Nationals, A's fulfill goals with Gio deal
Washington bolsters rotation, while Oakland adds young talent
Last week, it was Reds and Padres fans rejoicing over early Christmas presents. This week, Nationals and A's fans are enjoying the excitement of new, young players being added to their rosters.
Washington gained one of baseball's brightest pitching stars with its acquisition of 26-year-old left-hander Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez will be joining a rotation that includes highly regarded right-handers Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann. With Gonzalez now in the fold, the Nats have the nucleus of an impact rotation for years to come.
Conversely, the Athletics continued to create a foundation of outstanding young talent by obtaining right-handed pitchers Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole, left-handed pitcher Tom Milone and catcher Derek Norris.
Gonzalez will not be eligible for free agency until 2016 -- an attractive feature for a left-handed starter with his type of innings-eating durability. He threw 202 innings for Oakland this past season, compiling a 16-12 record with a 3.12 ERA. If there was any cause for concern, it was the glaring 91 walks Gonzalez issued. This followed on the heels of the 92 hitters he walked in 2010, so it isn't a new problem. To be fair, his walks were countered by his very good strikeout total of 197. Missing bats is a crucial part of Gonzalez's game.
The White Sox selected Gonzalez with the 38th pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft. He was traded to the Phillies in 2005, back to the White Sox in '06 and then to Oakland in 2008. Gonzalez spent parts of six seasons in the Minor Leagues before getting a chance to pitch for the A's in 2008. While Gonzalez is 26 years old, he has less than three seasons of service time with a big league club.
Gonzalez gets the most out of his 6-foot, 205-pound frame. He has an above-average repertoire, with a moving fastball, a very deceptive curveball and a high-quality changeup. Gonzalez has a high leg kick that helps divert the concentration of hitters. He hides the ball very well, and his pitches seem to explode on hitters with late movement. The southpaw has the ability to pitch out of trouble by changing the eye levels of hitters and moving locations. If Gonzalez can improve his command and cut down on the walks, he has the potential to be among the elite pitchers in baseball.
Like the Reds, the Nationals paid a hefty price in prospects for a quality addition to their rotation.
Peacock was an infielder with a very strong arm at Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington, Fla. He asked his coach if he could pitch, and the rest is history. Peacock has pitched well as a member of the Nats organization since being selected in the 41st round of the 2006 Draft. He has thrown 584 1/3 Minor League innings. Last season, Peacock won two games for Washington after pitching in three games. He finished his big league trial with an 0.75 ERA over 12 innings.
Though Peacock is only 23 years old, he could very likely make the back end of the A's rotation this season. He is a solid prospect with an ability to hit the mid 90s with his fastball. He also throws an average to above-average knuckle-curve and an acceptable changeup. Peacock pitches to contact and doesn't really count on striking out hitters. He should be very successful in Oakland's spacious pitcher's park.
Norris has the potential to be a good defensive catcher, with an ability to hit for power. Norris is solidly built at 6-foot-0, 210 pounds. He has a very strong arm behind the plate, with quick feet and good mechanics. Norris should continue his pace of throwing out a high percentage of runners trying to steal.
Offensively, Norris has been inconsistent. He had a low batting average this past season, hitting only .210 at Double-A Harrisburg. However, he also hit 20 home runs -- and that's not too shabby.
Norris played in the Arizona Fall League, which is known for being hitter-friendly, and had some difficulty at the plate. He had trouble hitting breaking balls, which was part of his difficulty during the Minor League season. If Norris can improve his plate discipline and lay off bad pitches, he will improve his overall offensive game.
Cole is only 19 years old, selected by the Nats in 2010 out of Oviedo (Fla.) High School. Tall and thin at 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds, Cole has a very loose and easy arm action. He's the type of pitcher who can bring his fastball at mid-90s velocity and appear to the batter as all arms and legs. Cole also throws a slurve-type breaking ball that buckles the knees of hitters. The pitch has slider action, but it breaks like a curveball and busts hitters in on their hands.
While Cole is still learning how to pitch -- and he hasn't yet faced Major League-quality bats -- he might be the secret weapon in this trade. Cole projects future physical maturation that scouts feel may even increase his already above-average velocity. With an eye toward the future, the A's have likely obtained a very solid rotation starter.
During his first full year in professional baseball at Class A Hagerstown, Cole threw 89 innings, allowing 87 hits and walking only 24, while striking out 108.
The final piece of the A's bounty is 24-year-old Milone. A control pitcher out of the University of Southern California, Milone gave up only 16 walks in 148 1/3 innings pitched for Triple-A Syracuse this past season. That's an incredible statistic, but he's been doing it consistently.
Milone has the ability to throw his cut fastball for strikes. That's the key to his success. He doesn't overpower hitters, but he is around the plate and he knows how to pitch. Milone throws his fastball in the high 80s, at best, but his curve is in the mid 70s, and it works well for him. Scouts like Milone's changeup as an "out" pitch that he can use at any point in the count.
As a contact pitcher, Milone has to continue with sharp control and a full repertoire. He has to use good pitch sequencing that keeps hitters off balance, looking for that other pitch. If Milone continues to do that, the lefty can find success as a starter with three solid pitches. This past season, Milone went 12-6 with a 3.22 ERA and 1.03 WHIP at Syracuse. He also made his Major League debut for Washington, pitching in five games and throwing very well in 26 solid innings.
The deal should be favorable for both clubs. The Nationals get a proven left-handed starter and cost certainty for the foreseeable future. The Athletics get a group of highly skilled prospects -- either ready for prime time or projecting to be Major League players. Each team has given its fans an exciting trade to discuss over the old Hot Stove.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.