Zach Cates: The Key to the Anthony Rizzo/Andrew Cashner Swap


Zach Cates is a converted position player who was one of the players swapped in the Anthony Rizzo/Andrew Cashner trade last week. In return the Padres got Kyung-Min Na, a fourth outfielder at the big league level who likely will not have a major impact over the course of his career. In Cates the Cubs got an arm who could potentially offer up some value and while protecting themselves from a possible let down from Rizzo, the centerpiece of the deal for the Cubs.

Cates pitched in 25 games last year, all starts, with Fort Wayne (A) and had impressive numbers with unimpressive results. A quick look behind the 4-10 record and 4.73 ERA will tell you that Cates has a better future ahead of him than most would think. Cates posted a 8.47 K/9 with a low HR rate and AVG against. His walk-rate is a bit high, but that could be due to some refinements in his mechanics that he will have time to adjust. Although he posted a 4.73 ERA, his BABIP isn’t out of whack but his FIP is at 3.23. This highlights the difference in defense at the lower minors as compared to the big leagues.

ESPN’s Keith Law provides some insight into Cates:

"He’s a raw but very intriguing conversion guy with limited experience on the mound, but can show two plus pitches in a fastball up to 96 MPH (sitting 92-93) and a plus changeup that is a 70 on its best nights. His delivery is a little rough in back but he gets great extension out front with good downhill plane to keep the ball in the park, especially against right-handed batters. He’s still in search of an average breaking ball, and his command and control are what you’d expect for a raw pitcher without a lot of innings behind him. He’s a great lottery ticket for the Cubs here with the upside of a mid-rotation starter if he finds a breaking ball and a plus reliever if he doesn’t."

With the raw stuff there, and the peripherals pointing to underlying success, Cates is an intriguing piece to this deal. If Rizzo turns it around and finishes his polishing, the Cubs will have net’d a very solid return for a guy who’s career is pointing towards the bullpen. Even if Cashner is the next Joe Nathan, Theo Epstein might have shown us that he’s still a great talent evaluator.

More on Rizzo…

Is it a small sample size? Yes. Is Rizzo one of the best prospects in the game? Yes. Are all the signs there that Rizzo will succeed and become an every day player? Yes. Will he actually put it all together and show this at the big league level? Well.. thus far, that is yet to be seen. I wouldn’t consider myself one to jump the gun too quickly on prospects, in fact it’s usually the opposite. Once a player displays a skill, they typically have it. However there are those few who never put it together. That last jump to the next level is just too much for them.

I’m a fan of Rizzo and a believer in his skill set. If I had to lay money today on him having a solid career at the big league level, I would. However he wouldn’t be the first prospect to look overwhelmed by big league pitching and never put it all together. It’s one thing if you have a guy who showed some progression when he was called up, or someone who never hit the MLB level. It’s another

when you see a guy who’s never had any real issues hitting a fastball come up and look badly against them. The typical protocol for 4-A guys (and I’m not calling Rizzo a 4-A guy, just yet) is that they can mash a fastball but look lost against anything with a wrinkle in it. Not the case here with Rizzo, who struggled with fastballs particularly up and in on his hands.

The Padres took Yonder Alonso in the Mat Latos trade not as a throw-in, but as one of the major pieces of the deal. It’s always been the impression that he would be best suited at first, and it’s entirely possible Rizzo was being shopped well before the Alonso trade was made. If the Padres scouting department saw something they didn’t like, they had to move on while Rizzo still has value. Their payroll flexibility just doesn’t allow them to fail on assets like this.


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