Today the Mariners made an intriguing trade with the White Sox, shipping pitcher Matt Thornton to Chicago for outfielder Joe Borchard. Thornton, a former first-round pick, is an imposing left-hander at 6'6" and can rush the ball up to the plate in the mid-90s, something very few pitchers can do, much less southpaws. However, he never could throw strikes consistently with the Mariners.
Joe Borchard is eerily similar to Matt Thornton. Borchard, a former first-round pick, is an imposing switch-hitter at 6'5" and can crush the ball like few players can, much less guys who hit from either side of the plate. However, between the prodigious blasts were many prodigious whiffs. Like Thornton, Borchard is a special talent who hasn't turned into even a good ballplayer.
Though this deal was essentially one team's bust for another, I think the Mariners definitely were the winners of this swap. Matt Thornton has never figured out how to throw enough strikes to be a major league pitcher and, considering he is now 29 and over seven years into his pro career, the odds are he won't figure out how to throw strikes. The Mariners tried all sorts of stuff to improve his command, most notably switching where he stood on the rubber this off-season. For seven years, they have got few results except for what now has to be deemed a fluke year in single A in 2001.
Joe Borchard's biggest problem is his stikeout-to-walk ratio. At 6'5" Borchard is a taller guy, which makes him more prone to strikeouts, but strikeouts can be limited by not swinging at bad pitches, or in other words, taking balls. Last year, Borchard struck out 143 times while only walking 50, almost a 3-to-1 ratio. In comparison, 6'8" Richie Sexson, a tall power hitter like Joe Borchard, struck out 167 times but also had 89 walks, a better than 2-to-1 ratio. At 27 years old, it is reasonable to assume Borchard will never develop enough plate discipline to be a good major-league player.
However, I still have faith in Borchard because the Chicago White Sox did such a horrible job bringing him along. Looking at Borchard's college numbers, it's obvious why the White Sox picked him. He had size and strength, and it showed in his fantastic power numbers. Borchard hit 19 home runs his last year in college, a pace that translates to over 40 home runs if he had played a major-league length schedule. Furthermore, Borchard was only 21 when Chicago drafted him, which meant he would likely develop even more power, meaning he could be a perennial threat to hit 50 home runs. The White Sox wanted that type of power in the big leagues fast and it caused them to rush Borchard horribly. Moreover, it looks like the White Sox really pressured Borchard to hit home runs because his strikeout-to-walk ratio was so drastically worse than it had been in college. To me, it looks like Chicago inadvertently did everything they could to make Joe Borchard fail.
Now, Borchard gets a new start in Seattle. He no longer has the pressure that comes with being a heralded top pick and hopefully he won't feel the pressure to become an elite slugger. If I were the Mariners I would find some footage of Borchard in college and show him what he was and what he still can be. I honestly think that Borchard's plate discipline has deteriorated as a professional because of the way the White Sox handled him and if he can capture what he once had, he could be a real steal for the Mariners.