D’backs Keep Skelton

The Deal
The Diamondbacks swung a trade to retain the rights to big league Rule 5 pick James Skelton, a 23-year-old catcher, sending righthander Brooks Brown, a supplemental first-round pick in 2006, to the Tigers. By reaching an agreement with Detroit, Arizona no longer is bound by the Rule 5 code that would have demanded that Skelton, who has little experience above high Class A, remain with the big league club all season or be placed on waivers and then offered back to the Diamondbacks for $25,000.
The Young Players
Skelton, a Tigers’ 14th-round pick in 2004 from West Covina (Calif.) High, is a study in contrasts. A lefthanded batter, he balances a very refined hitting approach with questionable receiving skills. Add to that the fact that he stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 165 pounds and, for many, he does not project as a regular big league backstop. Skelton’s arm is strong, however, as he threw out 38 percent of basestealers last year and 43 percent in 2007. As one would expect from a .292 career hitter who ranked second in on-base percentage (.402) in the 2007 Midwest League and third in walks (64) in the 2008 Florida State League, Skelton has an advanced feel for hitting and a patient approach. He batted .303/.456/.401 last year, in a season in which he made it to Double-A for 24 games, while ranking second in the minors in OBP and 13th with 83 walks. Skelton offers little in the way of power, however, connecting for just 10 doubles and five homers in 388 at-bats last season.

Brown, a 23-year-old righthander, helped guide Georgia to the College World Series in 2006, the year Arizona selected him with the 34th overall pick. In two seasons on the farm, he’s proven durable, racking up 26 starts in both seasons and compiling 146 and then 144 innings. But he led the Double-A Southern League last year only in losses (15) while finishing second with 67 walks. His poor finish with Mobile (0-5, 6.75 in August) may simply have been a case of fatigue, because at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Brown has an ideal starter’s frame. His sinker ranges from 88-92 mph and he complements it with a slider that often registers plus when it features two-plane break. If his fringy changeup comes along, he’s a sure-fire starter, but as it is he has the perfect bullpen arsenal. He went 6-15, 4.18 for Mobile last season, striking out 112 while giving up just eight home runs in 144 innings.

Quick Take
Skelton’s lackluster showing in spring training—he batted just .150/.244/.175 (6-for-40)—prompted the Diamondbacks to outright him to Double-A Mobile (removing him from the 40-man roster) as soon as he joined the organization with no strings attached. Because he can catch (on a part-time basis, at the very least) and because he’s a lefthanded batter who can hit, Skelton could develop into an ideal National League player—assuming that his athleticism allows him to learn to play first base and the outfield corners.

Because of their acute, immediate need for big league arms, Detroit’s acquisition of Brown makes perfect sense. Though he may not be quite ready for the big leagues right out of the gate, the righthander at some point during the season should get a chance to try his sinker/slider mix on big league batters.

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