Exchanging Zach Lee and Chris Taylor is win-win for Dodgers and Mariners

The Dodgers have traded right-handed pitcher Zach Lee to the Mariners for shortstop/second baseman Chris Taylor in what seems like a nice piece of business for both teams.

As you all know by now, Lee was a much-hyped first-round draft pick of the Dodgers back in 2010, and it was seen as a coup when they managed to lure him away from a potential quarterback job at LSU with $5.25 million. However, Lee never progressed as anticipated, and instead of his stuff taking a step forward, everything actually took a step back. Prior to the 2014 season was the last time he was ranked as a top-100 prospect by either Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, or MLB.com, and coming into this year he was unranked as a prospect in the Dodgers system by Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, while MLB.com had him at #21 (and he would probably be lower if those rankings were redone today).

Lee made just one appearance in the majors for the Dodgers, getting a start against the Mets and allowing 11 hits and a walk over 4.2 innings while surrendering seven runs. Lee has a career ERA of 3.98 in 720 innings in the minors across all levels, but this year at AAA he has a 4.89 ERA in 73.2 innings.

Taylor was a fifth-round draft pick by the Mariners in 2012 out of the University Of Virginia. Taylor primarily plays shortstop, but can also play second base (did so a lot recently in the minors), and he has a career .240/.296/.296/.593 slash over 256 career plate appearances in parts of three major-league seasons. While his stats in the majors are unimpressive, he has hit a bunch in the minors, including .305/.387/.435/.822 across all levels in 2188 plate appearances or .313/.392/.460/.852 in AAA in 1010 plate appearances. In 2016, Taylor has a .311/.388/.459/.847 line at AAA in 277 PA and is 1-for-3 with two strikeouts across two games in the majors.

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This deal seems to be a nice bit of work for the Dodgers, as Lee has been surpassed in the pecking order by a gaggle of other pitching prospects in a thriving system and was unlikely to be a contributor at the major-league level for them. In return, the Dodgers addressed their complete dearth of shortstop depth behind Corey Seager on both the major-league roster and the advanced minors. Currently, Enrique Hernandez is the backup shortstop on the Dodgers roster and he’s not a natural there, while the only other semi-viable option at the position in either AAA or AA is Charlie Culberson. Meanwhile, the best prospect at the position for the Dodgers (besides 2016 first-rounder Gavin Lux) is probably 18-year-old Brendon Davis in A-ball.

So yeah, suffice to say the Dodgers needed a backup shortstop, and it seems like they got a decent one in Taylor.

Back in 2014, Taylor was the #5 ranked prospect by MLB.com in the Mariners system, drawing this scouting report.

Taylor is a contact hitter with the ability to spray the ball to all fields with a short, compact swing. He does not try to power the ball out of the park. He is best described as a hitter who will take advantage of a pitcher’s mistakes.

Although he doesn’t hit home runs, he has enough pop in his bat and a swing that is generated with the barrel of the bat, to hit the gaps. He has hit 40 doubles in his 837 plate appearances so far.

This past season, Taylor won the Mariners Minor League Player of the Year Award. In addition, speed is one of his most refined tools, if not the most. Between High Desert and Jackson, he stole 38 bases, using his speed to position himself to score 108 runs for the two teams combined.

A right-handed batter, the 6-foot, 170-pound Taylor hit .321 against right-handed pitching and a very fine .294 against lefties. His only real slump came in July.

Taylor has quick feet and good instincts. His range to both sides and coming in on balls is good. He gets rid of the ball quickly and has a strong and accurate arm. He has enough ability to play shortstop. He just isn’t flashy.

Baseball Prospectus ranked him at #7 in the Mariners system in 2014, and when he was called up in July, they had this to say.

Scouting Report: Taylor is a polished talent with louder tools than he receives credit for; the arm is strong enough to make left-side throws, the actions at short are clean and athletic, he’s a legit plus runner and he has hard contact ability with the solid-average hit tool. He lacks major-league average power but uses all fields and has gap pop, which keeps his bat from playing empty, and he understands his own strike zone, so will put together good at-bats and force pitchers to beat him. It’s a soft profile in the sense that he isn’t likely to emerge as a middle-of-the-lineup threat or Gold Glove level defender, but he’s basically the prototype for an average player at the major-league level, with more value to the average team because of his defensive ability at a premium spot and his catalytic ability on the bases.

Immediate Impact: Taylor’s bat-to-ball skills, legs, and ability to play shortstop are going to allow him to hold his own at the major-league level right out of the gate. It’s never going to be special and he’s always going to have to prove himself because of the higher ceiling talent that exists at the position elsewhere in the org, but his fundamental baseball ability will make him a safer choice for major-league reps going forward. I had one scouting director refer to Taylor as a Ryan Theriot type, a player who doesn’t receive much credit but enjoys a respectable career at the major-league level and brings more to a team than the stat sheet might suggest. It’s not the worst comp for Taylor.

While those are obviously dated reports, not a ton appears to have changed since then. However, now instead of hoping he’ll scratch his way into a role as a regular, evaluators believe he can hold down a reserve spot.

If Chris Taylor works out as most expect, he’s exactly the type of up-the-middle utility guy the Dodgers need in their system, and Zach Lee wasn’t likely to help the Dodgers or be traded for a much better return than this. While I don’t know much about what the Mariners need, I do recall that they have a bunch of middle infielders, and so on the surface this seems like it has the potential to be a quality win-win type of trade for both sides.

About Chad Moriyama

Chad Moriyama
"A highly rational Internet troll." - Los Angeles Times