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Meet the New Guy: Juan Carela

Recently acquired righthander has a devastating slider and is producing stellar results with it

You don’t expect much more than a lottery ticket for a journeyman reliever at the deadline, but Juan Carela appears to be more than a mere lottery ticket.

The Chicago White Sox struck a buzzer-beating deal with the New York Yankees in the final minutes of the 2023 trade deadline, shipping reliever Keynan Middleton to New York in exchange for righthander Juan Carela. While the Sox made a bevy of consequential trades on deadline day, this deal has the potential to emerge as the most savvy trade the oft-ridiculed front office executed this year.

Carela is a 6´3´´, 186-pounder from the Dominican Republic, still just 21 years old. The young righty raised eyebrows as a prospect with his projectable frame and a fastball that could touch the mid-90s. In 2018, the Yankees signed then-16-year-old Carela for $335,000, and he made his professional debut in the Yankees system the following season.

His current arsenal features a mid-90s rising fastball, a sinker with similar velocity, a low-80s sweeping slider, a mid-80s traditional slider, and a developing changeup that shows early signs of promise, with steep downward action. He’s mixed in the occasional cutter this year as well. Given the depth of his pitch offerings, Carela has pitched almost exclusively as a starter in New York’s system, and should stick as a starter in the White Sox’s system.

Though his first two seasons Stateside were decidedly lackluster, Carela enjoyed a breakout year with the Low-A Tampa Tarpons in 2022. Across 16 appearances (14 starts) spanning 79 innings, he pitched to a career-low 2.96 ERA, fanning 110 batters for a strikeout rate of 33%. He began 2023 in High-A Hudson Valley and has produced similarly promising results despite the increase in difficulty, recording a 3.67 ERA in 83 1⁄3 innings while punching out 31% of the batters he’s faced, showing his 2022 breakout wasn’t a flash in the pan.

Out of 104 High-A pitchers with a minimum of 60 innings pitched this year, Carela ranks fourth in strikeouts. His walk rate of 9% is tenable given his propensity for punching tickets. His K-BB%, a statistic that rewards strikeouts but dings players for excessively walking batters, is 21.9%. That figure places him in the top 10% of High-A hurlers, showing that his command has been excellent among pitchers who regularly rely on the punchout to navigate lineups.

At 21, he’s two years younger than the average player at Low-A. Despite his youth, due to his signing in 2018 Carela would need to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from exposure to other organizations in the Rule 5 draft. If Carela finishes the minor league season on as high of a note as he’s started it on, he’s all-but-guaranteed to be added to the 40-man and protected from the Rule 5 draft. If he stumbles down the stretch, however, the White Sox will be forced to make a difficult decision regarding his future with the ballclub.

Losing a talented young starter like Carela, with excellent swing-and-miss stuff and good command, to another organization would be a tough pill to swallow for most White Sox fans, even considering the other starters the Sox added at the deadline and the relatively miniscule price they had to pay to acquire him.

If he’s added to the 40-man and produces comparable results to the ones he’s shown the past year-and-a-half, however, the Sox could have potentially made out like bandits in this deal considering Middleton’s recent inconsistency and the Sox’s need to bolster their farm system with promising starters who will make up the White Sox rotation of tomorrow.