Dodgers land Drew Jackson and Aneurys Zabala for Chase De Jong in win-win deal

Chase De Jong (Photo: Stacie Wheeler)

The Dodgers made a trade with the Mariners — their fifth since December of 2015. They sent right-handed pitching prospect Chase De Jong to Seattle for shortstop prospect Drew Jackson and right-handed pitching prospect Aneurys Zabala.

De Jong ranked No. 17 in my Top 100 prospects series, which I revealed last week. Here’s an piece of what I wrote.

“De Jong isn’t overpowering by any means. He has a classic repertoire — fastball, curveball, slider, changeup — none of which grade out as better than average. His fastball is a pretty standard 88-90 MPH pitch that can get up to 91-92 on occasion. It doesn’t have a ton of movement, as evidenced by his 36 percent ground ball rate overall. His low-80s slider is his best offspeed pitch. Sometimes it has cutter tendencies, but it’s his best swing-and-miss offering with its 10-4 shape. His mid-70s curveball doesn’t have a great plane to be effective at the next level. He’ll be able to steal a strike every once in awhile with it, but it’s more of a pitch that will get minor-league hitters to chase rather than major leaguers. His changeup is similar in that regard, and both pitches are fringy, with his curveball just slightly better.”

So, you’re looking at a back-of-the-rotation starter, a swingman or middle reliever. He has an MLB profile, it just remains to be seen how he plays out.

De Jong, 23, was on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster after being added in November. His departure opens up a spot for a future addition, because you know that spot won’t be vacant for long. Maybe it’ll be for Charlie Culberson or one of the other non-roster invitees. Maybe it’ll be for an exciting prospect like Cody Bellinger. Or maybe, it’ll be for a former Dodger great in Eric Gagne. For the record, I don’t think it’ll be Gagne, but it’s fun to dream sometimes.

The Dodgers still have insane pitching depth even after trading pitching prospects like De Jong, Jharel Cotton, Jose De Leon, Carlos Frias (technically not a prospect anymore), Grant Holmes, Zach Lee, Frankie Montas and Joe Wieland (also not a prospect). Coincidentally, Lee and Wieland were sent to the Mariners (and Frias was almost sent there, too).

Despite that, De Jong was viewed as expendable, even though he was on the cusp of making his MLB debut. It’s a bummer to see him go, but he’ll have a much better chance of getting some rotation time in Seattle than he would in Los Angeles.

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As for the Dodgers’ return, well, I like it. A lot. Jackson, 23, has been a low-key favorite of mine since the Mariners drafted him in the fifth round of the 2015 MLB Draft. There are a couple of things he does really well — he runs fast and he plays good defense at shortstop. In his debut season, he showed glimpses of being quite the 5th-round find. He hit .358/.432/.447 with and 11.3 percent walk rate and 47 stolen bases (in 51 attempts). Granted, that was him dominating the Northwest League as a collegiate draftee (took home MVP honors), so those numbers needed to be taken with a large grain of salt.

Let’s hear from some prospect experts and, coincidentally or not, some Mariners’ fans.

From Dave DeFreitas of 2080 Baseball (from 2016).

“Physically, Jackson looks every bit the part of a top prospect; his long, muscular frame and broad shoulders make his strength and athleticism quite apparent at first glance. He runs well for someone his size, showing fringe-average to average times from HP-to-1B, but it plays much better underway where he can lengthen out his strides. He has not shown much power, which is a little surprising given his size, but he does have decent bat-to-ball skills and has a feel for the strike zone (45:30 SO:BB rate again in the first half of 2016). But he showed below-average bat speed in my looks, and while he can get into balls to the pull side, he tends to get a little long and lacks ability to drive the ball hard to the middle of the field.”

And from Jason Churchill of Prospect Insider.

“Jackson, at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds looks like a hitter capable of generating some power, but the bat speed is fringe-average and the swing plane prevent loft, which means for Jackson to reach base via contact, he has to square up a larger amount of baseballs than a hitter with a better swing. Defensively Jackson has all the tools to be a solid defender, including an above-average arm (plus raw arm strength) and average range. The Stanford product and former fifth-round draft pick in 2015, however, has had problems making consistent, accurate throws. Of his 30 errors last season, 19 of them were of the throwing variety. Jackson’s offensive upside limits his potential value and may kill any value he may bring if he has to move off shortstop. He’s a terrific athlete, though, and at 23 years of age there’s still time for him to develop some at the plate become a useful big-league option.”

That about sums it up. If you’re going to bet on a prospect, you bet on one whose athletic like Jackson. While his bat speed is lacking, that isn’t always the thing that kills a prospect’s value at the plate. Perhaps a new organization with fresh eyes could unlock some of what Jackson has been missing, and the Dodgers could have done a lot worse than acquiring a young, athletic shortstop. There’s not much question about his defense (outside of his arm accuracy) and his speed is among the best in the system.

Churchill also included an interesting opinion about playing Jackson all over the diamond. That profile sounds a lot like Enrique Hernandez, but Jackson has a chance to be much better defensively.

While I like Jackson, the more intriguing piece of the deal is Zabala. Aside from having an 80-grade name, Zabala also possesses a fastball that has 80-grade velocity. The Mariners signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2014. He’s armed with a high-90s fastball and a low-80s hammer curveball that some see as at least an average pitch. His command is poor — sometimes very poor. That’s what has plagued him in his brief pro career. One plus is the fact he has allowed just two home runs in 102 1/3 career innings. Granted, that has all come in complex ball (DSL, AZL), but it’s something to keep an eye on. Zabala is strictly a relief prospect at this rate, but the ceiling on him is pretty high.

From Churchill:

“Zabala, signed by Seattle three summers ago out of the Dominican Republic, is a flame thrower, often touching the upper-90s with his four-seam fastball, and occasionally tagging 100 mph, giving the Dodgers a project with upside. The 20-year-old also possesses an above-average curveball with a chance to be a true plus pitch in time. His mechanics need work; he finishes upright, which is impacts greatly his chance to consistently throw strikes, but he’s athletic enough to fix that with more work. The fastball does have natural sink when he finishes.”

Keith Law rated him highly, despite a reliever-only profile.

And more from Crawford:

And some video from Mr. Longenhagen.

There’s a lot to like about Zabala, but he’s farm from a sure thing. Still, he has the highest ceiling of any player in this deal.

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If I’m ranking these guys in my Top 100, I could easily put Jackson in the No. 17 spot vacated by De Jong. I believe in the athleticism that much. Zabala could be a Top 30 guy, but the Dodgers’ system is pretty deep. It’d be hard to justify ranking him ahead of guys like Jacob Rhame and Yaisel Sierra in the 21-30 range, so he’s more likely a 31-40 guy. I probably wouldn’t rank him ahead of pitchers like Joe Broussard or Dennis Santana, either. But that says more about the Dodgers’ depth than Zabala’s potential.

If it seems like the Dodgers did pretty well in this deal, there might be a reason for that.

I’m probably the high guy on this deal. But for the Dodgers to turn De Jong into two quality prospects like Jackson and Zabala, that goes down as a win in my book.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin’ Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif., and has yet to be shot.