White Sox acquire reliever Tommy Kahnle in exchange for Yency Almonte

The White Sox traded away right-handed pitching prospect Yency Almonte earlier this week, in exchange for Tommy Kahnle. This news has been covered pretty well given the trade happened three days ago and we were a little delayed reporting on it, so we’ll focus mostly on what wasn’t well-documented in the news coverage – the nature of the prospect involved.

But first, a quick look at Tommy Kahnle, the right-handed reliever acquired from the Colorado Rockies. Kahnle had been designated for assignment a few days prior to the trade as Colorado went through their 40-man roster machinations ahead of the Rule 5 protection deadline on the 20th. Which is to say the Rockies were looking for whatever return they could get, as Kahnle was a substantial risk to be claimed and get them nothing.

Kahnle was a 5th round pick in 2010 by the Yankees, and made his major league debut in the Mile High City in 2014 after being selected in the 2013 Rule 5. His numbers that year were pretty decent, especially pitching half his games at Coors Field and coming straight from AA: 1.19 WHIP, 6.7 H/9, 4.1 BB/9, 8.3 K/9. In 2015 he started the year in AAA, re-joined the big club in June and was effectively wild for two months (28.2 IP, 21 H, 8 ER, 19 BB, 36 K for that period) before a series of poor outings in late August gutted his numbers. The 26-year old reliever has a mid-90’s fastball with heavy characteristics to go with a change and slider, and he does induce ground balls efficiently, which is a profile both clubs involved in the transaction historically latch onto.

So what did the White Sox give up? Right-handed starting pitching prospect Yency “Showtime” Almonte was the return from the Angels for 1.5 months of Gordon Beckham‘s services at the end of 2014. Opening the season as a 20-year old with Class A Kannapolis, Almonte posted decent but erratic results, but he improved as the season went on under the tutelage of Pitching Coach Jose Bautista. He was promoted to High A Winston-Salem for one start in June and for good in early August, and improved across the board while helping lead the Dash to the playoffs.

Our writers saw Almonte pitching live twice this year, and what we saw helps explain the numbers. He’s really two pitchers – unpolished Yency and polished Yency. The unpolished version likes the gun a bit too much. He throws a mid-90’s fastball that doesn’t move a lot, and an upper 80’s slider that flattens and stays up, because he rushes in the latter part of his motion and over-throws. But when he stays within himself a bit more, throwing those two pitches more 91-93 and 84-86 respectively, he gets better movement and keeps the ball down. He’s also got a change-up that can be effective at times, but that he gives a way a bit in his motion.

You can see our live-looks, with embedded video, here from early May and here from late May. You can see the changes he made even in those few weeks as he was focused on being a little more controlled in his delivery. The more refined version of Almonte, when he sticks with it, looks like a potential back end starter ceiling, or (perhaps more likely) a middle reliever. How consistently he can deliver his slider and change will likely determine which way he goes.

While Almonte was not on our mid-season Top 30 prospects list, he was just outside of it and his in-season improvements mean he likely would have been in the 20-30 range on our next list in January. So the White Sox did give up a real prospect, in exchange for a major league reliever. Any time a club with a somewhat thin farm system trades away a ranked prospect there is some risk, but Kahnle looks like a pretty classic “Coop will fix ’em” candidate and a likely upgrade over Daniel Webb.

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