Cole Hamels trade: I love them, and they'll be big leaguers. I'm gonna miss Nick Williams, Jake Thompson, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher, and Jorge Alfaro. Matt Harrison is headed to Philly too, but my interaction with him has been limited to a bunch of rehab starts, though I do respect the hell outta him. I've tweeted it out a few times, but I imagine a healthy number of humans would've packed it in a year or so ago when a room full of world-class physicians tell you you have a 15-20% chance of pitching in the bigs. And you're going to make over $41 million regardless of whether or not you step foot on a baseball diamond again. But Matty Ice just went to work. He spent months in a nearly deserted training facility in the Arizona heat, started and stopped games in AA and AAA, and never once said, "I'm out." Tip of the cap, to you, Matt. Good pitcher, great dude. Heads up, if you don't want to read a lot sappy crap about former Rangers, current Phillies prospects, just skip to the last paragraph now.
Now, on to my little buddies.
First, you, Mr. Williams. You basically drove me bonkers for several years. I cannot tell a lie. I mean, holy shit man, did you see a single 2-0 count in your first 3 years as a professional ball player? But your raw skills were always world class. No one in the system has better bat speed and I'm racking my brain trying to bestow that honor upon a Rangers prospect now that your gone. Nick, 2013, Nick, Spring Training triple Plus speed, a plus arm (that you're still learning how to use) and the ability to flick your wrists and drive the ball to all fields, over the fence, in any park on the planet. You were always a tootsie roll, cut in half by our hyper-religious aunt and uncle. Then this year. "My Dad basically just told me, 'You don't have to swing'". Huh. It's that simple? Welp, the proof is in the pudding. You've seen 2-0 this year. You've seen 3-1. You've seen 2-1. And you've barreled the next offering. Good for you man. Changes in 'approach' are rare for guys in AA. Really rare. And you've done it. You're gonna get a chance to play LF for Philadelphia. Now go be a star.
Jake Thompson, this is gonna be hard. I saw you pitch (and hit!) in high school. I was genuinely excited when you were traded to Texas. Jake Thompson, stretch. We sat down and chatted on your first day here: Meet Jake Thompson. I watched you go from a thrower to a pitcher. I saw 4 usable pitches in your last start. The 2-seam and the 4-seam are wiggling and the SL remains NSFW. The CH might have developed as much as any single offering in the entire system over the last year, and what the hell? Did I see you start a hitter out the other night with a 71mph CB? Yep. I watched that game while sitting and chatting with your Dad. That's how local you are. I'm gonna miss talking with him too. You lived at home while pitching for Frisco. I know you grew up a Rangers fan, but now any pressure that would've been there, is gone. You're gonna pitch in the Phillies rotation and big leaguers are gonna hate that SL as much as the minor leaguers do. Keep the CH down and vary your FB use. Toss a few show-me CBs to keep 'em off your velo track and treat all NL hitters with the same utter disdain I've seen you have for ever hitter you've faced since Rockwall-Heath. Love Ya, man.
Eick, you too? Damn. Is this a good time to keep throwing out my Trevor Rosenthal comp? Eickhoff, stretch, Eickhoff, wind up. Truly one of the sweetest, salt-of-the-earth Midwest dudes with a mid-90s FB I've ever met. I really thought you'd pop up in Texas' bullpen later this summer throwing upper-90s gas and tripping over that delicious CB. But, nope. I don't know if you're gonna be a big leaguer as a starter or as a reliever, but I do know you're gonna be a big leaguer. And I do know you're gonna light up some guns and the Brothers Eickhoff are gonna be a proud posse. Remember, you have really good shit. It's good enough to compete at the highest level. Go right after those guys and you'll get the results you're looking for. Also, now you'll get to beat the Cubs WAYYYYY more often.
