The trade floodgates have opened as teams decide early on whether they are contenders or not. Chicago has pulled the trigger on two major deals that will cement their status as rebuilders right into 2019 and possibly later, while Toronto and Ohio have worked out an exchange of top-level minor league talent that could impact both teams later this season.
First, Chicago has offloaded two rotation features to the Denver Danger, giving them Mario Morales and Greg Whittingdon in exchange for 2018’s NCAA home run champion Brian Goldstein (Iowa) and RF Shintaro Matsushita.
Southpaw Morales is a hard-working groundballer, still under team control for two more years, who is 24-20 with a 3.05 ERA so far in four seasons at the major level. He has been a consistent force on the bump for Chicago, but has struggled with the rest of the team this season after his run support cratered to just 1.91 this season. His record this year is a mere 3-7 despite throwing 6 quality starts.
Whittingdon hit the DL during his first mound appearance on May 15, leaving after just 4.1 scoreless innings, after leaving with a sore throat. It was later diagnosed as strep throat, serious enough to require tonsil surgery. He is not expected back this season. He debuted last season to a 6-8 record, but a workable 3.58 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. A young power thrower, he is expected to develop into a premier pitcher in the league, and is under contract until 2026.
With Morales and Whittingdon going to Denver, the Danger get the immediate benefit of Morales as a lefty arm who is solid when backed by a superior offense. Denver’s lineup includes Chavarria, Reese, Lozano, May and Webster, all of whom are solid hitting power swingers that have the team 3rd in the AEL in home runs. When Whittingdon returns healthy next season, Denver will remain a powerhouse two-way threat, with both locked-in lineup power (only Webster is due for a contract renewal) and a crew of good arms in the rotation to join 3-time Bull Cup champ Rich Ojeda.
For Chicago, the addition of Goldstein and Matsushita offer potential power down the road, possibly as early as late 2019. Matsushita, 22, was a solid contributor for Incheon College in the PRCL last season, originally drafted 43rd overall in the supplemental 1st round of the 2017 draft by Montreal. The Metros released him in April for unexplained reasons, and the Danger signed him to a minor league deal for one year. He was expected to take his first pro swings this month in Short Season A.
Goldstein, meanwhile, is easy to predict as an eventual Bull League perennial home run champ, once he figures out his swing. The 23-year-old Texan set the NCAA home run record in its inaugural year, blasting 31 balls over the wall. His OPS was an incredible 1.245, as the slugger also took 36 free passes and hit 91 times in 287 appearances. Critics say his numbers may crash once he faces serious pro pitching in the minors, but others don’t see any obstacles at the lower minors for him.
Aside from the Denver deal, Chicago also teed up a big deal to move RHP Masato Watanabe to the Calgary Inferno for three more prospects, Jeremy Wright, Jamie Bobb and Chris Rice. Watanabe is a power-throwing righty who peaks at 100 mph on his fastball, striking out on average 8.7 batters per 9 IP through his career. Though he has struggled to tally up wins (he is just 30-38 in his career) he is an important mid-rotation piece who has brought his ERA down to 3.15 this season. Chicago will retain 80% of his salary in the deal to move him to Calgary, where he will likely find more W’s due to the Inferno’s incredible run production.
Jeremy Wright was the CANAM college league’s Pitcher of the Year for 2017, after tallying a 12-2 record and 1.86 ERA for Jimmy Buffet Community College. This year he was named the #12 prospect in the Bull League, and has been at 10+ K’s per 9 IP at rookie level and A-level in 14 pro games this year. In about two seasons, when he should be primed for the Show, Wright’s groundout percentage of 55% will be useful for the Pit Bulls as they retool their defense.
The other pitcher going to Chicago will be Chris Rice, a hard-throwing righty similar to Wright who is showing early signs of superior control. He could easily slot in to the big level as a solid bullpen performer next season.
Finally, Jamie Bobb was a 12th round draft pick by Calgary this season, coming from Boston College. Rated as a bit of a timid hitter, he is expected to develop eventually into a serviceable bat who can go oppo with regularity, and already has the defensive skills to play at any outfield position.
The third trade announced today was between the Toronto Nomads and the Ohio Oxen, both of whom are competing for wildcards in their respective Lake League divisions, and only exchanged minor-leaguers.
Toronto sent AAA-level arms Ben Butler and Ju-ao Liu, both longtime minor leaguers in the Nomads organization. Butler is throwing well this season, and is 4-0 with a 2.64 ERA, keeping the Brampton Longhorns close to their division leader. Liu was recently promoted from AA-level Kitchener where he was holding a 1.06 WHIP after 8 appearances, allowing just 2 earned runs in 10.1 innings. At 31, Butler is ready for the Show, but Toronto just hasnt made room for him, while Ohio desperately needs to fix bullpen problems. Liu gives the Oxen some longer term developmental pitching to look forward to.
The Oxen are giving up Quinten Braden and Raul Lopez in return. Braden is a solid-hitting outfielder currently batting .388 for the AAA-level Toledo Tornados, and has tallied nearly as many walks as strikeouts. He adds some outfield depth to Toronto and could see action after the All-Star Break, especially with Adam Russillo on the DL. He already won a Bull Cup as a 2016 roster expansion call-up for Ohio.
Lopez is a young Cuban right-handed pitcher projecting to have decent control, and who has already mastered a fastball and a splitter. Over 10 appearances at AA-level Dos Palos A’s, he’s 1-0, with a 1.71 ERA, and 23 K’s in 21 IP for a 9.9 K/9 ratio. The groundballer has yet to allow a home run this year. He’s known as a competitive pitcher who should fit well into the Nomads rotation in about 2-3 seasons if he develops as expected.