By John Perrotto
On first thought, it seems the Pirates paid a fairly heavy price to the Detroit Tigers for a rental reliever Thursday night when they traded shortstop prospect JaCoby Jones for Joakim Soria.
Soria should undoubtedly help the Pirates as he will combine with closer Mark Melancon, left-hander Tony Watson and right-hander Jared Hughes to provide a deep late-inning relief corps.
Yet Soria is eligible for free agency at the end of the season. He will likely be too expensive for the Pirates to re-sign as he will rightfully look for closer money after converting 23 of 26 save opportunities this season.
Jones, meanwhile, plays a premium position and was ranked as the Pirates’ 10th-best prospect by Baseball America earlier this month, not long before being promoted to Class AA Altoona from high Class A Bradenton.
Jones, 23, went 5-for-10 — all the hits were singles — in three games for Altoona. In 93 games at Bradenton, he batted .253 with 10 home runs, 14 stolen bases and a .708 OPS.
“He’s an interesting prospect with an interesting set of tools,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “He was tough to give up but the Tigers knew what they wanted and they weren’t going to make this trade if they didn’t get him.”
Beyond the Tigers’ ultimatum of either receiving Jones or instead trading Soria elsewhere, a few other factors went into the Pirates’ decision to part with him.
One is that Jones is still very raw as a shortstop after playing both that position and center field in college at Louisiana State. Scouts who have watched him this year say he has a slow first step in reacting to ground balls and stiff hands in the field, in addition to his propensity to swing and miss with 259 strikeouts in 1,002 career plate appearances.
The Pirates also feel they have improved their shortstop depth immensely by selecting Cole Tucker from Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix and Kevin Newman from the University of Arizona in the first round of the last two amateur drafts.
Tucker is playing at low Class A West Virginia and Newman is at short season Class A West Virginia. Both are better defensively than Jones and Tucker is hitting .293 with two home runs, 25 stolen bases and a .699 OPS in 73 games while Newman is batting just .223 with one homer and a .621 OPS in 30 games.
The Pirates also have Jordy Mercer at the major league level. He is not eligible for free agency until following the 2018 season and Tucker and Newman should be ready for the majors by then or sooner.