Atlanta trades Lucas Harrell & Dario Alvarez to Texas for INF prospect Travis Demeritte
Lucas Harrell came up with the White Sox in 2010, and he wasn’t very good with them. In 2012, Houston made him a regular starter at a time Houston was trying to lose lots of games. He was a good fit for such a roster, because he wasn’t a very good pitcher for them (the ERA was good, but it was a bit misleading). In 2013, the ERA was no longer misleading (5.86), and Harrell was particularly bad. He led the majors in walks despite not pitching enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. The previous guy to do that was Kazuhisa Ishii in his 2002 rookie season. By 2014, Houston wanted to win, so Harrell stopped pitching as regularly for them. In 2015, no MLB team asked Harrell to pitch for them. Atlanta signed him in May, presumably to resume his 2012 role – help log innings for a team built to lose.
Harrell didn’t stick to the script, though. In his first start, on July 2, Harrell logged 6 innings of 5 K, 1 BB, allowing just 4 baserunners and a single run. In his second outing, against the Cubs, he went 7, striking out 5, allowing 6 baserunners, and again, a single run. Only July 15 against Colorado, he was soundly beaten, and he followed that with another poor outing against the Reds. Perhaps the universe was restoring order. Then, on July 26, Harrell pitched 6 innings of shutout baseball, striking out 4. Sure, it was against the lowly Twins, but that gave him 3 quality outings in 5 starts. If a team was desperate for some innings, Harrell, despite his past, might look attractive. I still wasn’t sure a team would bite, given his history, and even voiced my skepticism:
If the Braves can actually trade Lucas Harrell for something, that is just wizardry of the highest order.
— Brent Blackwell (@brentblackwell) July 27, 2016
Like I said, it was going to take someone truly desperate to give Atlanta a prospect of value in a deal for Harrell.
Desperation, thy name is Texas. Texas has a great top 2 in the rotation. Cole Hamels is good, as usual. Yu Darvish, back from injury, looks healthy and effective. After that, Texas has two below average inning-eaters and a dumpster fire in the 5th spot. Martin Perez and A.J. Griffin have been, for the most part, reliably average this year. They eat innings with roughly league average effectiveness, maybe a little worse. Texas would probably like to improve on their performances, but that hasn’t been a concern yet, because the 5th spot has been so much worse. On June 16, Colby Lewis pitched a complete game, allowing 3 baserunners and 1 run in a Texas victory. Since then, here is the result of every start by a Texas pitcher not named Darvish, Hamels, Perez, or Griffin.
6/18: Nick Martinez – 4.1 innings, 3 runs, 1 K, 2 BB, 0 HR (W)
6/20: Derek Holland – 4.1 innings, 3 runs, 4 K, 2 BB, 0 HR (W)
6/21: Colby Lewis – 5 innings, 6 runs, 3 K, 1 BB, 1 HR (L)
6/24: Nick Martinez – 6 innings, 4 runs, 2 K, 3 BB, 2 HR (L)
6/27: Chi Chi Gonzalez – 5 innings, 5 runs, 2 K, 2 BB, 0 HR (W!)
6/29: Nick Martinez – 5 innings, 2 runs, 2 K, 5 BB, 1 HR (L)
7/2: Chi Chi Gonzalez – 0.2 innings, 4 runs, 0 K, 2 BB, 0 HR (L)
7/4: Nick Martinez – 4.1 innings, 6 runs, 1 K, 3 BB, 1 HR (L)
7/7: Chi Chi Gonzalez – 4.2 innings, 4 runs, 5 K, 5 BB, 1 HR (L)
7/9: Kyle Lohse – 5 innings, 6 runs, 3 K, 2 BB, 2 HR (L)
7/19: Kyle Lohse – 4.1 innings, 7 runs, 0 K, 3 BB, 2 HR (L)
7/26: Nick Martinez – 4 innings, 5 runs, 2 K, 3 HR (L)
Over those 12 starts, they’ve gotten 52.2 innings, given up 55 runs and 13 HR, and put together a 25:30 K:BB ratio. Seriously, dumpster fire. They’ve won 3 times, but in none of those games did the starter make it remotely easy – twice they couldn’t complete the 5th, and the other gave up 5 runs. It’s been really bad. If you’ve watched that sequence for 12 starts, I’m sure you might start to believe Lucas Harrell might be the fix. He really can’t be much worse. Not even 2012 Harrell was this bad, and if he’s somehow turned a corner or fixed something in his approach, he’ll be a clear upgrade.
