If there is a standard template for trade returns, it’s usually the centerpiece/major league piece/lottery ticket model. This means that to diversify a trade return as to not become lopsided in an investment, teams choose to build a trade around a single player, a player who can contribute in some fashion no matter what, and a lottery ticket that builds on the future.
In the Yankees’ trade of Martin Prado and David Phelps for Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Jones, and Domingo German, it fit exactly that model. The centerpiece of that deal was Eovaldi, who lived up to his weaknesses and almost none of his possible strengths. Jones was the first base depth guy, and still does not have a major league job since being released in 2015.
German was the lottery ticket, though. At the time of the deal it was labeled as such, and he was notably the “third-best pitcher in the system behind only Luis Severino and Ian Clarkin,” so it’s not like he came out of nowhere. His path to where he is now, pitching in major league games and possibly getting a “real chance”—now that Jonathan Holder was jettisoned to Triple-A, Ben Heller got Tommy John surgery, and CC Sabathia was put on the disabled list with a hip injury—was a circuitous one.
He signed for just $40,000 for the Marlins in 2009, and after getting traded to the Yankees in 2014, promptly tore his UCL the following year and didn’t pitch until 2016, tossing just a shade under 50 innings that season. Last year he made the real jump, though, starting the year in Double-A and getting promoted to Triple-A in May; in Scranton he had a 2.83 ERA in 76.1 innings. He made the big league club on June 10th, and he had a relatively sparkling 3.14 ERA in 14.1 innings.
So here’s the bad news: the chances of him becoming an established major league starter are slim. In Kiley McDaniels’ Yankees top prospect list, he is described as a 40 Future Value prospect, and that he “...still shows two pluses in his heater and curveball, along with at least an average changeup. He’s a control-over-command type who will probably play better in short stints.”
The control-over-command is probably going to be his biggest obstacle. He had nine walks in his major league stint, and Steamer projects that even based on his better walk rate numbers in the minors, he’s something like a 3.54 BB/9-type pitcher. One of the problems is clearly his release point, which is nothing if inconsistent:
The other issue is just the nature of his repertoire, which is merely three pitches. As we learned with Severino’s rise to big league stardom, you need to develop more than a fastball and slider to become successful.
Alright, but here’s the good news: his results have been solid. Even in his short stint in the majors, his average exit velocity was a mere 82.5 mph, lower than even a pitcher like Clayton Kershaw last year (small sample, I know):
Of those who made contact in the above Statcast chart, only a Yuli Gurriel home run qualified as a “barrel,” the rest either being flares, hit under, topped, or weak contact entirely.
The simple possibility is that he has a plus-plus fastball and a plus curve, and that alone could squeeze him into the bullpen. The goal is always to establish pitching in the rotation, and the injury of Sabathia certainly puts a spotlight on that. He’s going to get his chance, though, and while the samples are so small we’re merely taking a stab at it, German continues to be a lottery ticket even when he’s on the 25-man roster. He’s lived up to the title so far.