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Scouting reports: Four new A’s prospects from Matt Chapman trade

RHP Gunnar Hoglund, SS Kevin Smith, LHP Zach Logue, and LHP Kirby Snead

Oakland Athletics v Toronto Blue Jays
Kevin Smith
Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s made the next trade in their furious rebuild, sending third baseman Matt Chapman to the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday. In exchange they got four prospects, which means we’ve got four new players to meet!

Joining the A’s farm system are RHP Gunnar Hoglund, SS Kevin Smith, LHP Zach Logue, and LHP Kirby Snead. None of them are national Top 100 prospects, but one is a 1st-round pick from last year’s draft, and the other three appear ready to contribute to the MLB roster right away. Let’s take a closer look!

Gunnar Hoglund

The clear headliner of the package, Hoglund ranked No. 4 in Toronto’s system per MLB Pipeline and No. 5 per Baseball America. He was highly regarded during his college career but had Tommy John surgery in May, causing him to slip in the draft where the Jays nabbed him with the 19th overall pick. He’s still recovering from his operation and hasn’t yet made his pro debut, with a reasonable chance he could do so later this summer at age 22.

  • Hoglund: No pro stats yet (Tommy John surgery)

There are no professional stats to look at yet, but in the best conference in college baseball he posted high strikeout rates and low walk rates and limited the hits and homers. His scouting report includes great control and command with three above-average pitches (fastball, slider, changeup), and praise for his mechanics and makeup. Pipeline offers these details:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 55 | Curveball: 50 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 60 | Overall: 50

Hoglund’s stuff plateaued in his first two college seasons, as he showed the same 89-93 mph riding fastball and average breaking ball that he had in high school. His stuff ticked up last fall [2020], however, and he now works at 92-95 for five innings at a time and displays a tighter, harder slider at 84-86. His low-80s changeup serves as a solid third pitch and he can give batters a different look by dusting off a curveball he relied on more as a prepster.

With a durable 6-foot-4 frame, an easy delivery and a history of quality strikes, Hoglund already had a high floor as a back-of-the-rotation starter. Multiple scouts have likened him to a bigger version of Tanner Burns, another SEC right-hander whom the Indians drafted 36th overall last June. Toronto will be patient to see how his stuff and control returns from the surgery, but if it does, it’s possible it got a top-10 talent in this year’s Draft.

Baseball America sees him sticking as a starter “because of his easy, repeatable delivery, relatively polished strike-throwing and quality three-pitch mix.” They like the way he gets ahead in the count and “commands his fastball well to both sides of the plate.” They have his velocity reaching as high as 96 mph, while praising his “tick above-average” slider, and his “slightly above-average” changeup that gives him a weapon against lefty batters. Their takeaway:

The Future: Hoglund’s rehab means he won’t make his pro debut until midway through the 2022 season. If he can stay healthy, he has a chance to be a mid-rotation starter.

There’s plenty of video to watch from his prominent college career. This first clip shows him striking out 14 batters in a game, which was two off the Ole Miss school record, and the most by a Rebels pitcher since Drew Pomeranz in 2010. Hoglund faced 22 batters in this game, fanning nearly two-thirds of them.

Here’s another montage, along with more scouting report info:

And one extra look at his slider:

Everything about his skill set sounds wonderful. He has good stuff and he knows how to use it, which are two distinctly different traits that don’t always come together in the same arm. He doesn’t have an elite pitch in his arsenal, but he’s not tossing smoke and mirrors out there either, and it all plays up further thanks to his command. The drawback is his health, which adds significant risk to an otherwise excellent profile. Coming back from TJS is common now, but it’s still not a guarantee, and there’s also the matter of proving he can regain his past profile and eventually throwing his first professional pitch.

Kevin Smith

The rest of the package is made up of lower-ceiling prospects who are more MLB-ready, led by Smith. He ranked No. 9 in the Jays system per Pipeline and No. 7 per BA, after an inconsistent few years that saw him thrive in the lower-minors in 2018, struggle in Double-A in 2019, sit out the canceled 2020, and then bounce-back in 2021 in Triple-A. He even earned an MLB debut last summer, though he didn’t hit much in 18 games.