What can I say about The Big Cat? You've got a Colby Lewis starter kit, and that's not gonna change. A Brief Chat with A-Ball Asher. All 4 pitches are good and the competitiveness is off the charts. Asher, stretch Asher, wind up. The beard and grooming are world class thanks to your cosmetologist mom and the size is no joke thanks to your gregarious and awesome 6'10" 350lb dad. Gonna miss my chats with both of them. They love you; make them proud. Gonna miss seeing you go into your windup and flash the baseball-stitching tattoo over the Tommy John scar you got at age 14. Gonna miss the Hawaiian shirts and occasional top-knot. But most of all, I'm really gonna miss watching you get better, which is what I've done for the last few years. You're another one who might end up in a big league bullpen. I like that idea the more I think about it. I never told you this before, but I threw a Shawn Tolleson comp on you a few times; stuff wise and competitiveness-wise. Sweet geebus I can't tell you how happy that'd make me, to see you close a big league game someday. But for now, keep on startin', keep on mixing all your pitches, keep going right after guys, and keep the ball down. Philly sports fans are tough, and a little nutty, and they like to have a good time. You're gonna fit in perfectly.
Hip hip Jorge! You were a 170lb third baseman when Texas, led by Coach Welke, swooped into Colombia and brought you to us. You're leaving a 225lb freakishly-athletic catcher with one very large carrying tool. Alfaro, first day in AA, Alfaro, Spring Training BP. I didn't see Pudge in the minors, (No one did really, beast was only there for about 15 minutes), but I'll never forget what an 80-grade arm looks like from behind the plate. I'd never seen it before and I'll never forget the first time I saw it on a mid-afternoon backfields game in Surprise. It's the sexiest thing on a baseball field. The ball leaves your hand and heads to 2B on a string, propelled by nitrous oxide. Remember when you broke the old scoreboard in Frisco last year during BP? Those lights you knocked out were about 430' away from home plate. Yeah, that was cool. That time I clocked you down to 1B and JD himself looked at me and said "what'd you get?", then smiled like a wealthy landowner when I told him "4.19". That was cool too. I know we spoke Monday night and you're chomping at the bit to play after tearing your ankle tendons. I'm happy you're out of your walking boot, but don't rush back, my man. Listen to the docs and just get healthy for Spring Training. You've got special abilities, and I've seen you work your ass off to get better behind the plate. You've got room to grow back there, and you know it. That's why you work so hard. I see you workin' Jorge Alfaro 5.17.15. You'll get there. You'll get it. And you'll throw 'em all out. Don't expand the strike zone, catch the pitches, keep shocking people with your speed, and keep working hard and being a good teammate. Also, can you throw this ball through that wall before you go?
So there you have it. There's the wheelbarrow of very good prospects Philly has coming their way. I genuinely like all these kids, not just as prospects, but as people. All have a shot at big league careers, and if you're a Phillies fan, getting 5 guys who are all in the upper levels with a chance to contribute to big league victories in the next couple of years, is a win. That's where Philadelphia was. They needed to rebuild and add youth. They have a flag and it'll always fly. Credit to the great Charlie Kerfeld who has perched in Frisco enough to make highly educated guesses as to the future of the players Philadelphia acquired. But again, they have a flag. Texas doesn't. Big league clubs often look at time through 3 windows; 1 year, 3 year, and 5 year. Texas made this deal with an eye squarely on the 3-year window. I've made no secret of my thought that pitching wins championships and Texas didn't just acquire a good pitcher, they got an ace. Baseball is an arms race and you can count on X-factors all you want, but there's nothing more appealing than the real thing. Cole Hamels isn't an X-factor. He's a proven commodity. He's won the World Series and pitched a damn no-hitter when all eyes were on him last weekend. All pitchers are a roll of the dice. But prospects aren't? Hell, nobody loves prospects, and certainly Rangers prospects, more than me. I know these kids personally, and I know their families, but proven aces don't come cheap and you gotta do what you gotta do. This is a move for 2016, 2017, and 2018. Pitchers are made of peanut brittle so you gotta load up. Load up on as many of them as you can and hope they stay out of the training room long enough for Prince or Gallo to give them a 3-run lead. You gotta give to get, and I'm cool with this give. Gallo, Mazara, Chi Chi, Brinson, Ortiz, Martin, Matuella, Tate, Faulkner, LuJax; all stay. The kids going, frankly, have new and improved timelines to the big leagues and I'm psyched for them for that very reason. I'm not bullshitting when I say I think they all play in the bigs. Jorge probably has the lowest floor of any of them, but also has the highest ceiling. They're all really good prospects. Really good "dudes". But Cole Hamels isn't a "dude". He's not a prospect. He's not a question mark. He's an ace.