Blue Jays Make A Trade! Aquino for Ybarra
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays From Away
January was a quiet month for the Toronto Blue Jays: they made one waiver claim (Matt West) and signed four minor league free agents (Melky Mesa, Andy Dirks, Munenori Kawasaki and Ramon Santiago). They broke their intertia and made a trade, sending minor league lefty reliever Tyler Ybarra to the Colorado Rockies for minor league lefty starter Jayson Aquino.
Chris Colabello has been designated for assignment to make room for Aquino on the 40-man roster.
What’s this deal all about? The Jays send 25-year-old Ybarra away and get a 22 year old, Aquino, in return. Both touched Double-A last year although Aquino only pitched in 12 innings at that level while Ybarra spent the whole season with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. The only real upside that I can see to this deal is that Aquino has been a starter for his whole minor league career and could offer more value at the major league level than Ybarra if (big if) he makes it.
The Jays traded Ybarra, a pitcher who really impressed me when I saw him in spring training last year. He was throwing a 94-95 mph fastball with life on it while complementing it with a sharp, 81-83 mph slider. Looking back on my notes, my comment was “nasty” (I was seeing four teams worth of players that day and my comments had to be concise).
Ybarra, 25, was drafted in the 43rd round of the 2008 draft and had a rough go in the GCL in his draft year. It must have been tough on him as Ybarra walked away from the game, leaving baseball for two years before returning with Bluefield in 2011 where he had a phenomenal season, throwing 46 innings and posting a 2.15 ERA with 1.09 WHIP, striking out 54 and walking 16. He made the Lansing Lugnuts the following year and had another stellar season but saw his walk rate shoot up to 26 in 43 2/3 innings despite a 2.27 ERA. He still managed to strike out 11.7 batters per nine innings.
In 2013 in Dunedin, Ybarra posted a 1.95 ERA in 55 1/3 innings, striking out 65 with 33 walks and a 1.14 WHIP. Finally, in 2014, Ybarra struggled with his control more than he had before, walking 30 in 53 innings, hitting four batters and throwing 14 wild pitches while seeing a drop in his strikeout rate (to 7.3 K/9). Ybarra finished 2014 with a stress fracture in his leg but still managed to pitch in winter ball, logging two innings in the Venezuelan Winter League, walking seven and striking out three.
On the other side of the coin, Jayson Aquino is a Dominican lefty who was signed by the Colorado Rockies as an international free agent on July 2, 2009 for a signing bonus of $175,000. Aquino has been a starter throughout his entire minor league career and, after dominating the DSL for three years, he came to Rookie Ball in North America in 2012 at the age of 19 where he continued to dominate with a 1.87 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 11 walks and a 0.99 WHIP in 43 1/3 innings in the Pioneer League.
Pitching in the Northwest League and the South Atlantic League as a 20 year old, Aquino racked up 87 innings, posting a 4.34 ERA and 1.30 ERA overall while striking out 73 and walking 26. He followed that up in 2014 with 95 innings with Modesto in the California League (High-A) and getting another 12 innings in Double-A Tulsa. The numbers in Modesto weren’t great (5.40 ERA, 1.51 WHIP) but that league is a very tough one on pitchers and his FIP was somewhat lower at 4.47. Aquino also acquitted himself very well in the Arizona Fall League this year, throwing 16 innings with just four walks and 13 strikeouts, putting up a 3.38 ERA and 1.25 WHIP.
Aquino was ranked by several writers among the top 10 prospects in the Rockies’ system going into the 2013 season. Scouting reports indicate that he’s a lefty with an average fastball in the 87-91 mph range that produces a lot of ground balls (1.57 Ground Outs per Air Out over his minor league career), while his secondary pitches, a curveball and changeup, are well developed with “plus” potential (according to Baseball America). Their projection for him was as a number four starter with a higher ceiling if his fastball improved.
The more I look at Aquino, the more I think this trade was basically a deal for a little bit of upside to get a Sean Nolin-type of pitcher back in the system. The biggest issue is that, according to what I’ve been able to dig up, Aquino was added to Colorado’s 40-man roster after the 2013 season and has used one minor league option, leaving him with two more.
In Ybarra, the Blue Jays would have four years to keep him in the minors but that clock doesn’t start ticking until they put him on the 40-man roster, which they still haven’t done. Ybarra offers the prospect of a hard-throwing relief arm out of the bullpen while Aquino offers the prospect of a back-end starter at best or another Rob Rasmussen type of lefty reliever at worst. I would expect to see Aquino in Double-A or Triple-A.
While Ybarra could conceivably help out the Rockies this year in the bullpen, I’d expect that Aquino doesn’t have much of an effect for the Blue Jays other than to round out the New Hampshire or Buffalo rotations as the season progresses. For me, this trade doesn’t accomplish much nor does it hurt the Jays in any way and it adds another potential “depth” arm in the minor leagues: in Aquino, they get a young player who’s still just 22 and can still reach his potential.