The Pittsburgh Pirates have traded outfielder Keon Broxton and pitching prospect Trey Supak to the Milwaukee Brewers for infielder Jason Rogers. The 27-year-old Rogers hit .296/.367/.441 in 86 games as a rookie this season.
Broxton was added to the active roster in September and appeared in seven games for the Pirates, going 0-for-2 with three runs scored, being used mainly as a pinch-runner. The 25-year-old hit .273/.357/.438 in the minors, splitting his season between Altoona and Indianapolis. He stole 39 bases, while connecting on 27 doubles, 12 triples and ten homers. Broxton played strong defense, seeing time at all three outfield positions. He was likely going to battle for the fifth outfielder spot, though AAA seemed more likely to start the year.
Supak is the bigger prospect of the two, signing for $1M after he was taken in the second round of the 2014 draft. He was limited this year due to shoulder soreness and didn’t put up the best stats when he pitched for Bristol. His upside is big though, due to a fastball that touches 94 mph, along with secondary stuff that has average-to-plus upside, including an advanced change-up. At 19 years old, he is far from a sure thing at this point, but he has plenty of projection left with his 6’5″ frame.
Rogers didn’t get much playing time this season, seeing 61 of his 86 games off the bench. He has mostly played first base in the minors, though he has also seen time at third base and left field. Like Michael Morse, he is a right-handed hitter, but that won’t prevent the Pirates from platooning them at first base if that is the plan. Rogers has hit as many as 22 homers in a season during his minor league career and he doesn’t strikeout often. His career slash line is .290/.372/.466 in six seasons. He was a 32nd round draft pick of the Brewers in 2010.
Baseball America had Rogers as the Brewers 27th best prospect in a weak farm system last year. He was converting to third base and they felt he was very raw at the position. He didn’t play in often in 2015, so it seems like it’s more of an emergency spot for him rather than a possible position he could play often. They praised his pitch recognition and plate patience, knocking him for an average at best arm and not much speed. Rogers is a big target at first base, listed at 6’2″, 245 pounds(some sources say 6’1″, 255 pounds). The lack of arm and foot speed are fine at first base as long as he continues to hit well.
The Pirates look like they paid well to get Rogers, so I assume they expect him to fill a big role with the team. Broxton has the upside of a solid fourth outfielder who can steal bases and play strong defense, while adding a little power. He strikes out too much, so there are questions as to whether he could be a starter, but he can definitely help a team off the bench. Supak is far away, but he will still be 19 on Opening Day and he has a lot of upside. The trade has the potential to look bad down the line if the Brewers can develop Supak, but Rogers gives them a possible strong bat at first base now and that’s what they needed. He also has less than a year in at the majors, so the Pirates could possibly get six more seasons out of him.
Stephen Nesbitt adds this quote from GM Neal Huntington:
Pirates still on the lookout for a 1B? Huntington: “We’ll continue to stay engaged in the conversations. But this adds to our depth."
— Stephen J. Nesbitt (@stephenjnesbitt) December 18, 2015
UPDATE 12:19 AM: Analysis from Tim Williams…
Well, the Pirates had to make a trade on Star Wars opening night, and pretty much immediately after my show started. So I was out of the loop on this for a bit, but catching up now. Before I get to my thoughts on the deal, here are the ZiPS projections for Rogers:
Oh, and Jason Rogers projection in Pittsburgh is 259/332/410, 1.0 WAR in 388 projected PA.
— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) December 18, 2015
It’s difficult to give a complete analysis on this move, because there are so many questions to be asked. Rogers can play multiple positions, with one of them being first base. So is this the answer to first base? Or is this an option at any position?
If this is the answer to first base, then there are more questions. Rogers is a right-handed hitting first baseman, which makes Michael Morse superfluous. He did have really good numbers last year in his brief time in the majors, with a .296/.367/.441 line in 169 plate appearances. That was also in a small sample size, and the ZiPS projections have him dropping lower. Between Rogers, Morse, and Jake Goebbert, the Pirates have three options with some offensive upside at first base, but none of them represent a sure thing, and all three have question marks.
So is this the strategy at first base until Bell arrives? Throw a few guys out at the position with the hope that one of them reaches their offensive upside? Or will the Pirates actually continue to look for a better option, as Huntington mentioned?
If the plan is for Rogers to be a bench guy who can play third base at the start of the year, along with possibly stepping in at first base or the outfield, then it seems like a better fit. That’s mostly because it strengthens the bench, and assumes a better option will be acquired for first base, leading to a stronger overall team.
Overall, it’s hard to analyze how this deal specifically helps the overall team, because we don’t know what role Rogers will play, and we don’t know what other moves will follow.
