The Royals have acquired reliever Albert Abreu from the Rangers for minor league pitcher Yohanse Morel, according to announcements from both clubs. Kansas City will announce additional corresponding moves once Abreu reports to the team in the coming days.
Abreu, 26, spent around two months in Arlington. Texas acquired him from the Yankees in exchange for backstop Jose Trevino in the week leading up to Opening Day. The Rangers had acquired Mitch Garver to join a catching group that also included Jonah Heim and Sam Huff, and they felt that freed them to deal from their group behind the plate in hopes of adding a potential long-term bullpen piece.
The acquisition didn’t pan out as the team had hoped, as Abreu struggled mightily over seven appearances. He only allowed three runs in 8 2/3 innings, but he walked 12 batters and surrendered a pair of homers in that limited time. There’s little chance of Abreu sustaining an acceptable ERA so long as he’s struggling with free passes to that extent, and Texas designated him for assignment on Monday.
Strike-throwing has been a problem for Abreu throughout his professional career, albeit not quite to the extent it was during his limited time as a Ranger. A well-regarded prospect during his time in the Astros and Yankees farm systems, he was nevertheless forced to the bullpen because of a lack of control. That has been borne out in his big league work, as the Dominican Republic native walked an elevated 12.2% of opponents over 36 2/3 frames with New York last season — his first with an extended workload at the big league level.
That Abreu has attracted interest from a handful of teams in spite of his control problems is a testament to his high-octane stuff, however. He’s averaged nearly 98 MPH on his fastball in each of his past two seasons, showcasing elite arm speed. He backs that up with an upper-80s slider and changeup that each drew strong reviews from prospect evaluators, and the breaking ball has been a quality swing-and-miss offering at the MLB level.
With that kind of arsenal, it’s not hard to dream on Abreu carving out a future in a big league bullpen. Even if his spotty control limits him to lower-leverage work, the Royals can hope to coax better results out of his intriguing pitch mix. If they can, Abreu could be a long-term option. He won’t eclipse his first full year of MLB service until this season, meaning he’d be controllable through the end of the 2027 campaign. He’s out of minor league option years, though, meaning Kansas City needs to keep him on the active roster or make him available to rival clubs themselves.
That the Royals parted with a young arm to acquire Abreu suggests they’re prepared to afford him that opportunity. Kansas City is near the top of the league in waiver priority, but they parted with Morel to ensure no other team acquired Abreu via a trade of their own. It’s the second trade of Morel’s career, as he was dealt from the Nationals alongside Kelvin Gutierrez and Blake Perkins in the 2018 swap that sent Kelvin Herrera to Washington.
Morel, 21, was a fairly well-regarded prospect very early in his professional career. He twice appeared among Baseball America’s ranking of the top 30 minor league talents in the Kansas City system, but he hasn’t garnered a mention in either of the past two years as he’s struggled at High-A. Morel moved to the bullpen last season but was tagged for a 6.66 ERA through 50 innings. The Royals decided not to add to him to the 40-man roster in advance of the Rule 5 draft (which never ended up transpiring), and he’s repeated the level in 2022.
Through 17 2/3 innings this season, Morel has a more suitable 4.09 ERA. He’s punched out 25.9% of opponents with an elevated 12.3% walk rate. Eric Longenhagen and Tess Taruskin of Fangraphs wrote last week that his arsenal is headlined by a plus split-changeup. He’ll again be Rule 5 eligible this winter if he doesn’t earn a spot on the Texas 40-man roster.
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