A's acquire Baltimore's No. 16 prospect for Irvin
OAKLAND -- The deep group of arms that is expected to compete for spots in the A’s starting rotation this spring became a bit less crowded on Thursday.
The A’s traded left-hander Cole Irvin and Minor League right-hander Kyle Virbitsky to the Orioles in exchange for infielder Darell Hernaiz, who was previously rated as Baltimore’s No. 16 prospect by MLB Pipeline.
A’s receive: INF Darell Hernaiz (Orioles’ No. 16 prospect)
Orioles receive: LHP Cole Irvin, RHP Kyle Virbitsky
Hernaiz fits the mold of the type of players the A’s have targeted in recent trades during their rebuilding phase -- a high-contact, toolsy hitter with supreme athleticism that gives him the ability to play all around the infield. The 21-year-old shortstop will slot in at No. 18 on the A’s Top 30 Prospects list, adding to the promising infield depth in Oakland’s system that also includes fellow top prospects such as Tyler Soderstrom (No. 1), Zack Gelof (No. 3), Max Muncy (No. 8) and Jordan Diaz (No. 9).
In parting ways with Irvin, the A’s continue what has been an overhaul of their Major League roster over the past two years, particularly in the starting rotation. Following the trade of Frankie Montas to the Yankees on Aug. 1, Irvin had become Oakland’s most experienced starter at the age of 28, stepping up as a leader for a young rotation that featured three rookies by season’s end.
Virbitsky, 24, made 23 appearances (22 starts) between Single-A Stockton and High-A Lansing last season, posting a 4.63 ERA with 140 strikeouts and 30 walks over 126 1/3 innings.
Coming off his best season as a big leaguer in 2022 by going 9-13 while posting career highs in strikeouts (128), innings (181) and WHIP (1.16) with a 3.98 ERA in 30 starts, Irvin entered the offseason as the pitcher most likely to take the mound at the Coliseum for the A’s come Opening Day on March 30 against the Angels.
So why would the A’s trade away their top starting pitcher from a year ago while he was still under team control through the 2026 season?
For one, the A’s are flipping a player they basically obtained for nothing -- having acquired Irvin in January 2021 from the Phillies in exchange for cash considerations -- for a prospect who fits their Major League timeline as they work back into contention over the next couple of years.
The A’s also have a plethora of starting rotation options they’ll look to sort through in Spring Training. A’s general manager David Forst indicated that free-agent signings Shintaro Fujinami and Drew Rucinski are both viewed as members of the rotation. Others on the 40-man roster who figure to be in the mix are 2022 All-Star Paul Blackburn, Ken Waldichuk, Kyle Muller, A.J. Puk, JP Sears, James Kaprielian and Adrián Martínez.
“It’s nice to have a lot of options, certainly,” Forst said. “We have a few guys who got their feet wet in Waldichuk and Sears. We feel like we do have a deep rotation. What we lack in experience, we have in talent we believe coming up.”
Hernaiz, a fifth-round pick by the Orioles in the 2019 MLB Draft out of Americas High School in El Paso, Texas, has shown promise as he continues to fill out his 6-foot-1 frame. Playing across three levels in ‘22, he got off to a hot start in A ball, particularly at High-A Aberdeen, where he played 60 games and slashed .305/.376/.456 with five home runs, 13 doubles, three triples, 29 RBIs and 22 stolen bases. Ending the year with a brief stint at Double-A Bowie, Hernaiz finished his campaign slashing a combined .273/.341/.438 with 12 homers, 21 doubles, five triples, 62 RBIs and 32 stolen bases in 105 games. His versatility was also on display, logging time at shortstop, second base and third base.
"Hernaiz is still very young and athletic and versatile defensively. He can play all three [infield positions] -- second, short and third,” Orioles director of player development Matt Blood told MLB.com during the Arizona Fall League in October. “He's a plus runner, stole a lot of bases this year, and the bat really came on this year. A lot of contact. A lot of hard line drives. He got on base, and he's still growing into his strength and power. He's just a very toolsy young player who can sometimes get overlooked. But if you look at his numbers this year, he, at his age, really, really performed. He's a guy to keep an eye on."