Padres Acquire Blake Snell From Rays In Blockbuster Trade
With Mike Clevinger out all of next season after having Tommy John surgery and Dinelson Lamet's status in question after suffering an elbow injury late last season, the Padres made a bold move to acquire a front-of-the-rotation starter.
The Padres acquired Blake Snell from the Rays on Sunday night in the offseason's biggest trade to date. The 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner is headed to San Diego in exchange for catcher Francisco Mejia and prospects Luis Patiño, Cole Wilcox and Blake Hunt, according to Dennis Lin of The Athletic.
Snell, 28, has three years remaining on his contract. He gives the Padres an established frontline starter for 2021 and could theoretically team with Clevinger and Lamet in 2022, if all are healthy, to give the Padres one of the most fearsome starting pitching trios in the National League.
Mejia was limited by a thumb injury in 2020 but had a productive half-season offensively in 2019. Patiño, Wilcox and Hunt were set to rank as the Padres' No. 3, 9 and 10 prospects, respectively, in the upcoming 2021 Baseball America Prospect Handbook.
The trade continues a trend for the Padres. General manager A.J. Preller has showed a strong willingness to dip heavily into his farm system to try to improve the big league club. At the August trade deadline, the Padres sent four prospects to the Mariners in a seven-player swap that brought catcher Austin Nola to San Diego. San Diego sent six players to Cleveland in a nine-player deal that brought Clevinger to the Padres.
Lesser trades at the August deadline sent four prospects to Boston and Kansas City for Mitch Moreland and Trevor Rosenthal. Altogether the Padres have traded 11 players listed among their Top 30 Prospects in the 2020 Baseball America Prospect Handbook.
The moves have thinned what was once the game's deepest farm system, but San Diego has retained lefthanders MacKenzie Gore, Adrian Morejon and Ryan Weathers, shortstop C.J. Abrams, catcher Luis Campusano and outfielder Robert Hassell.
For Tampa Bay, the team that came into 2020 with the No. 1 farm system in the game bolsters its already extremely strong case for being the No. 1 farm system in 2021 as well. But it also means that the 2020 American League champs will be trying to find replacements for Snell and righthander Charlie Morton. Those two started 10 of the Rays' 20 postseason games in 2020.
Francisco Mejia, C
Mejia ranked as the No. 32 prospect on the BA Top 100 entering 2019 based largely on the promise of his bat. Once the Padres installed him as their primary catcher on June 18, he hit .297/.349/.494 through the end of the regular season. Mejia suffered a left thumb injury that limited him to 42 plate appearances in 2020, preventing him from building on that strong showing. The switch-hitting Mejia is a free swinger who will chase out of the zone, but his hand-eye coordination is so elite he's able to make contact on pitches many others can't. When healthy, he lines the ball to all fields and shows solid power. Some evaluators have questioned whether Mejia's ultra-aggressive approach will work as pitchers adjust the more they get familiar with him, but others see a player with the bat speed and natural feel for the barrel to be a difference-maker offensively. Mejia's defense behind the plate has long been in question. He struggles badly to frame pitches at the bottom of the strike zone or catch anything with sink, costing his pitchers strikes. He has a cannon for an arm and is a solid athlete, but his receiving needs a lot of work. Both the Padres and Indians experimented with Mejia in left field, where some evaluators believe he will eventually end up.
