Just after the sun set on Monday, the Cincinnati Reds finally stirred the MLB trade deadline pot, sending outfielder Adam Duvall to the Atlanta Braves for right-handed pitchers Lucas Sims and Matt Wisler and outfielder Preston Tucker.
The Reds’ motivation for moving Duvall was multifaceted. He is about to be arbitration-eligible, which means he is about to get more expensive for whatever team is employing him. He also displays great power and defense that make him an attractive commodity for other teams. The emergence of Scott Schebler and Jesse Winker and the elite skills of Billy Hamilton, however, combined to make Duvall probably the fourth-best outfielder in the organization when everyone’s healthy, meaning he was expendable. Enter the Braves, just half a game back of the National League East division lead and very much in the thick of the Wild Card race, looking to add pieces that could help them down the stretch.
The trade itself was a strange one, as it featured zero players with prospect status. On top of that, Sims and Wisler are two pitchers who once occupied spots among the top 50 prospects in all of baseball, before falling off in recent years. That being said, they’re still just 24 and 25 years old, respectively, meaning there is still time for development and growth, and the Reds are hoping a change of scenery is just the thing that triggers a turnaround for one or both of them.
The most comprehensive scouting report you’ll find on Sims is this one Talking Chop put together exactly one year ago today. To give you the short version: Sims was drafted with No. 2 starter upside, and displayed that kind of stuff in his first taste of pro ball. His mechanical flaws began to take hold once he reached High-A ball, though, and he went into a funk that took more than a year to correct. He improved enough at AAA in 2017 to warrant his first big-league call-up, during which he struggled, leading to him pitching most of this year back at the AAA level.
Sims has a rather pedestrian fastball, sitting in the low-to-mid 90s, though it’s touched 98 in the past. At one time, it flashed impressive horizontal movement, though these days it pretty much stays flat. His calling card is his curveball, which has consistently been a plus pitch at each level of the minors. Sims can throw it for strikes at will, while also getting whiffs by using it as a put-away pitch late in counts. He’ll also throw a changeup occasionally, another pitch that has graded out as plus but doesn’t get much usage.
Reds President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams identified Sims as the centerpiece of this particular deal, and that makes sense. He just turned 24 in May, and had a strong AAA season, holding a 2.84 ERA and 3.67 FIP in AAA Gwinnett. He also has two big-league-ready off-speed pitches, which is something of a rarity.
His issues, however, are similar to those of current Reds farmhand Robert Stephenson. Sims racks up strikeouts quickly, but also falls into trouble with walks, and can get burned too often leaving pitches elevated in the zone. He struck out 10.2 batters per nine at AAA this year, and walked 4.1 per nine. In 10.1 MLB innings, he’s struck out 10 and walked eight, allowing nine runs.
All told, it remains tough to tell what Sims’ outlook is. His stuff is probably enough to make him at least a big-league reliever in the longterm, but it goes without saying that the Reds are hoping for more than that. Williams and the rest of the organization view him as a starter, someone who can put it all together and be a mid-rotation cog for years to come. His first extended look in Great American Ball Park will be interesting.
The other arm in the deal, Wisler, is a much different pitcher from Sims. Yet another former top prospect of the Braves, Wisler earned his first call-up during the 2015 season, and experienced all the ups and downs of a typical rookie campaign. He made 20 appearances and finished with a 4.71 ERA, striking out 72 and walking 40 in 109 innings. Unfortunately, that’s just about the best he’s looked as a big-leaguer. He threw a career-high 156.2 innings in 2016 with a 5.00 ERA, and hasn’t been able to stick in the majors since, throwing just 59 innings over the last two seasons combined.
Wisler, 25, has shown impressive control throughout his professional career, commanding a career BB/9 mark of 2.4 in 976.2 innings between the majors and minors. Unfortunately for him, he hasn’t been able to complement that with impressive strikeout totals, as he carries a career K/9 of just 6.4 in his major league career.
So what makes him attractive to the Reds? Like Sims, Wisler comes with top prospect pedigree and some time left for development. He’s also shown some of that development already this year, striking out more batters per nine (8.36) in the minors than any year he’s had since 2012. A big reason for that is his slider, which generates whiffs on nearly 20 percent of swings.
Tucker, 28, was the third piece in this trade, and something of a throw-in. He’s gotten 127 big-league plate appearances this season, and owns a decent .256/.307/.444 line (105 OPS+). He’ll join a crowded Cincinnati outfield, and given his age and lack of track record, will need to impress quickly in order to stick around.
All in all, this strikes me as a solid deal for the Reds. The team is in dire need of young pitching, and it got that on Monday, bringing in two arms who are ready to prove whether or not they can stick on an MLB staff. That the Reds got them for a 29-year-old outfielder who wasn’t going to figure into their long-term plans anyway makes this something of a shrewd move for the front office. More young arms is always a good thing, and now Sims and Wisler will be added to the stack of Mahle/Romano/Garrett/Stephenson/Reed as guys the Reds organization hopes can morph into a solid big-league rotation as the club nears contention.