The Angels might have netted their third baseman of the future on Thursday when they acquired Kyle Kubitza and reliever Nate Hyatt from the Atlanta Braves for top pitching prospect Ricardo Sanchez, a 17-year-old left-hander from Venezuela.
With current third baseman David Freese entering his free-agent year and struggling third-base prospect Kaleb Cowart stalled at the double-A level, General Manager Jerry Dipoto hoped to acquire a young third baseman who could be ready to take over the job in 2016. Kubitza, 24, could be the answer.
A third-round pick out of Texas State University in 2011, Kubitza hit .295 with a .405 on-base percentage, .470 slugging percentage, eight homers, 11 triples, 31 doubles and 55 runs batted in at double-A Mississippi last season.
Kubitza, who will open next season at triple-A Salt Lake, was Atlanta's 10th-best prospect entering 2015, according to Baseball America, which describes the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder as a "fiery" player with a smooth line-drive stroke, excellent plate discipline and a strong infield throwing arm.
"We feel like Kyle is on the doorstep of the big leagues," Dipoto said. "He's an athletic left-handed swinger with really good strike-zone judgment. He runs deep counts. He's got lift in his swing. He has some power potential that hasn't tapped into yet. And he can really throw.
"I don't want to put too much pressure on him, but he certainly fits what we're trying to do very well."
Sanchez, who has already touched 95 mph with his fastball, went 2-2 with a 3.49 earned-run average in 12 games in the Arizona rookie league last summer, striking out 43 and walking 22 in 38 2/3 innings. Signed for $580,000 in 2013, Sanchez was rated the Angels' third-best prospect by Baseball America entering 2015.
But with the Angels stockpiling young arms -- nine of their top 10 prospects, including recently acquired left-hander Andrew Heaney and 2014 first-round pick Sean Newcomb, are pitchers -- Dipoto felt he could deal from an area of depth to fill a void.
"We like Ricardo quite a bit, but when you're trading prospects, you have to give to get," Dipoto said. "Guys like Kyle, who have physical size, are athletic and have performed through double-A, don't grow on trees.
"Ricardo is still four or five years away from poking his head into the big leagues. At the end of the day, we're projecting a third baseman who can play in the big leagues sooner rather than later, who fills a void, and who has a strong ceiling himself."
The Angels also replenished some of the power arms they lost in the bullpen with recent trades of Kevin Jepsen and Jairo Diaz by acquiring Hyatt, a 24-year-old right-hander who went 5-3 with a 2.71 ERA and three saves in 37 appearances for Class-A Lynchburg (Va.) last season, striking out 73 and walking 27 in 63 innings.
Hyatt, a 13th-round pick out of Appalachian State in 2012, has a fastball that has been clocked from 92-97 mph, and he has averaged 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings over three minor league seasons. The 6-foot, 185-pound Hyatt is expected to start the 2015 season at double-A Arkansas.