I don’t doubt there were a number of hugs shared last night, as word started circulating during the game that the Cubs were working on a trade to send dominant lefty reliever Andrew Chafin to the Oakland A’s. Soon thereafter, the Cubs made it officially official, announcing the deal that would land them two new prospects – Triple-A outfielder Greg Diechmann and Low-A righty Daniel Palencia – and send Chafin to the AL Wild-Card-leading A’s.
Chafin, 31, came to the Cubs last year in a deadline deal, and although he wasn’t all that healthy or effective in 2020, they clearly saw something in him. He was a priority re-signing, even in a tight winter, and he took things next level this year thanks to a revamped sinker. His ERA barely topped 2.00, and until his last outing, he was riding a 24+ inning scoreless streak. He’s going to be a huge boost to the A’s bullpen, and I hope we get to see him and his mustache deep into the postseason. Thank God the Cubs didn’t trade him to the Yankees!
As for the return to the Cubs, I think it’s pretty significant. What’s funny is that because the market has been so tight, and because of things like the Pirates netting two intriguing prospects for a pretty meh-looking reliever, my expectations on the Chafin return had already climbed quite a bit. I’d explored trades in the recent past for very good, non-closing rental relievers at the deadline, and while the Cubs’ return does fall in line with those trades, it definitely looks like they got the higher end of what you might expect: a top ten system prospect and a top 15/30 system prospect (albeit in a bottom third system) for a good, non-closing rental reliever might be the best return for THAT TYPE of reliever in the last five years. That’s probably a product of the tight market – good year to be a seller, I suppose! – and also the fact that Chafin is much better than most of the guys like him that have been moved.
The top ten guy, outfielder Greg Diechmann, was a 2017 second rounder – 43rd overall – under (now Cubs VP of Scouting) Dan Kantrovitz, who was then running the A’s draft. He gets a 60-70 grade on the raw power, but it hasn’t yet been his carrying tool in pro ball, as it seems like he’s been working to improve his contact (at the expense of game power). Although he just turned 26, and age certainly does matter as we project prospect development, it’s important to remember the pandemic impact on age timelines – Diechmann was drafted out of college, did rookie ball, then did High-A in 2018, Double-A in 2019, pandemic in 2020, and Triple-A in 2021. It’s a steady, normal development timeline. So that’s good.
Hitting in the very friendly confines of Las Vegas, Diechmann has posted a .300/.433/.452 line this year, which is good for a 128 wRC+ in that league. Importantly, the 23.0% strikeout rate is not egregious, and the 19.2% walk rate is eye-popping. You’d like more power production (especially in Las Vegas) from a big strong lefty bat like his, but this is hopefully just part of the development process. Work on the contact ability, make sure you don’t lose the plate discipline in the process, and then the power comes back last. We’ve seen this before.
Diechmann was ranked 8th on the updated FanGraphs A’s prospect list before the trade, and was 9th at MLB Pipeline, where they spotlight what has held him back a bit:
Nagging injuries have slowed his development, though he showed well at the Arizona Fall League in 2019 with nine homers. He also remained healthy at the alternate site last year.
The injuries led to Deichmann learning how to take care of his body and preparing for the long haul after he was often too stiff at the plate. He worked to improve his elasticity at the plate by staying on pitches more and keeping his shoulder in to cut down on his swing and miss, which allowed his walk rate to increase. The power comes naturally with his strength and natural loft.
Deichmann has a strong arm and profiles as a power-hitting corner outfielder. His baserunning skills are decent and allow him to swipe some bags despite below-average speed. The key for him will be to stay healthy.
As you know, the Cubs’ system is extremely thin on outfield talent, especially in the upper levels, so adding Diechmann could wind up a significant nearer-term move. That is not to say he’s been acquired to definitely start in a corner outfield spot in 2022 with the big league Cubs, but he certainly could get that shot. It’s possible he’ll get a look in the second half, even, but I tend to think it’s more likely he’ll finish out the year at Iowa, and will be an up-down-guy next year who gets a chance to stick if he’s really showing out. It depends a little on what happens elsewhere in the outfield for the Cubs at the corners (and also, I suppose, the addition of the DH in the NL will give Deichmann more of a shot to stick). There’s definitely everyday corner outfield regular upside here.
As a high 40+ FV guy to FanGraphs, it looks like Deichmann will rank in the 12 to 15 range in the Cubs’ system, which sounds about right.
Palencia, 21, is a really intriguing pure scouting play, and I wonder if the Cubs had some unique insight on him somehow. Although he was part of the 2019-2020 IFA class, he didn’t actually sign until February 2020, which means he wasn’t a guy who was already locked into a deal for years (and wouldn’t necessarily be a huge bonus guy, because most bonus pools were exhausted by that time). He was also a teenage pitcher out of Venezuela, both of which are factors in limiting the scouting (i.e., teenage international prospects are notoriously difficult to project, and also scouting presences in Venezuela are increasingly limited and among only a handful of organizations (including the Cubs)).
That is all to say, we don’t know a lot about Palencia! He’s only just now pitching in organized ball this year, making his debut at Low-A, which is a challenging assignment given his lack of experience, even at age 21. But the scouting reports all indicate he was a guy who popped, at least on the velocity side, running it up to triple digits this year at times. It was enough that when they had a chance to get eyes on earlier this year, the FanGraphs crew ranked Palencia the 12th best prospect in the A’s system:
He came out in 2021 Extended throwing huge heat in just an outing or two before he was sent to Stockton not long before list publication. He was 97-99 in those outings. Palencia is a squat young man with a longer arm action, but he has feel for creating bat-missing breaking ball depth, and he obviously has a huge arm. There is less track record here than is typical for most 21-year-old prospects but Palencia has a long developmental runway because he only just signed. He’s an exciting prospect because of his arm strength and breaking ball, but the rest is still out of focus because industry exposure has been limited to just a few innings.
Don’t be surprised if it’s a relatively long development process for Palencia, who is fortunately not Rule 5 eligible for a few years, so the Cubs have time to work with him. I watched some video, and it’s pretty hard not to see a future reliever there – rather than a starter – but there’s no rush there. His results so far at Low-A have been quite rough through six pro outings and 14.1 innings (11 ER, 17 H, 6 BB, 3 HBP, 4 WP, 14 K).
As a 40+ FV prospect to FanGraphs, Palencia will wind up somewhere in the teens in the Cubs’ farm system in their updated rankings, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he remains unranked by most services until there’s more time to get eyes-on or the results match the scouting.
We’ll have more on both Deichmann and Palencia soon.
As for Chafin, what else can you say? The guy was absolutely nails out there and had a ton of fun while he was doing it. We joke about the mustache, but that’s just because it kinda symbolized his laid-back, fun-loving, I’m-gonna-be-me nature, which made him so magnetic. He was smiling out there on the mound, giving thumbs up, rocking his ‘FAILED STARTER’ Obvious Shirt, and brilliant when he was mic’d up, talking about living on a boat. We knew this was coming, and relievers like Chafin are always a little more transient, so I’m glad we got to enjoy the time he was here. Hope he and his boat and his mustache kick ass in Oakland.