After the major trade of James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals, the Rays may not be making another blockbuster deal for quite a while. But they still have needs to fill and moves to make and they made another one on Thursday, acquiring infielder Vince Belnome from the San Diego Padres for left-hander Chris Rearick.
Belnome, who will turn 25 in March, is coming off a solid but injury-riddled season primarily at the Padres’ Triple-A Tuscan affiliate. Taking out 7 rehab games at Rookie ball and High-A, Belnome managed a .275/.380/.384 line with 11 doubles, 5 homers, 33 RBI, 5 of 6 stolen bases, and 72 strikeouts versus 43 walks in 80 games and 303 plate appearances while seeing time at every infield position but shortstop. For Rays prospects watchers, your first reaction to Belnome’s stats is that he’s very similar to another infielder the Rays acquired from the Padres, Cole Figueroa, who was teammates with Belnome in 2009 and 2010. Belnome’s 2012 numbers were very similar to Figueroa’s 2011 numbers at Double-A where he posted a .283/375/.398 line with 5 home runs. That being said, he appears to have worse plate discipline although he’s still above-average, and his numbers really aren’t as good as they seem because the Triple-A Pacific Coast League where he played in is a hitter’s paradise. But what makes Belnome interesting is his numbers from 2010 and 2011. In 2010 at High-A, he managed a .273/.397/.436 line with 16 home runs in 606 plate appearances and in 2012 he got into just 75 games but managed a .333/.432/.603 line at Double-A with 17 homers in 318 plate appearances.
Vince Belnome has never been that highly regarded as a prospect, beginning when he was a 28th round draft pick back in 2009 by the Padres, but he has flat-out hit everywhere he has gone, managing a .300/.414/.487 line in 1588 plate appearances. Belnome, a lefty batter, features a smooth thing and excels at hitting the ball the other way with good plate discipline and solid power. A question with Belnome is whether his power is going to continue to surface at higher levels, as we saw was a problem in 2012, especially considering his bat speed is just average. In order for that to happen, his plate discipline is going to have to be really good wherever he goes, and Belnome did walk at a 14.4% clip at Triple-A in 2012, but he struck out in 23.5% of his plate appearances and doesn’t cut it. In terms of his platoon splits, Belnome is certainly better against right-handed pitching, managing a .302/.402/.462 line against them in 2012 with even better numbers in the past, but he isn’t unplayable against lefties, managing a .361 OBP in 2012 although just a .233 batting average and a .267 SLG as his power was completely sapped, and he actually hit to a .267/.394/.372 line against lefties in 2011 (again, notice the lack of power even though he hit better). Defensively, Belnome has good arm strength but is a slow runner with poor range. He’s a halfway-decent second baseman but below-average basically everywhere else. The bottom line with Belnome is that he has to continue to prove that he can stay healthy and that he can hit. His upside is an average big league second baseman with solid 15-homer power and a good OBP or a good bat-first utility man, but the Rays are reasonably hoping for a potential platoon bat against right-handed pitching who is a solid hitter with a little power. He’s not the most exciting player, but he looks like he can break into the big leagues for the Rays by the end of next season if he can stay healthy and give the Rays a fair contribution to their 2013 effort.
In Rearick, the Rays are losing their Organizational Reliever of the Year for the past two years but not a player with very much upside. Rearick, who turned 25 earlier this month, dominated at High-A to begin 2012, managing a 1.79 ERA and a 59-15 strikeout to walk ratio and not a single homer allowed in 45.2 IP, but he was much worse at Double-A, managing a 4.38 ERA, a 9.5 K/9, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 1.5 HR/9 in 24.2 innings pitched. Rearick, who is 6’3″, 190, is a little interesting because he has a chance to be more than just a situational lefty. Rearick’s fastball is just in the 88-90 MPH range and he controls it well but doesn’t command it consistently, which was a big reason he allowed all the homers at Double-A. His best pitch is his low-80′s slider with sharp, tight break, that he can throw to both lefties and righties, but the issue with Rearick moving forward is that it’s most effective when he can establish his fastball, and it’s questionable whether he’ll be able to do that moving forward. He also throws a decent changeup as another pitch he can throw to right-handed batters. Rearick’s upside is a lefty middle reliever who comes in for lefties but doesn’t have to be taken out if theres’s a righty in between, and he still has to conquer Double-A and Triple-A before he can get there.
In this trade, the Rays are trading a pitcher with modest upside for a player with some talent and the ability to contribute to their big league team next season. The Rays are taking on some risk, but worst-case scenario is that Rearick becomes a solid but replaceable reliever at the big league level while Belnome doesn’t hit or can’t stay healthy, which is far from a catastrophe, and the potential reward could be another productive utility player the Rays have produced. This won’t be a trade that Andrew Friedman hangs his hat on, but it gives the Rays to get a solid big leaguer who can come out of nowhere and help the Rays win ballgames over the next few years. The high-profile moves like the Shields for Wil Myers trade get all the attention and deservingly so, but sometimes it’s the subtle moves like this trade that make the difference between being a playoff team or sitting on the couch in October.