July may have come and gone, but that doesn't spell the end of trades for the Detroit Tigers. A forgettable season has led to Tigers general manager Al Avila dismantling the MLB club. The non-waiver deadline saw J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson, and Alex Avila leave Detroit, followed by a month-long hiatus. Some fans expected to see the offseason come before the next domino fell.
On Thursday, Justin Upton was dealt to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for right-handed pitcher Grayson Long and a player to be named later.
Recently rated by MLB.com as the Angels' No. 9 prospect, Long was a third round selection in the 2015 draft out of Texas A&M. He possesses an ideal pitcher’s body, standing 6'5 and weighting in at 230 pounds. A right-handed starting pitcher, he has had a decent career to this point, pitching at three levels in 2016.
Long started the year with three games in Advanced-A that saw him strike out 14 batters over 12 innings. He was quickly promoted to the Double-A Mobile BayBears, where he has settled in nicely. Long was dominant across his 121 2⁄3 innings with the BayBears, posting an impressive 2.52 ERA, 3.07 FIP, and 1.13 WHIP.
Long is unlike most pitchers in the Tigers organization in that his fastball is not his best pitch. It sits around 90 miles per hour, but he can ramp it all the way up to 95 mph at times. He utilizes three pitches to keep the opposition at bay. MLB.com calls the slider Long's best pitch, but a Perfect Game scouting report from 2012 and the 2016 FanGraphs Angels prospect list (on which he ranked third) say it’s his changeup. All three of his pitches are average to slightly above-average, so there will likely never be a clear best offering.
Long was seen as a potential innings-eater when he was drafted, due in large part to his large size and easy, fluid delivery. Scouts are now a little skittish to apply that label to him because of a bout of biceps tendonitis that he suffered last season. This was followed by a fractured finger while on a rehab assignment that combined to cut his season in half.
Undeterred by this, Avila sang the praises of his newest acquisition in the Tigers' press release following the trade.
Grayson has been a standout player this season in the Southern League, that features some of the best prospects in baseball. Grayson is a workhorse-type starter who throws strikes and has a great makeup. Our scouts protect him to be a starter at the Major League level.
Avila specifically mentions that Long "throws strikes." MLB.com previously rated his command as below-average, but he has thrown strikes at a 63 rate this year. Double-A hitters have drawn walks from him only 7.8 percent of the time. His walk rate of 2.81 batters per nine innings is the best Long has achieved since entering pro ball.
There is nothing particularly outstanding about Long's batted ball profile. His 33.1 percent ground ball rate is nothing to write home about, and his 17.9 percent line drive rate isn't low enough to make much difference. [Ed.: Minor league batted ball profiles should always be taken with a grain of salt.] Long does have a propensity to keep the ball in the yard, though. Despite the below-average ground ball rate, he doesn't allow many home runs, and only 4.3 percent of the fly balls that he allowed became home runs this year.
It is unlikely Long will ever be much more than a No. 4 starter, but that's okay. He has a high floor and is close to reaching his overall potential. He will be able to fill a very real void on the Tigers roster at the back end of their rotation, and soon.