As we approach the start of the season, I don’t have to tell you how many of the top prospects in baseball will see their value plummet over the next several months as they fail to produce at a new level.
Most prospects don’t reach their full potential and often times don’t even come close. They are top prospects because they have such extremely high ceilings. Their “floor” is often just as low, though, as their ceiling is high.
The problem is that their own organizations can’t even tell you how much of their potential they will reach, so it’s a crapshoot deciding whether to hold on to their young talent or sell them off before they hit the wall.
If we go back five years, we see that guys like Joba Chamberlain, Andy LaRoche and Travis Snider were ranked among the top 20 prospects in baseball. Not one of those guys has much value now, although their teams could’ve made a steal of a deal by shopping them before their value decreased.
Here’s a look at a few prospects who might have already reached their peak value and might be more valuable to their teams as trade chips before they’re exposed at an advanced level in 2013.
Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds
Fantasy baseball geeks will hate me for saying this, but Hamilton is no sure thing to be a big league regular just because he’s the fastest guy in the game. That speed, and his record-breaking 155 stolen bases in a minor league season, has everyone in the baseball world anticipating the 22-year-old’s arrival in the majors.
What people tend to forget is that there are plenty of other skills needed to achieve major league success. While Hamilton appears to have the on-base ability to make him a premier leadoff hitter, there’s no way of knowing if he can continue to get on base enough to give him value despite a lack of power.
Keep in mind that Dee Gordon, a similar player with blazing speed, hasn’t been able to stick in the majors because he can’t get on base enough and doesn’t have enough power to offset that. His on-base percentage in 143 big league games is .299. In 405 minor league games, Gordon has a .354 on-base percentage.
So just because Hamilton has a career .364 on-base percentage in the minors doesn’t mean that will carry over to the majors. Just ask Dee Gordon and the Dodgers.
Mike Olt, 3B, Texas Rangers
As a power-hitting third baseman who hit 28 homers in Double-A last season, Olt has a ton of value to teams searching for their “Third Baseman of the Future”. On the Rangers, he’s blocked by Adrian Beltre for at least three more seasons, and the other positions he can play—first base, left field, right field—aren’t considered as premier a position as the hot corner.
Thus, his value to the Rangers is less than other teams that have an opening at third base. His 5-for-33 performance during his first big league action didn’t help either.
The 24-year-old can probably put up huge numbers in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League for a few months, and then Texas will have to make a decision. Bring him up to Texas as a utility man and risk his value decreasing if he struggles again, or trade him while he’s destroying Triple-A pitching and receive a nice haul in return.
Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals
The 22-year-old has barely been able to stay on the field during his short and injury-riddled pro career. Most think he’ll put up big numbers once he does stay on the field, as he showed during an impressive stint in major league camp this spring (12-for-32, 4 HR, 4 2B, 11 RBI).
With talented players ahead of him at every position on the diamond in the majors, Rendon will have to bide his time in the minors while the Nats decide what the long-term plan will be. Switching positions hardly gives him a better shot considering that all eight starters are locked up for at least the next two seasons.
If the plan is to trade him, they might want to do it sooner than later in case he struggles in the upper minors and his value decreases. The Nats don’t currently have any holes on their roster, so a rare prospect-for-prospect trade might be an interesting option for them to consider.
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
If there’s a highly ranked prospect most likely to get exposed in the upper minors, it would probably be Springer. The toolsy center fielder can run really fast and hit the ball really, really far. That’s when he makes contact, though, which isn’t nearly enough (156 strikeouts in 534 at-bats between Double-A and Hi-A in 2012).
At just 23, his upside is still high enough where several teams would overlook his rawness to add such an athletic center fielder to their farm systems.
If General manager Jeff Luhnow, who was hired after Springer was taken in the 2011 draft, doesn’t like his chances of making the proper adjustments, then he might want to start asking around and finding out which teams do believe in him.
Michael Wacha, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
Despite his early career dominance (32.2 IP, 2 ER, 5 BB, 55 K between Rookie Level GCL, Hi-A, Double-A and spring training), Wacha is projected as a midrotation starter in the majors.
This is not a bad thing, especially when he’s a good bet to reach that potential and shouldn’t spend much more than another season in the minors.
If he happens to have an easy time with hitters in the upper minors in 2013, his value will remain high and the Cardinals could probably get top value for him. Or they can wait until he gets to the majors and shows everyone that the scouts were exactly right about him being a midrotation starter, which is of less value than a top pitching prospect.