The Atlanta Braves and Colorado Rockies each swung a trade for a reclamation project, as three former early picks have changed teams ahead of Friday's non-tender deadline.
Diving into the Atlanta Braves-Kansas City Royals trade
For Atlanta, the team sent Kyle Wright, who is set to miss all of 2024 after shoulder surgery, to the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Jackson Kowar. Kowar was the Royals' second of four first-round picks in 2018, joining college teammate Brady Singer amongst others. Singer's career has been up and down, while Kowar's career has simply been down. The hard-throwing Kowar initially joined the big league club as a starter in 2021, before making all of his appearances out of the bullpen in 2022 and 2023. The results have been underwhelming, with Kowar pitching to a 9.12 ERA in 74.0 innings, striking out 75 while walking 51. That's not quite the career path of a first-round pick.
Despite the ugly numbers, there may be a path toward big league viability for Kowar. With a four-seam fastball that averaged 96.9 mph last season, the arm strength certainly plays at the big league level. Batters managed a measly .227 xBA against the fastball. Where Kowar ran into trouble was with his changeup, which batters hammered to the tune of a .364 batting average and .455 slugging percentage. Still, Kowar threw his changeup 35.6 percent of the time. Against his slider, Kowar limited batters to a .191 xBA, so a usage shift may be a simple fix to improving Kowar's numbers.
Stashing him in the bullpen may be a roster solution, but Kowar does have one more option year. Kowar has started for the majority of his minor league career, where he owns a 4.36 ERA across 384.0 innings. Unless the changeup improves, I see Kowar as a fastball/slider reliever now, albeit of the low-leverage variety.
Diving into the Colorado Rockies-Cleveland Guardians trade
The Rockies acquired their own former early pick, swapping minor league catcher Kody Huff for Cal Quantrill, who was recently designated for assignment by the Cleveland Guardians.
Quantrill turned in his worst season since 2019, leading to his end with Cleveland. In 99.2 innings, the Canadian registered a 5.24 ERA, striking out just 58 batters. Concerning for Cleveland was Quantrill's career-high walk rate of 7.9 percent. With a strikeout rate in the first percentile, Quantrill's command is central to his success.
So what else went wrong? Quantrill threw roughly the same velocity across his whole arsenal, but all of his pitches performed worse than in 2022 besides the curveball. The poor performances may be tied with the decrease in command. Lacking elite velocity is not a death sentence to a big league career, but you better have a pretty nasty arsenal or elite command.
Leaving spacious Progressive Field for Coors Field will likely negatively impact Quantrill's future numbers, but I suppose someone needs to eat innings for Colorado. Should Quantrill regain his 2022 form, with both above-average command and an above-average ability to limit impact contact, Colorado may have found a stable back-end starter for cheap.