Sometimes it are the moves that no one really pays attention to that end up having the biggest impact on a sports franchise. Over the course of this MLB offseason, there have been plenty of big moves that have drawn a ton of buzz. Aroldis Chapman went back to the New York Yankees. Edwin Encarnacion signed a deal to join the American League Champion Cleveland Indians. But it was a minor trade that occurred on Tuesday evening that has this MLB fan intrigued.
The deal was a one for one swap between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Kansas City Royals. The deal saw Peter O’Brien, who was recently designated for assignment by the D’Backs, traded to Kansas City in exchange for minor league pitcher Sam Lewis. Now I am sure many of you are saying, “who the heck are those guys?”. Well I am about to fill you in on Mr. Peter O’Brien, and why he could be the biggest steal of the MLB offseason.
Back in 2012, O’Brien was a second round selection in the MLB Draft, becoming a member of the New York Yankees organization. Between 2012 and 2014, he would work his way up to Double-A Trenton for the Yankees, showing some serious flashes of power along the way. On July 31, 2014, O’Brien would find himself involved in a trade deadline deal, as the Yankees sent him to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for veteran Martin Prado.
In 2015, O’Brien found himself slugging 26 home runs in 490 at-bats for Triple-A Reno. At the end of the 2015 season, the highly touted power-hitting prospect would be given his first taste of the big leagues. He would get 10 at-bats, getting four hits and one home run in his small sample. A 25-year-old O’Brien would spend most of the 2016 season in Reno once again. This go around, he had 406 at-bats, launching another 24 long balls. He was given another taste of the bigs, this time with minimal success. Over 64 at-bats, the youngster hit .141, but he did have five more homers.
Then the Diamondbacks had a massive changeover in the front office at the end of the season. And the new regime has made it clear, they want a fresh start. They are moving on from guys that the old group considered to be their guys, with the trade of Jean Segura to the Seattle Mariners as the perfect example.
Now O’Brien appears to be the latest name to join that list. The new front office did not like that fact that O’Brien does not have a true defensive position and is not the greatest hitter in terms of batting average. For those reasons, they made the surprising move to designate him for assignment, which ultimately led to his trade.
As a result, the Kansas City Royals could have found themselves a diamond in the rough. To start, O’Brien is still only 26 years old. He has yet to hit his prime and has been judged on a very small sample at the Major League level. The new Arizona brass did not like the fact that he does not profile as a defender at any given position, which will not be an issue in the American League, as he can DH.
So now we will enter Spring Training and O’Brien will have a chance to prove himself. We know he has big league power, and if given a full season in the show, he is easily a 30 homer guy. The Royals outfield currently features Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain, with recently acquired Jorge Soler sits in the DH slot. The team has a lot of players set to hit free agency after 2016, with Cain and Dyson both on that list. Both of those men have seen their names floating around in trade talks this winter, and if the club finds themselves out of playoff contention in July, there will surely be a firesale.
So at the break of Spring Training, even if O’Brien does not have a starting slot, one can easily open up. And when it does, he will finally be given a real chance and not one that only consists of 64 at-bats. With this chance, his average may not be tremendous, but his power will be. As a DH, he will not have to worry about stressing himself about learning a position, and he can focus no swinging the bat.
If he is able to prove himself over the course of the 2017 season, the Royals will have themselves a 30 to 40 home run hitter entering his prime as they head into 2018. This is especially important for a club that could be losing Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Cain to free agency. And all they had to give up was a minor league arm who is still several years away from the big leagues.
Arizona’s new front office could very well regret giving up on the young slugger so soon.