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Blake Snell Trade Analysis

Rays have future in mind in dealing their ace

MLB: World Series-Tampa Bay Rays at Los Angeles Dodgers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Last night the Tampa Bay Rays agreed to trade former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell to the San Diego Padres for RHP Luis Patino, C Francisco Mejia, RHP Cole Wilcox, and C Blake Hunt, pending medicals.

Blake Snell’s Rays career has been a roller coaster. After winning the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year with one of the most dominant seasons by a pitcher in recent memory he struggled to transition to the majors over the next two seasons. The results weren’t bad, but he struggled with his control.

Everything changed in 2018 when he put up a 1.89 ERA over 180.2 innings on his way to winning the American League Cy Young Award.

Since the start of the 2018 season Snell has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the majors with a 2.85 ERA/3.27 FIP/3.19 xFIP. The only knock can be the volume with 337.2 innings due to various minor injuries.

The 2021 Rays will miss having Snell on the mound every fifth day, but this trade is about the future, so let’s look there:

RHP Luis Patiño

Luis Patiño is one of the most electric young arms in the game. Last year he ranked as the #10 overall prospect at FanGraphs and #16 overall at Baseball America.

Patiño has seen a meteoric rise as his velocity spiked to 94-96 as a starter and peaking at 100. He throws two secondary pitches in a mid 80s slider and upper 80s changeup.

In 2020 he received his first Major League experience where the results were mixed. He got his fair share of strikeouts, but the major problem was control. He walked 14 batters (16.5%) in 17.1 innings. This hasn’t typically been a problem in the minors where he has posted walk rates in the 7-9% range.

While the results weren’t good, the stuff looked great. His fastball averaged 97.07 mph and maxed out at 100.84 mph. The changeup sat at 89.29 mph and the slider came in at 84.77 mph.

Patiño’s fastball was his one plus to plus-plus pitch in his Major League stint. He was able to consistently throw it for strikes, but he had a tendency to overthrow his slider and changeup leading to an inability to throw them in the strikezone.

Patino is known for being an elite athlete, so his control is expected to improve moving forward with FanGraphs putting a plus grade on the future command. If you’re going to deal Blake Snell, you expect this caliber of athlete in return, and some evaluators in the game think he might be the best arm in the Padres system.

Kiley McDaniels of chimed in on Twitter about Patiño to that effect:

I do agree there is something to MacKenzie Gore not getting MLB run especially over Ryan Weathers. This was a puzzling decision at the time.

Scouts generally love the stuff, athleticism, makeup, and work ethic of Patiño. The only knock is that he’s a shorter pitcher coming in at 6’0” and 192 pounds.

With between 100-120 days of service time already to his credit, Patiño should be positioned to make an impact for the 2021 Rays without service time restrictions, should he prove himself in camp. It’s not outside the realm of possibility he goes to the minors to start the year, but if he does, it would not be contract related.

C Francisco Mejia

Francisco Mejia entered the 2019 season #32 on Baseball America’s top 100 list and was the major piece in the trade between the Cleveland Indians and Padres that sent Brad Hand to Cleveland.

Mejia earned this ranking on the strength of his bat, but that hasn’t worked out as planned to this point. He really started making waves after posting a 50 game hit streak that was the longest Minor League hitting streak in 62 years, but things haven’t translated since his promotion.

So far in the majors Mejia has hit .225/.282/.386 and put up a 75 wRC+ over 362 plate appearances. His 2019 season was much better at .265/.316/.438 and 96 wRC+, but he really struggled in minimal playing time last year.

Mejia is a free swinger not all that different than Corey Dickerson at the plate, but without the monster raw power. They both draw minimal walks while striking out a fair amount due to swinging at pitches out of the zone.

The good news is he doesn’t have to improve on offense all that much if he can stick behind the plate. The bad news is that he needs to stick behind the plate, where defense has always been his biggest question. He has a cannon for an arm, but has had trouble receiving and framing. In 660.2 innings behind the plate he has put up -2 DRS. It hasn’t been disastrous back there, but it hasn’t been good either.

