Blake Snell is being traded to the San Diego Padres from the Tampa Bay Rays, per multiple reports. The deal reportedly will send Luis Patino, Francisco Mejia, Cole Wilcox and Blake Hunt to the Rays, and is pending medicals.
The Padres made a big move at the trade deadline to land Cleveland Indians starter Mike Clevinger, but Clevinger was slowed down the stretch, left his one playoff start for the Padres after one inning, and underwent Tommy John surgery after the season, which will cost him the 2021 campaign. The Padres have been rumored all offseason to have been seeking someone to head up their rotation in place of Clevinger, and appear to have found their man in Snell, the 2018 American League Cy Young Award winner.
Snell, a 28 year old lefthander, was a supplemental first round pick of the Rays out of high school in Washington in 2011. After a breakout 2015 season, he entered 2016 as a consensus top-25 prospect, and ended up logging 19 starts for the Rays in 2016, then 24 starts in 2017, putting up a 1.8 bWAR with an ERA a little over league average.
Snell exploded in 2018, putting up a 1.89 ERA in 31 starts, with a 7.1 bWAR (albeit with a 4.4 fWAR, due to a FIP of 2.94, a full run higher than his ERA) while going 21-5. Snell beat out Justin Verlander for the Cy Young, and finished 9th in the A.L. MVP balloting that year.
After a rough 2019 that saw his ERA jump to 4.29 in 23 starts (though with a 3.32 FIP) and featured a trip to the injury list for elbow surgery, Snell had an odd 2020 campaign. There was a big ERA/FIP split again, with Snell recording a 3.24 ERA and a 4.35 FIP in 11 starts. Those 11 starts, however, garnered only 50 innings — after going 2 innings in his first start of the year and then 3 innings in his next two starts, Snell threw between 5 and 5.2 IP in his final nine starts, facing anywhere from 18 to 24 batters in those outings.
Rays manager Kevin Cash handled Snell the same way in the playoffs this year — in 6 playoff starts in 2020, Snell faced between 17 and 23 batters in each, going between 4 and 5.2 IP in those outings. Snell famously was lifted in the sixth inning of Game 6 of the World Series after allowing a one out single in the sixth, just the second baserunner of the game for the Dodgers. Nick Anderson gave up a double, a wild pitch and a fielder’s choice, allowing the inherited runner and one of his own to score, and the Dodgers ended up winning 3-1 to take the series.
The headliner in this deal of the players going to Tampa is Luis Patino, a 21 year old righthanded pitcher who is considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Patino dominated the Cal League in 2019, earning a pair of late season starts in AA to end the year, and pitched 17 innings for San Diego in 2020 in the regular season, along with making three relief appearances in the playoffs. He’s young and has great stuff, and the Rays are getting a potential top of the rotation guy in this deal.
Cole Wilcox was the Padres’ 3rd round pick in 2020, a draft-eligible sophomore who received a $3.2 million signing bonus leave the University of Georgia. We wrote up Wilcox here as part of our draft preview — he was generally seen as a mid- to late-first-round talent.
Francisco Mejia is a well known name, having been a highly touted catching prospect for the Indians who the Padres landed in the deal that sent Brad Hand and Adam Cimber to Cleveland. Mejia is a switch hitter with power, but his work behind the plate hasn’t gotten good reviews, and he slashed just .077/.143/.179 in 42 plate appearances for the Padres in 2020. He has a career .225/.282/.386 slash line, and even playing half your games in San Diego, that’s not going to cut it if you are a bat-first catcher. Listed at just 5’8”, he’s too small to be a real option at first base, which is where most bat-first catchers who can’t catch end up. He’s a reclamation project at this point, and the Rays will get to figure out if he can be fixed.
Hunt was a 2nd round pick as a California high school catcher in 2017. He has a career .258/.341/.384 slash line in 751 minor league plate appearances and was in low-A in 2019, but Jeff Passan indicated that he had a strong Instructional League performance. He’s big and has power, though unlike Mejia, his defense has generally gotten good reviews.