The Marlins have announced the acquisition of Gold Glove catcher Jacob Stallings from the Pirates. In exchange, Pittsburgh acquires righty Zach Thompson in addition to right-handed pitching prospect Kyle Nicolas and outfield prospect Connor Scott. Miami was connected to Stallings earlier this morning.
The 31-year-old Stallings (32 next month) will come to the Marlins with three years of club control remaining and give the Fish a standout defensive catcher to pair with their burgeoning young pitching staff. While his offensive numbers don’t stand out — Stallings has batted .251/.331/.374 with 17 homers, 32 doubles and a triple in 780 plate appearances dating back to 2019 — the 2021 Gold Glover is one of the best defensive players in the sport, regardless of position.
Over the past three seasons, Stallings has racked up 42 Defensive Runs Saved, including 21 DRS this past season. He notched an imposing 36.2% caught-stealing rate from 2019-20 and has a career 27% mark, though it’s worth noting that he slipped to 21% in that department this past season. Each of Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs and Statcast peg Stallings as an above-average pitch framer, and Prospectus credits his ability to block pitches in the dirt as plus as well.
Projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to earn a $2.6MM salary in 2022, Stallings is highly affordable in terms of salary — and he can be controlled via arbitration through the 2024 season. For a low-payroll club that is building around what it hopes will emerge as a dominant young pitching staff, Stallings is a highly sensible addition. Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Rogers, Sixto Sanchez, Edward Cabrera, Elieser Hernandez, Max Meyer and others will all likely benefit from his framing and game-calling prowess.
Looking to the Pittsburgh’s return, they’ll add an immediate rotation piece (Thompson) in addition to a pair of promising young arms. The 28-year-old Thompson proved to be an outstanding pickup on a minor league deal last winter after the White Sox allowed him to become a free agent.
Thompson, a former fifth-rounder, gave the Marlins 75 innings of 3.24 ERA/3.69 FIP ball over the life of 26 appearances, including 14 starts. His 21% strikeout rate and 8.9% walk rate aren’t exactly dominant numbers, but Thompson thrived in terms of generating weak contact; his 87.6 mph average exit velocity ranked in the 76th percentile of MLB hurlers, while his 33.9% hard-hit rate checked into the 82nd percentile. The spin rate on his four-seamer is also in the 92nd percentile.
While Thompson won’t be mistaken for a top-of-the-rotation arm, he’ll give the Bucs six years of club control and won’t be eligible for arbitration until at least the 2023-24 offseason. (At 121 days of service in his debut season, he’ll be on the bubble of Super Two status, barring fundamental changes to the arbitration system in collective bargaining negotiations.) As it stands right now, Pittsburgh controls Thompson all the way through the 2027 season.
Nicolas, 22, was Miami’s second-round pick in the 2020 draft and ranked 23rd among their prospects on Baseball America’s midseason Top 30 list. He landed 16th at MLB.com and 18th among Miami farmhands on Eric Longenhagen’s rankings at FanGraphs. The Ball State product pitched to a combined 4.18 ERA through 99 innings of Class-A Advanced and Double-A ball this season, pitching more effectively at the more advanced of those two levels. Nicolas punched out 32% off his opponents this year, albeit with a somewhat bloated 11.5% walk rate. Miami has developed him as a starter to this point, but with a heater that reaches the upper 90s and a plus slider, it’s possible he’ll ultimately move to the bullpen.
Scott, meanwhile, was Miami’s first-round pick back in 2018. While he still landed in the middle tiers of the Miami system at both FanGraphs and MLB.com, Scott’s stock has dipped a bit since that lofty selection. (The lack of a minor league season in 2020 surely didn’t help his development.) Scott spent the 2021 season in Class-A Advanced, where he posted a solid .276/.333/.446 batting line with 10 homers and 14 steals, and reports on him suggest that he’s capable of playing a quality center field and hitting near the top of the lineup if things pan out. Scott only recently turned 22, and with a pretty good showing at Class-A Advanced under his belt, he could be ticketed for Double-A Altoona in 2022.
Pittsburgh doesn’t have an immediate heir-apparent to take the reins if Stallings, but the lack of an immediate successor in Pittsburgh served as little deterrent from jumping at what they surely view as a strong offer. The Pirates aren’t contending in 2022 anyhow, and the free-agent market has a number of veteran options who could be plugged in as a stopgap while the team waits on 2021 No. 1 overall pick Henry Davis to develop in the minors.
It’s a different story in Miami, where they’ve been on the hunt for a catcher for the better part of the past year. Miami has designs on stepping out of the NL East cellar and into playoff contention, and a move to both sharpen the team’s overall defense and help maximize the pitching staff is a strong step in that regard. Stallings won’t do much to bolster a lineup that was already lacking in power, but he’ll draw plenty of walks and provide the type of sage catcher that clubs often seek when building around young rotations.
Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic first reported the Marlins were nearing agreement on a deal to acquire Stallings. Jon Heyman of the MLB Network reported the Pirates were acquiring Thompson, Nicolas and Scott in return.
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