When we talk about the marginal value of playing the waiver wire well in the offseason, we’re usually talking about getting a couple nice depth pieces who can compete for a big league job in the Spring, and/or can head to AAA to provide some cover going forward. Occasionally, though, teams can get a little marginal value by virtue of being high enough in the waiver chain (in the offseason, it simply goes by reverse record from the previous year) and having an open 40-man spot.
To wit, the Chicago Cubs claimed lefty Mike Kickham off of waivers from the Giants last month, and, after additional signings filled the 40-man roster back up, the team had to designate Kickham for assignment to open up a spot for Chris Denorfia. But, thanks to their high waiver priority, the Cubs were able to get a different kind of value from their Kickham claim: they traded him.
Today, the Cubs sent Kickham to the Seattle Mariners for A-ball pitcher Lars Huijer. Now, as you might expect of a player the Cubs essentially got for free, Kickham wasn’t going to net them a ton – but a free pitching prospect is a free pitching prospect. And this free pitching prospect is actually worth noting.
Huijer, 21, was signed as a teenager out of the Netherlands, and worked his way up to High-A this past season. Sparing you the carnage, suffice it to say that Huijer’s statistics in 2014 were not pretty. But the thing is, the guy is 6’4″, 200+ lbs with a lot of projection in his body. So much so that MLB.com ranked him the Mariners’ 17th best prospect after the season. He’s not a high strikeout guy, and instead focuses on keeping the ball on the ground. From MLB.com:
Huijer has an interesting three-pitch mix to go along with some projectability. He throws a sinking fastball — mostly in the upper-80s — that generates a lot of ground balls. He can also throw his mid-70s curve and upper-70s changeup for strikes. Huijer does a good job of keeping the ball down in the zone.
Huijer was the Mariners’ 28th-ranked prospect to Baseball America (Handbook) before the 2014 season, so MLB.com might be the outlier on his ability. But even BA was touting his projectability, noting that he could add a little velocity as he fills out, and that he has good feel and deception, especially down in the zone.
So, Huijer is a project with upside. He doesn’t appear to be the classically attractive young pitching prospect, but then, that’s why he was available in this kind of deal in the first place. He’s not going to be a top 30 guy in the Cubs’ system right now, but he’s easily worth following in 2015.
You may be wondering why the Cubs traded Kickham – himself a quality pitching prospect, and likely better than Huijer – to the Mariners for a lesser arm. Well, that’s just a roster thing. Kickham has to be kept on the 40-man roster, and Huijer – for 2015, anyway – does not (he’s Rule 5 eligible after this season, though). For the Cubs, with an overflowing 40-man as it is, this is a very worthwhile swap, especially when you consider that they got Kickham for free.
Huijer is the second arm the Cubs have added from the Mariners’ system this offseason, having already sent Justin Ruggiano to Seattle for Matt Brazis. Wonder if Huijer’s name was kicked around at that time, too.