The organization that has time and time again demonstrated its commitment to the continuous acquisition of young, controllable and -- most importantly -- upper-tier pitching talent has cashed in two minor league trade chips for one of the Royals' most enigmatic young hurlers.
Pure talent-for-talent baseball trades evocative of yesteryear are even more infrequent at this late stage in the baseball season than usual, but Texas and Kansas City nevertheless consummated a surprising early-September two-for-one prospect swap on Thursday afternoon, with the Rangers shipping Double-A Frisco catcher Manny Pina and outfielder Tim Smith to the Royals in exchange for intriguing, but imperfect 22-year-old right-hander Danny Gutierrez.
Gutierrez, a 6' 1", 180-pound native of Los Angeles, California, is a challenging prospect to nail down in terms of both present value and projected future value, with his loosely affixed "breakout candidate" label being an important component of the Rangers' eagerness to pull the trigger on his acquisition; concurrently, his vaguely referenced off-the-field problems serve to explain why Kansas City entertained dealing him in the first place.
Deemed the seventh-best prospect in the Royals organization by industry publication Baseball America last November, the 2006 draft-and-follow signee has notably incurred two significant arm-related injuries in the last 18 months, missing the entirety of May 2008 -- which was preceded by a stellar 2007 instructional league performance -- with a hairline fracture in his pitching elbow, followed by a protracted stint on the minor league disabled list (right shoulder inflammation) that delayed his 2009 season debut until July 28th.
The good news is that Gutierrez is a live-armed entity with strong grounder-inducing tendencies, qualities which broadly appeal to any number of teams but are especially attractive to an organization with a pitch-to-contact orientation already in place.
Brandishing a low-90s heater -- which, according to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, "[sat] at 93-95 mph towards the end of  with outstanding location and a bit of sink" -- and a formidable 12-to-6 power curveball that was ranked as the best in the Royals' system by Baseball America, Gutierrez profiles as an solid-average reliever at the major league level on the low end of the upside spectrum, and perhaps much more than that if he manages to corral his inconsistent, concern-evoking change-up.
Of course, prospect-related assumptions are always dangerous, and given his recent encounters with the injury bug and the present lack of a reliable third pitch, he may ultimately settle in as a bullpen weapon ... or, if enough things break right, he might break out as a starter. The raw stuff, control and necessary early-career results are all there right now, but will they stay there?
[Incidentally, Gutierrez is currently listed as the seventh and final player in the Rangers' Arizona Fall League contingent, which will suit up for the Surprise Rafters in the not-so-distant future. There had been some speculation that that single vacancy might have been filled by unsigned supplement-round draft pick Tanner Scheppers, but no agreement has yet materialized and the Rangers have evidently opted to push forward.
Also, the exact nature of Gutierrez's transgressions is difficult to ascertain for obvious reasons (major league teams don't generally like to air their dirty laundery in public), but a synthesis of the reports that are out there indicates that the Royals apparently disciplined Gutierrez after he became a client of superagent Scott Boras and resisted Kansas City's prescribed plan for rehabilitation from his shoulder injury. Additionally, there are unconfirmed reports of an arrest that transpired during his time in Arizona, the specifics of which are not presently known.]
Pina's defense-inclined skill set might well render him a fine backup catcher someday, but the 22-year-old backstop's tepid bat had evoked questions about his ability to passably hit at the major league level and he's thusly not a huge loss; Smith, however, could conceivably emerge as a serviceable reserve outfielder down the line, particularly in light of his pedigree as a well-rounded collegiate player, and he's the player that could eventually come back to singe Texas if Gutierrez's prospect star should ultimately flame out.