When news broke that the Detroit Tigers had traded J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks, fan reactions were... not positive. The Bless You Boys staff mostly made frustrated comments about how bad Arizona's farm was, and how our return was going to be light. Light it was. Dawel Lugo and Sergio Alcantara are both decent prospects, but not the type one likes to see headlining a deal.
The oddest part about this trade was that the third piece in the deal was the one that perked the most ears: Jose King, a shortstop in rookie ball. Perhaps it was because of the oddity of his inclusion, perhaps it was because of blind optimism that the Tigers had found a gem, perhaps it was something else. In any case, he has the legitimate potential to be the best player that Detroit received in exchange for their former star right fielder.
Signed as a young teenager out of the Dominican Republic by the Diamondbacks, King made his pro debut during the 2016 season, and it was a smashing success. He hit .350/.402/.413 (a 141 wRC+) while walking 7.7 percent of the time and only striking out at a 13.1 percent rate. He took a bit of a step backwards once he moved from the Dominican Summer League to the Arizona League in 2017. He took fewer walks and struck out more. His batting average took a nosedive, and the advanced metrics followed. Prior to last summer’s trade, he had only managed a 92 wRC+.
Obviously, playing stateside offers tougher competition than the Dominican Summer League, but that change in performance was stark. King rebounded after Detroit acquired him, as discussed later, but his walk rate never returned. King only took nine free passes over the 41 games he played in 2017. He will need to refine his approach if he is going to be a success as he climbs the organizational ladder.
While there isn’t much publicly available information about the young infielder, it doesn’t take long to discover King’s blazing speed. His wheels are what prop up his value as a prospect. His other tools are extremely raw but he can beat out throws, steal bases, and gets to balls quickly. It is listed as 70 grade, or double-plus, by Paul Wenzer of TigsTown, an opinion that is shared by Mark Anderson of Baseball Prospectus, who also called King a double-plus runner.
Unsurprisingly, King’s defense is ahead of his bat right now. Detroit’s farm director Dave Owen had praise for him saying, “He has some growing to do, but he has tremendous instincts. He’s athletic and can throw.” Not everyone agrees that King’s arm will play at short long-term. If he were to eventually move to second base, his speed and hands would make him a very good defender there.
At the dish, King features a contact-oriented approach that has yielded good results. Owner of a .321/.356/.366 line in his 28 games after the trade, he posted even better numbers in 2016. Mark Anderson mentioned that King has the chance to create a valuable, contact-oriented approach. His feel for the bat could create a more well-rounded profile down the road, but even if it never comes, a glove-first approach to the game could still be valuable.
This entire category can be summed up into one sentence: King's floor is abysmally low. The number of things that could go wrong in his development is very high, and any one of them could ruin him as a prospect. His approach at the plate may be contact-oriented, but it takes a long time to develop bat-to-ball skills. He has the speed to stick at a premium defensive position, but his glove is unrefined. As far as prospects go, King is pretty much as far away from ready as it gets.
Projections in the offensive department focus mainly on his contact ability, but the other half of the offensive game is missing. Anderson says King has "limited power" and even team sources note that he is very skinny and has a long way to go on that front.
Finally, some evaluators believe that this young, speedy infielder may not be a viable shortstop long-term. Obviously, he has plenty of range for the position, and most people have no issue with his glove. However, King's arm is fringe average and ill-suited to make the long, hard throws from short to first that prevent infield hits. He still has plenty of physical projection left and that may become a non-issue in time, but if he has to move to the right of the bag, King's value will obviously drop off.
Projected Team: Short-Season Connecticut Tigers
After spending two seasons in rookie ball, the 19-year-old has posted good enough numbers to justify a move to short season baseball and begin his trek up the minor leagues. He is still too raw for a promotion to the West Michigan Whitecaps anytime this year, but if he plays well in the pitcher-friendly New York–Penn League, expect to see King in Grand Rapids in 2019.
Video h/t Emily Waldon, The Athletic