RHP Justin Topa has been traded to Seattle in exchange for RHP Joseph Hernandez. pic.twitter.com/5E8RFfptKn— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) January 8, 2023
FanGraphs listed Hernandez as Seattle’s No. 13 prospect in their updated 2022 rankings. The 22-year-old spent the entire season in Single-A, posting a 3.39 ERA while striking out 143 in 116 2⁄3 innings. Hernandez led the California League in those two marks and was voted the league’s Pitcher of the Year.
Hernandez’s arsenal is headlined by a plus slider that some scouts believe could become an elite pitch. His breaking ball and deceptive sidearm delivery made him death on right-handed hitters, who batted just .156 against him in 2022.
Joseph Hernandez continues his breakout 2022 season. Final line: 6IP, 2H, 0R, 2BB, 10K, 85-53.— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) August 24, 2022
21G, 3.53ERA, 102IP, 70H, 44BB, 126K. pic.twitter.com/sopiSiMJqU
Hernandez also features a tailing fastball in the low-90s that occasionally tops out at 96, and he throws a changeup. He worked almost exclusively as a starter last season, but he could shift to a relief role in the future. Hernandez has the potential to sit more consistently in the mid-90s in shorter outings, and he could be a valuable righty specialist due to his profile.
Topa’s power sinker and frisbee slider give him the makeup of a high-leverage arm, but elbow injuries have prevented him from realizing that potential.
He broke into the big leagues with the Brewers as a 29-year-old in 2020. A solid six-game showing positioned Topa to play a key role in the 2021 bullpen, but he suffered a flexor tendon strain in spring training that sidelined him for the entire first half. Four games into his return, Topa suffered a torn UCL that required Tommy John surgery. He did not resurface in the big leagues until September of last season.
Topa still has options remaining, but the addition of other hard-throwing bullpen candidates pushed him down on the depth chart. His departure from the 40-man roster clears a space for Wade Miley, who reportedly agreed to a one-year contract with the Brewers earlier this week.