Yankees Pick Up Promising Starter from Seattle for James Pazos

The New York Yankees acquired minor league starter Zack Littell from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for lefty reliever James Pazos Friday evening.

It’s easy to lose sight of the nice little trade the New York Yankees swung on Friday in the midst of all the other roster moves they were making. GM Brian Cashman has said he’ll be looking to replicate the successful Justin Wilson for Luis Cessa and Chad Green swap he made last winter as a way of supplementing the club’s pitching depth on the cheap.

There are definite parallels between the Cessa/Green trade and Friday’s deal that brought over young starting pitcher Zack Littell in exchange for James Pazos. Anytime you can acquire a potential quality starting pitcher for a lefty reliever, I think that’s a trade you have to make.

MLB Pipeline had Littell ranked as the 14th best prospect in the Mariners’ system prior to the trade. Here’s an excerpt from their scouting report:

Littell’s heater is his best offering, registering in the low 90s and topping out at 94 with late life. He fearlessly attacks hitters with the pitch, commanding it to both sides of the plate while working down in the zone so as to generate ground-ball outs. His curveball is his primary secondary offering and makes him particularly tough on same-side hitters, but he’ll need to refine his changeup in order to neutralize lefties at higher levels.

The 21-year-old righty broke out with a dominant 2016 campaign across two levels of A-Ball after mediocre results in his first three professional seasons. In 165.2 innings of work split between the Low-A Midwest League and the High-A California League, Littell pitched to a 2.66 ERA across 27 starts, striking out 23.3% of opposing batters while walking just 5.1%.

What makes this success is how much younger Littell is than the batters he’s facing. He was more than three years younger than his average competition in the Cal League, and has regularly been two to four years under the average age as a pro.

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Jim Callis of MLB.com attributes his improvement this year to “an uptick in his stuff and overall pitchability.” Prior to this season, he had struck out just 18.9% of the batters he’s faced as a professional. If he can sustain this ability to miss bats as he progresses to the upper-minors, he has a legitimate shot at becoming a quality middle or back-of-the-rotation option in the big leagues as soon as 2018.

Surrendering Pazos is a small price to pay to bring in a pitcher with Littell’s ceiling. In all likelihood, Pazos will bounce back and forth between Triple-A and the majors the next few years as a replacement-level arm. Littell has a chance to be a building block for the rotation in the near future.

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