The Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies announced a trade this afternoon. While not a blockbuster, the trade involved each team sending one Major League pitcher and one prospect the other way.
The Reds are sending two players to Colorado in the deal: pitcher Robert Stephenson and minor league outfielder Jameson Hannah. Stephenson is the more well-known of the two, having pitched 208 Major League innings since making his debut in 2016.
Stephenson was drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft with the 27th overall pick. He quickly became a top Reds prospect, appearing on league-wide top prospect lists from 2013 through 2017. He peaked at #16 on Baseball Prospectus’ pre-2015 rankings, also ranking as high as #19 in the Baseball America and MLB.com rankings pre-2014.
He has fallen far from his top prospect status, posting just a 5.15 ERA and 5.24 FIP in his Major League career, including a 9.90 ERA and 12.19 FIP in 2020. Much of the issue for Stephenson in his career has been control, walking an unsightly 4.8 batters per 9 innings, which equates to a 12.1% walk rate. He took a step forward in the control department in 2019 and 2020 though, walking just 9.2% in 2019 and 7.0% in 2020.
Stephenson showed promise in 2019, posting a 3.76 ERA, 3.63 FIP, and 3.54 SIERA across 64.2 innings, while striking out 30.9% of hitters. If he can return to those numbers, the Rockies may have a valuable bullpen piece for the extended future, as Stephenson will be under control for three more seasons.
Hannah is a bit more of an unknown commodity, having only reached high-A. In his relatively small sample of 587 PA, he has not shown much in the power department, hitting just three home runs. He’s gotten on base at a respectable clip to keep his wRC+ hovering around league average, though he is likely never going to be an above average Major League hitter. The 23-year old Hannah has a 40 future value per Fangraphs, with his speed, fielding and hit tools projecting as above average. His throw and power tools both project as below average.
Hannah was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the second round in 2018 before being acquired by the Reds in 2019 in exchange for Tanner Roark. Hannah ranked 15th among Reds prospects per MLB.com.
On the other side, pitchers Jeff Hoffman and Case Williams are headed to Cincinnati. Hoffman, who debuted in 2016, has established himself as an MLB pitcher with 230 innings under his belt. Case Williams will look to make his professional debut in 2021.
Hoffman and Stephenson have comparable career arcs with Hoffman being selected 9th overall in 2014 by Toronto, before being the centerpiece of the Troy Tulowitzki trade just over a year later. Subsequently, Hoffman ascended prospect lists, reaching #35 on MLB’s list in 2016 before his debut.
In a 2016 September cup of coffee, Hoffman faced hardship, pitching to a 4.88 ERA and 6.27 FIP over 31 innings, while walking 4.88 hitters per 9 innings or a 11.6 BB% compared to just 6.32 strikeouts per 9 or a 15 K%. Hoffman’s first five starts to 2017 were nothing short of stellar. A 1.93 ERA and a 34/6 K/BB ratio in his first 5 starts (32.2 IP) gave the Rockies signs Hoffman was developing into the frontline starter they had hoped for when they targeted him as the centerpiece of the Troy Tulowitzki trade. However, things unraveled for Hoffman and he struggled to find any consistency as a starter through to the 2019 season.
In 2020, the Rockies rolled Hoffman out as a full-time reliever. In combination with his new, simplified delivery, things were looking up for the lanky, hard-throwing right hander. He gave up just a single run on 3 hits in his first 9.2 innings pitched, before again unraveling, finding it near impossible to miss barrels.
As a reliever, Hoffman started using his changeup more (11.4% in 2019 to 27.3% in 2020) and found it to be an effective third offering to go along with his long-praised curveball. Against the changeup, hitters managed just a .239 xwOBA and against the curveball, a .273 mark. Hoffman’s mid-90s fastball was simply too flat to hitters’ eyes as they mashed the pitch at a .398 xwOBA mark.
To this point in his career, Hoffman owns a career 6.40 ERA, 5.58 FIP, and 5.04 SIERA. He’s struck out 7.69 and walked 4.17 hitters per 9 innings and has struggled with the longball, giving up 1.79 per 9. The ability to generate spin on his fastball and curveball still offers potential capable of being unlocked. Hoffman could be re-stretched out as a starter, but his future role is unclear.
Case Williams is somewhat of an unknown to many MLB scouts, or at least he was until the Rockies made the Denver native (out of Douglas County HS, just south of Coors Field) a surprise 4th round selection in the 2020 amateur draft. The Rockies had the young right-hander on their senior scout team in 2019, which allowed them to get an exclusive look at a player that was, otherwise, not likely on any other draft boards. Williams was poised to move up draft boards before his senior season was canceled.
It seems the Rockies made a savvy selection granted by their geographic proximity to Williams and his coaches. With room to grow into his 6’3” frame, Williams’s fastball sits between 93-95 and according to a bullpen at THROWformance pitching studio, he is already capable of spinning his fastball at 2400 rpm, which is around the 85th percentile of MLB pitchers. Early reports on his changeup and curveball suggest they can both be quality secondary offerings as well.
For the Rockies, Stephenson offers a bullpen arm to a group that had the worst ERA, FIP, xFIP, SIERA, and HR/9 in club history in the shortened 2020 season. If Stephenson returns to his 2019 form, Colorado will have found themselves some stability with an impact arm. This is a savvy way to address the need for another quality option out of the bullpen; however, there is inherent risk with Stephenson’s inconsistent track record.
Jameson Hannah presents the Rockies with a center field prospect, an area the organization has failed to address in recent years, a confusing trend considering the outfield depth of Coors Field. With High-A being the highest level Hannah has played thus far, it’s likely he won’t be roaming Coors Field until mid to late 2022. Nonetheless, Hannah’s combination of speed, defensive upside, and plate discipline bring a unique skill set to the Rockies farm. MLB slotted Hannah in as Colorado’s #14 overall prospect.
This trade is more short-term oriented for the Rockies but the return offers a good blend of immediate reinforcement in Stephenson and intermediate value in Hannah.
In Williams and Hoffman, the Reds acquire two high spin rate pitchers, a trait the Reds have emphasized in the past year. Hoffman immediately becomes the next Derek Johnson reclamation project, one that ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel compares to the Reds’ acquisition of Lucas Sims.
Reds GM Nick Krall noted that Hoffman will have a chance to earn a rotation spot in spring training but may also end up in the bullpen. It’s probably likely he ends up in the bullpen, although it’s unclear what specific role he will have in 2021. If Hoffman has success, the Reds are able to control him for four more years, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them quickly cut ties if he struggles out of the gate.
Krall also noted that the Reds were interested in drafting Williams this year before the Rockies selected him. It’s likely that their interest in Williams was the key to this deal. Though the 18 year old Williams will likely need a few years in the minors, the Reds’ minor league staff led by Kyle Boddy will attempt to mold him into a successful pitcher. Interestingly, Williams has previously worked with Boddy’s Driveline, which likely played a role in the Reds’ interest.
All things considered, this seems like a low risk, high reward type move for the Reds. Stephenson would likely have been non-tendered, so getting any sort of return for him is a huge positive. It’s also unlikely that Hannah would have ever made a meaningful impact on the Reds’ Major League team. If they can “fix” Hoffman, the Reds could have a valuable back-end starter or bullpen piece, and if Williams develops into a successful pitcher, this trade will also look good for the Reds.