Could Jay be trade bait if top prospect Oscar Taveras takes his job during the season?
There is a long list of prospects who could debut in 2013 but will start the season in the minors in order to push back their arbitration and free-agency clocks, as well as just getting a few more months of minor league seasoning.
In certain cases, there are below-average players that are just keeping the position warm in the majors until the rookie is ready to claim his job. In others, the team already has an established player with value, giving the team a trade chip.
While there weren’t any trades that opened up roster spots for prospects last July, I’m guessing that won’t be the case this time around.
Barring injuries, here are some teams that appear to be in the best position depth-wise to trade away a position player during the season.
It might not look like it right now with Don Kelly and Matt Tuiasosopo penciled in to be the reserve outfielders, but the Tigers have some outfield depth with two very good prospects close to making an impact in the big leagues.
Essentially, they could have three solid options for the left field job in the second half of the season. Opening Day starter Andy Dirks, who had an .857 OPS in 88 games last season, could have prospects Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia (pictured) pushing him for playing time.
Garcia, who will start the season on the disabled list with a heel contusion, already made his presence felt in the majors when he went 5-for-11 with three runs batted in against the Yankees during last year’s ALCS.
At the least, he could be a great addition as the left-handed Dirks’ platoon partner down the stretch. The 21-year-old has solid tools all around and should settle in as a major league regular in the next season or two.
Also just 21, Castellanos is the Tigers’ top prospect, according to Baseball Prospectus. A converted third baseman, his path to the majors became clearer with a move to left field.
He struggled after a midseason promotion to Double-A last season, but most think he’ll make the adjustment and close in on the majors soon enough.
After he went 9-for-25 with six walks this spring, he left a good impression on the Tigers’ brass. They probably wouldn’t hesitate to bring him up to the majors in the second half of the season if they feel he can make an impact. That could make Dirks or Garcia expendable.
On the other hand, they could use Castellanos as a big trade chip to add reinforcements for the stretch run.
I recently exposed the Dodgers as a contending team that could be hurt by an extreme lack of depth, especially in the infield. The outfield might be a much different story, however, after the breakout spring of Yasiel Puig.
Optioned to the minors yesterday after going 30-for-57 with 10 extra-base hits and four stolen bases this spring, the 22-year-old Puig will start the season in High-A, where the Dodgers will monitor him closely to determine if he could be big league ready at some point in the second half.
If they think Puig can fill the hole vacated by a trade including Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier (pictured), the Dodgers will have to consider making the move. He does have a seven-year, $42 million major league contract, so the Dodgers will very likely want him earning that salary in the majors sooner than later.
Realistically, a contending Dodgers team would ease Puig into the lineup and possibly platoon him with Ethier, who has been terrible against left-handed pitching. A under-performing Dodgers team in 2013, however, would probably rather trade Ethier and give the right field job to Puig.
The long list of offseason acquisitions, from Kendrys Morales to Michael Morse to Raul Ibañez, were all brought in on one-year deals and will reach free agency after the season. A Seattle team out of contention will have plenty of names to shop from that perspective alone.
In addition, the Mariners have two prospects close to the big leagues who could put a couple of former prospects on the block.
Catcher Mike Zunino, the third pick in last year’s amateur draft, will need at least a half-season in the minors. But it’s clear he’s the team’s “Catcher of the Future.” Jesus Montero (pictured) will get that half-season to prove that he can be a major league catcher and not just a designated hitter.
With Zunino on the fast track, Montero could be shopped to a team who believes that he can be a catcher, or who just really values his bat enough despite his lack of defensive ability.
Infielder Nick Franklin, whose big league path would be clearer if he were better suited for shortstop instead of second base, will start the season in Triple-A and will likely wait out his fate there. Eventually, the M’s will have to decide on Dustin Ackley or Franklin as their “Second Baseman of the Future,” while the other could be dealt.
The team’s top two position prospects, outfielder Oscar Taveras and second baseman Kolten Wong (pictured), could probably hold their own in the majors right now.
Both players are slated to begin the season in Triple-A, however, where they’ll wait their turn. Essentially, they could be one injury away from the majors.
Or, the Cards could decide that the 20-year-old Taveras is just a better option than current center fielder Jon Jay (pictured). Or that the 22-year-old Wong is a better option than Daniel Descalso and Matt Carpenter.
And don’t forget about first base prospect Matt Adams, who is expected to be on the Cardinals’ bench behind Allen Craig. The left-handed hitter is 18-for-57 with 3 homers and 17 runs batted in this spring.
Like the Cardinals, the Rangers will have both of their top position player prospects in the minors to start the season. Mike Olt, who is a third baseman that can also play first base and the corner outfield spots, and Jurickson Profar, a shortstop who can also play second base, will be in Triple-A to start the season.
At this time, the Rangers don’t plan on trading Profar or starting shortstop Elvis Andrus (pictured). Same with Mike Olt. He’s blocked by Adrian Beltre at third base, so his future with the team is at another position or as a utility man off the bench.
The 24-year-old Olt has more value to a team that can guarantee him their starting third base job for the next several seasons. Barring an injury, Olt could be the Rangers’ top trade chip in July.
It’s unlikely they’d trade Profar, who Baseball Prospectus recently ranked the top prospect in the game, but a season in which they’re either under-performing and out of the pennant race or just struggling to stay in the pennant race could force their hand and have them shopping Andrus.
A two-time All-Star, the 24-year-old Andrus is only signed through the 2014 season, so he wouldn’t cost nearly as much as Profar would in a trade. He’s improved his offensive numbers in two consecutive seasons and is having a huge spring (19-for-48, 2 HR, 9 RBI).
The ability to trade Andrus and likely not miss a beat with Profar stepping in is something the Rangers will be contemplating throughout the season.
The Nats aren’t exactly filled with position player prospects knocking down the door to the big leagues. They have one, Anthony Rendon (pictured), and a few others that could turn out to be average regulars. The starting lineup is stacked, however, and the bench has talent as well.
So Rendon, who has not been able to stay on the field because of injuries since being taken as the sixth pick in the 2011 draft, doesn’t have anywhere to play in the majors anytime soon, barring an injury or trade.
With Danny Espinosa playing through a torn rotator cuff and Ryan Zimmerman needing several cortisone shots for an ailing shoulder in 2012, it might be a good idea to just hold on to him as insurance and let him get as many at-bats as possible in the upper minors.
On the other hand, Nationals fans were left disappointed last year when the team shut down Stephen Strasburg late in the season and eventually was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs.
Not going “all out” in 2013 would be equally disappointing.
Making an upgrade in some area by trading Rendon would be considered going “all out.” Not doing so and failing to advance past the first round of the playoffs would not be acceptable in a season with such high expectations.