The Seattle Mariners have added minor league pitching depth by sending shortstop prospect Drew Jackson and right-hander Aneurys Zabala to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for right-hander Chase De Jong.
De Jong, selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the second-round of the 2012 Draft, spent a year and a half with the Dodgers and finished 2016 in Triple-A Oklahoma City.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound De Jong offers an average fastball at 89-92 mph, and despite a lack of movement the pitch plays up a bit thanks to solid-average command to both sides of the plate.
His best secondry pitch is an average 12-6 curveball that flashes plus and is thrown for called strikes but does not miss a lot of bats. It tends to flatten out at times but De Jong has improved his arm action and the depth of the pitch.
He also has a 50-grade changeup to offer left-handed batters and throws a lot of strikes with all three pitches.
De Jong, 23, is a fly ball pitcher and adds rotation depth for Seattle below the projected starting five, joining the likes of Ariel Miranda, Chris Heston, Dillon Overton and Rob Whalen, among others, and is likely to start 2017 at Triple-A Tacoma.
Like with all sub-elite starters, one has to wonder what might occur if De Jong was asked to transition to the bullpen full-time and step up the speed and aggressiveness of his easy, repeatable delivery. For now, I imagine he’ll remain in a starting role.
Jackson is my No. 14 Mariners’ prospect after inexplicably struggling in the California League last season. His strikeout rate went up, his walk rate went down and frequency of hard-hit balls went down. Some of it is better pitching, some of it is about the lack of a sound swing.
Jackson, at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds looks like a hitter capable of generating some power, but the bat speed is fringe-average and the swing plane prevent loft, which means for Jackson to reach base via contact, he has to square up a larger amount of baseballs than a hitter with a better swing.
Defensively Jackson has all the tools to be a solid defender, including an above-average arm (plus raw arm strength) and average range. The Stanford product and former fifth-round draft pick in 2015 , however, has had problems making consistent, accurate throws. Of his 30 errors last season, 19 of them were of the throwing variety.
Jackson’s offensive upside limits his potential value and may kill any value he may bring if he has to move off shortstop. He’s a terrific athlete, though, and at 23 years of age there’s still time for him to develop some at the plate become a useful big-league option.
At this stage, I’d start using him at second and in the outfield — including center — to improve his chances to become an asset. Jackson is likely to start 2017 in Double-A.
Zabala, signed by Seattle three summers ago out of the Dominican Republic, is a flame thrower, often touching the upper-90s with his four-seam fastball, and occasionally tagging 100 mph, giving the Dodgers a project with upside.
The 20-year-old also possesses an above-average curveball with a chance to be a true plus pitch in time.
His mechanics need work; he finishes upright, which is impacts greatly his chance to consistently throw strikes, but he’s athletic enough to fix that with more work. The fastball does have natural sink when he finishes.
There’s effort in the delivery and no sign of even a project third offering, strongly suggesting his present and future is in the bullpen. He spent last season in the Arizona rookie league and may be a short-season arm again in 2017.
Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016.
Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.
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