Minors Picture

Checking In on the Lind Trade

On December 9, 2015, the Milwaukee Brewers traded their starting first baseman for a trio of teenaged pitchers. Adam Lind, the first baseman in question, had just batted .277 for the Brewers with 20 home runs, a high walk rate, and a TAv of .294. Defensive deficiencies prevented him from being more than an average player (1.9 WARP in 2015), but he was coming off his third consecutive season with a TAv north of .290, struck out at a palatable clip, and had a knack for swatting long home runs. The guy could swing it. He also wasn’t Yunieski Betancourt, Alex Gonzalez, or Mark Reynolds, bless him.

On the other side of the deal, only one of the teenagers had made it out of rookie league ball. Maybe they could pitch; maybe they couldn’t. Nobody quite knew.

David Stearns and his team had a hunch though, so they pulled the trigger on a deal that was all the more gutsy for the fact that it came just two months into the young GM’s Milwaukee tenure. Adam Lind took his stick to Seattle, and the youth movement quietly dispersed among the Brewers’ minor league affiliates.

The move garnered mixed reviews. There were the casual fans who liked Lind’s stats and were agog that no member of the return had ever graced an organizational top prospect list. There were the newly-minted Stearns acolytes who preached process over production and saw the move as a bold step towards a brighter, faraway future. Even the BP Milwaukee staff couldn’t quite decide. Jack Moore, while recognizing that the mediocre Lind was “a better baseball player for the spectator than he is for the general manager,” concluded that the trade was “one of those times” that “rebuilding just feels like getting robbed.” JP Breen, meanwhile, viewed the transaction as “an attempt to acquire quantity and quality,” and “a conscious attempt at acquiring high-end prospects—just a year or two before they become high-end prospects.”

That was the fun of this trade. Nobody knew what to make of it at the time, and nobody really would until considerable time had passed.

Two years later, the shadowy shapes of a narrative are starting to emerge.

We’ll start with Lind. In 2016, Lind batted .239 for the Mariners with 20 home runs, a free-falling walk rate, and a .240 TAv. He was worth -0.8 WARP. Suffice it to say that this is not a high bar for Stearns and company to clear. Then again, Stearns’ hurdlers are the kind of prospects who very, very rarely pan out.

Carlos Herrera, the youngest of the group at just over 20, has enjoyed a steady, if unspectacular, climb up the organizational rungs. He pitched the 2016 season in the Arizona League, soaking up 50 innings and plenty of sun en route to a 4.50 ERA / 4.48 DRA campaign. He fanned 49 and walked 12. He started 2017 in Helena, where batters brutalized him to the tune of a 7.49 DRA. But Milwaukee liked his strikeouts (11.1 per nine) and potential, so they bumped him to Appleton mid-season. He recorded a 3.79 ERA for the Timber Rattlers in 38 innings. But somewhere along his journey from Montana, he lost half his strikeouts and doubled his walks, so his 4.97 DRA tells a different story.

Still, Herrera is an interesting arm, if also a slender one. At 6’2” and 150 pounds, he has some trouble filling out his uniform. But he sits in the low-90s, slings the ball from a low, three-quarters slot, and can cut and sink his fastball and spin a decent curve. If he fills out and develops his lagging changeup, he could worm his way into the mid-to-back end of a Milwaukee rotation one day. Failing that, it’s not altogether difficult to envision a home in the bullpen. First, he’ll need to rediscover the command that allowed him to strike out 26 batters and walk only five in Helena. The lanky righty does have a few believers; per BP’s Jeffrey Paternostro, “there’s something about Herrera, man.”

On the opposite end of the age spectrum lies Daniel Missaki, a six-foot righty who turned heads in rookie ball in 2013 and 2014 and held his own in the Midwest League in 2015 before snapping a ligament and succumbing to Tommy John. It’s been a rough road for Missaki since: he missed all of 2016 recovering, and a second Tommy John surgery wiped out last season. He has yet to throw a pitch for a Brewers affiliate. Before the rash of injuries, Missaki drew praise for his strong command, which he complemented with lively fastball and surprising secondaries; his changeup, in particular, turned heads. Missaki still has youth on his side, but the balky elbow seriously clouds his future.

That leaves Freddy Peralta as the goldilocks prospect, at 20 years and five months old. Peralta doesn’t have a conventional starter’s build, standing at 5’11” and tipping the scales at 175 pounds. He also lacks premium velocity on his fastball. But the pitch dances all over the strike zone and pairs well with what could turn into an excellent mid-80s slider. Peralta can go slower, too pulling the string on a decent changeup and trying to spin in a curve every now and then, though the latter pitch trails the former. It’s a decent profile that could easily work in the ‘pen, even if his size keeps him from the starting five.

And then there are the results. Last season, Peralta posterized opposing hitters with rare impunity. He started the year in the Carolina League, where a sorry string of regretful batters struck out 78 times in 56.3 innings. A high helping of walks tempered expectations, but the kid only allowed 6.2 hits per nine innings and was bumped to Biloxi in June after posting a 3.49 DRA. He was even better at AA, tossing 63.7 frames of 2.15 DRA ball with 91 strikeouts and 31 walks (while facing batters that were, on average, three years his senior). Even if he’s never more than a mid-rotation MLB arm, he put on an electrifying show in 2017.

It may still too early to draw firm conclusions about the Adam Lind trade. But we could be calling it the Freddy Peralta trade pretty soon, and Carlos Herrera may not be too far behind. (We can talk about Daniel Missaki whenever he’s next able to throw a pitch.) Right now, David Stearns’s bold move is looking very, very shrewd.

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