The Tampa Bay Rays traded 1B Nate Lowe, 1B Jake Guenther, and a player to be named later for C/OF/1B Heriberto Hernandez, infielder Osleivis Basabe, and OF/1B Alexander Ovalles from the Texas Rangers.
This marks the first major move for the Rays this winter and it has relatively little affect on the 2021 team, outside of making a 40-man roster spot available in the departing Lowe.
What the Rays gave up
Nate Lowe was ranked the #97 prospect by Baseball America heading into the 2019 season. In 245 MLB plate appearances he has hit .251/.322/.447 and put up a 106 wRC+. His brief runs in the majors have been solid. When Ji-Man Choi has been injured he has filled in well, but wasn’t able to earn the full time job. Lowe deserves an extended shot in the majors and he should get it with the Rangers.
Jake Guenther was the Rays seventh round pick in 2019 out of Texas Christian University. In his first professional debut he hit well for the Princeton Rays. He hit .320/.431/.423. The concern was only two homers over 209 plate appearances by a first baseman. Despite the lack of power he made a lot of contact and got on base with a 11.0% walk rate and 12.4% strikeout rate. He was old for the level as a college draftee, but he did do some things of interest.
The trade is rounded out by a PTBNL or cash, but even before knowing the return this is a good trade for the Rays, as they were able to get value from a player they were unable to get the value out of themselves — given the current roster construction — and get some upside prospects in exchange before his value went to zero.
What the Rays received
Heriberto Hernandez has demolished the baseball in his very short time in professional baseball. In 473 plate appearances he has hit .320/.450/.635 with 23 homers. This is an incredible line and start to a career however soon to be 21 year old has only ten plate appearances outside of complex ball.
The general consensus among the scouting industry has him as a very volatile, bat-first prospect that would rank in the twenties in a deep Rays farm. The outlier here is Eric Longenhagen at FanGraphs, who ranked him as the #112 best prospect in the game entering last season just two spots behind Rays prospect Shane Baz. It’s really tough to get a real idea of what he is today as there was no minor league season last year. Hernandez was added to the Rangers 60 man player pool in September to get reps against more advanced competition.
Osleivis Basabe is an athletic middle infielder that likely ends up at second base or centerfield. This is a popular contact profile that the Rays have targeted in recent years. Like Hernandez, Basabe only has ten plate appearances outside of complex ball. The consensus among the scouting community is that Basabe is just behind Hernandez coming in the bottom of the twenties of the Rays farm system.
Alexander Ovalles is no stranger to being traded as he was apart of the deal that sent Cole Hamels from the Rangers to the Chicago Cubs. Just like Hernandez and Basabe, Ovalles tore up complex ball but did get more run in Spokane (A-) with 100 plate appearances. Those 100 plate appearances didn’t go well as he hit .187/.250/.319 and put up a 63 wRC+. Ovalles has his defensive question marks as well. He’s mostly played in the outfield but has already gotten time at first base.
The most interesting aspect of this trade is the number of defensively limited players involved in one trade. Players that are already being talked about as future first baseman or already played there at this point in their careers usually have very limited future value and really have to hit to succeed. The three players the Rays received have smashed albeit against very low level competition.
The dynamics of 2020 make the evaluation of this deal far more difficult for those without access to the data and looks at guys at the Alternate Site or at instructs. Almost all the playing time for all three players the Rays received have their playing time in the Dominican Summer League or Arizona League where there is very limited views by the general public.
But a trade of Nate Lowe was coming, as it appears the Rays will continue to go with Ji-Man Choi as their everyday first baseman even though he’ll be going through arbitration for the first time this winter. It is completely reasonable to like Lowe more than Choi, but I agree with the Rays assessment here, even if it was a place the Rays could’ve saved about $1MM if they really needed to pinch pennies with very little loss of production.
Although a Lowe trade wasn’t unexpected, I had low expectations for a return. The Rays needed to find one of the few teams that would be willing to go with a player without the MLB track record at first base when options are plentiful. I think the Rays did well getting players with some upside in this deal.
The Rangers need to come out ahead of this deal in the short term and should as Lowe has an opening at first base. If Lowe succeeds as an everyday first baseman this will likely look good from their side. We won’t really have any idea how this works out for the Rays until 2023-24 at the earliest. The Rays only need one of Hernandez or Basabe to become a regular for this to be a win.
Overall, at the time of the trade, this looks like a win-win where the Rangers were able to take advantage of a surplus of MLB ready talent for some prospects that likely wouldn’t help for the next few years.