The Seattle Mariners made waves Saturday night, trading star slugger Edwin Encarnacion to the New York Yankees in exchange for 19-year old pitching prospect Juan Then. Then entered the 2019 season as the 28th-ranked prospect in New York’s system, and at first glance, he doesn’t seem like adequate compensation for a player of Encarnacion’s talent. However, the Mariners clearly like Then as a prospect, so what is it about the 19-year old that made the Mariners want to make this trade?
Juan Then Scouting Report: Meeting the Newest Seattle Mariner
Interestingly enough, Juan Then began his professional baseball career with the Seattle Mariners. The organization signed the righty as a 16-year old as in international free agent but quickly traded him to the Yankees in exchange for relief pitcher Nick Rumbelow.
Then currently projects as a starting pitcher and features a three-pitch mix. According to Pinstriped Prospects, Then features a low-90’s fastball complemented by a serviceable changeup and curveball. The fastball reportedly has great movement, as Fangraphs grades the offering a 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Additionally, the pitch should only gain velocity as he gets older.
His fastball will probably be his best pitch, but his curveball and changeup have plus potential. Fangraphs currently ranks both pitches as an average 50, but both could reach 55. The biggest problem with Then is his command, as he struggles to find the strike zone and put his pitches on the corners. That said, he has shown the ability to control the zone and could develop as he progresses through the system.
Then has pitched 111.1 innings in the minors, but has never pitched above rookie ball. So far on the year, Then has tossed 50.0 innings to the tune of a 2.70 ERA, 3.22 FIP, and a 3.23 xFIP. He strikes out an adequate 7.56 batters per nine innings while walking just 1.98 batters per nine innings.
The good news for Then is that his numbers appear to be sustainable. While he has been lucky with a below-average .259 BABIP, the rest of his numbers suggest he should be able to maintain this performance. He’s stranding 61.4% of his runners, which is actually a little below the league average. This should normalize over time and help his final ERA number. Additionally, he’s inducing ground balls at a 48% clip. Ground balls are easily the least damaging type of contact, and Then’s ability to keep the ball on the ground should translate to the next level.
The next step for Then is proving he can do it against better competition. Playing in rookie ball isn’t uncommon for a 19-year old, but it’s his second year at the same level. Players typically improve when they repeat levels, and Then should make the jump to Low-A ball sooner rather than later. He’s still a few years away from making the majors, but nobody will know his true ceiling until he faces better competition.
Ultimately, Then is a high-upside prospect with a relatively low floor. If everything breaks right, Then could develop into a mid-rotation arm. However, if he can’t add velocity and improve his control, then he’ll probably be relegated to bullpen duties. Either way, he should have a major league future, even if it will take a few years before he makes his debut.
Embed from Getty Images