What the Mariners Received in Return for Alex Jackson

Monday, Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto made yet another trade:

Just five days after acquiring Jean Segura, Zac Cox and Mitch Haniger in echange for Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte, Seattle has shipped former No. 6 overall pick Alex Jackson to Atlanta for two pitching prospects.

Early word is the Braves may take Jackson back to his prep days when he spent quite a bit of time behind the plate. He rebounded a little in 2016 after a disappointing and injury-plagued 2015. Still, Jackson’s star was fading. He’s just 21 next month and is naturally gifted, but he’s still not in top condition (better in 2016 than 2015, for certain) and some scouts wonder if he can even handle catching, anymore.

I’d categorize Jackson the scond most disappointing Mariners draft pick of the Tom McNamara tenure that ended this season when he was promoted to special assistant.

The Mariners get two quality arms for Jackson.

Right-hander Rob Whalen, who joins the club’s 40-man roster immediately, has a chance to make an impact as early as April. He’s 6-foot-2, about 215 pounds and creates good downhill plane on a 90-93 mph fastball that occasionally scrapes 94. He adeptly uses a sinker at 89-91 to set up a 12-6 curveball and firm changeup from a three-quarter arm slot.

The 22-year-old was a Round 12 Draft pick in 2012 by the New York Mets and made six big-league starts for the Braves a year ago after a solid minor league campaign.

Whalen’s stuff projects as average to slightly above-average, depending on command and the changeup development, but throwing strikes more consistently is task No. 1. He can be ground ball heavy with the sinker when he finishes out front and the fastball has enough life to be used at the top of the zone.

The change is typically 83-85 mph; when he has a good feel for it it’s a decent offering but lacks sink and is easily picked up by batters. A grip adjustment may be in order.

Whalen is generally though to have sound mechanics, though he tends to land on a stiff front leg, perhaps a great contributor to the spotty control and command.

Whalen has a chance to break spring camp in the Mariners’ starting rotation. He brings an upside as a No. 4 starter, but like with every pitcher ever, command can dictate a profile change. There’s enough fastball and curveball here to fit as a No. 3. I just wouldn’t bet on it considering where Whalen is at this stage of his development.

Povse, 23, is a three-pitch starter who offers better control than Whalen and ultimately more upside, thanks to size (6-foot-8, 200 pounds), more athleticism and a fastball up to 94 mph with late ride to his arm side. He’s good at attacking both sides of the plate and the pitch has some natural sink on both edges. The velocity comes easy to him thanks to a smooth delivery through his release point.

His 76-79 mph curveball backs up on him quite often; it’s a below-average pitch today but flashes solid-average and could become a plus pitch down the line once he learns to get on top of it better and with more consistency.

The changeup offers some sink and good fade to his arm side but he hasn’t commanded it well yet.

There may be more velocity coming for the former 2014 third-round pick out of UNC Greensboro and I’d like to see his high three-quarter slot be used more to his advantage by staying tall and ripping through his release point to create good plane and sharper break on his curveball.

Some scouts believe a move to the bullpen gets Povse to the majors in 2017, but unless his 2017 season gets out of whack his chances to start remain good enough to leave him in the rotation, and I’m not as convinced the starter-to-bullpen transition is the right move, anyway.

There are some mechanical tweaks necessary and it’s taking Povse some time to figure it out, but it’s difficult not to like a pitching prospect with a 139-29 K/BB ration in 158 innings, whose whiff rates are likely to get better moving forward, even as he’s challenged by better bats.

Whalen will be a Top 10 Prospect for me entering 2017. Povse now is the best starting pitching prospect in the system and will be ranked ahead of Whalen, somewhere after No. 2 but in the Top 7.

What about Luiz Gohara, you ask? As I wrote in August, there’s a very good chance he’s moved to the bullpen for 2017 (he pitched in relief in the Arizona Fall League) where his raw stuff will be more valuable and I will always be concerned about his physical conditioning. Gohara will likely be a Top 10 prospect again, but the doubts about his future role give Povse the edge.

Also, I was sent this by a member of the Braves player development staff:

“You’re going to like these two. Been under the radar since Day 1. Both can pitch and both work as hard as anyone to get better.”

The Mariners did well to acquire two solid arms, one that is undoubtedly an option in 2017 and another with some upside, possibly somewhere in the No. 3 starter range for Povse. Jackson had fallen out of favor in more than one way and enough questions remained to suggest his value might only get worse.

Dipoto addressed two areas of need with this deal: pitching and pitching, and he did it in two layers: now and later.

This move is yet another that follows a path of acting the part.

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Jason A. Churchill

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