The first thing I always look at when evaluating trades is why the other team was willing to part with the players they gave up. It’s obvious for the Sox. They’re rebuilding for the first time ever and Adam Eaton is intolerable. But why were the Nationals willing to part with three top prospects in order to acquire an outfielder who is going to be hated by his teammates in two years?
He’s the prize in this trade. The #5 prospect in all of baseball according the Baseball America before the 2016 season, Giolito is 6’6″, 255…an enormous human. Washington chose him in the first round out of high school knowing he probably needed Tommy John surgery. He’s only 22 years old and made his big league debut last season for the Nationals. A true power pitcher, he’ll sit at 95 MPH and mix in a deuce that creates nightmares:
To go with his fastball and curve, his changeup is also considered a plus pitch even though scouts were skeptical of its effectiveness early in his career.
So why were the Nats willing to part ways? Well, he hasn’t exactly dominated, even in the minors. His prospect ranking, to this point, is a factor of supreme talent hype and really good stuff. But really good stuff isn’t enough at the biggest stage. While his minor league numbers were fine, he didn’t blow people away like you would expect a soon-to-be ace to do. He consistently average 3-4 walks per nine innings, which is too many, and muddled around nine strikeouts per nine. Good but not great. When he got the call up from the Nationals last year, he walked more people than he struck out and had a WHIP that sniffed 2.00. However, that was a very small sample size, only 21 innings. He’s still an elite talent, but we’ll definitely find out what kind of magic touch Don Cooper has.
Another 22 year old who has already made his Major League debut. Much smaller in stature than Giolito at 6’0″, 185 pounds, but throws just as hard, hitting 100 MPH at the Futures Game last season. You could argue that he’s proven more than Giolito at this point. He dominated a bad Braves team twice last season, striking out eleven in one of those starts for his highest total of the year.
So why did the Nats feel he was expendable? Similar to Giolito, he has control issues. It’s much more prevalent for him considering he doesn’t have as dominant stuff as Lucas. Last year right handed batters hit .353 against him for an OPS of .885. Too much. Still, he has a plus fastball and two above-average offspeed pitches. He reminds me of some sort of Yordano Ventura/Marcus Stroman combination. At worst he’s a back end bullpen guy.
Another first round pick who comes in at the typical pitcher’s build of 6’4″, 200 pounds. Oddly enough, he might be the easiest to project as he’s the only one of these three that pitched in college. For the Florida Gators, he was somewhat hidden among the other potential first round picks on the Gators’ pitching staff. In 2016 he moved to the bullpen, bridging the gap between starters like AJ Puk (6th overall pick) and closer Shaun Anderson (88th overall). The Gators also had Logan Shore (2nd round) and Alex Faedo (projects as a first rounder when he comes out) as starters, so the fact that Dunning was in the pen isn’t overly concerning. In his limited time in the minors, Dunning has impressed. Not as big of a strikeout pitcher as the other two, averaging around 7-8 per nine, but also has more command hovering around 1-2 walks per nine.
So why was he expendable? He doesn’t have the stuff of Giolito or Lopez, so he’ll have to rely on command in order to be an effective starting pitcher. He has a slight hitch in his motion, which can throw off hitters but can also make his mechanics hard to repeat:
I won’t say motions like this lead to injury because anyone who says they can predict injuries are full of shit. I also won’t say repeating the exact same motion is the end-all be-all when it comes to evaluating talent. Just ask Johnny Cueto. I will say he probably has a ceiling of a third starter just based on what we’ve seen thus far. More realistically, if everything goes well he’s a back end starter who may or may not help you in the playoffs. However, I always feel safer with college pitchers. Less bust potential because you don’t have to project out as far in the future as you do with high school players.