Here are questions we can answer right now: Can Rogers help the Pirates and was this a good move?
To the first question, I think the answer is yes, although with the disclaimer that this is a high upside move that might not work out. You look at those numbers in his limited time in the majors, and you look at his minor league numbers (.989 OPS in a hitter friendly PCL) and you see disclaimers, but you also see the potential to get a guy who could be a legit MLB hitter.
As far as the return, the Pirates dealt away Broxton, who could have been a member of the bench this year, and Supak, who was a high upside pitching prospect in the lower levels. A way of looking at this is that they traded Supak to upgrade from Broxton (strong defensive outfielder with great base stealing skills, but questions about his hitting in the upper levels due to strikeout problems) to Rogers. And while Supak has some talent, he’s very raw and the Pirates have a lot of other guys in the system either just like him, or better than him.
We rated Supak 27th overall in the system, and Broxton 40th in the 2016 Prospect Guide. Here were the reports on each player.
Supak was one of three prep pitchers that the Pirates took and signed to over-slot deals in the 2014 draft. He was taken in the second round, along with Mitch Keller, and signed for the same $1 M bonus. Despite the same round and the same bonus, there is a difference between the two pitchers.
Keller can hit 94 with ease on his fastball, and has some good off-speed stuff. Supak usually works 90-92 MPH, touching 94, and relies more on future projection with his big frame to add some value. He has a better changeup than Keller, with his larger hands allowing him to settle on a circle change grip that he’s been getting more comfortable with over the last few years.
Supak’s fastball can be inconsistent, although he had much better results pounding the strike zone in 2015. He didn’t have great results avoiding hard contact, and will need to avoid this problem in the future in order to develop as a prospect.
The 2015 season was a bit of a lost year for Supak. He missed some time in extended Spring Training with shoulder soreness, and then was limited to just 28.1 innings in Bristol due to other minor injuries. He did get a chance to work on his secondary stuff and his command when healthy, but the lack of playing time really limited that development.
Despite the lack of time, the Pirates should send him to Morgantown next year, with a chance for further development in extended Spring Training. If he continues improving his changeup, and sees better command from his fastball, then he could emerge as a top pitching prospect in the system, capable of being a mid-rotation starter or better, depending on how much he improves.
Broxton was acquired in a minor trade from Arizona in 2014, after seeing his prospect status drop with a few down years at the Double-A level. He did well in Altoona in 2014, but returned to the level the following season, after getting a look in the majors in Spring Training. Another strong start in Altoona got him a promotion to Indianapolis, where he put up decent numbers, and eventually received a promotion to the majors in September.
The Pirates have plenty of outfield options, and Broxton only adds to that, with a ton of speed, strong defense at all three positions, and some power. He was used as a pinch runner in September, and Clint Hurdle gave him high praise, calling him the best base stealer in the organization. The bat has some upside, although his high strikeout rate is cause for concern. He does pair that with power, which is rare from a speedy center fielder, but the power would be limited by the strikeouts.
The ability to play all three outfield spots with good defense, stolen base potential, and some power could make Broxton an option for the Pirates’ bench this year. Part of why they added him to the 40-man roster and to the majors was to prevent him from reaching minor league free agency. He will get an automatic invite to Spring Training, but this time around he will be a guy who has a real shot of making the team. If he doesn’t make the team out of Spring Training, he will almost certainly arrive in the majors at some point in 2016, getting a bigger role than he had in September 2015.
Rogers pretty much replaces Broxton, with less value on defense and speed, and more potential with the bat. He also has an option, so it’s not a guarantee he starts in the majors, although based on the price paid for him, I could see it happening. Supak is the big return for the Brewers as a high upside arm, but he’s also high risk. He’s not a guy who is untouchable, and he wasn’t even in the top ten right-handed starting options in the system. That speaks more to the depth of the Pirates than his actual value.
Evaluating the deal straight up, without other factors, it’s one that makes sense for the Pirates. You hope that the offensive numbers last year are the real deal, which would make Rogers a huge pickup. But even if that’s not the case, he’s a guy who could still have some value off the bench as a utility player, and maybe factor into the first base mix. The Pirates got him by giving up another potential bench option with different skills, and a high upside pitcher who is excess in their system. They didn’t exactly steal Rogers, but they got a guy who could help them, and who could be around for six years.
As for those other factors, this move doesn’t provide security. It doesn’t answer anything at first base. It leaves questions about what the Pirates will continue to do at that position, or for the bench, the rest of the off-season. That’s not to say their plan won’t work if their plan is actually to throw a few guys at the position and see who sticks until Josh Bell arrives. It’s just that this plan provides no comfort at all.