Unexpected Return: Miguel Sulbaran Traded to the Minnesota Twins


When Drew Butera was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers right before the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31st, the Minnesota Twins were set to receive a player to be named later (PTBNL) or cash considerations. The latter was almost universally regarded as the leader in the “most likely to happen” clubhouse.

(Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)

Twins fans everywhere recognized and accepted Butera for what he was, a defensively-minded, backup catcher that is severely limited on the offensive side of the equation. He was an asset providing diminishing returns and had been limited to part time duty with Triple-A Rochester this season. His value to Minnesota was such that had he been designated for assignment, or released outright, it wouldn’t have created much of a stir. Since my fellow Twins writers/bloggers are very numerous, very dedicated and very talented such a move would have been extremely well covered, but such a move would not have “moved the needle” in either direction among the fans.

The Dodgers further dampened expectations on the possible trade return shortly after the deal was announced stating that Butera was acquired to provide “organizational depth” at catcher. He was quickly assigned to Triple-A Albuquerque. Such a statement, from the team that had just acquired him, was hardly a ringing endorsement of his value. As a quick aside, he’s hit 0.182/.217/.273 in seven games and 22 at bats since joining the Isotopes in the Pacific Coast League.

Then the news broke Tuesday afternoon that Minnesota was getting an actual PTBNL, and not just cash considerations, as their compensation. Stunned does not even begin to cover my feelings when I came across the headlines that 19-year old lefty Miguel Sulbaran was that player. Not so much because of what Sulbaran is, or might become, as a pitcher but because they got something for Butera.

ESPN1500’s Phil Mackey hit the nail on the head when he wrote the following:

Word is Sulbaran’s fastball sits in the 88-90 mph range, which doesn’t fit into the Twins’ plan to add more power arms to the system. But landing a 19-year-old with some upside for a catcher who hit .182/.230/.263 over three years in the big leagues is probably about as big of a haul as the Twins could have hoped for.

There’s no question that Sulbaran lacks the premium velocity that grabs attention. Many sources will also point to the fact that he’s 5’10” and 180-185 pounds as a reason to be skeptical of his chances to make an impact. Baseball America left him off their Dodgers Top-30 in the 2013 Prospect Handbook however John Sickels’ included a profile of the young lefty in his annual publication before the season began. MLB.com didn’t have him in their preseason rankings either, but when Jonathan Mayo recently updated their prospect lists, Sulbaran checked at #14 in the Dodgers system and noted the following:

"Sulbaran has a good feel for his low-90s fastball and can add and subtract velocity from it as needed. His curveball is his best offspeed pitch and both his slider and changeup show promise. The Dodgers see Sulbaran, who gets a Wandy Rodriguez comp, as a starter, but his stuff could also make him a dominant left-handed reliever."

Based on his performance with the Great Lakes Loons in 2013, it’s no wonder he’s moved up on some lists since the season began. To date Sulbaran has thrown 92.2 IP with a 3.01 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and an 85-27 SO-to-BB and he’s been even better of late. In his last ten appearances, nine of them starts, he’s allowed only 9 ER, 37 H and 7 BB while striking out 38 in 44.0 IP. That works out to an impressive 1.84 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 5.4 SO/BB.

Perhaps even more encouraging is the fact that his current season is being built on top of an already solid minor league resume that includes successful stops in the Dominican Summer League (2011) and Arizona League (2012). He did wobble in one Pioneer League start and got knocked around in two Midwest League starts last season, but he’s clearly wiped those out of the “reasons for concern column” considering what he’s done this year.

Sulbaran will join fellow 19-year old Jose Berrios in the Cedar Rapids rotation giving the Twins a pair of teenage arms in a league where the average age of pitchers is 21.9 and the average age of batters is 21.3 in 2013. Staying in the Midwest League should help the team’s newest addition transition smoothly and being backed by the Kernels offense surely isn’t going to hurt his confidence.

There was no logical reason to expect that dealing Drew Butera to the Dodgers would provide the Minnesota Twins with any sort of tangible return. But that is exactly what happened. They not only got tangible return, they got return with potential. Miguel Sulbaran may hit a wall when he moves up from A-ball and he may never pitch in the big leagues but based on what was expected, this is already a fantastic return for Terry Ryan and the Minnesota Twins.