Milwaukee Brewers Receive Excellent Haul for Thornburg

The Milwaukee Brewers continue to make splashes in the offseason, this time sending Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox.

Fans looking for a favorite Brewer may be running out of options, but fans who love prospects are in luck. Today the Milwaukee Brewers traded their top reliever, Tyler Thornburg, to the Red Sox.

The team received third baseman Travis Shaw and two additional prospects in the deal. This trade is yet another example of the high-priced market for back-end relievers in the Majors today.

Thornburg had one of the best seasons by a Brewer reliever ever, striking out over 12 batters per 9 innings. He also limited his walks, ending the year with a sterling 2.15 ERA and a 2.83 FIP.

Still, this was Thornburg’s first truly great year, and he has very little experience as a closer. Previously, those shortcomings would have reduced his trade value.

Now, however, the price of a reliever is through the proverbial roof, and teams continue to part with key players and prospects in exchange for relievers.

By sending Thornburg to the Red Sox, the Milwaukee Brewers netted 3B/1B Travis Shaw and prospects Mauricio Dubon, and Josh Pennington.

The 26 year old Travis Shaw immediately slots into the Brewers lineup as the starting third baseman. Despite lukewarm scouting reports on his defense at the hot corner, defensive metrics liked him in 2016.

Shaw was an average or better defender at third base according to three top defensive metrics, DRS, UZR, and FRAA. Defensive metrics are subject to inconsistencies, but typically if they all agree, they’re onto something.

Shaw got most of his overall value from his defense in 2016. He appeared in 105 games at third and 50 at first base in his first full season while slashing  .242/.306/.421 in 530 plate appearances.

He knocked 52 extra base hits, including 16 homers, while performing considerably better in the first half of the season than the second.

Overall, Shaw was somewhere around a 1.5-2 WAR player in 2016. He struggled against his fellow lefties in 2016 (.599 OPS), but crushed them in ’15 (.975 OPS), so the Brewers may have to wait and see if he requires a platoon partner.

So Shaw offers some nice pop and a solid glove at the hot corner. But he was an above-average hitter in his career before the 2016 All-Star Break. In 585 career plate appearances from 2015 to the All Star Break in 2016, Shaw slashed .269/.330/.469.

If he can put a .194/.259/.360 second half of 2016 behind him, he has the potential to be one of the better, more balanced players in the rebuilding infield.

If his bat ends up below average, he still looks like a two-win player who fills a need for the rebuilding Milwaukee Brewers. Shaw is under team control through the 2022 season.

But enough about Travis Shaw. The Brewers also received a highly-touted infield prospect, who the scouts at MLB.com believe can stick at shortstop.

Most scouting reports you’ll find online see Mauricio Dubon as a utility infielder type. That’s largely because those reports were done prior to the 2016 season.

Since then, Dubon hit .306/.387/.379 in High-A, and earned a call-up to AA. There, the now-22 year old was even better, posting a .909 OPS with six homers in 270 PA.

It was easily the best season of Dubon’s young career. For reference, here are Dubon’s 2015 (Low- and High-A) stats alongside his 2016.

2015: 530 PA, .288/.349/.376, 29 XBH

2016: 549 PA, .323/.379/.461, 46 XBH

It was a breakout year for Dubon who posted the best numbers of his career in essentially every offensive category.

In both 2015 and 2016, Dubon stole 30 bags and was caught seven times, with MLB.com rating his run tool as above average. Given his high on-base numbers and good speed, Dubon looks like a leadoff man in the making.

His walk rate took a big hit after the jump to AA, but that isn’t uncommon for the first stint at a new level. On the defensive end, MLB.com’s scouts feel Dubon is a true shortstop, with above average range and arm. Dubon also played some center field in the Arizona Fall League.

In traditional David Stearns fashion, the Milwaukee Brewers trade included a lottery ticket in the form of a young pitcher. This time it’s Josh Pennington, a 21-year-old righty who touches the high-90s with a  fastball, is clearly his best pitch.

As with many young pitchers, he has a breaking ball that shows signs of being above-average (in this case a curveball) and struggles to develop a changeup.

And as with many pitchers, that changeup may be the difference between a career in the rotation and one in the bullpen.

Pennington struggles with the free pass, though he cut his walk rate from 2015 to 2016 while moving from Rookie ball to Short-A. In 13 starts in 2016 (56 2/3 innings), Pennington posted a 49:27 K:BB ratio, so he’ll need to continue to work on his command. Still, he limited opponents to a .200 batting average and ended the year with a 2.86 ERA.

The Brewers will certainly allow Pennington to remain a starter for the time being. If Pennington’s command comes around, and he develops his changeup, then he’s a starter. If you feel like you’ve heard that about a thousand times, it’s because you probably have.

Pennington could still end up as high-leverage reliever without a third pitch, but he’s still a long way from the Bigs.

While Pennington didn’t crack the Brewers top 30 prospects according to MLB.com, Dubon slots in at 9th. The lists still need to be fully revamped for 2017, but the Brewers clearly received an excellent young infielder today.

Once again, I think David Stearns and company have made an excellent trade.

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