After struggling to find consistency behind Severino in the rotation last season, the Yankees wasted little time this offseason addressing that need, sending three prospects to Seattle for southpaw James Paxton. That trio of prospects heading back to Seattle is outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams, right-handed pitcher Erik Swanson, and left-hander Justus Sheffield, their top pitching prospect. Sheffield ranked 2nd in my updated Yankees top-25 prospects list, Swanson 23rd, and Thompson-Williams just missed the cut. There are some fantasy implications here, especially for Paxton and Sheffield. Let’s start with the headliner in this deal.
The 2018 season was arguably the best of Paxton’s career. Yes, his ERA rose around 3/4 of a run from 2017, but he was able to set career-bests in starts, innings pitched, WHIP, strikeouts, and K/9. The starts and innings pitched are the most noteworthy stats there.
We’ve long known about Paxton’s capabilities on the mound and the high number of strikeouts he can rack up, as evident by his career 3.42 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 9.5 K/9. However, staying on the field has been a major issue. Paxton has yet to reach 30 starts or 170 innings in a season and has averaged 19.6 starts and 111.2 innings over the last five seasons. On the bright side, his games started and innings pitched have increased in each of the last three seasons. Someone must be eating their Wheaties.
James Paxton, Finishing his No-Hitter…with Flames. 🔥
98 mph, 100 mph and 99 mph. pic.twitter.com/05khSrySdV
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) November 19, 2018
While a DL stint is still almost inevitable, it’s encouraging to see him trending in the right direction when it comes to staying on the mound. That made me feel a little better about his 2019 outlook. That is, until this trade went down. This is not a trade that benefits Paxton’s fantasy value. Are the Yankees better than Seattle with a better chance for wins? Absolutely. But the change in ballpark has me bumping Paxton down my rankings for 2019. Not a ton, but around 5-8 spots or so.
The difference between Yankee Stadium and Safeco Field is substantial. Safeco ranked 27th in runs and 15th in home runs for 2018 with Yankee Stadium finishing 6th in both. That’s been the norm for quite some time now. You have to factor in the team that plays there in those numbers, but it’s no secret that Yankee Stadium is much more hitter-friendly than Safeco. In fact, my 84-year-old grandmother could likely hit a home run into that short porch in right. Only partially kidding there.
That’s what gives me pause on Paxton in 2019. His flyball rate rose to 41.1% in 2018 with 71.1% of the batted balls he allowed going to right or center. He was already susceptible to the long ball with his 1.29 HR/9 mark last season ranking 17th amongst pitchers with 160-plus innings pitched. If he continues to allow the same volume of pulled balls and fly balls, that HR/9 is sure to rise some with his ERA not far behind it.
Paxton remains a valuable arm for fantasy purposes in 2019, but this trade stifles his value a bit.
2019 Projection: 27 starts, 160 IP, 14 W, 3.95 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 10.2 K/9
Prospect Haul to Seattle
For my full writeups on Sheffield and Swanson, check out my top-25 Yankees prospects.
Justus Sheffield (#2): Sheffield got a cup of coffee with the Yankees last season after a strong performance in the minors, finishing with a 2.48 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 9.5 K/9. However, it was still unclear if he would be handed a rotation spot to start 2019. Now with a Seattle squad on the verge of a full rebuild, Sheffield has a clear path to a 2019 rotation spot. The Mariners rotation without Paxton is underwhelming, to say the least, and they have a perfect opportunity to give Sheffield some run this season. With a mid-90’s fastball, plus slider with tilt, and a decent feel for a changeup, Sheffield has the upside of a #2 starter and gets a big boost for 2019 here.
2019 Projection: 28 starts, 10 W, 155 IP, 3.90 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 8.8 K/9
Erik Swanson (#23): The upside here isn’t overly high. Swanson throws in the low to mid-90s with solid control but hasn’t developed any above-average secondary offerings. His slider and changeup are serviceable, but neither are overly effective or consistent. His control certainly helps, but the upside is that of a back-end rotation arm or middle reliever. Swanson finished 2018 in Triple-A and could get some time at the Major League level this season. However, there’s no fantasy value here next season.
Dom Thompson-Williams (NR): Thompson didn’t crack my top-25 for this farm system, but wasn’t that far off (likely would be in the 32-38 range) and snuck in at #29 over on the Prospects Live list. After not showing much power in his first two minor league campaigns, DTW broke out with a 20/20 season in 2018 split between Charleston in the South Atlantic League (A) and Tampa in the Florida State League (A+). He’s athletic with some solid speed but has some holes in his swing and doesn’t project as a starting outfielder longterm.
Photo/Video Credit: Rob Friedman (Pitching Ninja), Mark LoMoglio.
Eric Cross is the lead MLB writer and prospect analyst here on FantraxHQ and has been with the site since March 2017. In the past, he wrote for FantasyPros and FanSided. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). For more from Eric, check out his author page and follow him on Twitter @EricCross04.