On Tuesday, December 6th, the Brewers kept their off-season wheels churning by trading closer Tyler Thornburg to the Boston Red Sox for third baseman Travis Shaw and minor league prospects Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington. The trade came as somewhat of a surprise, as Thornburg established himself in 2016 as a dominant reliever and possessed three more years of club control, but the Brewers obviously saw this as an opportunity to continue their rebuild by adding young, controllable pieces to both the big league club and the farm.
Thornburg started out the year as the Brewers set-up man, and was promoted to the role of closer after the subsequent trades of Jeremy Jeffress to Texas and Will Smith to San Francisco. His stat line does his dominance justice, as he pitched to an 8-5 record with a 2.12 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 67 appearances. He held opponents to a .162 batting average and converted 13 saves. Thornburg started his career in Milwaukee as a starting pitcher after being a well-regarded prospect, but was shifted to the bullpen during the 2013 season. Thornburg’s departure will bolster the back-end of Boston’s bullpen and leave a gaping hole in that of the Brewers, one which may be filled by in-house options such as Jacob Barnes, Jhan Mariñez, and Corey Knebel.
Now, let’s evaluate the three pieces that the Brewers acquired in the deal.
Travis Shaw, 3B
Shaw is a 26-year-old third baseman that will immediately slot in as the Brewers starting third baseman. He has split time at both third base and first base over his career, but due to the recent signing of Eric Thames, Shaw likely will not see much time there. This move almost certainly pushes Jonathan Villar to second base full-time. Shaw has a reputation as a power-hitter. In his introduction to the big leagues in 2015, he slashed .270/.327/.487 with 13 home runs and 36 RBIs in 65 games of action. He came into 2016 as the Red Sox starting third baseman, but was mostly platooned to the point where he faced almost exclusively right handed pitching. His performance dropped off a bit, as he hit .242/.306/.421, but he still holds good potential as a power bat. He also offers good defense at the hot corner. Shaw holds very high value due to the fact that he is controllable for the next five years.
Mauricio Dubon, SS
According to Baseball America, Dubon was the Red Sox 7th best prospect prior to the trade, and he slots in as the Brewers’ 9th best prospect according to MLB.com. Dubon is above-average in all areas except power. He is noted as having exceptional bat to ball skills, and should hit for a high average at any level. After starting the season at High-A Salem, he was promoted to Double-A Portland and thrived, ending the year as one of the top performers in the Eastern League. Between the two levels, he hit .323/.379/.461, and hit even better when you look at his Double-A performance exclusively (.339/.371/.538). Dubon doesn’t offer much home run power, but he does make hard contact consistently and should get a solid number of doubles. He also offers plus speed, as he stole 30 bases in 2016. Look for him to start the season at Triple-A Colorado Springs if the Brewers decide to be aggressive. While the Brewers currently have the middle of their infield locked up with Orlando Arcia and Jonathan Villar, Dubon is an excellent provider of depth and could be in a utility role as soon as later this year if he performs at a high level in the first half.
Josh Pennington, P
Pennington was rated as Boston’s 22nd best prospect prior to the trade according to MLB.com, and according to them he is not within the Brewers top-30 prospects following the trade. Pennington is a starting pitcher with a power arm, as his fastball can reach mid to upper 90s. He is a bit of an unknown, and is definitely a raw prospect. He played for Boston’s Class-A affiliate and performed well, pitching to a 2.86 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 13 appearances (56.2 innings). Given that he has a power fastball and curveball, a move to the bullpen could be the ultimate landing spot for Pennington. He likely will start the year with the Brewers’ new Class-A Advanced affiliate, the Carolina Mudcats.