The Blue Jays cleared up the log jam of up-the-middle players somewhat today when they dealt Aledmys Diaz to Houston for minor league RHP Trent Thornton.
The move appears to open up the SS position, at least for now, to Lourdes Gurriel Jr. The Blue Jays attempted to develop him as a super utility player last year, but he was used exclusively up the middle in 2018, playing the bulk of his games at Short. It will be interesting to see where Gurriel plays in the long-term if Bo Bichette continues to show progress in his defensive development.
Drafted by the Astros in the 5th round of the 2015 draft out of North Carolina, Thornton is ranked the 24th prospect in a pitching-deep Astros system. He has worked almost exclusively as a starter throughout his MiLB career, starting 22 games for AAA Fresno in 2018. In one start in April, he gave up a leadoff single, then fanned the next 8 hitters in a row, setting a Pacific Coast League record. In a June outing, he took a no-hitter into the 8th innings. At the Arizona Fall League, he fanned 20 in 15.2 IP. As a player facing the Rule 5 if not placed on a 40-man roster by Tuesday, he became the victim of something of a numbers game with the Astros.
Some scouting reports…..
Thornton has added a couple ticks of velocity to his fastball in 2018, working at 93-95 mph and topping out at 97 with riding action. He has an interesting array of secondary pitches, including a curveball with some power and depth and an improved slider that he can turn into a true cutter. He needs to refine and trust his changeup more to find success against left-handers, however.
His 6-foot stature and delivery have led some scouts to project him to the bullpen. His windup involves a deep plunge with both hands, followed by an exaggerated two-handed windup that ends up with a hand break above and behind his right ear and a stab in the back. While his delivery features a lot of moving parts, Thornton has shown plus control as a pro with a walk rate of 1.5 per nine innings–and he maintains the quality of his stuff through the entire outing. Thornton can touch 95 mph at his peak, but he generally sits 90-91 with a fastball that grades as average thanks in part to its riding action. His 12-to-6 curveball is an above-average offering at its best, and he mixes in a fringe-average slider and below-average changeup. Thornton projects as a back-end starter.
In a poll of PCL Managers, Thornton was picked as the starter with the best control. Thornton has a funky delivery with some moving parts that offers a bit of deception:
A tweet by David Adler, who writes for mlb.com, suggests Thornton has slightly above average velo, and can spin a breaking ball:
If you want a more updated version of my 2013 scouting, here’s some Trent Thornton Statcast from two AFL games at Salt River:
Avg. 4-seam velo: 94.2 mph
Avg. 4-seam spin rate: 2,456 rpm
Avg. curveball spin rate: 3,127 rpm
Live fastball? ✔️
Good curve? ✔️
No Statcast on windups https://t.co/ob1QQuMJE7
— David Adler (@_dadler) November 17, 2018
Where does Thornton fit? He’s a guy who has maxed out his projection, and while his stuff might play up in a relief role, it would appear his acquisition was made more with a minor league starting depth/major league emergency starter role in mind. Thornton does not have a typical starter’s build, but he uses sequencing and his ability to keep hitters off-balance to miss bats or induce weak contact. His 11.4% SwStr rate was 3rd highest in the PCL, and his 41.6% GB rate was respectable. Blue Jays GM told Sportsnet that Thornton is a player the team sees as a starter:
“We felt that this represented a good opportunity to use an area of depth to acquire a player that can be a part of our pitching core,” GM Ross Atkins said via text. “Trent is someone that we’ve targeted for some time, and are confident that his deep repertoire and strike-throwing ability allows him to be a factor for our major-league rotation in the near term.”
Obtaining Thornton doesn’t necessarily clear up the 40-man roster questions, but it does add some clarity to the 25-man.