Finally, the moment that fans of the Milwaukee Brewers have all been waiting for has arrived. As of July 7th, trade season has officially begun for our beloved local nine.
INF Aaron Hill and cash have been traded to Boston in exchange for RHP Aaron Wilkerson and 2B Wendell Rijo.
— #VoteBraun (@Brewers) July 7, 2016
Aaron Hill wasn’t technically a sign-and-flip player, but he essentially served that function for Slingin’ David Stearns and the Brewers after being brought in as a part of the Jean Segura/Tyler Wagner deal with Arizona. Coming off of sub par campaigns of .234 TAv and .241 TAv in 2014-15, the Diamondbacks were looking to shed as much of the $12 million final season of Hill’s contract as they could. Once Isan Diaz and Chase Anderson were added in to sweeten the pot, the Brewers agreed to take on Hill and pay $5.5 million of the money owed to him. He was installed as their regular third baseman to start the season, and the hope was that he’d play well enough to be able to flipped at the deadline.
Aaron didn’t disappoint. After a brutal first month that caused me to incorrectly call for his benching, Hill’s bat caught fire. Since May 1, Hill logged a torrid .323/.408/.481 slash line to bring his season total up to .283/.359/.421 along with eight home runs and four stolen bases. His .286 TAv is the highest he’s managed since 2013 and he’s been worth nearly two WARP already this year after combining for less than one WARP during the previous two seasons. Hill spent most of his time with the Brewers at the hot corner along with a fair amount of time at second base, which has been his primary position throughout his career. He’s received solid defense marks at both spots and will provide the Red Sox with some bench depth and versatility for a potential playoff run at a rather minuscule cost, depending on how much cash Milwaukee sends their way.
In exchange for Hill, the Brewers received a couple of interesting prospects. Aaron Wilkerson is the kind of story that you root for: the 27 year old right hander went undrafted out of NAIA Cumberland University after undergoing Tommy John following his senior season. He pitched for three different indy league teams during 2013-14 before hooking on with the Red Sox as a 25 year old and has done nothing but dominate his minor league competition since then. In 54 MiLB appearances covering 279.0 innings, Wilkerson has worked to a 2.52 ERA along with a 293:75 K/BB ratio. That includes a 2.44 ERA and 3.16 FIP in 48.0 innings in AAA this season, where he has struck out 54 batters against 11 walks.
The tools aren’t quite as dominant as the statistical profile suggests, however. According to Sox Prospects, the 6’3″ and 205 lb righty throws about a 50 grade fastball in the 88-92 MPH range, a 50 grade curve with 12-6 movement that sits 73-75 MPH, a 45ish changeup with good arm speed that sits 83-85, and an 82-84 MPH slider that is inconsistent and well behind his other pitches in terms of effectiveness. He doesn’t walk many guys and has excellent pitchability. An easy comparison would be to former Brewer Mike Fiers: another low velocity, high strikeout pitcher that’s on the older side. Wilkerson is most likely a back-end of the rotation type hurler at best, but given the fact that he was rumored to be on his way to Boston in the weeks before the trade came down, we can almost assuredly expect to see him pitching big league innings for the Brewers this season.
Wendell Rijo, the other piece of the deal, is the Brewers’ upside play here. A native of the Dominican Republic, Rijo signed with Boston as an international free agent back in 2012 and received a rather sizable $575,000 bonus. The 20 year old has displayed a good eye at the plate in the minor leagues, having walked in roughly 10 percent of his plate appearances while working to an overall .250/.329/.373 slash with 16 home runs and 50 steals across 333 contests. Once a plus runner, a torn ACL cost Rijo some of his speed and it’s closer to average now, though he’s still shown the ability to use his good instincts to swipe a bag. Rijo should develop an average hit tool with quick bat speed according to MLB Pipeline, though his limited arm strength pigeonholes him to second base defensively and he projects to have below average power.
The 20 year old right-handed hitter began the year in high-A but was quickly promoted to the AA Portland Sea Dogs, where he has looked over matched as one of the youngest players in the Eastern League. Rijo has struggled to a meager .186/.245/.266 slash (.195 TAv) through 51 games at the level. There’s certainly no rush with Wendell for the Brewers, so they’ll give him plenty of time and opportunity to allow him to hopefully develop into the “offensive-minded regular” that Pipeline suggests Rijo could become at the keystone, though a utility/fringe starter type of player is probably the more likely outcome here.
All in all, it’s tough not to like this trade for the Brewers. Aaron Hill looked like a corpse for two years in Arizona before his surprising age-34 renaissance with Milwaukee, so we really should be happy that the club was able to extract any sort of value from him. At the end of the day, receiving an MLB-ready back end starter and a possible fringe-regular middle infielder in exchange for an expiring contract is excellent work by Slingin’ Stearns, who has certainly wasted no time in putting his stamp on the franchise.
Turns out having one of the best all-around front offices in baseball is pretty fun.
— J.P. Breen (@JP_Breen) July 7, 2016