in their deep farm system.
|Lorenzo Cain, cf
Age: 24. Position: CF (119 G), LF (1 G), RF (1 G).
Born: April 13, 1986 in Valdosta, Ga.
Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200. Bats: R. Throws: R.
School: Tallahassee (Fla.) CC..
Career Transactions: Selected by Brewers in 17th round of 2004 draft; signed April 24, 2005.
Cain enjoyed a breakthrough season, batting an aggregate .317/.402/.432 with 26 stolen bases and 45-to-69 walk-to-strikeout ratio at the two highest levels of the minors. He’s an athletic center fielder and above-average runner who has the tools to become an above-average defender if he improves his routes, which should come with experience.
|Jeremy Jeffress, rhp
Born: Sept. 21, 1987 in South Boston, Va.
Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 195. Bats: R. Throws: R.
School: Halifax County HS, South Boston, Va.
Career Transactions: Selected by Brewers in first round (16th overall) of 2006 draft; signed June 7, 2006.
Jeffress has a power arm with a fastball that regularly sits in the mid 90s and goes higher when needed. His fastball does not have much movement but he throws it with such an easy, fluid delivery that he blows it by hitters before they realize what happened. Jeffress also has a big-breaking curveball but struggles to throw it for strikes at times. When it does hit the strike zone, the curve is a devastating pitch because hitters have to gear up for the fastball. Jeffress has yet to master a changeup, making him a two-pitch pitcher most of the time. That served him well last season, when he was used exclusively in relief and mostly for one inning. In three minor league stops, Jeffress struck out 43 batters in 32 1/3 innings (12 per nine), while allowing just 30 baserunners via hit or walk (0.93 WHIP) and no home runs. In the Arizona Fall League, he struck out 14 in 11 2/3 innings but proved quite wild in issuing 12 walks. He also drew oohs, even from scouts, when he hit 101 mph with a fastball in the Rising Stars Game in the AFL.
|Zack Greinke, rhp
Age: 27. Remaining Commitment: 2 years, $27 million.
Contract details courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
|Yuniesky Betancourt, ss
Age: 28. Bats: R. Remaining Commitment: 1 year, $4 million, plus either $6 million club option for 2012 or $2 million buyout (Royals send $2 million).
Contract details courtesy of Cot’s Baseball Contracts.
Scouting reports for Odorizzi and Jeffress by Tom Haudricourt.