Trade Central: Padres Acquire Juan Soto and Josh Bell From Nationals For Six-Player Haul
For all the flash and flair of the A.J. Preller era, the Padres have had just one winning record in seven seasons since he took over as general manager— and that was the shortened 2020 season.
With the team chasing a wild card spot and in position for its first winning record in a 162-game season under Preller, he made his biggest move yet to get the Padres over the hump.
The Padres acquired outfielder Juan Soto and first baseman Josh Bell from the Nationals on Tuesday in exchange for veteran first baseman Luke Voit, rookie lefthander MacKenzie Gore, and four highly touted prospects: shortstop CJ Abrams, outfielder Robert Hassell, outfielder James Wood and righthanded pitcher Jarlin Susana.
The deal brings Soto to San Diego for the rest of this season and all of the 2023 and 2024 seasons. It also brings the team Bell, one of the best hitting first basemen in the National League.
MacKenzie Gore, LHP
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 draft, Gore quickly ascended to the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball before suddenly losing his mechanics and control during the 2020 season and spending most of 2021 trying to rediscover his previous form. He re-emerged in 2022 with a streamlined delivery and earned his first big league callup, where he posted a 4.50 ERA in 16 appearances (13 starts) this year before leaving his last appearance with elbow soreness. Gore packs plenty of a stuff with a 94-95 mph fastball that reaches 98, a biting 11-to-5 curveball that is his primary putaway pitch and a slider and changeup that both flash above-average to plus at their best. Gore’s complicated delivery features a lot of moving parts and leads to bouts of below-average control and command. His control has been particularly off recently, leading to an 11.05 ERA with 20 walks and 15 strikeouts in his last 22 innings. Gore is a good athlete whose control challenges are as much mental as they are physical. He has the potential to be a mid-rotation or better starter, but only if he can keep his delivery in sync and his control in check.
CJ Abrams, SS
Abrams is the Padres No. 1 prospect and the No. 11 on the BA Top 100. The sixth overall pick in 2019, he is a sleek athlete who has shown an advanced feel for contact and a rapid ability to adjust in the minors even though he has struggled in a premature major league debut with the Padres this year. Abrams has a flat, fluid swing and elite hand-eye coordination and can make contact with almost any pitch in the strike zone. He has a habit of expanding the zone against velocity and swinging at too many pitches he can’t drive, so he’ll have to temper his approach in order to reach his potential as a plus or better hitter. Abrams is an 80-grade runner who can change games with his legs, whether it’s beating out a routine ground ball for a single or taking an extra base at a pivotal point in the game. His speed should help him maintain high batting averages and rack up doubles and triples as he hones his approach and begins driving the ball more. Abrams has sneaky strength in his thin frame and can drive balls over the wall for home runs to all fields, but power is not his game and he is best when his approach is geared toward contact. Abrams’ speed and athleticism give him excellent range at shortstop, and he impressed with his poise and ability to play up to the speed of the game defensively in his major league debut. He has silenced concerns about having to move off the position, but he can slide to second base as needed and has the raw athleticism to potentially make a move to center field, although he would need lots of reps to acclimate to the position. Abrams projects to be a speedy leadoff hitter who wreaks havoc atop the lineup while hitting for high averages, racking up stolen bases and playing a solid defensive shortstop. He gives the Nationals a long-term shortstop to build with.
Robert Hassell, OF
The Padres No. 2 prospect and No. 25 overall on the BA Top 100, Hassell is one of the best pure hitters in the minors with a sweet lefthanded swing that has made him one of the best hitters for his age at every step of his career. After hitting .303 in his pro debut last year, he hit .299/.379/.467 with 10 home runs, 55 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 75 games at High-A Fort Wayne this season. Hassell has a loose, direct swing that allows him to drive the ball to all fields, a talent he showcased with a hard line drive to deep left field and a hard single up the middle in the Futures Game in Los Angeles last month. He is a contact-first hitter who is best when he stays up through the middle of the field, but he has enough power to drive balls over the fence to his pull side and should be able to pair high batting averages with 15-20 home runs as he gets stronger with age. Hassell is a plus runner who makes the routine plays in center field and can stick at the position. He still gets tangled up on his routes at times, but he has the speed and instincts to keep improving and be at least an average defender in center field. His plus arm rounds out his defensive profile. Hassell’s swing and advanced pitch recognition give him a chance to be a plus or better hitter as long as he continues getting stronger to hit balls hard consistently. His offensive skills and ability to stick in center field give him all-star potential as long as he keeps progressing as expected.
