Exactly 1 week before the MLB trade deadline of July 31st, the Texas Rangers sent RHP Joakim Soria to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Minor League pitcher’s and fellow Texans, Jake Thompson (Rockwall-Heath HS) and Corey Knebel (Georgetown HS/UT).
On December 4th, 2012, The Rangers inked Joakim Soria to a two year-8 million dollar deal that include a club option worth 7 million for the 2015 season. Recovering from Tommy-John surgery, Soria only pitched in 23 games for the Rangers in 2013 with a 3.80 ERA in 23 ⅔ innings.
As the Rangers sat at the bottom of the A.L West, J.D received plenty of calls on his Closer. With the Padres already getting a solid return on Closer Huston Street from the Angels, Joakim Soria was then the top reliever left on the market. With a pretty reasonable option for next season, any team willing to pay the price would not only get Soria for one pennant chase, but two.
After the Detroit Tigers signing of Joe Nathan for 2 years and 20 million this offseason, Nathan had pitched 36 ⅔ innings with a poor 5.89 ERA, and had converted 20 out of 25 saves. Not to mention the Tigers had the 26th highest bullpen ERA among all teams. at the time. Needless to say, the Tigers were desperate for bullpen help and willing to pay a very steep price for the Rangers closer.
Some may remember that it was shortly after watching a pitiful Yankee grounds crew attempt to unroll a tarp, news broke of the trade that sent Soria to the Tigers. In Win-Now mode the Tigers bolstered their bullpen in hopes of a 4th straight division title and second World Series in 3 years, giving up their #2 prospect RHP Jake Thompson and #4 prospect RHP Corey Knebel according to Baseball America’s mid season ratings.
Prior to the trade, Soria looked to be back on his way to becoming an elite closer again. Converting 16/18 of save opportunities, Soria had a 42/4 K/BB ratio along with striking out 11.34 batters per 9 innings and opposing hitters hitting just .195 against him in his time with the Rangers this year.
Now wearing a new uniform, Soria only pitched in 6 games giving up 5 runs in 4⅓ innings before going on the DL with a strained oblique muscle until being activated September 9th. After the injury, Soria appeared in 7 games for the Tigers, tossing 6⅔ innings, allowing only 3 hits and 1 run. As Detroit looks to win their fourth consecutive A.L Division Series, Soria looks like the pitcher they expected he would be at the deadline
Now we take a look at Pitcher Jake Thompson, who pitched Rockwall-Heath to the State Championship in 2012. Jake was drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft and is listed at 6’4 and 235 pounds. The 20 year old Texas righty throws a Fastball in the low 90’s, a Slider that profiles as a + Major League strikeout pitch, a Curveball and a developing Changeup with good command of all pitches. Most Scouts view Thompson as a Middle of the Rotation Starter, something like a Derek Holland or Martin Perez but if not that he could still be a solid Back end of the Rotation Starter. Thompson spent 2013 in the Midwest league for the West Michigan Whitecaps posting a 3.13 ERA in 83 ⅓ IP striking out 9.8 batters per 9 innings and allowing 91/32 K/BB. In 2014 he was promoted to High-A Lakeland where he threw 83 innings, posted a 3.14 ERA and struck out 8.6 batter per 9 innings with 79/25 K/BB. After promoted to Double-A for the Tigers, Thompson made 2 starts, throwing 11 innings and only allowing 3 runs before being shipped to Texas.
Thompson did not disappoint in his 6 starts with the Roughriders pitching 35⅔ innings, striking out 11.1 batters per 9 innings and owning a 3.28 ERA. The Rockwall righty could possibly be one of the only Minor Leaguers in Baseball still living at home with his parents during the season (I’m assuming) as Rockwall is only 40 minutes away from Dr Pepper Ballpark. It is most likely that Thompson will start next season back in Frisco with the possibility of seeing time in Round Rock at the end of the year.
The other player in this deal is former Texas Longhorn Pitcher, Corey Knebel. The 22 year old Righty is 6’3 and 195 pounds. His Fastball is anywhere from 93-98, averaging 95, with a power breaking ball as well as a changeup to go with solid command. Mechanic-wise he has some funk in his delivery and is a max-effort pitcher. Scouts think that Knebel has the necessary tools and makeup to be a successful big league closer. In 2013 Knebel threw 31 innings with a 0.87 ERA in Low-A, striking out 11.9 batter per 9 innings with 44/10 K/BB. In 2014 for the Tigers he split time with AA/AAA and had a combined ERA of 1.62 in 33 ⅓ innings holding a 43/17 K/BB and striking out 11.6 batter per 9 innings. Knebel also appeared in 8 games this year for the Detroit, giving up 6 runs in 8 innings.
Knebel only threw 12 innings with the Triple-A Round Rock after the trade due to a sprain in his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL). If everything goes well with his throwing program, Knebel should be ready to throw again by November 1st. Look for him to be a solid candidate to make the Rangers bullpen next year if healthy.
Soria was a fun player to watch and a great closer but with the market for bullpen help so high, sometimes you gotta restock the farm in hopes the new guys can help you get to 162+ another year. It is a lot more fun to be on the buying side of the trade market with hopes of Flags Flying Forever, but this trade is just another example of how elite our front office is.