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Scouting Jermaine Palacios, the Rays’ newest prospect

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While a light trade return for Jake Odorizzi, Palacios is a prospect on the rise.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays were the laughingstock of baseball for about an hour on Saturday evening following a pair of roster moves that had fans scratching their heads. Designating Corey Dickerson for assignment was probably the more puzzling of the two, but let’s talk about that Jake Odorizzi trade. It netted Jermaine Palacios, a Venezuelan shortstop prospect coming off a big 2017 season. Palacios hasn’t quite hit the prospect radar yet, but the Rays have a history of identifying such prospects before the rest of the industry — Chih-Wei Hu and Willy Adames being two recent examples.

Let’s get one thing straight: this still looks like a light return for Odorizzi. However, that doesn’t mean Palacios won’t ultimately become a useful big league player.

Background

The Twins signed Palacios, 21, out of Venezuela back in 2013. He had a promising debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2014, then exploded for a .939 OPS in 251 plate appearances in his stateside debut in 2015. He struggled in his first stint at Single-A ball in 2016, hitting just .222/.276/.287 with 12 extra base hits in 71 games. He bounced back last season as a 20-year-old, hitting .320/.362/.544 with 11 home runs in 276 plate appearances at Single-A Cedar Rapids before moving up to High-A Fort Myers. Palacios started out hot with the Miracle, hitting .306 in his first 35 games. However, he cratered down the stretch, with a 554 OPS in his final 108 plate appearances.

Strengths

Palacios is a well-rounded player who does a lot of things well. At the plate, he is a solid hitter who has potential to hit for average and a bit of power. MLB Pipeline gives his hit tool a league average (50) grade, and also praised his approach at the plate.

An offensive-minded middle infielder whose bat is a little bit ahead of his glove, Palacios can really impact the baseball. He has some potential at the plate to hit for average and good extra-base pop, even if that doesn’t mean a ton of home runs. He makes consistent hard contact with a fairly advanced approach.

FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen said similar things last summer, noting Palacios “is producing surprising power for his size.” He is only listed at 145 pounds (but looks bigger), and should develop a bit more power as he fills out. It’s probably a fringe-average tool at peak, but that’s plenty enough pop to work with if he stays at shortstop.

Speaking of the glove, Palacios has great instincts and good hands. His range is a bit of a question mark moving forward, but scouts note that his first step and footwork have improved with continued reps. Baseball Prospectus labeled him a plus defender at short, while others consider him closer to average. Palacios also has a plus arm that should play anywhere in the infield, though, like most young infielders, he could stand to improve his accuracy a little bit. If he doesn’t stick at short, he should be a strong defender at either second or third base.

Weaknesses

For a middle infielder with a slight build, Palacios doesn’t run all that well. Longenhagen graded him as a 40 (below-average) runner a couple years ago, and others don’t particularly like him to age well on this front. MLB Pipeline’s 50 is the highest grade I’ve seen for his speed, and his low success rate on stolen bases — he was 20-for-35 last year — doesn’t bode well for the future. The iffy run tool is also a reason why some scouts are worried about his future range at short.

While Palacios has drawn some praise for his approach at the plate, I’m worried about how well that will play going forward. He has not drawn many walks in the minors, and finished with a walk rate around 4.0 percent last season. This hasn’t hindered him too much yet, but he may start to struggle against more advanced pitching. He also has a relatively long swing for someone his size — you’ll likely pick up on this in the videos below — which could stand to be shortened some.

Grainy minor league videos!

Outlook

As a 21-year-old infielder who hasn’t reached the upper minors yet, Palacios still has a fair amount of risk in his profile. However, he has a well-rounded set of tools, giving him a relatively high floor, though not the highest ceiling. FanGraphs’ KATOH projection system likes him, and scouts are starting to pick up on his strengths as well. He probably won’t be a star — one hopes Willy Adames keeps him blocked for years to come — but Palacios should still be a useful contributor for a big league club at some point.