Relievers are always in demand come the trade deadline. Teams always need an extra arm in the bullpen, and if you’re going to look outside of your organization, you want to get a good one. This July, the big name was Heath Bell, and he had been in trade rumors for close to two seasons. Scouts and analysts, however, wondered if one of his teammates, Mike Adams, was actually a better pitcher. While the Padres looked for a higher return for their “closer”, the Rangers swept in and traded for Adams, who had a lower price tag but similar or maybe even superior talent. In return, they traded away two highly-touted pitching prospects in Robby Erlin and Joe Weiland.
Both pitchers began the season in High-A Myrtle Beach, and they thoroughly dominated in their time there. Robbie Erlin had a 10.2 K/9 and a miniscule 0.8 BB/9 with a 2.14 ERA, and he was given a quick promotion to AA Frisco. Erlin has encountered more trouble in AA (4.32 ERA), but his peripherals remain strong with an 8.2 K/9 and 0.9 BB/9. The problem is that he’s giving up more hits. After only gibing up 25 in 54 innings at High-A, he’s given up 73 in 66 in AA. Wieland has similarly excelled this season. With a 10.1 K/9 and 0.4 BB/9, Wieland was perhaps a bit better than Erlin, and he hasn’t seen the same issues Erlin has in AA. While his peripherals are worse than Erlin’s (7.4 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, and his HR rates are much lower), Wieland has surrendered fewer hits, 35 in 44 innings. If I was simply going by pitching performance, I might actually favor Erlin because of the peripherals, but I do wonder about him being too hittable. So let’s go to the scouting reports.
Erlin isn’t your prototypical size for a pitcher at 6 feet and 175, but he is muscular and should be able to hold up. His stuff also does not reflect the results they get. His fastball sits 89-91 and his secondary pitches, a curveball and change-up, rate as above-average but not quite plus. What makes him special, as you can see from the previous paragraph, is exceptional command, which makes his pitches play up. If he maintains the command, he could be a very useful middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, but he doesn’t have much room for error, as he has little projection left.
Wieland is a year older at 21, but he is very similar otherwise. He throws a fastball at 88-92, and his secondary pitches are good but not plus. Wieland has a curveball, slider, and change-up, but the change-up is noticeably behind the other two. Like Erlin, however, the pitches play up due to excellent command, but he doesn’t have much room for error, either. Wieland is probably more of a 4/5 as his lack of change-up will limit his production against left-handed hitters, whereas Erlin has weapons against both sides of the plate.
For a year and two months of a reliever, the Rangers paid a high price, but it should be added that the two prospects could very well end up in the bullpen as well if there command and stuff don’t play as well in higher levels. Overall, this seems like a fair trade for both teams. The Rangers get a upper-tier reliever for the stretch run and next season, and the Padres get more rotation depth, as Petco will shelter the two somewhat.