Preying on the Tigers’ continued inability to find reliable high-leverage relievers, the Rangers extracted Detroit’s Nos. 2 and 4 prospects from the Baseball America Midseason Update by acquiring righthanders Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel.
It’s been several years since the Rangers have been sellers at the trade deadline, but they did well in their first significant deal from an unexpected position.
While the Tigers have one of the game’s thinnest farm systems, the Rangers were able to add a potential mid-rotation starter in Thompson, who just reached Double-A as a 20-year-old, and a reliever in Knebel with late-inning stuff who could help the Rangers in that role next season.
Jake Thompson, rhp
With a strong season in the high Class A Florida State League before getting promoted to Double-A for his last two starts, Thompson has put himself in the mix to be a Top 100 prospect at the end of the season. He now ranks as the Rangers’ No. 3 prospect behind third baseman Joey Gallo and catcher Jorge Alfaro, with three average to above-average pitches. Thompson sits in the low-90s and can hit 95 mph with downhill angle. When it’s on, his slider is a plus pitch. His changeup has average potential but is still inconsistent, and he mixes an occasional curveball as well. Thompson has a repeatable delivery and throws strikes consistently.
The rest of the season will be key for Thompson, whose durability is a question mark. After signing as a second-round pick out of high school in 2012, he looked worn down in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League that summer and the Tigers shut him down in August and instructional league. In 2013, they held him back in extended spring training for the first two months of the season so he threw just 83 innings last year and is at a career-high with 94 innings this season.
Corey Knebel, rhp
Despite a rocky start in a brief major league came (including three runs in an inning against Texas in his major league debut), Knebel has two power pitches that should fit in the back of the bullpen. One of the most aggressive teams in the game pushing their prospects, the Tigers had Knebel go from supplemental first-round pick in 2013 to the big leagues in less than a year. Knebel can park in the mid-90s and crank it as high as 98 mph. His fastball seems to have an extra gear at the end with late life and downhill plane that helps him induce grounders. When he needs to finish hitters, he goes to his curveball, a consistent plus pitch that can be a 70 on the 20-80 scale. Knebel’s max-effort delivery with a late head whack gives him deception, though he will have to keep those moving parts in sync to improve his command before he gets back to the big leagues.
Joakim Sora, rhp
Service time (preseason): 7.000. Tigers hold $7 million club option in 2015 (or $8 million if he finishes 55 games).
Opponents are hitting .271/.340/.411 versus Tigers relievers, with a .751 OPS that ranks 28th in baseball and a combined 4.37 ERA that ranks 26th. So it’s no surprise the Tigers went after Soria, who has been one of the top relievers in baseball this season. He has the diverse repertoire of a starter, pitching off a low-90s fastball with a slider, curveball and changeup that he will mix in equally, though the breaking pitches are his best secondary offerings. Soria has plus command, which has helped him post a stellar 40/4 SO/BB ratio in 33 innings. Even if the Tigers don’t immediately use him as their closer, he should quickly displace incumbent Joe Nathan.