Opening Day 2014: Cliff Lee pitches in the Rangers ballpark for the first time since 2010. Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
ESPN.com and Baseball America both ranked the Texas Rangers farm system as the best in baseball in 2009. The Rangers no longer own that enviable distinction but such a decline in rankings are natural following four years of playoff runs, several of which were as deep as they go. Here I will break down briefly how some of those traded prospects used to bolster the major league club during playoff chases are looking today.
The “Cliff Lee Trade”: July 10th, 2010. Rangers acquire Cliff Lee (with 2.25mil) and Mark Lowe from the Seattle Mariners for First Baseman Justin Smoak, minor leaguers Blake Beaven, Josh Lueke, and Matthew Lawson.
Blake Beavan: Now 25, Beaven is a member of the Mariners 40 Man roster and has spent time with the big league club in each of the last three seasons. Despite his menacing size (6’7”) Blake has never been a strike out pitcher with only 136 K’s in 293 ML innings, but he helps to neutralize that by his extremely low walk rate (47 walks in those 293 ML innings). For his size and low strike out numbers he reminds me of Scott Feldman and I figure he could, with time, potentially reach his peak as a Feldman type player. He started 2014 in AAA, has since made one ML start (against the Rangers), and subsequently landed on the DL with shoulder tendinitis. Beaven surely hopes to come back and help the Mariners sooner than later.
Justin Smoak: Smoak was taken by the Rangers in the first round, compared to Mark Teixiera as a player, and had been the centerpiece of the package sent to Seattle for Cliff Lee. I do not believe, by anyone’s perception, that Smoak has met the high expectations once associated with his name. However, he is not entering his age 27 season and has a chance to be a productive player for the Mariners. Last season, Smoak reached his highest total of runs (53), HRs (20), and walks (64) while having career high rates of OBP (.334) and slugging (.412). This year is a big one for Smoak as he hopes to keep his job as a regular in Seattle and ascend into a greater role for their offense, ideally as a supporting piece for newcomer Robinson Cano. Following a torrid first week though, Smoak has regressed back right around his career slash line of .227/.313/.387/.700
Josh Lueke: Now at the relatively advanced age of 28, Lueke spent the vast majority of his 2013 season with the AAA affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. There, he had a greatest success to date in the minor leagues and owned impressive numbers in relief. He possessed a 0.63 ERA with the Durham Bulls while striking out 81 batters in 57.1 innings as opposed to just 15 walks. Lueke did see some Major league action in 2013 striking out 25 batters in 21.1 innings, though he did walk 12 batters to go along with a 5.06 ERA. Still, Lueke currently owns a role in the Rays bullpen for 2014 and has done a respectable job (4.05 ERA, 13.1 IP) there thus far this season.
Matthew Lawson: Originally taken in the 14th round by the Rangers in 2007, the 28 year old Lawson now finds himself having split 2013 between the AA and AAA affiliates of the Cleveland Indians. He has yet to break out offensively and of the four players sent to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal, Lawson is the only one yet to have a chance in the Majors; he does not have statistics listed suggesting that he has played professionally in 2014.
Verdict: This trade will always be worth it in my eyes given Cliff Lee’s performance in the 2010 postseason; that playoff bid gave the Rangers the experience to go as far as they got in 2011 (one strike away… twice) and help solidify a trend of success. Regardless of a potential Smoak breakout or Beavan emergence my position won’t change. How about yours?