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Early Returns: The Christian Yelich Trade

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With roughly half a season in the books, did the Marlins get enough for Christian Yelich?

MLB: Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Stats current through 7/1 games

This past January, the Marlins traded the final piece away from their star-studded outfield to the Brewers in 26-year-old Christian Yelich, who figured to be one of their main run producers along with catcher J.T. Realmuto. With roughly half of the 2018 season in the books, we can start to examine the return that Miami fetched.

Yelich has taken well to the change of scenery. After posting 5.3 fWAR in 2016 and 4.4 fWAR in 2017, the lefty swinger has earned a spot near the top of Milwaukee’s lineup. With a slash of .289/.364/.471 to go along with 11 home runs, 10 stolen bases and 34 runs batted in across 297 plate appearances, it’s safe to say that the Brew Crew are pleased thus far. And this is just the beginning, considering Yelich will be under contract through the 2021 season with a cool $15 million club option for 2022.

In return for Yelich, Milwaukee sent four pieces to Miami: outfielders Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison, second baseman Isan Diaz, and pitcher Jordan Yamamoto.


Lewis Brinson

MLB: New York Mets at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest name in the deal is the club’s new starting center fielder in Lewis Brinson. The early returns have featured a mixed bag, as Brinson has shown off his promise at the plate in stints, but has also been a bit lost along the way, as evidenced by his 30.7% strikeout rate. Overall the 24-year-old has slashed .186/.231/.343 to go along with 10 home runs, one stolen base, and 30 runs batted in. Perhaps the most concerning is just the single stolen base, considering Brinson has always been graded out as a plus runner.

When FanGraphs lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen examined the trade back in January, he had this to say about Brinson:

Some people just don’t think he’s going to hit, but Brinson has made relevant swing adjustments multiple times as a pro and his strikeout rate has dropped every season. It’s been a very reasonable 20% over the last two years and he has monster complementary tools in plus power and plus speed.

The K rate hovering around 30% is concerning when reading that comment on the surface, but Brinson was better overall in June, slashing .267/.301/.547 with four home runs and 13 runs batted in. Perhaps the most encouraging sign piggybacks on what Longenhagen detailed in relevant swing adjustments, as Brinson has cut his strikeout rate down, although it is still worse than league average at just a shade under 27%.

When examining Brinson’s batted balls profile in 2018, we find that he’s making good contact, with a hard hit percentage of 40.0% to go along with a 41.6% medium hit percentage. Digging deeper, the low .233 BABIP is affecting his overall slash line. He’s having a bit of bad luck over our limited sample.

It’s important to remember that Brinson is still just 24 years old and has made necessary adjustments at every stop along the way in the minor leagues. He’s had a history of some health problems, but he’s appeared in 82 of the club’s 85 games so far in 2018, which is a big step forward in his development. It’s easy to get frustrated with some of the struggles as he swings at too many pitches out of the zone, but with the club in last place in the division, development of young players is vital. If Brinson can right some of the aforementioned issues, he possesses all the tools to be a star with plays like this with the leather...

Or with blasts like this one at the dish...

Monte Harrison

The second piece involved in the deal was 22-year-old outfielder Monte Harrison. Much like Brinson, the Missouri native possesses loud tools that give him an opportunity to be a star at the big league level. In fact, FanGraphs gave him a rare grade 80 on his arm. A snippet from that write-up by Longenhagen got Marlins fans excited:

Great athletes with good makeup have the ability and aptitude to make adjustments. For Harrison this year, that came by way of a big, aggressive leg kick (that he ditches with two strikes) and a lower hand position as he sets up, similar to what Keon Broxton has adopted. Harrison’s hands still drift up near his head as he loads them and create a downward swing path; he’s also still not used to timing breaking balls with this new leg kick. He remains strikeout prone because of this, but more adjustments are possible.

Harrison is a plus runner with elite arm strength and projects to stay in center field, where he profiles as an above-average defender. When you start comparing Harrison’s tools to those of other big-league center fielders, even if you assume he’s going to be strikeout prone at peak, they look something like what Taylors Michael A. and Chris possess. There’s still some volatility here because of the bat, but Harrison has an All-Star ceiling and seems hell bent on attaining it.

Harrison has impressed with Double-A Jacksonville, although there are some red flags, such as the hideous 37.9% K rate. The slash line of .233/.322/.406 looks fine on the surface, but some of that is likely buoyed by an unsustainable BABIP of .366. The righty/lefty splits are a bit drastic, even if they are being posted in small sample sizes thus far...