  • Smith, 2021 AAA: .285/.370/.561, 144 wRC+, 21 HR, 11.2% BB, 23.7% Ks
  • Smith, 2021 MLB: 3-for-32 (.094), 1 HR, 3 BB, 11 Ks

His scouting report leads off with his defense, which is considered good enough to stick at shortstop or shift to 2B or 3B if desired, highlighted by a plus arm. The question is his bat, which has some promise given solid power and a willingness to make adjustments, but still has plenty to prove. Pipeline sheds further light:

Scouting grades: Hit: 45 | Power: 50 | Run: 50 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55 | Overall: 45

To get back to his 2018 form, Smith will start with his plate approach and work on finding better pitches to hit. There’s some good uppercut to Smith’s swing and his power has the potential to be an above-average tool at the next level, so making consistent contact and limiting those empty at-bats will be key. Smith has a unique profile because, on top of his power, he’s also a good runner and has one of the best infield throwing arms in the organization. A very reliable defender, the Blue Jays fully trust Smith at shortstop, second base and third base due to his physical talent and high baseball IQ.

After the gap between his 2018 and 2019 season, 2021 has been an opportunity for Smith to re-establish himself. Smith’s offense will determine his potential ceiling, but his defensive profile still gives him a high floor. His first promotion to the Majors came on Aug. 18, thus solidifying his 2021 breakout.

Baseball America notes that he “finally found a swing and setup that worked for him” last year after a lot of tinkering, helping fuel his improved performance. He “now projects to be a fringe-average hitter with solid-average raw power.” They call him an “average runner” who “projects to be at least an average defender at [each of SS, 2B, or 3B] with above-average arm strength.” Their takeaway:

The Future: Smith has been enigmatic, but if his swing and approach adjustments carry over, his power and defensive skill set could allow him to stick around as a utility player.

Here he is smoking a dinger last spring:

His first MLB hit!

He’ll turn 26 in July and he’s already debuted in the majors, so this isn’t a long-term project. But will he pan out as an everyday infielder with a good glove who can hit 20 homers, or a utilityman? At least we won’t have to wait too long to find out.

Zach Logue

Shifting down to sleeper territory, Logue was Toronto’s No. 27 prospect per Pipeline, and No. 24 per BA. He’s trending in the right direction, though, with a breakout 2021 season that saw him pump up his strikeout rate and reach Triple-A. The lefty has succeeded as a starter for now and could stick there, though the bullpen is a possibility.

  • Logue, 2021 AA: 4.54 ERA, 35⅔ ip, 51 Ks, 7 BB, 6 HR, 3.52 FIP
  • Logue, 2021 AAA: 3.32 ERA, 89⅓ ip, 93 Ks, 20 BB, 9 HR, 3.56 FIP

The keys to his improved performance were an increase in velocity and the development of a new cutter. He still doesn’t throw especially hard but he’s not a soft-tosser anymore, and he’s got decent control with an arsenal of four pitches, helping him handle batters on both sides of the plate. Pipeline has this to say:

Scouting grades: Fastball: 50 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 50 | Overall: 40

Toronto put Logue on a velocity program, and there have been positive results there with his fastball bumping from around a 90 mph average to closer to 92-93 mph this season. Arguably, his biggest development in 2021 has been the inclusion of a mid-80s cutter that has morphed out of his slider. The new offering gives him another weapon against right-handers and has led to pretty even splits. Logue will also drop in a low-80s changeup that the Jays believe can be perhaps even above-average some day. Even with the velocity gains, Logue isn’t an overthrower and has yet to average more than three walks per nine innings at any of his Minor League stops.

The cutter/slider and improved fastball has led to a jump in strikeouts for Logue in 2021, helping his chances to be a back-end starter in the Majors. He should throw enough strikes to at least be able to eat innings out of the bullpen if necessary too, but a lack of a true plus pitch lowers his ceiling.

Baseball America has his upticked fastball reaching as high as 94 mph, with “deception to his delivery that helps him generate more empty swings ... than the velocity might suggest.” They call his changeup “an above-average offering with good separation off his heater,” and grade his slider and cutter as “fringe-average.” Their takeaway:

The Future: Logue will be 26 in 2022, so he’s on the older end for a prospect, but he has enough ability to throw strikes and change speeds to potentially stick around as a back-end starter.

Here’s a look at him challenging a hitter with his fastball, with some help from his new velocity:

You can click here to watch the breaking ball getting a called strikeout, or see below for one getting a whiff from a lefty:

And the changeup getting a whiff from a righty:

You can see what you want to see here. Focus on the low ceiling and the mediocre stuff, or focus on the recent improvement and think of him as a buy-low gamble. He’ll turn 26 next month so don’t hope for too much more than what we already see, but if he can handle a rotation spot right away and stay there for the next few years then that’s worth something.

Kirby Snead

The final name qualifies as more of a throw-in, as Snead didn’t crack the Jays Top 30 prospect list at all. That’s because he’s a 27-year-old reliever with seven career MLB appearances, but on the bright side they were seven good appearances, and they came after some dominant work in Triple-A last summer. He piled up strikeouts and kept the ball in the park, which is generally what he’s done throughout his pro career, and he continued doing both things upon his MLB debut in late-July.

