The Sonny Gray saga took its final twists and turns this week. After months of deliberation, the Yankees sent him to the Reds. Gray and Cincinnati were able to hammer out an extension, and the Reds sent infield prospect Shed Long to the Yankees. New York turned around and immediately flipped Long straight up to the Mariners in exchange for outfield prospect Josh Stowers.
For much of the weekend, it sounded as if the Yankees were receiving Long, who profiles as the easier prospect to analyze. The 22-year-old reached Double-A last season and performed fairly well. He has a respectable, if unspectacular, base of tools. He projects somewhere between a useful utility player and a quality starter.
Stowers doesn’t have Long’s proximity to the majors, and thus in some ways is a more difficult prospect to peg. After trading away a seemingly safe prospect for him, what exactly do the Yankees have in Stowers?
The Mariners selected Stowers with the 11th pick in the 2nd round of the 2018 MLB Draft out of the University of Louisville. Stowers played three years in college, with his .336/.477/.559 slash line in his last year at school convincing Seattle to expend a relatively high pick on him.
Upon his selection, the consensus seemed to be that the Mariners had reached a bit. As our own SB Nation Mariners site Lookout Landing profiled here, Baseball America didn’t place Stowers on their top 200 draft prospect list, yet the Mariners popped him 54th overall. Seattle might have been able to wait another round or two for Stowers, but felt strongly enough to go for him early.
Stowers has raised his stock since the draft. He performed admirably in his first assignment, hitting a cogent .260/.380/.410 against his initial dose of professional pitching in Low-A in 2018. FanGraphs’ analyst Kiley McDaniel wrote in a chat this week that Stowers had bumped up his future value projection from 35 to 40 or 45. A player with a 45 FV theoretically projects on average as a fine platoon player or utilityman, but something short of an average regular.
In going through the scouting reports on Stowers, he doesn’t appear to have a clear standout tool. MLB Pipeline, which currently slots Stowers in at number 23 on their list of Yankees prospects, evaluates all of Stowers’ tools as within spitting distance of average, though they peg his arm as his worst asset, giving it a below-average grade of 40 on the scouting scale.
Stowers plays center field and reportedly has good speed, which he will need to cancel out his fringy arm. By all accounts, Stowers’ ability to field a legitimate center will be crucial to his value. There’s the possibility of a solid hitter with average power here, and that profile really comes together if it’s attached to decent center-field defense. In a corner, Stowers’ offensive skills probably couldn’t make him more than a bench bat.
He will turn 22 next month, which means he won’t be young for his league in all likelihood in 2019, when the Yankees will presumably send him to some level of A-Ball. We will learn much more about Stowers’ chances of hitting upper-minors pitching, well, as he progresses through the upper minors. Should Stowers stick in center and continue to make contact with a bit of pop, the Yankees will be pleased with what they have.
There’s a long way to go, of course, and the many pitfalls that can fell a prospect between his pro debut and the majors still stand in Stowers’ way. He’s not a great prospect, and maybe not even as good a prospect as Long, who has a shot at the majors in 2019. Stowers may not make the majors before 2021, or ever, if things go sideways in the interim. He’s not a zero, though, and the Yankees will happily take him and see what he can turn himself into over the next few years.