Former Yankees prospect Canaan Smith-Njigba is being promoted by the Pittsburgh Pirates today. As one of the four prospects traded from the Yankees in the Jameson Taillon trade, it’s fair to wonder which side got the better end of the deal.
In January of 2021, the Yankees sent Canaan Smith-Njigba and shortstop Maikol Escotto along with right-handers Roansy Contreras and Miguel Yajure to the Pirates in exchange for Jameson Taillon.
At the time, the move was seen as an upside gamble by the Yankees to ensure their rotation behind ace Gerrit Cole; yet some Yankees fans were not happy heading into this offseason. In 144.1 innings last year, Taillon pitched to a 4.30 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP while going 8-6 with a 23.2% strikeout rate.
At the same time, Contreras was emerging as a potential star for Pittsburgh, pitching to a 2.65 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 34.9% strikeout rate in Double-A and earning a brief promotion to the Majors.
In addition, Yajure was a steady force in Triple-A, recording a 3.09 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 23% strikeout rate and also earning three starts in the Majors. It was fair to wonder if maybe the Yankees had swung and missed on the trade.
However, Taillon has been better this year, pitching to a 2.93 ERA and 1.05 WHIP; although, he has been missing far fewer bats with just a 19% strikeout rate, which is good for only 6.92 strikeouts per nine innings. Still, the improved command has made Taillon more effective and helped him allow a career-low home run to fly ball rate.
Yet, while the Yankees’ end of the trade has improved, the Pirates haul has seemed to match them stride for stride.
Fresh off of his strong 2021 campaign, Roansy Contreras continued to pitch well in the minors and earned an MLB promotion. In seven appearances and four starts with the Pirates this season, the 22-year-old has a 2.57 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 28.2% strikeout rate.
While he has experienced some rough patches, like allowing three earned runs in 4.2 innings in his last start against the Braves, he has also flashed tremendous upside, like striking out 15 batters in his last 10 innings. Given his youth, his future appears bright in Pittsburgh.
As does that of the latest call-up Canaan Smith-Njigba.
The 23-year-old has been an on-base machine during his time in the minors, notching a .387 on-base percentage in 351 games. In 52 games at Triple-A this season, the outfielder was hitting .277 with a .387 OBP to go along with 19 RBI, 31 runs scored, and eight stolen bases.
He doesn’t have a lot of pop in his bat, hitting just 26 home runs across his five minor league seasons, but his on-base skills and baserunning ability should make him a fixture in left field and near the top of the lineup for the Pirates for years to come, provided they move veteran outfielders like Ben Gamel or Bryan Reynolds this trade deadline.
While Miguel Yajure has taken a step back this season and Maikol Escotto struggles in High-A, both prospects are just 24 and 20 years old, respectively, so there is still time to see how they will develop.
As it stands now, the Pirates were able to acquire a potential anchor for their rotation and stalwart for their lineup by moving the now 30-year-old Taillon.
Given Taillon’s success this year, and the success of the Yankees pitching staff overall, it may wind up being a rare win-win deal.
However, that may not make it any easier for Yankees fans to watch these young players taken off for the Pirates in years to come.
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