  • Snead, 2021 AAA: 1.58 ERA, 40 ip, 57 Ks, 16 BB, 1 HR, 2.11 FIP
  • Snead, 2021 MLB: 2.35 ERA, 7⅔ ip, 7 Ks, 2 BB, 0 HR, 2.52 FIP

He used four pitches during his small-sample stint in the majors, per Statcast. His slider got primary billing and lots of whiffs, his sinker was effective, and his four-seamer showed a fairly high spin rate, but his changeup got knocked around. The two fastballs each averaged around 93 mph and topped out in the 94-95 range.

Here he is striking out MVP Shohei Ohtani last season on a 94 mph sinker, or you can click here to see a better version at Baseball Savant:

Most of his MLB strikeouts looked like that, with a sinker or four-seamer freezing the hitter for a Called Strike 3, including one to Miguel Cabrera. You can also check out the slider in action, getting a swinging strikeout here and a called strikeout here.

In lieu of more scouting info or embeddable videos, let’s take a moment to appreciate that hair instead.

So that’s where A.J. Puk’s hair went!

Between his age and the fact that he’s languished in Triple-A for pretty much two full seasons, this is the kind of profile you might expect to find in a minor league free agent. But that doesn’t mean Snead can’t become a contributor, and it’s easy to argue he immediately slots in as the A’s best lefty reliever right now, since the current competition is waiver claim Sam Selman.

Verdict

Each of these players has something to offer, whether strong future value or a realistic chance at contributing in 2022. But together, the package feels underwhelming for a star like Chapman, and Baseball Trade Values agrees that Toronto got the better end of the deal by far.

It could go well! Hoglund could return to the mound this summer looking like a top pitching prospect again, Smith could prove to be a solid everyday player this year, Logue could spend years eating innings in the rotation, and Snead could be a quality lefty reliever. But are those the kinds of things you need to give up Chapman to get?

The problem isn’t just the poor value comparison, it’s that this is a retool trade not a rebuild trade. Even if the 26-year-olds were slightly better, they still aren’t quite what Oakland should be looking for right now in this deal. To part with an impact star like Chapman, you need to get some impact in return, like they did in the Chris Bassitt trade and the Matt Olson trade.

It’s reminiscent of the mistake they made in the Josh Donaldson fiasco with these very same Blue Jays seven years ago, when the A’s wrapped up too much value in trying to restock the MLB roster right away instead of investing in higher future potential. Granted, Chapman didn’t carry nearly the same trade value as Donaldson did at the time, nor as Olson did this week, so the point wasn’t to expect a haul, but whatever value they did get should have been more focused on 2023 and beyond.

If they couldn’t find that kind of impact talent in exchange, then they should have just kept Chapman and tried again in July. Maybe you get a better offer at the deadline, or maybe Chapman breaks back out into the MVP candidate he was before the injury that he was still healing from last season. This isn’t even difficult to imagine, as you’re well aware that Donaldson himself went on to win the MVP immediately after Oakland traded him to Toronto.

You can even make a loose parallel between the two deals. There’s the immediate 3B replacement (Lawrie/Smith), the talented but distant and risky prospect (Barreto/Hoglund), and two MLB-ready but low-ceiling pitchers (Graveman/Nolin, Logue/Snead). It’s not a completely direct comp, but it’s an unsettlingly uncanny analogy.

What little impact they might have gotten is tied up pending Hoglund’s recovery, which is more risk than they needed to accept. Sure, you might look at James Kaprielian as an example that acquiring an injured pitcher can work out, but even Kaprielian was the last piece in a risky trade package not the headliner.

It feels like they chose a sell-low moment for Chapman, then sold him even lower than that, in exchange for the wrong type of thing. The retool trade package will always be there, and they didn’t need to take it now. It would have been there in July, and it would have been there next winter. If there wasn’t something better available today, then don’t do exactly the same thing you did wrong with your previous All-Star third baseman.

Instead of maximizing upside on the farm, this feels more like a deal to help fill out a cheap 2022 roster. That’s still better than dumping a valuable trade chip for pure salary relief, like the Reds did this week when they attached a bad contract to Jesse Winker, but it’s inching dangerously close to that line.

All that said, we can criticize the trade without dumping on the players. All four of these newcomers have some talent and a chance to help the A’s, and they’ll be working as hard as they can to do so. It’s not the package we should have been hoping for, but it’s the one we got, so let’s see how it goes. Welcome to Oakland!