It's not irony, but merely coincidence that one day after the Washington Nationals received prospect Trea Turner as the Player to be Named Later that completed this winter's three-team, eleven-player deal with the San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays, the Nats and the Rays are starting a two-city, four-game set that will see Steven Souza, one of the other ten players included in that deal, face off against his former team.
After a 2014 campaign in which he made his MLB debut and dominated Triple-A pitching with a .350/.432/.590 line, 25 doubles, 18 home runs and 26 stolen bases in 96 games and 407 plate appearances between trips to the majors, where he hit two home runs in 21 games with the Nationals, Souza, 26, was dealt to the Rays along with left-handed pitching prospect Travis Ott in the trade which brought right-hander Joe Ross and Turner to the Nats' organization.
The Padres sent prospect Jake Bauers, catcher Rene Rivera and pitcher Burch Smith to the Rays and Turner and Ross to the Nationals. San Diego received minor leaguers Jose Castillo and Gerardo Reyes, catcher Ryan Hanigan and Wil Myers from Tampa Bay.
Turner, 21, a 2014 Draft pick out of North Carolina State University, couldn't be included in the trade until a year after he agreed on a $2.9M signing bonus with the Padres, who picked him 13th overall last June.
"We're happy to complete this trade and add an exceptional talent to our fold," Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo said, as quoted in a press release on the completion of the deal on Sunday.
"From the outset, this was a complex deal, but we thought it was one that would better our organization for the present as well as the long term. That's always our goal. We look forward to getting Trea into our Minor League system."
Rizzo elaborated on the uniqueness of the trade when he spoke to reporters, including the Washington Post's James Wagner, on Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee's Miller Park and explained how they worked with the Padres and within the rules Major League Baseball had, which have since been changed, to get the deal they all wanted:
"It’s not my job to makes the rules," Rizzo said. "Our job is to do the best we can within the rules. We felt that this was an opportunity to get a player in a unique way and acquire him. It was an outside the box suggestion by our front office and ultimately by me to the Padres. We got the player that we wanted and they got a player ultimately that they wanted. In essence, both teams [were] satisfied by it."
Nationals' scouts checked in on Turner while he remained in the Padres' organization, posting a .322/.385/.471 line with 13 doubles, three triples, five home runs and 11 stolen bases in 58 games and 254 plate appearances before he was finally dealt.
MLB.com's Prospect Watch immediately listed the shortstop as the top infield prospect in the organization, two spots ahead of Ross, 22, a 2011 Padres' 1st Round pick who's already made two solid starts with the Nationals, including an eight-inning start against the Brewers this weekend, and four spots ahead of Wilmer Difo, who was the top infield prospect in the system, and has made his MLB debut this season as well.
Difo, 23, started his sixth season in the Nats' system at High-A Potomac, putting up a .320/.386/.533 line with seven doubles, three home runs and four stolen bases in 19 games and 83 plate appearances before he was promoted to Double-A, where he's put up a .290/.316/.409 line with nine doubles in 24 games and 98 PAs thus far.
The Senators are going to have an impressive middle infield combo starting Tuesday night when Turner's expected to make his debut as a member of the Nationals' organization.
Turner's "signature tool" MLB.com's scouts write, "... is his well above-average speed, which earns some 80 grades from evaluators. He could be a dynamic leadoff man because he's a huge basestealing threat with the patience to draw walks," who they think will be able to stay at short when he makes his way up to the majors.
"He’s a guy that’s got a good approach at the plate," Rizzo told the WaPost's Wagner.
"He’s got a good eye. He’s a very poised hitter. He should be a high average, high on-base percentage guy and profiles at somewhere at the top of the order offensive player and a guy that runs extremely well and has the chance to steal a base."
Meanwhile, in Tampa Bay, Souza, who was 3 for 23 with two home runs in 21 games with the Nationals after making his MLB debut last season, is off to a solid (though strikeout-filled) start with the Rays, with a .216/.306/.433 line through 59 games and 236 plate appearances in which he's hit nine doubles and 12 HRs while drawing 25 walks and striking out 82 times.
The now-26-year-old slugger told reporters this weekend that he looked forward to facing the team that drafted and developed him before giving him his first chance at the major league level.
"'I love and respect that organization with the highest esteem,'" Souza said, as quoted by the Tampa Bay Times' Joey Knight. "'They basically gave me my chance, so I hold that in high regard in that aspect, but … if it was my brother or sister, I'd still want to go beat their tails off."
The Nationals knew what they were dealing when they included Souza in the three-team trade.
"'Going into this offseason, we certainly were not thinking about or looking to move Souza,'" Rizzo told the Washington Post this winter.
There was, however, plenty of interest in Souza from other teams, and eventually a deal came up that made sense and the Nationals jumped at the opportunity:
"We kind of held to our guns that we weren’t going to move him, but you always have to be open-minded, and we feel like we got a package of players that are not only good for us in the long term, but also in the near term."
Rizzo admitted when he spoke to reporters after news broke that Ross was called up two weeks back, that the right-hander moved up a little quicker than expected.
"I think he was a guy that we thought that would be quick through the Minor leagues for us," Rizzo explained, "but this has accelerated his development even a little faster than I thought he would."
Ross posted a 2.81 ERA, a 2.84 FIP, 12 walks (2.10 BB/9) and 54 Ks (9.47 K/9) in 51 ⅓ IP at Double-A before he got the call. In two major league starts, he's (1-1) with a 3.46 ERA, a 1.49 FIP, one walk (0.69 BB/9) and 12 Ks (8.31 K/9) in 13 IP.
How fast can Turner move up through the Nationals' system?
Considering that he has the numbers he does at Double-A in just his second pro season, he could be another quick mover, and with Ian Desmond set to hit free agency this winter, there could be a need at short in the nation's capital in the near future, though the Nationals also acquired Yunel Escobar, who's under team control through 2016 with an option for 2017, to serve as a bridge until their prospects are ready to make the jump on a full-time basis.
Turner will debut in the Nats' system tomorrow night. Ross remains in the Nats' rotation for now. After two games in Tampa Bay, Souza will return to the nation's capital for two in D.C. this week for the first time since he saved Jordan Zimmermann's no-hitter in the final regular season game of the 2014 campaign. Expect a loud ovation from fans in Nationals Park when he steps to the plate.