Mejia is still young, having just turned 25 in late October. Mejia should be given the opportunity to platoon with Zunino as a switch hitter that has hit much better against right handed pitchers, where his power has shown.

RHP Cole Wilcox

Cole Wilcox was one of the top high school arms in the 2018 draft class coming in at #37 on the Baseball America top 500 draft prospect list. He fell to the 37th round due to signability and went to the University of Georgia.

Before the 2020 college baseball season was suspended Wilcox was dominant. He struck out 32 batters while walking only 2 over four starts.

As a draft-eligible sophomore Wilcox was ranked #24 on the Baseball America top 500 draft prospect list ahead of the 2020 draft. Wilcox dropped to the third round due to signability concerns. He ended up signing with the Padres for a $3.3MM bonus that is equal to the #20 overall pick.

This was the highest signing bonus ever given to a third round pick.

Wilcox has a traditional pitcher build at 6’5” and 232 pounds. His fastball plays more like a sinker that sits in the mid 90s and he can touch 99. He throws a upper 90s slider that flashes above average and an inconsistent changeup in the mid 80s.

Wilcox likely arrival is during the 2023 season unless they move him to the bullpen.

C Blake Hunt

Blake Hunt was selected with the 69th overall pick of the 2017 draft by the Padres and signed for an above slot $1.6MM signing bonus.

Hunt has a reputation for being a very good to elite defender in almost every aspect. He’s a plus receiver and framer while also compiling very good pop times.

Hunt was one of the standouts in instructs and at the alternate site. Unfortunately for the public we don’t have much information from these exhibitions.

Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs was one of the highest on him placing him tenth in the Padres system in his latest update last year. He added this note on Twitter after the trade was announced.

If he develops with the bat he has the potential to be the best player in this trade.

My Reaction

From a value perspective I think the Rays did alright, but have been surprised by the generally positive reviews of the Rays return.

I really like Patiño and he is the type of MLB ready prospect the Rays needed to get if they were going to pull the trigger on a Snell trade. I think he becomes the second best pitcher in the rotation as early as this season and could form a solid top two with Tyler Glasnow.

I have not been a believer in Mejia to the extent that most were dating back to the Hand trade. I prefer disciplined hitters and not free swingers that need to hit near .300 to have a good OBP. The bar for a bat at catcher isn’t all that high; however, the defensive bar is very high, particularly for the Rays. He has improved behind the plate to merely below average across two seasons, and the Rays must think there’s more to gain. As a switch hitter that is better against right handed pitcher I think he pairs nicely with Zunino. I’d start the season in a near 50/50 time share that Mejia could earn more playing time if his skills take a step forward.

Wilcox was on my short list of guys I wanted the Rays to take with the 24th pick in the 2020 draft or as an overslot pick in later rounds. I believe he’ll stick as a starter and should force his way on the roster around 2023.

Hunt was the player I was most unfamiliar with before the trade was announced. The reports sound very promising, but it came from instructional ball. There is clearly a lot of trust being put in data that we haven’t gotten to see, but if the bat breaks out he could be one of the best catchers in the league. This is definitely a need for the Rays system, so I understand the target.

The Rays potentially got four major league contributors in this trade with the hope of more than replacement level pieces. Overall the value looks solid to good; however, this does hurt the 2021 Rays some amount. I believe Patiño can replace most of Snell’s value in the remaining years of his contract in 2022 and 2023, which will put the future Rays in a better spot.

Because the 2021 Rays are worse after this trade I am disappointed as a fan. The Rays have typically traded players with two years of control remaining to optimize returns, but this time they jumped the gun by a year while being in the position to be a really good team in 2021.

The return feels slightly light for one of the top pitchers in the majors. Previous comparisons for a trade of Blake Snell’s quality and contract could have been a Chris Sale return. I would feel a lot more comfortable if the second piece was something better than Mejia, but that value may be have been shifted down to the fourth piece in Hunt. For the Rays having four plus pieces diversifies their risk, and makes some sense.

Ultimately, this is a solid return for a team looking to rebuild, but a difficult trade to swallow for a team looking to return to the World Series in consecutive years.