The Dodgers announced a rare prospect for prospect trade on Thursday, as they sent Luis Valdez (one of my 2023 Helium picks from this past December) to the Texas Rangers for Ricky Vanasco, designating Zack Burdi for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for the new guy.
Yeah, he’s on the 40 man. We’ll get into that.
This is a bit of a curious trade for a few reasons, but before digging into that, the guy the Dodgers shipped out was indeed a favorite of mine, though he may be more of a high floor guy than anything else.
A future 4/5 lefty who can live in the low 90s (though perhaps more if they can get him to gain weight) and get outs with command of a change and a breaker, Valdez is kind of guy who lays waste to a Dodger lineup.
They basically shipped out Eric Stults and Ty Blach and any other modern southpaw nemesis you can think of who has inexplicably carved the Dodgers up for years, so this deal certainly won’t come back to haunt them.
Best wishes to you, Luis. I’m only a little afraid (so far).
Now, what exactly did the Dodgers get in Vanasco?
A few years ago now, the 24-year-old Floridian was considered to be one of the better pitching prospects on the Rangers’ farm (ranch? prairie?), but a number of injuries have slowed what was expected to be a rapid ascent — concussion in his first outing from a throw to second that got him behind the ear, Tommy John, ankle, knee, it’s a laundry list.
Note: If you happen to subscribe to The Athletic, an excellent profile on Vanasco from 2019 can be found here).
So what do the Dodgers see in Vanasco? Well, there’s an exceptionally quick arm that has registered a fastball as hard as 99.6 mph, and it’s a pitch he appears to really backspin for carry. The 6’3, 180 lbs righty also has a power curve, a slider, and a changeup, though it’s the fastball in particular that interests me.
Here’s a look at his stuff from his 1st inning in his last appearance with the Texas organization. It goes FB, CH, FB, FB, CB, FB, FB:
On three of the fastballs, the barrel is visibly underneath the pitch, leading me to think that, as mentioned, the spin situation is indeed notable.
Additionally, he has the sort of mobility the club covets, as he shows very good hip/shoulder separation:
Hips just about facing towards the plate, and the entirety of his chest is still visible, Vanasco looks more than a bit like a contortionist.
If Vanasco sounds like a quality developmental project to you, the kind of guy who has had some tough luck staying on the field but could stand to be polished up a bit, you might not be far off.
Why, then, would a club that has been bringing in and casting aside warm bodies and husks alike, left and right, devote a 40-man roster spot to a guy who appears to need some work, and (at present) seems unlikely to do more this season than eat some emergency innings?
From everything I have read, it may come down to options. Again, via The Athletic:
Because of his missed time, Vanasco should be eligible for a fourth option in 2025 if needed — teams typically don’t get league confirmation on the extra option until the third option year — and the added time could be key.
Frankly, Vanasco is just an arm now, but he also appears to have some room to add, both in mechanical tweaks and possibly muscle mass. But seemingly most importantly, he can be optioned in 2024, and he should be eligible for the same deal in 2025. It’s potentially close to three years of riding the Mitch White Express from Oklahoma City and back, but also with a foundation that may mean more. The 6’3, 180 lbs Williston High School alum is a project with a bit of runway.