The summer trading season is in full swing in Major League Baseball, with several moves, both major and minor, consummated around the league over the past few days. The Milwaukee Brewers fired their first salvo over the bow yesterday, landing right-handed reliever Joakim Soria in a swap with the Chicago White Sox. In exchange for Soria, David Stearns parted with two pitching prospects: left-hander Kodi Medeiros, and righty Wilber Perez.
Perez is the very definition of a “flyer.” He will turn 21 later this year and has spent the last two years pitching in the Dominican Summer League, the lowest rung of the minor league baseball ladder and a circuit typically populated by teenagers. He’s got some nice surface stats this year (2.01 Earned Run Average (ERA) and 10.5 strike outs per nine innings in 40.3 IP) but doesn’t possess impressive raw stuff. The fastball from Perez sits only in the 88-91 MPH range and he’ll mix in a cutter, curve, and changeup. For Chicago, the true prize in the deal is Medeiros, Milwaukee’s first-round pick at #12 overall in 2014.
Medeiros was a divisive prospect going back to the day he was drafted, with many scouts sticking the “future reliever” label on him right away. But getting pegged as a bullpen arm isn’t the denigration that it used to be given the way that baseball has changed and emphasized the importance of a good relief corps. It’s been an up-and-down developmental road for the southpaw, with the lowest point coming in 2016 when he walked nearly as many batters (63) as he struck out (64) in 23 appearances for Class-A Advanced Brevard County. He’s bounced back well statistically since then, however, and this season he produced a 3.14 ERA with 107 punchouts against 45 walks in 103.3 innings for Double-A Biloxi before being dealt.
The Brewers stayed steadfast in developing Medeiros as a starter despite the obvious issues with his profile. These are commonly noted: the funky arm slot and high-effort delivery, the below-average command, the platoon issues, and the lack of a third pitch to play off his fastball/slider combination. The White Sox are expected to keep him in a similar capacity for the time being, but the scouting consensus continues to form around a relief role. Following the trade announcement, Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs tweeted out that Medeiros “should be premium lefty bullpen weapon at maturity.”
For a reliever of Soria’s ilk (2.56 ERA, 45 DRA-(!), 49:10 strike outs to walks in 38.7 IP) under control for potentially 1.5 seasons, the trade price of Medeiros seems fair. Sure, the lefty’s skill-set is quite intriguing, and if you squint just right, you can see a Hader-esque upside in a fireman role. But Medeiros isn’t the flamethrower that he once was; his stuff has backed up a bit since high school and he’s now closer to the 88-93 MPH range with his heater than the mid-90’s fire he once possessed. He didn’t even garner a mention in Baseball Prospectus’ top Brewers prospect list at the beginning of the year, nor did his improved performance push him into the midseason update of Baseball America’s top prospect list for Milwaukee. MLB Pipeline had him at #13 in Milwaukee’s system before the trade with an Overall Future Potential (OFP) of 45, and he now slots in at #19 overall among Chicago’s farmhands. The Brewers would have faced a difficult decision about whether or not to protect Medeiros from the Rule 5 Draft (among a host of other notable prospects) this winter, and now that will be the White Sox problem.
The only real complaint I saw regarding this deal was a fan lamenting that “another first-rounder didn’t pan out.” In this case, though, that’s the wrong way to think about it. Yes, the Brewers have had some notable whiffs at the top of the draft, such as Eric Arnett, Jed Bradley, Victor Roache, and so on. But Medeiros was drafted at 12th overall, signed and then developed to the point where he became a desirable commodity for other franchises. His future potential was leveraged into present production in the form of Joakim Soria to better fit with Milwaukee’s current competitive window. There is more to valuing a prospect than the Wins Above Replacement that he produces on the field for the franchise that drafts/signs him, and I would argue that using Medeiros as a chip to bring in a reliever performing at an elite level for the rest of this year and possibly next season is plenty valuable. Now the risk of completing his development and extracting big league worth falls upon the White Sox staff.
It’s not difficult to envision a future in the big leagues for Medeiros, but an average left-handed reliever seems like the most plausible outcome at present. Given where the team is at in the standings and the upcoming 40 man roster crunch, that’s something that Milwaukee could afford to part with.