Persons of Interest: New Blue Jays Ronny Brito, Andrew Sopko

MLB insider Ben Nicholson-Smith joins Alex Seixeiro to discuss the breaking news that the Blue Jays have traded Russell Martin to the Dodgers.

The Toronto Blue Jays continued their on-the-fly rebuild Friday by trading catcher Russell Martin to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for infield prospect Ronny Brito and minor-league pitcher Andrew Sopko.

As part of the deal, Martin will have the majority of his remaining $20 million salary paid by the Blue Jays before the 35-year-old Canadian can become a free agent following the 2019 campaign. While Brito and Sopko aren’t likely to get a shot in the majors this year — although it would seem Sopko could have an outside shot at some point — it’s a move in which Blue Jays management sees upside.

The skill, intelligence, grit and leadership Martin brought to the Blue Jays clubhouse, despite his production declining in each of his four years in Toronto, will be greatly missed.

With that in mind, though, here’s a closer look at what the Blue Jays got in return for the four-time all-star.

Name: Ronny Brito
Position: Shortstop
Throws: Right | Bats: Right
Age: 19
Height: Six-foot | Weight: 165 lbs.
From: San Francisco de Macoris, Dominican Republic
Drafted: Signed with the Dodgers as international free agent in 2015

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins described the haul as “basically two low-impact lottery tickets” during a conference call with Toronto media Friday evening, and it’s Brito’s upside that should give the team’s fans the most optimism that this trade will work out in Toronto’s favour years down the line.

Brito has been impressive at the plate during his three minor-league seasons in the Dodgers’ system, most recently slashing .295/.359/.496 in 61 games with rookie-level Ogden Raptors in the Pioneer League and DSL Dodgers of the Dominican Summer League.

Scouting reports

This from Kyle Glaser of Baseball America on Brito at the plate: “Brito shows rare opposite-field power for a teenager, ambushing fastballs with a steep, uphill swing. He’s an aggressive free-swinger who doesn’t adjust with two strikes, resulting in plenty of strikeouts, but he makes impact contact when he connects. He is still working to improve his secondary pitch recognition and strike zone management.”

Here’s an example of that opposite-field power, plus his willingness to get in the face of opposing catchers.

This from Baseball Savant on his high-upside defensive ability: “While Brito still needs time to develop more consistency, he has Gold Glove upside at shortstop. He covers plenty of ground at shortstop thanks to his smooth actions, quick first step and keen instincts, and his soft hands and strong arm add to his playmaking ability. His tools will play anywhere in the infield and he saw time at second and third base last year.”

Resilience

Brito has already proven he can bounce back after facing adversity in the form of significant injury woes. He sustained a broken leg in August of 2017 when a runner slid into him at second base as he attempted to turn a double play.

He ended up hitting 11 home runs and driving in 55 RBIs in 61 games in 2018, earning praise from Raptors hitting coach Dustin Kelly.

“Getting back into the lights and playing in front of people, it took him a couple of weeks to get used to game speed. He’s hit in the middle of our lineup all year and he’s come up with some really, really big hits,” Kelly told Josh Horton of MiLB.com this past July. “He’s a guy that when he comes up with runners on base, the other team knows they better be careful. And a lot of times when you’re trying to be careful, you end up making mistakes.”

Atkins added on Friday: “We’re excited about his performance this year. The overall ability, the spike in performance we feel like could have something to do with being disrupted by a couple of injuries. He had a broken leg and after that he has really, really performed at a very high rate for a 19-year-old shortstop.”

Also, if you’re fluent in the language of “charts” then you’ll find this tweet interesting.

Name: Andrew Sopko
Position: Starting pitcher
Throws: Right
Age: 24
Height: Six-foot-two | Weight: 205 lbs.
From: Missoula, Mont.
Drafted: Seventh round by Dodgers in 2015 out of Gonzaga University

If the addition of Sopko works out and he can live up to his potential, the consensus appears to be that he could one day find a spot at the back end of a starting MLB rotation.

This is what Baseball Savant has to say about the righty: “Sopko thrives on deception, with his fastball sitting at 88-92 mph and topping out at 94 but playing better than its velocity because it appears to rise at the plate. His best secondary offering is a low-80s slider that grades at average. Sopko’s upper-70s curveball and changeup are fringy, which leaves him vulnerable against left-handers. … He keeps hitters off balance by mixing up his pitches, speeds and locations. Sopko doesn’t have a high ceiling, but he could help [his team] as a spot starter or middle reliever.”

Sopko has gone 27-17 over four minor-league seasons. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 121-to-27 as he split 2018 between the high-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and double-A Tulsa Drillers, finishing the year with a 3.52 ERA in 26 total appearances.

“We had at least six solid amateur scouting reports that really helped us in this decision, and certainly had a great deal of information on him as a professional,” Atkins added during the Friday conference call. “Had learned about him from an employee of ours that had worked with him at some point, in terms of teammate and makeup and his performance is encouraging.”

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