The trade deadline came and went, and for the second season in a row, the Minnesota Twins shipped an All-Star out as closer Brandon Kintzler was traded to the Washington Nationals for left-handed pitching prospect Tyler Watson and $500k in international bonus pool money, the Twins announced.
— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) July 31, 2017
Kintzler’s Twins tenure ends with a 2.98 ERA (3.64 FIP) in 99.2 innings across parts of two seasons. Kintzler, who turns 33 on Tuesday and will be a free agent at season’s end, had allowed 100 hits with 62 strikeouts (5.6 K/9) and 19 walks (1.7 BB/9) while saving 45 games with the team. It’s unclear what Kintzler’s role will be with the Nationals, who acquired both Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle from the A’s earlier in the month, but he’s durable and versatile enough to pitch in just about any role. He leads the AL in games finished with 41, and his penchant for grounders (61.9 percent last season, 53.9 percent this season) will allow him to come into sticky situations and induce double-play grounders as well.
— MLB Network Radio (@MLBNetworkRadio) July 31, 2017
Keeping the ball on the ground is also key in this new era of increased home runs in MLB, as Kintzler went from allowing 0.83 home runs per nine innings last year to just 0.6 per nine this season. Kintzler is basically a two-pitch pitcher, as he attacks with zone primarily with sinkers, but will mix in a slider every now and then.
His backstory is also impressive, as he went from two-time 40th-round pick to out of baseball altogether. Then, he took the Indy Ball route with Winnipeg and also the St. Paul Saints before he resurfaced in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Kintzler was a key cog in the Brewers bullpen before a leg injury wiped out his tenure there, with the Twins picking him up as a minor-league free agent prior to the 2016 season. Now, with his first free-agent payday not that far off, he’ll get a chance to chase postseason dreams to finish off his feel-good story.
Watson, who just turned 20 in May, is 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, and has spent the entire year at High-A Hagerstown. Watson has made 18 appearances (17 starts) with 98 strikeouts in 93 innings (9.5 K/9) to go along with 24 walks (2.3 BB/9) and a 1.25 WHIP. His ERA is an iffy 4.35, but that comes via a .333 BABIP. He’s held opposing batters to a .258/.313/.393 batting line this season, though he has been a bit more susceptible to lefties (.807 OPS) than righties (.650). The low slugging percentage against can be traced to a groundball rate of 49 percent, and his numbers are clouded by what has been a tough July.
Coming into the month, Watson had a 3.36 ERA, .627 OPS against and 84-22 K/BB ratio in 75 innings. However, he’s allowed 17 earned runs in 18 July innings (8.50 ERA) with an OPS allowed of .975 (.441 BABIP).
Prior to the trade, MLB Pipeline had Watson as the No. 17 prospect in the Nationals system. Watson was ticketed to head to Loyola Marymount before the Nats plucked him in the 34th round of the 2015 draft and gave him $400k to sign. The report on him from MLB Pipeline is that his fastball rarely exceeds 90 mph, but plays above that velocity due to him locating it to all quadrants of the strike zone. “What’s more,” the report says, “the left-hander is sure to add more velocity as he grows into his frame. Watson’s curveball is his best secondary offering, thrown with tight spin and good downer action, and he continues to make strides with a changeup that has average potential.”
Ultimately, MLB Pipeline sees mid-rotation potential if he can improve a third pitch.
Matt Garrioch of MLBProspectGuide.com tells Zone Coverage that Watson was a pitcher who should have gone in the top five rounds of the draft, but fell due to bonus demands. Here’s his full report:
“…88-92 (mph) with more in him. Potential average curve and change. Has good command for his age. Some funk to his delivery. Shows potential to be a #3-4 starter. Was a top 5 round guy out of HS but signability pushed him down. Overslot signing for Nats.”
The age comment is interesting, as Watson is still nearly two years younger than his average Southern Atlantic League counterpart. Watson was an All-Star this year in the Southern Atlantic League, and was also an All-Star in the New York-Penn League in 2016.
Baseball America had Watson as Washington’s No. 27 prospect coming into this season, and adds that he’s “advanced for his age” and still has some projectability in his frame. With that, he could eventually sit in the low-90s with his fastball, and with his pitchability draws praise for his “poise and confidence on the mound.”
MinorLeagueBall.com listed Watson as Washington’s No. 14 prospect, and said he’d have gone 30 rounds higher if not for his strong college commitment. John Sickels calls him a “highly intriguing prospect with breakthrough potential,” but doesn’t expect him to see the big leagues until 2020.
LHP Tyler Watson assigned to @CRKernels . Dom Carlini to DL (shoulder inflammation).
— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) July 31, 2017
Ultimately, for a two-month or so rental of Kintzler — a pitcher the Twins signed for absolutely nothing — it appears as though Thad Levine and Derek Falvey did well to get value back. The international money is not an insignificant amount either, as the Twins came into the period with $5.25 million to spend.