First of all, congratulations to Jim Thome on turning in the best moment of 2011. For one night last night, I forgot where the Twins were in the standings and felt so happy that it was like the Twins had just clinched the division. Congratulations big man, I couldn't be happier to see you do it as a Twin!
Moving on... Based on yesterday's poll, it's apparent that about two-thirds of readers here disapprove, in some capacity, of the trade that sent Delmon Young to the Tigers for Cole Nelson and a PTBNL. It's certainly not a bountiful return, but let's take a look at Cole Nelson after the jump and expand on the newest Twin.
Nelson is a 6'7", 233-pound left-hander who was taken in the 45th round by the Rays in 2009 and then again by the Tigers in the 10th round of 2010. An Edina native, he was listed as one of Keith Law's 30 Sleeper Prospects to Watch coming into the 2011 season. Law had this to say:
Big lefty Cole Nelson didn't throw a whole lot at Auburn and wasn't great when he did pitch, but the Tigers took a chance on his physicality and lengthened his stride to raise his release point. He touched 96 mph in the GCL, sitting 90-94, with feel for a changeup, while the slider is a work in progress.
Nelson's numbers, at first glance, make it pretty apparent that he didn't live up to Law's expectations, but if you look at his numbers since a role change -- a shift to the bullpen -- there's a slightly different story behind the towering southpaw. As Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein points out on Twitter, Nelson has been a completely different guy out of the 'pen. He's fanned 19 in 18 innings of work while only allowing five earned runs on 17 hits and four walks -- a far cry from his numbers as a starter.
It's a small sample, but it certainly looks like Nelson has benefited from the transition, and it's always encouraging to see a talent evaluator with Goldstein's reputation in the industry go out of his way to offer praise on the strides made by a player within your organization.
Baseball America tells us that Nelson sits comfortably at 92 mph with sink and tail on his fastball but has touched 95 mph. And, while his changeup is nothing special right now, he varies the speed and trajectory of his breaking ball depending on which box his opponent is standing in. Versus lett-handers he'll throw a curve with a lateral break, whereas against righties he'll drop a more 12-to-6 version of that same curveball.
Let's also not forget that there's a second player in this deal, and it'll be revealed who it is no later than October 15. This isn't out of the ordinary for trades; often times you'll see teams agree on a list of names and the recipient will have X amount of time to choose a name from that list. This could also mean, however, that the prospect is someone on the Tigers' 40-man who might not clear waivers right now and therefore must be a PTBNL. Given Young's performance and salary, that may be unlikely, but it's at least worth mentioning in passing.
if you'd told fans at the end of 2010 that this is ultimately what Delmon would be traded for, I don't think many would've believed you. I'd be in that boat as well.
Still, Delmon's a risk to tender a contract to, hasn't hit this year, and is a poor left fielder who even in his best season with the Twins totaled just 1.8 WAR because of his glove and baserunning ability. The Twins would've gotten more had they moved him in the offseason, but hindsight is 20/20. I went on record last winter as saying I'd be OK with the Twins trading him prior to 2011, but also that I'd be glad to see him hang around because I thought he'd improve offensively upon last year's numbers a bit. I, like many Delmon fans, was very wrong and very disappointed.
In terms of this move though, I'm OK with it. The Twins were unlikely to give Delmon a raise by tendering him a contract next season, and a hard-throwing left-hander with good feel for his breaking ball plus a PTBNL isn't the worst possible outcome. At the very least, it's a step up from a straight salary dump where the Twins get nothing but a warm body and the pleasure of not paying Young. Remember, the Twins don't have to pay the remaining $1.3M on Delmon's contract, and that amount right there is slightly more than first-round pick Levi Michael signed for last night, so by making this deal, the Tigers essentially paid for the Twins' signing bonus on their first-round pick as well.
I wish Delmon the best of luck in the rest of his career, and I'm disappointed to see his time in Minnesota end like this after making strides in 2010, but I don't think the move is a terrible one by the front office.
Steve Adams writes for MLBTradeRumors.com and MLB.com and contributes at 612Sports.NET. You can follow him on Twitter: @Adams_Steve