On Friday, the Detroit Tigers announced that they traded left-handed pitcher Matt Hall to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for minor-league catcher Jhon Nunez. Hall was designated for assignment on Monday following the signing of righthander Iván Nova to a one-year deal. Because Hall was no longer on the Tigers’ 40-man roster, there is no expectation of a corresponding move to this trade. In addition, Nunez was given a non-roster invitation to spring training.
A sixth round pick in 2015, Hall made his major league debut in 2018 after carving his way through the minor leagues. His brief stint in the bigs was unimpressive, and he spent most of the 2019 season taking another crack at Triple-A. Afforded another opportunity to stake out a place in the Tigers’ future plans over the last two months of the season, he was able to strike out plenty of hitters, but was still brutalized for a 7.71 ERA and 5.19 FIP while walking over five batters per nine innings.
The source of Hall’s struggles was a lackluster fastball that didn’t cut the mustard when matched up against major league caliber hitting. It sat in the 88-90 mile per hour range without much interesting action. He also didn’t feature much in the way of a third pitch, although scouting reports over the years have cited a firm changeup or short cutter.
Boston likely was interested in Hall because of his curveball. It’s a plus-or-better offering and has enabled him to conquer the minor leagues and acts as his strikeout pitch. FanGraphs cites an impressive average of 2,900 rotations per minute on the bender, which places it well above average. Perhaps Boston believes they can unlock another gear for the 26-year-old southpaw, who could possibly be a decent middle reliever or swingman with an adjustment or two.
The player coming back to Detroit is 25-year-old catcher Jhon Nunez. Standing at only 5’9, he is not an imposing presence, but 2019 was his best offensive season since entering professional baseball. He was 20 percent better than league average (per wRC+) at Double-A last year, and seems to be a contact-oriented hitter.
From what meager scouting information there is about Nunez, he seems like a solid pickup for an organization ached for catching depth in 2019. A Sox Prospects scouting report from several years ago cites good athleticism, and praised Nunez’s abilities behind the plate, saying that he “moves well behind the plate” and “gets down quickly to block balls in the dirt.” That same report noted that he has very little in the way of bat speed and had no home run power — he hit a career high five home runs in 2019.
In an interview from July 2019, Red Sox catching coordinator Chad Epperson spoke most highly of Nunez’s ability to control the running game. He singled out Nunez has having the best arm in Boston’s organization and described it as “electric” and said it was a “plus-plus” tool. That’s certainly high praise.
This trade muddies the catching situation throughout the Tigers’ system, which had already been a topic of some disagreement after the front office sought out slugger Eric Haase from the Indians. While Nunez could probably handle an assignment to Triple-A, it’s unlikely that the organization sees him as much of a prospect. He will probably be assigned to Double-A and split catching duties with Kade Scivique.
The biggest impact of this trade is that prospects Cooper Johnson, Sam McMillan, and Eliezer Alfonzo will now have to force their way up the organizational ladder. Evan Woodbery of MLive predicts that Johnson and McMillan, who ended the year at West Michigan, will start there again in 2019, with Alfonzo joining the ‘Caps once one of the two plays their way to Lakeland.
Tigers' catching depth, if nothing else changes:— Evan Woodbery (@evanwoodbery) January 17, 2020
MLB: Romine, Greiner/Haase
AAA: Rogers, Greiner/Haase
AA: Jhon Nunez, Kade Scivicque
High-A: Joey Morgan, Brady Policelli
A: Cooper Johnson, Sam McMillan
(not an exhaustive list)
If nothing else changes, that seems like a reasonable prediction.