Luis Patiño, RHP
Patiño’s fastball sat in the mid 80s when he signed with the Padres for $130,000 in 2016, but he rapidly gained weight and strength and was touching 99 mph by the 2019 Futures Game. He made his debut in 2020 and went 1-0, 5.19 in 11 appearances with 21 strikeouts and 14 walks in 17.1 innings. Patiño has huge stuff but is still learning to harness it. His fastball sits 94-96 mph as a starter and 96-99 mph as a reliever. It's an explosive fastball with late, cutting life up in the zone that gets swings and misses when he locates it, but he overthrows it when he gets too amped up and gets wild as a result. Patiño’s tilting, biting mid-80s slider is another swing-and-miss pitch at its best, but he also struggles to locate it consistently. He commands his firm changeup better than his slider and gets swings and misses over the top when he dials it back to 85-87 mph. He rounds out his four-pitch mix with a solid low 80s curveball he can land for strikes early in counts. Patiño pitches with a lot of emotion and adrenaline, which sometimes works against him. When he slows down and keeps a balanced tempo, he shows above-average control. Patiño is an extremely bright individual whose parents were both college professors and is already nearly fluent in English. He's a quick learner and has a vivacious, effervescent personality that makes him a favorite of both fans and teammates. He broke into the majors as a reliever but still has a future as a starter. He has mid-to-front-of-the-rotation potential if he can manage his energy level and control.
Cole Wilcox, RHP
After struggling with his control as a Georgia freshman, Wilcox went 3-0, 1.57 with 32 strikeouts and two walks in four starts before the college season shut down in 2020. He dropped to the third round because teams were wary of his bonus demands as a draft-eligible sophomore, but the Padres stopped his slide and gave him a $3.3 million signing bonus—a record for a third-round pick. Wilcox is a big, physical righthander at 6-foot-5, 232 pounds with stuff to match. His fastball ranges from 93-97 mph with natural sink and run and touched 99 mph in short bursts at the Padres alternate training site after signing. His slider is a power offering at 86-89 mph with short, three-quarters break and projects above-average when he stays on top of it. His hard changeup mirrors his fastball life and dives with heavy sink at 85-87 mph. Wilcox has the physicality and durability to start, but he lacks a soft offering and his control can be inconsistent. Most observers predict he ends up in the bullpen, but the Padres intended to develop Wilcox as a starter and see if his control progressed.
Blake Hunt, C
Hunt was one of the fastest risers in the 2017 draft and signed with the Padres for an above-slot $1.6 million after they made him the 69th overall pick. He made his full-season debut at low Class A Fort Wayne in 2019 and stood out as one of the top defensive catchers in the Midwest League. The Padres made him a late addition to their alternate training site in 2020 and he wrapped the year up in instructional league. Though tall for a catcher at 6-foot-4, Hunt moves well behind the plate, is a plus receiver and pitch framer and has the intelligence and work ethic to lead a pitching staff. He controls the run game with an above-average, accurate arm. Hunt's offense is a bit more in question. He has good timing at the plate and stays in the strike zone, but his upper-body, handsy swing has limited his impact in games so far. Evaluators mostly see him settling in around .230 with 15-20 home runs, although he has plus raw power and room to add more strength to his frame and enhance his offensive projection. On the whole, Hunt projects to be a defensively-minded catcher with power who starts in his peak years. He finished the 2019 season at low Class A and still needs time and reps in development.
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Blake Snell, LHP
A heralded prospect coming up, Snell broke out in 2018 when he went 21-5, 1.89 and won the AL Cy Young Award. He battled elbow trouble that resulted in mid-season surgery in 2019 and limited his effectiveness and durability, but came back strong during the abbreviated 2020 season. He went 4-2, 3.24 in 11 starts during the regular season and 2-2, 3.03 in six postseason starts. Snell was the second-hardest throwing lefthanded starter in MLB last season with a fastball that averaged 95.1 mph. He backs it up with a devastating low-80s curveball and an upper-80s slider that improved greatly from 2019 to 2020 to become another out pitch. His changeup is effective against righties and makes him a difficult matchup for hitters on both sides of the plate. Snell is not particularly efficient with his pitches and will run up high pitch counts, but when he's on, he's nearly unhittable. The Rays kept him on a tight leash and Snell's frustration was visible in the postseason, first when he was pulled after four-plus scoreless innings with the No. 9 hitter due up in Game 6 of the ALCS, and most famously when he was pulled in the sixth inning of a dominant effort against the Dodgers in Game 6 of the World Series. With the Padres desperately needing innings from their starting rotation in 2021, he should be under no such restraints with his new club. He has three years and $40.8 million remaining on his contract.