James Wood, OF
The Padres No. 5 prospect and No. 62 on the BA Top 100 Prospects, Wood has been one of the most exciting prospects in the low minors since the Padres drafted him in the second round last year. After crushing in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League in his pro debut last year, he hit .321/.439/.565 with 10 home runs, 45 RBIs and 16 stolen bases in 50 games for Low-A Lake Elsinore this year despite two separate injured list stints for wrist inflammation. Wood is a towering 6-foot-7 behemoth who possesses the power to make balls disappear. He routinely hits 400-foot plus shots out to right and center field and can leave any part of the park at any time. His long limbs create holes in his swing that higher-level pitchers will be able to exploit, but he sees the ball early out of the pitcher’s hand, tracks pitches deep, works counts and limits his chases, giving him a chance to exceed expectations and be an average or better hitter as he matures and adjusts to each level. Wood moves remarkably well for his size and glides smoothly with above-average speed in center field. He is likely to move to right field as he gets bigger and slows down with age, but he keeps showing he can handle center as needed. Wood is soft-spoken but smart and has shown a rapid ability to implement improvements after swinging and missing too much in high school during his draft year last season. Wood’s swing will be tested by better pitching, but his high-quality at-bats, massive power and impressive athleticism give him an all-star ceiling as high as anyone in the Nationals system.
Jarlin Susana, RHP
The Padres top international signing in the 2021-22 period, Susana immediately emerged as arguably the best pitching prospect in the Rookie-level ACL in his pro debut this year and has been the talk of the backfields in Arizona. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound righthander posted a 2.44 ERA in eight appearances (seven starts) with 44 strikeouts and 11 walks in 29.1 innings this summer while overwhelming opponents with his arsenal. Susana is an imposing power pitcher with an explosive fastball that sits 97-98 mph and touches 101-102. He shows a natural feel to spin a hard, 86-90 mph slider that has a chance to be a plus pitch and his hard, 88-93 mph changeup is a viable third pitch that has a chance to be average. Susana throws plenty of strikes and knows how and when to expand the zone. He should have average control, although he presently gets away with throwing the ball down the middle and will have to learn to work the corners at higher levels. Susana has a long way to go as an 18-year-old still in Rookie ball, but he has the potential to be a power righthander who pitches in the top half of a rotation. If something stalls in his development, his stuff still gives him a chance to be a dominant late-game reliever.
Luke Voit, 1B
Voit led the American League in home runs during the shortened 2020 season, but he's been limited by injuries since. He's hit .225 with 13 home runs and 48 RBIs for the Padres as their primary DH. He will serve as a replacement for Bell at first base for the Nationals and won't be a free agent until after the 2024 season.
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Juan Soto, OF
Soto is a rare talent as a 23-year-old who already has a batting title, a World Series ring, two Silver Slugger awards and two all-star selections under his belt. He led the majors in on-base percentage each of the last two years and owns a career .291/.427/.538 slash line. Soto remains one of the most patient and disciplined hitters in the majors and has the strength to punish pitches when he gets one to hit. He’s struggled to a career-low .246 batting average this year and his average exit velocity and line-drive rates are both the lowest of his career, but he’s also not getting pitches to drive—pitchers are throwing him the lowest percentage of strikes in his career with little lineup protection around him. With better hitters around him, he should see more pitches in the strike zone and pitches he can drive. Soto’s defense has been poor in right field this year, but it was fine last year in his first season at the position and again could improve with better players around him. Soto is signed through the 2024 season, giving the Padres three shots to reach the postseason and advance with him in their lineup. He remains one of baseball’s best talents and should team with Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr.—when the latter returns from his shoulder injury—to form one of the most fearsome lineup trios in the major leagues.
Josh Bell, 1B
Bell has been one of the most productive first basemen in baseball this season, batting .301/.384/.493 with 14 home runs and 57 RBIs while hitting behind Soto in the Nationals lineup. The switch-hitter is dangerous batting both lefthanded (.311, .890 OPS) and righthanded (.285, .855 OPS) and has been remarkably consistent, keeping his batting average above .290 since the second day of the season. Bell immediately gives the Padres another dangerous offensive threat in the middle of their order and represents a sizable upgrade from Eric Hosmer at first base. He will be a free agent after this season.