The final piece of the Toronto Blue Jays trade deadline puzzle fell into place right as the 4 p.m. deadline passed, with the team sending pitchers Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini, and prospect Cal Stevenson to the Houston Astros in return for lone outfielder Derek Fisher.
The initial reaction to the deal was mostly comprised of a mix of shock and anger, as the majority of fans saw two names from a better time for the organization move out for a player that has struggled to find a foothold in the league.
So who exactly is Derek Fisher, and what can fans expect from him?
Fisher is a prime example of what is colloquially known in baseball circles as a ‘post-hype prospect’. A 37th overall pick of the Astros in 2014, he quickly rose in both the team’s and league-wide prospect rankings. He peaked at No. 83 in MLB.com’s ranks heading into the 2017 season, and was in the top-5 of the Astros’ organizational charts at the time.
FanGraphs’ prospect scouting report is high on his combination of power and speed, grading him with a 60 raw power tool and 70 speed. A 6-foot-3 lefty bat with that combination of skills and the ability to cover all three outfield spots doesn’t come along every day, and it is easy to see an organization believing they can find the key to unlock the total skillset for a middle of the order impact player.
In six minor league seasons, Fisher posted a .279/.374/.486 line, adding power and speed in equal measure with 90 home runs and 111 steals over 505 games.
In his post-deadline conference call, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins referenced those very tools as a big reason for acquiring him.
"We've targeted Derek Fisher for some time, he's come up in a number of discussions. We tried to get him and haven't been able to get him and what we did was a creative way with trading,” Atkins said. “He couldn't fit better with our young core right now, with that amount of control and the handedness, the speed, the ability to play centre, the success he's had in the minor leagues. Everything about his track record suggests he's a great fit for us."
Those numbers and tools are all well and good, but the big issue is the disappointing reality of his time in the major leagues. It is one thing to have good numbers in 500 minor league games, but playing 500 minor league games is itself a signal of a problem.
Fisher has played 112 games over parts of three seasons in Houston, compiling a .201/.282/.367 slash line, while striking out at 35.3% rate. That would be the worst rate in the majors in 2019 — and his 68.4% contact rate would be among the league’s worst — if he had enough at-bats to qualify. It has been far too much swing-and-miss to allow his considerable tools to flourish.
He was especially bad in 2018, striking out 48.8% of the time in his 86 plate appearances.
Defensively, he is capable of playing all three positions, but just because he can doesn’t mean he should. He has spent the majority of his time in the majors playing in left field, but perhaps the Blue Jays’ lack of a true centre fielder will open up the opportunity for him to prove he can stick there.
He graded out in both of the last two seasons among the top 4% of runners in sprint speed, but that’s a tool that never comes in to play if you spend that many at-bats walking back to the bench.
If this profile sounds familiar to you, you are not mistaken. This could just as easily be the same story written about Teoscar Hernandez, or Randal Grichuk, or Billy McKinney, or Sócrates Brito.
That is to say: The current Blue Jays front office has a type of player they like very much, and that type of player is Derek Fisher.
Much like the plan going forward with pitching appears to be to accumulate as many chances for a mid-level arm to break out, the outfield is beginning to look very much the same way. The team is banking on the odds that if enough make-or-break, swing-and-miss power bats get the opportunity to stick long term at the position, at least one of them will prove themselves worthy of the hype that landed them on the radar in the first place.
The Blue Jays rebuild is firmly in ‘see what we’ve got’ mode, and it looks like the next year and a half will provide Fisher plenty of opportunity to either establish himself as a major league contributor or another prospect that never quite put the pieces together.
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