Wednesday afternoon the Nationals participated in one of the bigger trades in recent memory, a 3-team deal with San Diego and Tampa Bay involving 11 players, highlighted by Wil Myers going to the Padres. In this swap Washington shipped prospects OF Steven Souza Jr. and LHP Travis Ott to Tampa Bay in exchange for RHP Joe Ross and a Player To Be Named Later – expected to be SS Trea Turner.
Best known to Nationals’ fans as the man who caught the final out in Jordan Zimmermann’s No-Hitter this season, Steven Souza has diligently developed from a raw 3rd round pick into a major league player. Souza has taken many seasons to turn his outstanding athleticism and baseball tools into production on the field, finally breaking out in 2013 at Harrisburg. With above-average speed and a plus arm, Souza can play both outfield corner positions well and could handle center field in a pinch. However, he profiles best in right field.
Offensively Souza has excellent bat speed and a short, compact swing for a large man, which translates to plus raw power to all fields. He shows a knack for working the count, which allows him to draw his share of walks but conversely causes him to strikeout a healthy amount as well. I foresee Souza to be a below-average hitter in the .250-.270 range, but his ability to make hard contact should produce above-average on-base and slugging numbers. Souza will turn 26 next April, but this late-blooming slugger should carve out a quality career as a league-average corner outfielder beginning in 2015.
Travis Ott was the Nationals 25th round pick in the 2013 draft from a somewhat nearby Shippensburg, PA high school. Ott is a lanky 6-4 170lbs left-handed pitcher who flashes a high-80s fastball and the potential for an average curveball and changeup. Ott is raw but possesses a loose arm and projects as a possible back-end starter at the major league level. He was a tremendous value as a late Day 3 selection and the Nationals scouting and development staff should be commended for finding this gem.
In return for these two players, Washington receives right-handed starting pitching prospect Joe Ross and shortstop Trea Turner. Ross, San Diego’s 1st round pick in 2011, is a well-built 6-4 210lbs right-hander with an ideal pitchers frame. The brother of San Diego pitcher Tyson Ross, 21-year-old Joe features a quality three pitch mix including a fastball, slider, and changeup. His fastball is his best current pitch, sitting 91-95mph with some arm-side wiggle and can reach 97mph. The slider also shows above-average potential at 84-86mph with sharp tilt and his mid-80s changeup is presently an average pitch thrown with good arm speed and deception.
Ross received a brief cameo at Double-A late in 2014 after an impressive effort early in the year in the California League, a notorious hitters’ league. He should spend the majority of his age-22 season at Double-A and could reach the major leagues late in 2016. If he can improve his slider and refine his overall game, Ross has a ceiling as a #3 starting pitcher.
Currently the Player To Be Named Later in this trade, Trea Turner was the Padres 1st round pick last summer, 13th overall, after a distinguished three year career at North Carolina State. I scouted Turner last spring when he played a weekend series at the University of Maryland and here were my notes last March:
“An obviously toolsy athlete with elite speed, Turner physically looks the part of a top draft prospect, with a solid frame with some projection remaining. Offensively Turner shows a good eye at the plate, with a plan and approach during his at-bats. His swing shows healthy bat speed and he has good balance at the plate, getting his front foot down quickly and quietly. Although not known for his power, he even hit a home run this weekend, though he will not hit for much power as a professional. His game will be based upon gap power and utilizing his speed at the top of the lineup.
Defensively Turner has a surprisingly quiet weekend, but did make an athletic play to his right deep in the hole which caught my eye. He is clearly athletic enough to play shortstop in the majors, but does not flash the monster throwing arm expected from that position.”
The 21-year-old Turner will find himself in an awkward position to begin 2015, as he will be playing for San Diego awaiting his arrival in Washington next summer when the trade can become official. Turner will likely start at High-A Potomac once he is a member of the Nationals and could arrive in the majors late in 2016. With potential to be an above-average defensive shortstop with a league average bat, Turner has the ceiling of a league-average or slightly better major league player.
This trade from Washington’s perspective is intriguing on a number of levels, as it is extremely rare to see a “prospects for prospects” trade in baseball, along with a Player To Be Named Later who will not arrive for six months. It is also uncommon to see a major league ready right-handed hitting power hitter with six years of control traded in this environment, as they seem more coveted than turkeys at Thanksgiving.
Souza is a quality prospect and terrific testament to the Nats’ development staff and Ott has some interesting potential, but the opportunity to acquire Ross and Turner for these two individuals is a swap the Nationals have to make. Parting with Souza, Washington’s minor league hitter of the year, is difficult, but his opportunity for playing time was blocked due to the presence of Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth for the next three seasons. Add in the fact that Michael Taylor appears to be the future in center field starting in 2016, Souza was an obvious trade candidate.
Therefore considering the position the front office was in, Washington did well to receive a possible #3/4 starting pitcher who has already reached Double-A, along with the top collegiate middle infield prospect in this past draft. Ross represents an outstanding trade piece if Mike Rizzo wishes to trade for a second baseman or provides a solid backup plan if Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister depart next winter. Furthermore, Turner gives the Nationals their shortstop of the future if they are unable to re-sign Ian Desmond and gives the front office excellent minor league middle infield depth along with Wilmer Difo and the newly-acquired Chris Bostick.
This swap attempts to provide answers to some long-term question marks throughout the organization while giving the front office additional options. In this deal Washington traded from two areas of organizational depth, corner outfielders and low level pitching, to acquire prospects in greater places of need, middle infield and upper level starting pitching. Tampa Bay will be rightfully questioned for this trade, as on the surface Washington received significantly more talent and potential than they gave up.
NatsGM Overall Grade -> A-