The Texas bullpen has had struggles as well, but desperation doesn’t make a team go get Dario Alvarez. Alvarez has some upside and talent, and he could emerge as a top-of-the-line lefty reliever. I don’t know if his control will allow him to be a Chapman-esque closer, but he is striking out a ton of batters, and maybe he’s putting it all together. Texas should be excited about acquiring him, because he’s potentially useful for several years to come. Why would Atlanta trade him? Relievers are nice to have, but they’re something of a luxury item in a rebuild. When there aren’t leads to protect, they don’t really do you quite as much good. Atlanta would’ve liked to have Alvarez for several more seasons, but they liked what Texas had to offer a bit more.
What Texas had to offer was slugging INF prospect Travis Demeritte. Demeritte was a highly touted amateur prospect, going 30th overall in the 2013 draft out of high school. In 2014, as a 19 year old in High-A, he struggled with contact (37% K) but hit 25 HR and walked 50 times. Last year he served an 80-game suspension for PED’s, though it was for something that wasn’t explicitly a PED itself. So far this season, the 21 year old has slashed .272/.352/.583 with 25 HR and 13 SB in 378 PA. With a 33% K-rate, he’s still coming up empty a lot. His 11% walk rate indicates that it isn’t necessarily due to poor knowledge of the zone.
What do the scouts say?
Well, it all comes down to the hit tool. The power, as evidenced by his MiLB numbers, is real. He has the power of a 30+ HR guy, if he can just make enough contact to hit them. He has decent but not great speed, which is how he’s managed to stay in the middle infield as a prospect. He has good smarts on the basepaths, allowing him to pick up some steals with good success rates. His arm is above-average, which could play really well at 2nd, but it could also make him manageable at 3rd or in the outfield. So, like I said, the hit tool. He draws his walks, so it’s not like the swings and misses are all at pitches in the dirt. He just comes up empty on a lot of pitches, either missing them entirely or weakly popping up or grounding out. The 33% K-rate is bad, and it doesn’t make it likely that Demeritte will be a successful major league hitter, but it doesn’t mean he can’t be. Rockies rookie sensation Trevor Story carried a 33% K-rate at roughly the same age (20-21) at the same level (A+). The power is real enough to at least keep an eye on the hit tool, and this year’s .272 batting average is a good start.
ETA – 2019
Demeritte, a native of Winder, GA has never taken a swing in the high minors, so we shouldn’t expect him in Atlanta too quickly. The jump to AA isn’t easy, and if it’s ugly at first, keep his age in mind. Also keep Trevor Story in mind. I don’t mean to suggest Demeritte is Story, or should be expected to be, but Story serves as a cautionary tale of writing these guys off too early. Story’s first taste of AA went poorly (.200/.302/.380), but things came together in his second year there. If Demeritte doesn’t light up the Mississippi scoreboard next year, don’t panic. He’s young, talented, powerful, and has a good eye at the plate. There’s a lot to like about him. I think he could be up midway through 2018, but I wouldn’t expect to see him regularly until ’19 or so.
This is a good trade for Texas. They may or may not need Demeritte in 2 or 3 years, but they certainly need something to go their way in the 5th spot in the rotation, and Alvarez gives them a talented lefty to stash in the bullpen. Alvarez has more value to a team like Texas, a team whose window is open and will have more use for good, affordable bullpen help in the coming years.
It’s also unequivocally a good trade for the Braves. In May, Atlanta picked up two players other teams just gave away. It cost nothing but their salaries to acquire them. Now, in trading those two freely acquired talents away, Atlanta has a prospect to add to its pretty extensive collection. And fans should rejoice – it’s a hitting prospect with power potential.