The 11 home runs and 19 stolen bases on 23 attempts justify Harrison’s ranking as the 61st-best prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. And as Longenhagen detailed, superior athletes like Harrison tend to correct their issues long term, making him a very exciting piece in the Marlins organization.

It may be another year (or two) until he’s roaming the Miami outfield, but we are all hoping that one day he drops bombs like this three-run walk-off home run at Marlins Park...

Isan Diaz

One could argue that he’s among the most forgotten pieces from all the deals this past winter. Celebrating his 22nd birthday in May, the left-handed hitter struggled for much of the beginning of 2018, having just a .196 batting average as the month of May came to an end. The month of June was a different story, as Diaz hit .325 and swiped six bags and added a home run across 101 plate appearances. Such a performance moved him up the ladder to the 79th-best prospect in baseball, according to the updated list on FanGraphs.

Here’s what Longenhagen had to say about Diaz prior to the season:

Diaz continued a long anticipated transition from shortstop to second base in 2017 and saw more time at second than short for the first time in his career. He has an above-average arm but fringey hands and range. HIs combination of plus power, patience, and ability to play an up-the-middle position — even if he’s only fringe to average there — give him star potential despite likely issues with contact. His uppercut swing is going to lead to strikeouts, but he picks the right pitches to drive and could hit 25 bombs at peak.

The two biggest questions for Diaz will likely be how much of his raw power he can consistently translate into game power and how much his ability to take walks at the plate will help offset his strikeout issues. On one hand, he has hit just six home runs on the campaign, but again, this is his first taste of Double-A and he’s relatively young for that level of competition. If he is able to hit 15-25 home runs playing a viable second base, that will be valuable to a big league team. The swing and launch angle seems to be one that will generate a fair share of bombs—to all fields—if the contact is consistent:

On the other hand, Diaz’s walk rate has continued to climb in 2018, up to 14.6%. The strikeout rate is also slightly up to 27.2%, which is a bit of a concern going forward (just like with Brinson and Harrison). If Diaz is able to cut that rate down some, he could reach his ceiling as a strong No. 2 hitter.

With Starlin Castro being a prominent trade candidate as the calendar turns to July, Diaz could put himself in line to compete for a starting job at the keystone in 2019. A strong finish down the home stretch of the Jumbo Shrimp’s season could prove he is ready for a big league trial.

Jordan Yamamoto

The last piece of the Yelich return was the only pitcher shipped to Miami. Yamamoto got a late start to the year after spending nearly two months on the disabled list in High-A Jupiter. Yamamoto has logged 34 23 innings across six starts, posting a 1.30 ERA to match a 2.09 FIP with a 9.09 K/9 and 1.82 BB/9. In other words, he’s been pretty good across his six outings (Editor’s note: more of the same in his seventh outing). Yamamoto is repeating the level as he gets back to full health, so we will know more about his outlook once he faces stiffer competition at Double-A.

The 22-year-old is generally regarded as one of the top 30 prospects in the organization, though most project his future to be in the bullpen. Longenhagen had this interesting tidbit on Yamamoto back in March:

His curveball spins in the upper 2000-rpm range, just shy of elite levels, but the spin isn’t always effective due to Yamamoto’s lower slot.

Trying to find videos of said spin rate isn’t an easy task, but here’s a clip from last August in which Yamamoto was making hitters look pretty silly:

A general rule of thumb is that a plus breaking ball in the low levels of the minors will make hitters look pretty silly, and that’s exactly what happened to a few of the batters in the footage.

While the young right-hander undoubtedly possesses the ability to play a role on a big league roster, it’s probably best to take a wait-and-see approach as he moves up the ranks. Just note, for now, that he’s pitching as well as the Marlins could’ve hoped for.


The final verdict for this trade is well in the future. Miami won’t know if they received an adequate return for an All-Star-caliber player for several years. With that being said, Brinson and Harrison both have flashed some of the tools that make it easy to see a star down the road, Diaz looks to be molding into the second baseman of the not so distant future, and Yamamoto looks like a very intriguing throw-in.

Analyzing a trade that features mostly prospects after half of season is foolish, but these guys could all be key pieces on the other side of the rebuild. Until then, #Re2pectTheProcess.