The Tampa Bay Rays made headlines with another blockbuster trade on Tuesday, trading outfielder Steven Souza to the Arizona Diamondbacks. In return, they received lefthander Anthony Banda from Arizona and second baseman Nick Solak from the New York Yankees, the third team in the deal. The Rays will also receive two players to be named later, which ESPN’s Keith Law reported were “more than just throw-ins.”
While we don’t yet know the identity of those last two players, Banda and Solak already represent a solid return for Souza’s services. Both will likely be in major league camp this spring — Banda as a 40-man roster player and Solak as a non-roster invitee — with Banda in the mix for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
LHP Anthony Banda
Banda was widely considered the best prospect in a bad Diamondbacks farm system prior to last season. His stock took a slight hit after he struggled in Triple-A, posting a 5.39 ERA in 122 innings for the Reno Aces. However, this didn’t stop the Diamondbacks from calling him up for a handful of spot starts in July and August. He posted an unsightly 7.32 ERA in those five outings — half of those 16 earned runs came in one start — but struck out 19 batters while allowing just one home run in 19 2⁄3 frames. He finished out the year with four solid relief appearances, but did not pitch in the postseason.
Standing 6’2 and weighing 190 pounds, Banda has a typical starter’s build. He has the frame to withstand the rigors of a major league season, and relatively smooth mechanics. There is some effort in his delivery, but he hides the ball fairly well and has a bit of deception in his mechanics.
Baseball Prospectus graded his fastball as a plus pitch, while FanGraphs’ last update labeled it merely above-average. Either way, it sits comfortably in the mid-90s during starts and peaked at 98 miles per hour out of the bullpen last September.
His curveball is his best pitch, another above-average offering. It’s a bit slurvy, but has traditional curveball velocity in the low-80s. He also throws a changeup that is more fringy at present, but flashes as a third potential plus pitch due to improved feel for the pitch and the fastball’s steadily increasing velocity.
While he has three solid offerings to work with, none of Banda’s pitches are true swing-and-miss weapons. He has maintained solid strikeout rates at all levels of the minors, but won’t blow hitters away at the major league level. His command is solid, but he can lose it at times and will get blown up a bit if he does.
Despite the high ERAs he sported at Triple-A and in the majors last year, Banda still lands at No. 50 on KATOH’s top 100 prospects list for 2018. He is projected to produce 5.1 fWAR in his first six major league seasons. KATOH also liked him during the 2017 season — check out who else is on that list! — when his high ERA masked a solid strikeout rate in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
2B Nick Solak
Solak was drafted out of Louisville by the Yankees in the second round of the 2016 MLB draft. He put up the type of offensive numbers one would expect from an advanced college bat in short-season ball that summer, including a walk rate hovering near 11 percent. Solak skipped straight to High-A to start 2017, and made quick work of that level as well. He hit .301/.397/.460 with 10 home runs in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, and earned a midseason promotion to Double-A Trenton. While he dropped off somewhat there, he still managed a .772 OPS with 12 extra base hits in 132 plate appearances.
Listed at 5’11, Solak looks like a second baseman of yesteryear. His own dang team labeled him as “scrappy” and a “grinder,” but he makes enough loud contact to potentially start one day. He raked in college, and hit .376/.470/.564 in his final season at Louisville. He won’t hit for that much power in the pro ranks due to a swing geared more towards gap power, though. He has quick hands and uses all fields well. He also has excellent plate discipline, as his high walk rates at every level of the game so far can attest. He’s a plus runner, though probably not good enough to buy into his high stolen base success rate in the minors.
Solak’s biggest weakness might actually be on defense, where his below-average arm limits him to second base only. He has decent range and spent some time in the outfield in college, leaving some to wonder if he might actually end up in center field had he stayed in the Yankees system (I think the Rays are good on that front). Without the arm to play shortstop or third base, his upside as a utility player is limited.
Baseball Prospectus put Solak just outside their top 10 in a loaded Yankees farm system this spring, and local outlets had him in the same region. One imagines he will fall in a similar spot on the Rays’ list (MLB Pipeline already has him 15th). Odds are he will begin the 2018 season in Double-A, where he only played 30 games in the Yankees system last year, with a 2019 major league debut on the horizon if things go well.
h/t 2080 Baseball for the videos