The Mets augmented their bench and reliever depth yesterday via a small trade with the Reds, acquiring 10-year veteran Tyler Naquin and up/down lefty Phillip Diehl in exchange for two Low-A minor leaguers, second baseman Hector Rodriguez and right-hander Jose Acuna.
In a platoon role for the Reds, Naquin was hitting .246/.305/.444 overall and .264/.333/.472 against right-handed pitching, playing right field almost exclusively. Both lefty-hitting reserve outfielders, Naquin and Travis Jankowski, are suddenly redundant on the Mets’ bench, which might mean they move on from the latter. Jankowski has just nine hits all year, none since May (he was injured for a stretch), and had been reduced to a rare defensive replacement and frequent pinch runner leading up to the trade. Naquin isn’t as fast as Jankowski nor as good a defender, but he has one of the better throwing arms in baseball and can be a specific sort of defensive replacement of his own (aka a sac fly sniper) and provide meaningfully more with the bat than his fellow 2012 first-rounder. Brandon Nimmo’s center field defense is such that Jankowski rarely represents a meaningful upgrade at his most capable, valuable position. A skillset like Naquin’s is a puzzle piece that fits more snuggly with righty-hitting corner mainstays Starling Marte and Mark Canha, though Jankowski is still currently on the roster and out of options.
Diehl provides lefty relief depth at Triple-A — helpful, given that the Mets’ 40-man is thin on southpaws. Joely Rodríguez has been quite wild this year and has had stretches of inactivity; he didn’t pitch between July 8 and July 22 (some of that is the All-Star break), and his two appearances since then have been bad. David Peterson has been a starter for all but a sliver of his whole career but moved to the bullpen on July 24 and has given up runs in each of his two outings since the move. In Syracuse are Thomas Szapucki (starting depth for now) and recent waiver claim Sam Clay, who is on his third NL East org this month. Both Diehl and Clay are low-90s fastball/slider lefties. Diehl’s fastball plays up and to his arm side and has a little more bat-missing ability than Clay’s, but Clay has the better breaking ball. Either of those two could pitch their way into the big league bullpen if the few currently in front of them struggle into the stretch run.
The rebuilding Reds receive 18-year-old Rodriguez, who has spent most of the year on the Complex, where he’s hit .356/.387/.558 in southeast Florida; the Mets gave him a two-game espresso at Low-A in mid-July before sending him back down. A plus runner, Rodriguez has mostly played center field this year but has experience all over the diamond (second and left in the Low-A games), and his long-term outlook includes defensive versatility. He’s a compact (5-foot-8) lefty batter (60 run, 40 arm) who has precocious bat control despite limited strength. More relevant than exactly where he ranks on a prospect list (38th on the Mets, now 49th on the Reds if you were curious) is that he is a talented developmental utility prospect in the very early stages of his pro career.
The other prospect coming back is 19-year-old Acuna, a 6-foot-2 righty with medium projection, who dominated Complex-level ball in Florida before making two Low-A starts prior to the trade. He sits 90–94 mph from a three-quarters slot, imparting sink and tail on his heater. His mid-80s cutter/slider has short, glove-side movement and is below-average right now, but if it can be reshaped and remain at this velocity, that pitch could be an effective weapon. Acuna also deadens spin on his low-80s changeup (in the 1,500–1,600 rpm range), which he’s already comfortable throwing to right-handed hitters. He’ll intentionally vary the pace of his delivery as a way of disrupting hitters’ timing and has a pretty advanced feel to pitch for a teenager.
Because Acuna isn’t especially projectable and his fastball has limited in-zone, bat-missing utility, he’s more the kind of prospect who would be on the honorable mention of a list rather than stuffed in its main section, especially at this distance from the big leagues. If we apples-to-apples Acuna to other pitching prospects that might provide better context, I’d point to the junior college pitchers who tend to go mid-to-late Day Two of the draft, in this area and beyond. Pathways to impact for Acuna are: if his slider quality takes a leap, or if he ends up with superlative command. He adds depth to a Reds farm system that already has a good bit of it.