Alright, so the Padres made their first splash of the trade season, dealing away their best starter* in Trevor Cahill and a good chunk of their bullpen in Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter to the Kansas City Royals. In return, they received a not-very-good starter in Travis Wood, injured pitching prospect Matt Strahm, and 18-year-old second base prospect Esteury Ruiz.
Our very own Chad Hamner broke down the trade when it was announced, and while Strahm and (to a lesser extent) Wood are somewhat interesting on their own, it would appear that the key to the deal was Ruiz. The common refrain among Padres enthusiasts is that he’s “the new Fernando Tatis Jr.”, i.e. a Dominican teenager with a high ceiling that was undervalued due to his youth.
While it’d be foolish to say that there are Top 100 prospects in every international signing period that get traded away for over-the-hill starting pitchers, it does show that A.J. Preller has all the confidence in his scouting department.
Signed for just $100,000 as a 16-year-old in 2015, Ben Badler of Baseball America has stated that he has “strong wrists and explosive hands”, while Chris Kusiolek, an amateur scout, says that he has “average bat speed” and “game acumen at the plate”. More importantly, perhaps, Preller himself had this to say of the newly acquired second baseman:
“[He’s a] big part of the trade for us. We’ve had some scouts on the pro scouting side for us see him, and it’s a power-speed combo guy that we think has a bright future.” He went on to say that “It’s hard to find bat-speed combo guys, guys that bring a few tools to the table, guys that, in the short time that he’s been in pro ball, he’s hit, he’s done some damage. He’s, for us, an interesting prospect that we got in the deal.”
Power and speed sounds pretty good, right? On the “power” side, Ruiz had three home runs in his first nine games for the AZL Royals, though none in the following twelve games. Nine doubles and five triples is pretty good, no matter how you slice it, and his slugging percentage sits at a fun .779 in 21 rookie league games. Pretty good pop for a player listed at 6’0” and 150 pounds. As far as “speed” goes, he’s a perfect 9 for 9 in stolen base attempts, which is great, considering the sample.
Is it easy to look too much into an 18-year-old that’s hitting .419 in rookie league? Probably. Is it wise to believe that every teenager that Preller’s team falls in love with will become a star? Definitely not. Still, the Padres AZL teams aren’t too shabby, and they don’t have anybody with that kind of production (Eguy Rosario comes the closest, at .361). And after “hitting” on Tatis Jr., you’d have to think that the scouting department has earned at least a little bit of our trust.
In the end, it’s not like the Padres dealt away a whole lot to the Royals, regardless of the return. Waiting to see if Cahill was going to torpedo his trade value with every start was growing tiresome, and though he showed glimpses of greatness, Maurer’s inconsistencies made it difficult to enjoy his appearances. Even Buchter has more hittable this year than last, and in reality, he was just a minor league free agent, so it’s not like he even “cost” that much.
Yes, it will be interesting to see if Darren Balsley can help Wood become a useful starter again, and when Strahm gets back off the disabled list next season, maybe the soon-to-be-26-year-old will become a vital part of the rotation. Still, Ruiz should be considered to be the main piece in this trade, and he will be an interesting player to watch as the season continues – and for years to come. Look to see more trades like this in the Padres future – gambling on the high ceiling instead of settling for lesser potential just because it’s closer to the majors.