The Rockies acquired right-handed reliever Jairo Diaz from the Angels in exchange for Josh Rutledge in a deal announced by the club late Wednesday night.
#Rockies acquire RHP Jairo Diaz from the Angels in exchange for INF Josh Rutledge.— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) December 11, 2014
Following a flood of moves by the Los Angeles Dodgers that eventually landed them Howie Kendrick, last year's starter at second base for the Angels, the door opened up for the Rockies to make their first real move of significance this December.
The exchange only strengthens an already impressive crop of young arms under the age of 25 in Colorado's system. The 23-year-old Diaz pitched at three levels last season: High-A Inland Empire in the California League, Double-A Arkansas in the Texas League, and a five-game cup of coffee as a September call up with the Angels at the end of the season. With the California League and Texas League both housing Colorado minor league affiliates in 2014, it's likely the Rockies' scouting department is very familiar with this arm.
And they better be, because judging by his journey, Diaz fits one of two possible career scenarios:
1) He's a guy who just found something in 2014 and is about to be really good
Diaz posted some very underwhelming numbers in the lower minors before 2014, but upon his promotion to Double-A Arkansas in the middle of this season, he turned into a guy nobody wanted to face. His 2.20 ERA in 32.2 innings of work at that level is solid, but the number that really jumps out is his 13.2 SO/9 against 2.8 BB/9. Diaz always possessed the potential to blow away hitters, but he never put it together like he did this summer.
2) He simply had a hot streak and the Angels sold him while his stock is high
Considering Diaz has a 5.36 career minor league ERA over five seasons and 1.52 career minor league WHIP, it's possible his 2014 success was an exception and not a new rule. Also playing into the uncertainly is the fact that Diaz was a full-time starter before being sent to the bullpen at the start of the 2013 season.
The Rockies are obviously betting on scenario number one here.
There's evidence to suggest the Rockies are right, too. It's very, very hard to improve as dramatically as Diaz did this season while jumping up a level. It's also very encouraging that Diaz's biggest selling point for improvement statistically is his increased strikeout rate, since that stat tends to normalize faster than most others.
Then there's the pure and inescapable fact that Diaz throws gas. With a fastball that sits in the upper 90's and can be dialed up to triple digits at times, Diaz has heat that will play at any level if he can control it. The scouting report on his Baseball Prospectus page is extremely impressive when it comes to his raw mechanics. Here's what you need to know:
High three-quarters arm slot; works exclusively from the stretch; compact arm action; max effort delivery; unimpeded arm creates violent recoil; 80-grade arm strength; uptempo pitcher; stays on top of the ball well; thick body; will need to be maintained; physically maxed out.
With that type of electricity, expect Diaz to play a significant role in the 2015 Rockies bullpen. If last year wasn't a fluke, this is an arm that can make the late innings of games more enjoyable for years to come.
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On the flip side, we say goodbye to Josh Rutledge.
Only two offseasons ago, he looked like the future at second base, but somewhere along the line, DJ LeMahieu became one of the best fielders in the game at the position and Rutledge's bat just never developed enough to make it a fair fight. Not even close to enough. He did make it into 266 games as a Rockie, but most of them came at shortstop filling in for an injured Troy Tulowitzki.
Unfortunately, not only was Rutledge's bat below league average, but the defensive metrics hated, and I mean HATED his performance in the field. The eye test wasn't great either, but Defensive Runs Saved for instance charted him at -33 runs in his 266 games, 262 of which came at shortstop or second base. As a result, the man with the golden locks produced a not so golden -1.1 fWAR and -1.7 rWAR during his time in Colorado.
I'm guessing the Angels don't buy into those numbers, however, because if they're even close to being right, this has the potential to be a very lopsided trade in favor of the Rockies.
For reaction to the trade from an Angels point of view, here's the Halos Heaven post.