On Thursday, the Yankees traded veteran catcher Brian McCann to the Houston Astros for right-handed pitching prospects Albert Abreu, 21, and Jorge Guzman, 20. The opening day roster will look much different and younger than it did last July as the Yankees now not have veterans Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and McCann. (The Yankees have interest in reacquiring Beltran to be their designated hitter.)
The Yankees traded McCann because Gary Sanchez will now be the starting catcher next season as a result of his historic beginning of his career when he hit 20 homers in the last two months of the season and play very good defense. That would have left McCann as the DH, which could have worked, but the Yankees will now likely be able to have a DH with a higher average with possibly as many homers as McCann would have had. The defensive shifts have really lowered his average because he basically always pulls the ball to the left side.
Abreu is the more well known prospect who could be in the Bronx sooner than Guzman. Before the trade, Abreu was the Astros’ No. 7 ranked prospect after spending 2015 at Single-A Quad Cities and High-A Lancaster. The 6-2, 175 pound right hander pitched in 24 games last season and made 16 starts, but 21 of those games and 14 of the starts were with Quad Cities.
He had a 3.72 ERA overall with 115 strikeouts and 58 walks with a 1.298 WHIP but his two starts and one relief appearance at the end of the season with High-A brought up his ERA and WHIP. In 90 innings with Quad Cities, he pitched out of the bullpen and as a starter. He had two wins, four saves, a 3.50 ERA, a solid 1.233 WHIP, 104 strikeouts and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
Abreu’s ERA was a little high for a top prospect like him, but he has shown signs of developing into a reliable starter. His fastball topped out at 99 mph last season, which is a real improvement from the 87 – 91 that he threw when he first signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2013.
He has three pitches besides his fastball and once he can consistently improve those secondary pitches he will improve even more. Abreu is still young and might be able to have more success developing his off speed pitches with the pitching coaches that the Yankees have in their minor league system than the ones that the Astros had.
Guzman is a year younger than Abreu and is a 6-2, 182-pound righty who was born in Las Matas de Santa Cruz, Dominican Republic. In his second pro season, he threw in seven games in the Gulf Coast League and six games with Greenville of the Appalachian League, which is one level below Single-A.
He is a flame-thrower just like Abreu as his fastball tops out at 101-103 mph, but he has better control when his fastball is between 97 and 99, according to JJ Cooper. With the Astros Gulf Coast League affiliate he had a 3.12 ERA in seven games (four starts) with 25 strikeouts, 10 walks and an excellent 0.808 WHIP.
His ERA was higher in the Appalachian League, but ERA doesn’t tell that much in rookie level. With Greenville, he had a 4.76 ERA in six games (four starts) after striking out 29, walking seven and allowing 25 hits. The 25 hits that he surrendered in 22.2 innings are far too many, but on the other hand he did really improve his control from 2015.
In 2015, Guzman walked 30 batters in 55.1 innings pitched in his first season as a pro and had a very high 1.681 WHIP. However, this past season, he walked 17 batters in 40 innings pitched and had a much improved 1.150 WHIP.
He might be a better relief pitcher than starter since his two best pitches are his fastball and slider and his change is only developing. He has time to improve his change, but since he has two plus pitches and wasn’t able to throw more than five innings in a game last season he will likely be more effective in the bullpen.
In the 2017 season, he will probably either begin in the Appalachian League with the Pulaski Yankees or step up a level with the Low-A short season Staten Island Yankees. In 2017, Abreu will likely be sent to the High-A Tampa Yankees after proving that he can pitch well against Single-A competition last season.
It already makes that the Yankees made this trade based on the emergence of Sanchez, but the one downside is that McCann has hit 20 homers or more in nine consecutive seasons, and it is possible that being the DH would have helped him improve on his power numbers. However, his caught stealing percentage last season was very low and his decline in average and RBIs from earlier in his career is likely due to how baseball has changed with shifts in recent years.
If the two prospects that the Yankees received can blossom into one member of the rotation in Abreu and one seventh or eighth inning reliever in Guzman then this trade will be a win for the Yankees in many ways.
The Yankees will also now not have to pay the $23 million that is left of McCann’s contract over the next two years. McCann would have been an expensive back up catcher and part-time designated hitter.
“Getting the additional money to play with on our end gives us a lot of choices in the trade and free agent market,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said. Cashman will now concentrate on improving the rotation, adding a designated hitter who can also play another position and getting an impact relief pitcher.