What did the White Sox get in Brandon Jacobs?

USA TODAY Sports

Coming to Chicago in the Matt Thornton trade, the new guy from Boston system has a familiar background

None of us really know Brandon Jacobs, the minor-league outfielder the White Sox received from Boston in the Matt Thornton trade. But it feels like we do thanks to some familiar words used to describe him, whether it's Rick Hahn:

"He’s an athletic kid who projects to be a power bat/corner outfielder," Hahn said. "He’s a toolsy player with upside to be an everyday corner outfielder."

Or his MLB.com scouting report:

When the Red Sox went over slot to sign Jacobs away from a football scholarship, they likely knew it would take some time to put his considerable raw tools to consistent use on the baseball field

Hahn also called Jacobs "the most impactful player available to us." Over the Monster called him a "lottery ticket prospect," and given the financial obligations for Thornton, these tags aren't mutually exclusive. The White Sox saved $2.5 million after sending $750,000 with Thornton to Boston, which should cover the toolsy player they select in next year's draft, and the hope is that Jacobs resembles an important amateur talent investment himself.

Actually, that $750,000 included in the deal makes it easy to do the mental accounting, as that's the exact bonus the Red Sox paid Jacobs when they drafted him in the 10th round of the 2009 draft. They had to pony up to lure him away from his Auburn football commitment (and possibly future earnings from Auburn? [/SEC joke]).

If that $750,000 is just a coincidence, then it's similar to the trade that sent Jason Frasor back to Toronto. The White Sox received a pair of low-minors pitchers who received disproportionately large bonuses relative to their draft round, so it's like they got to spend another team's money. Myles Jaye and Daniel Webb are progressing nicely so far; the hope is that Jacobs can do the same, but the Sox don't seem to have the same luck with position players.

The numbers

Year Age Lev G PA H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG
2009 18 Rk 8 27 6 2 0 0 0 0 2 8 .250 .333 .333
2010 19 A- 64 263 57 18 2 6 4 1 21 59 .242 .308 .411
2011 20 A 115 502 134 32 3 17 30 7 43 123 .303 .376 .505
2012 21 A+ 114 487 110 30 0 13 17 9 39 128 .252 .322 .410
2013 22 A+-AA 84 343 74 25 1 11 10 4 33 90 .247 .335 .448
2013 22 A+ 81 335 71 24 0 11 10 4 33 88 .244 .334 .440
2013 22 AA 3 8 3 1 1 0 0 0 0 2 .375 .375 .750
5 Seasons 385 1622 381 107 6 47 61 21 138 408 .265 .340 .446

Behind the numbers

Alex Speier's writeup of Jacobs at WEEI.com is enlightening. Jacobs suffered a broken hamate in May of 2012. He returned in about two weeks, which, given what we saw with Gordon Beckham, seems premature:

Though he was able to return to the field after missing a couple of weeks in late-May, the season ended up being something of an exercise in survival, with his power and ability to impact the ball regularly diminished. He performed at a solid level, roughly in line with league average, hitting .252/.322/.410 with 13 homers (a solid total in the Carolina League, especially in the home run graveyard of Salem) and 17 steals. Still, the performance was such that, after Jacobs performed poorly this spring (sometimes appearing uninterested), the team elected to return him to Salem, hoping he would dominate at the level to force an early-season promotion to Double-A.

Jacobs did get the call to Double-A ... on Thursday. He dug a hole for himself with a dismal start, but he ultimately deserved the call:

PA H 2B 3B HR BB K BA OBP SLG
First 30 games 125 19 8 0 2 11 35 .174 .264 .303
Since 220 55 17 1 9 22 55 .289 .372 .531

When he joins the Birmingham Barons, he'll be at an appropriate age (22) for the level, and so even a decent month or two in the Southern League will go a long way to maintain his prospect status. That said, he has that familiar hitting profile (not too many walks, a few too many strikeouts) that is ultimately limiting unless something clicks.

Speier says Jacobs' trajectory in this regard made him expendable. He'll have to be added to a 40-man roster next year, and he didn't look like a candidate to survive the crunch in Boston. The White Sox don't have that same problem at the moment, and sometimes that's worked out to their advantage (think Conor Gillaspie and Jose Quintana). The odds are against it, but Jacobs gives the White Sox farm system another guy to watch, and at a position that's a little thinner than they thought it would be.

That's about all the White Sox could hope for from the Thornton trade, as far as John Sickels sees it:

The White Sox have a liking for toolsy outfielders, and he certainly fits that mold. Jacobs is a lottery ticket, but Thornton is a 36-year-old reliever with slipping skills. Picking up a Grade C prospect with enough physical potential to improve is a good move for Chicago. From Boston's point of view, getting some bullpen help now is more important than keeping a stagnating Grade C/C+ prospect who may, or may not, help two or three years in the future. The deal makes sense for both teams.

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