With the trade deadline less than a week away, the Blue Jays struck a deal to bolster their outfield on Tuesday morning, acquiring a reborn Melvin Upton Jr. from the Padres in exchange for 19-year old righthander Hansel Rodriguez.
The Padres also will reportedly pay all but $5 million of the roughly $22 million owed to Upton Jr. through 2017.
For Toronto, it’s a deal that improves the club both offensively and defensively as it makes a push for a second straight playoff berth, while San Diego receives another young pitcher in its latest veteran-for-prospect trade.
“I think it’s been a few weeks in the making judging the market for Upton,” Padres general manager A.J. Preller said in a conference call with reporters. “Ultimately it came down to two or three teams that were serious and the Blue Jays stayed on it. We looked at a couple of their prospects and scouted their system pretty heavily and were able to come to an agreement we felt was the best fit for us.”
Hansel Rodriguez, rhp
The Blue Jays signed Rodriguez for $330,00 in 2014 out of the Dominican Republic based largely on his fastball velocity, which touched 95 mph as a 16-year-old before signing. The arm strength that initially attracted Toronto to Rodriguez has remained. Now 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds as he’s filled out and added strength, Rodriguez reportedly has touched 98 mph with Rookie-level Bluefield this year. The main concern has been his slow development with his offspeed offerings. Now in his third consecutive season pitching at Rookie ball, Rodriguez’s slider and curveball both grade below average and he is largely regarded as a thrower more than a pitcher, the same scouting report as in previous years. In part because of his lack of secondary development, Rodriguez is averaging a respectable but not overwhelming 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings with Bluefield this year despite his upper 90s fastball. He entered the year as Toronto’s No. 18 prospect and did not make it into their top 10 in the Midseason Update. How his secondary pitches develop will determine if his future is in the rotation or the bullpen, or even in the majors at all. The most optimistic projections have Rodriguez as a No. 3 starter, but the risk of him reaching that ceiling is high.
“We’ve had probably three looks at him the last month and seen him anywhere from a fringe-average slider to a plus slider,” Preller said. “You see velocity on the pitch, 81-85, and that ends up a workable slider.
“We talked about a lot of guys in a bunch of scenarios,” Preller added. “We saw Francisco Rios and Angel Perdomo in the Futures Game. Our scouts with Rodriguez liked what they saw there. He’s had a couple outings where he’s gone seven innings, 92-95 with the fastball, good body, and we’ve seen flashes of secondary. For us he separated himself a little bit from the group.”
BLUE JAYS ACQUIRE
Melvin Upton Jr., of
Upton Jr. came to the Padres in April 2015 as part of the price for Craig Kimbrel. At the time Upton Jr.’s contract was derided as the worst in the majors, and a sunk cost the Padres were forced to take on in order to get one of baseball’s best closers. But Upton Jr. has found the form that made him a young standout in his early years, taking over in the Padres outfield and making a positive impact on both sides of the ball. Over his last 162 games Upton Jr. has hit .263 with 20 home runs, 60 RBI and 26 stolen bases, while his nine defensive runs saved—according to Fangraphs—is tied for third among left fielders in the majors this season. He has also been serviceable in center field when called upon. Rejuvenated and recharged, Upton Jr. gives Toronto a replacement for the offensively struggling Kevin Pillar in the starting lineup as well as a platoon option with Michael Saunders against lefthanders.
“I think it went from a situation where when we acquired him the reputation he had and his overall reputation wasn’t frankly very high,” Preller said, “but over the course of the whole year more teams started seeing the fact that he is a good player who can impact the game with his bat, his legs and his glove.”