Nothing Minor about Minor League Trades

It could be said that there is no such thing as a small trade in baseball. Even the most casual swaps sometimes bring with them gradual success for the teams involved.

Few people probably blinked an eye when the Chicago Cubs acquired a minor league right-hander by the name of Kevin Hart from the Baltimore Orioles two years ago – even though Hart would go on to have an award-winning first season with the Cubs and factor into their 2007 postseason run.

Swaps for minor league players – particularly pitchers – in the Cubs' system seems to have become more frequent in recent off-seasons. Aside from the trade for Hart in 2006, Chicago dealt for a relatively unknown right-hander in Marcos Mateo from Cincinnati late in 2007. Mateo, while hardly a safe bet to reach the big leagues at this stage, went on to have a solid first season in the Cubs' system this past year.

On Monday, Chicago pulled off another minor league trade, sending right-hander Matt Avery to the Washington Nationals for southpaw Ryan Buchter.

Avery, 25, was 4-2 with a 4.46 ERA in 66 2/3 innings this past season with Class AA Tennessee. The 6-foot-6 pitcher was a ninth-round draft pick from Virginia in 2005.

Buchter, 21, combined to make 17 appearances in 2008 between the Nationals' Gulf Coast League affiliate and Class-A Hagerstown, where he was 2-2 with a 3.26 ERA in 19 1/3 innings as a reliever. Buchter (listed as 6-foot-3, 185 pounds in the Nationals' media guide) was drafted from Gloucester College in New Jersey in the 33rd round of the 2005 draft by Washington.

"Just an old-fashioned swap," Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita said upon reacting to the trade. "They get a big right-hander with a good arm and we get a left-hander with a good arm."

Avery is a native of Fairfax, Va., not far from Washington, D.C. He saw many Nationals scouts during his college playing days at Virginia.

"It is kind of a cool aspect going to my hometown team and their organization," Avery said. He added that he was surprised to hear that he'd been traded.

"I found out mid-day Monday," said Avery. "Fleita called me and said I'd been traded. You kind of get stopped in your tracks. It's not usually what you expect to hear on an average Monday."

But Avery noted that the trade is a good opportunity for him to spread his wings with another club. He wasn't particularly happy with his 2008 season. He spent time on the disabled list, which coincided in a brief stint with Class Advanced-A Daytona.

"After the season I had in 2007 and the (Arizona) Fall League in 2007, my heights were set a little higher than what I put forth and the results I had in 2008," Avery said. "The first half, I was pitching through injuries and ended up on the DL for about five weeks. That's always miserable and it kind of hampered me. I was happy with my second half, so that's kind of what I want to build off of from here.

"If I look at it from the second half on, pitching healthy, it was a couple of steps forward. That's what I'm going to focus on as far as what to build on."

While Avery had semi-successful numbers in four different seasons with the Cubs, Buchter (pron. BUCK-TER) has struggled in two-plus seasons of pro ball. He held a 6.95 ERA over his first two seasons in the Nationals' farm system, but this past season strung together some fairly nice performances while pitching in the South Atlantic League.

He has seemed to often lack control, with 46 walks in 69 2/3 innings in his career. But Cubs Director of Amateur Scouting Tim Wilken noted that Buchter is fairly new to pitching. Buchter was an outfielder in junior college, where he was eventually converted to pitcher, Wilken said.

"We've got reports on him kind of being somewhat raw … but you can see by his numbers that he had a pretty decent year (despite) a little too many walks," said Wilken.

Buchter's fastball is anywhere from 86-94 mph, and he features a changeup and curveball in his repertoire. The curveball is more like a slurve, Wilken said.

"He's got a changeup and curveball," Wilken said of Buchter's secondary pitches. "From all our reports, it's kind of a work in progress. It's not so dissimilar to Mateo. It's not a comparison to Mateo, but it's not so dissimilar because he (Mateo) didn't have much of a breaking ball until right at the end.

"That's not to be confused with a comparison; it's more of a sighting of a breaking ball that has some potential. It's not necessarily average at this time, just like Mateo's wasn't. But there may be enough in there. With (Buchter's) limited amount of innings, who knows what could happen here."

Wilken noted that the Cubs have an assortment of young left-handers stockpiled at the minor league level from Class Low-A Boise to Daytona.

Those pitchers include 2008 draftees James Leverton and Jeff Beliveau, plus converted outfielder Luke Sommer, young Dominican lefty Jeff Antigua, Buchter, and 2007 draftees Zach Ashwood, Chris Siegfried, Dustin Sasser, James Russell and 2006 draftee Jeremy Papelbon – many of whom were brought to the Cubs' annual Instructional League this fall.

"Basically it was brought up by Washington that they had certain interest in Avery," Wilken said. "Avery was a little bit trapped over here on the right-hand side, and our theory has always been to add a lefty when you can, which is probably different than most other organizations. But (Buchter) was a little bit of a younger guy that now gives us 11 different lefties from Boise to Daytona now."

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