Power righties, native Texans Thompson, Knebel added to organization
By T.R. Sullivan
NEW YORK -- The Rangers went looking for at least two significant prospects for reliever Joakim Soria, and they appear to have achieved their goal.
The Rangers officially announced on Wednesday night they have traded Soria to the Tigers for right-handed pitchers Jake Thompson and Corey Knebel. Thompson (No. 3) and Knebel (No. 5) were two of the top five prospects in the Tigers organization. Thompson is currently at Double-A while Knebel is in Triple-A, and both are natives of Texas.
"Our scouts did a tremendous job identifying these guys," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "We had the information needed to pull the trigger. We are excited to add these two pitchers. We are acquiring them because we like what they do on the field, and they have good makeup. But they are both from our backyard. In talking to them, they are both excited to come here and pitch for the team they grew up rooting for."
Soria's departure means that Neftali Feliz will return to his former role as the Rangers' closer.
"We'll give him a shot, he is the only one with experience," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "It will show if he can or he can't."
Prospects acquired by Rangers
Corey Knebel, RHP: Knebel was the closer at the University of Texas before the Tigers drafted him 39th overall in 2013. They believed he had the stuff to start, but the Texas native was so dominant out of the bullpen during his professional debut that they scrapped those plans and fast-tracked him as a reliever. Knebel made his big league debut in May and made eight appearances for the Tigers before the deal. He struck out 11 batters and walked three in 8 2/3 innings with Detroit, posting a 6.23 ERA. He comes right after hitters with his fastball, which sits around 95 mph, and a sharp curveball. He has all the tools necessary to become a late-innings reliever in the Major Leagues.
Jake Thompson, RHP: The Tigers lost their first-round pick in 2012 when they signed Prince Fielder, making Thompson their top pick in the Draft that year. The hard-throwing Texas native has moved quickly in the Minor Leagues, reaching Double-A Erie as a 20-year-old this summer. Before his promotion, Thompson earned an All-Star nod in the Florida State League and went 6-4 with a 3.14 ERA and struck out 79 batters in 83 innings with Class A Advanced Lakeland. His fastball, curveball and changeup all have the potential to become at least Major League-average offerings, and his control has taken a step forward year. Thompson's size and stuff give him the look of a prototypical right-hander, and he should develop into a solid big league starter in time.
Thompson, 20, is a starting pitcher who has been assigned to Double-A Frisco. He was the Tigers' second-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of Rockwall Heath High School east of Dallas, and he began the season at Class A Lakeland in the Florida State League, where he was 6-4 with a 3.14 ERA in 16 starts. He was promoted to Double-A Erie and was 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts.
"I got off to a hot start at the beginning of the year, and kind of just worked off of that," Thompson said. "That's really it. I'm actually really proud of how far I've come since last year, just kind of tweaking my game plan and going out there and executing it. Really just using my fastball more, and using it better, not just throwing it as hard as I can, but setting hitters up with it."
Through his Minor League career, Thompson has averaged 7.5 hits, 3.1 walks and 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings, with a 1.206 WHIP and a 2.96 ERA.
"He is a big, physical guy who is built for innings with a four-pitch mix," Daniels said. "He has good life on his fastball, a good slider and good makeup. He fits in with the wave of pitchers we have coming in."
Thompson's first pitching idol was Nolan Ryan.
"I think all Texas pitchers look at him and his demeanor on the mound," Thompson said. "He didn't nibble."
Knebel is a power reliever who has had a brief audition in the Major Leagues with the Tigers this season. He was the 39th overall pick in the 2013 Draft out of the University of Texas, and originally from Georgetown High.
He split time between Erie and Triple-A Toledo, with a 1.62 ERA while averaging 3.8 hits, 4.6 walks and 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He made eight appearances for the Tigers and allowed seven runs on 11 hits, three walks and 11 strikeouts. Knebel, who has a fastball clocked at 95 mph, will start out with the Rangers at Round Rock.
"He is a big, physical right-hander with back-of-the-bullpen stuff and demeanor," Daniels said. "He has a power fastball and curve combination. He had a lot of success at UT, and has shot through their system. We see him as a guy who is very close to contributing."
The Rangers have traded both Soria and right-hander Jason Frasor in the past week. They are still getting interest in left-hander Neal Cotts and outfielder Alex Rios.
"The way we approach it, we know what the line is from a value standpoint, and what's appropriate to put together a club we're excited about next season," Daniels said. "We're open to making other moves, but nothing is imminent."
The Rangers signed Soria as a free agent on Dec. 4, 2012, while he was still in the process of recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. He won the job as the Rangers' closer this past Spring Training and had a 2.61 ERA while going 17-for-19 in save opportunities.
"I'm very grateful to the Rangers," Soria said. "They picked me up when I was hurt and helped me get back and become a Major League pitcher again."
Soria will rejoin former Rangers teammate Joe Nathan, who is currently the Tigers' closer.
"It's a good team that is a contender," Soria said. "I haven't talked to them yet, but they're going to be my new family. I am going to do everything they need me to do. I want to help them get to the World Series."
Daniels made it a point of thanking Soria for his work in Texas.
"Obviously there was the performance on the field, but he is also a real quality guy," Daniels said. "He is a winner and a tremendous teammate. It's not easy to trade a winning guy. He was everything we hoped he would be when we signed him."