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December 8, 2016 at 7:00 AM

Trade Analysis: Scouting the prospects dealt for Tyler Thornburg

It had been a quiet start to the offseason for the Red Sox, but the club made its first addition to the major league roster on Tuesday morning, acquiring right-handed reliever Tyler Thornburg from Milwaukee in exchange for corner infielder Travis Shaw, shortstop Mauricio Dubon and right-hander Josh Pennington. To acquire Thornburg to work the eighth inning in front of closer Craig Kimbrel, the Red Sox gave up three solid depth pieces, but none of them have the type of upside that will likely come back to haunt the Red Sox in the long term.

Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski had listed an eighth-inning reliever as a priority this offseason and he appears to have gotten his man, as Thornburg will slide in as one of the top pitchers in the Boston bullpen. Once a notable starting pitching prospect for the Brewers, rated as the 100th prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus before the 2013 season, Thornburg broke out in a big way in 2016. In 67 innings for Milwaukee, the 28-year-old Thornburg pitched to a 2.15 ERA with 90 strikeouts and 25 walks and was worth 2.0 fWAR. Adding to his value, Thornburg is arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason and will not hit free agency until after the 2019 season. However, he does carry a bit of an injury history, suffering an elbow injury in 2014 that nearly led to Tommy John surgery, but he instead opted to receive a platelet-rich plasma injection, which helped him avoid going under the knife.


Travis Shaw, who played in 145 games at third and first base for the Red Sox last season, headlines the package going to the Brewers and was reportedly the piece Milwaukee inquired about to get trade talks moving. Shaw's major league career got off to a great start, as he hit .270/.327/.487 in 65 games in 2015 and then slashed .292/.358/.508 in the first two months of 2016. However, Shaw slumped mightily from then on, hitting just .206/.270/.362 the rest of the way and losing his starting job in August.

Shaw did not have a clear spot on the Red Sox roster going forward with the return of Pablo Sandoval, reliable presence of Brock Holt, and the potential emergence of top prospect Rafael Devers (and at the time the deal was announced, one would have added Yoan Moncada, who was moved later in the day to Chicago), but he will likely receive everyday playing time in Milwaukee at third base, shifting Jonathan Villar back to his more natural position of second base.


Mauricio Dubon is the most significant prospect heading to the Brewers in this deal, ranked ninth in the SoxProspects.com rankings at the time of the trade. He was named the SoxProspects.com Breakout Player of the Year after a season in which he slashed .323/.379/.461 between Salem and Portland. Though Dubon has shown a strong hit tool since entering the Red Sox organization, he showed improved power last season after his promotion to Portland, where he slugged .538 with 20 doubles, six triples, and six home runs. The Red Sox drafted Dubon in the 26th round in 2013, and should he reach the major leagues, he would be the first-ever Honduran native to do so.

Though Dubon does not have one particular tool that stands out, he is a sum-of-all-parts type of player with excellent makeup and strong work ethic who projects as a valuable super utility player with a chance to be a second division starter. Dubon was very skinny when he signed and is still listed at 6-foot-0, 160 pounds, but he has filled out since entering the organization. He is a solid athlete and has a tick above average speed. At the plate, he has a contact hitter’s profile, with quick hands and solid pitch recognition and bat control. He has a short swing, very direct to the ball, and solid bat speed. He rarely strikes out, but also does not walk that much, primarily looking to put the ball in play early in the count. This can get him in trouble at times, and when he is over-aggressive, he has the tendency to get himself out early in the count when going after a pitches he would be better served to lay off of.

Though not the biggest player, Dubon has a knack for hard contact and gap power. I am not sure that the power surge he enjoyed with Portland—most of which came in a 30-game period from late July through late August, during which he hit half of his 46 extra-base-hits on the year, including five of his six home runs—will continue as he moves to the higher levels. But in a super-utility role, a lack of over-the-fence power is not much of an issue. He could run into a 10 or so home runs a year with plenty of doubles if given a full season’s worth of at-bats.

Defensively, Dubon played only shortstop during the regular season with Salem and Portland despite having played a good amount of second base in the past and a bit of third base, but the Red Sox had him playing center field and second base during the Arizona Fall League in an attempt to get him more versatility. He has the speed and athleticism for both center field and second base, and he could be an above-average defender at the latter. At shortstop, he has a solid-average arm, enough for the position, but not something that stands out. He has shown range to both sides, fluid actions, and soft hands. He is not the type of defender that will stand out or consistently make plays that impress, but he could be a steady presence at short and hold down the position for a few months should he be required to.


Josh Pennington fell to the Red Sox in the 29th round of the 2014 draft after injuring his elbow during his senior year of high school and eventually undergoing Tommy John surgery after being drafted. He pitched to a 0.82 ERA in 22 innings in the Gulf Coast League in 2015 and once again had strong results in Lowell in 2016, posting a 2.86 ERA with 49 strikeouts and 27 walks in 56 2/3 innings. After this season, Pennington underwent surgery to remove a bone spur in his throwing elbow. The 20-year-old Pennington was ranked as the 27th prospect in the Red Sox system.

Pennington is an undersized right-hander, listed at only 6-feet, 175 pounds. He is a solid athlete, but does not have much remaining projection. He throws from an over-the-top arm slot with effort in his delivery. He has a short, quick arm action and his fastball works in the 94-98 mph range. The pitch is on the straight side and lacks plane due to his height, however, and as a result plays down and does not miss as many bats as you would expect given the velocity.

His secondary pitches include a curveball and changeup with the former his primary out pitch. He throws his curveball 76-78 mph, directly over the top with 12-to-6 break. He has inconsistent feel for the pitch and does not always snap it off, but when he does it will flash tight rotation and sharp break. Some starts, it will flash above-average, but in others it will show below-average. Long-term, it projects as an average-to-better offering. His changeup is a work in progress and looks more like a sinking fastball he takes something off of He throws it 85-90 mph and does not have great feel for the pitch.

Given his size, injury history and lack of a third pitch, Pennington looks destined for a bullpen role long term. Still only 20 years old and with plus-plus velocity and the makings of an at-least average curveball, he will likely be developed as a starter for the foreseeable future, however.

Photo credits: Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington by Kelly O'Connor

Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.