The Dodgers could eventually trade a starting outfielder to make room for Puig, who is off to a strong start in Double-A.
Prior to the season, I named six teams that appeared to have enough hitting depth to make a trade during the regular season. None of the six teams—Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals—have made a trade yet, but they could have some decent trade chips should they go shopping for some help down the stretch.
Surprise teams like the Red Sox and Rockies are also looking particularly deep in hitting talent and could have the ability to trade from that area of strength later in the season. In fact, the Rockies' fast start (18-13) has removed names like Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez from trade rumors. The Sox could have several Triple-A regulars, including Jackie Bradley Jr., Bryce Brentz, Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway, receiving strong interest from "sellers" at the trade deadline.
Here’s an update on the six teams I chose in the offseason and whether their organizational hitting depth is still strong.
I was referring to one position in particular—left field—when identifying the Tigers as a team with hitting depth to trade. With Andy Dirks heading into the season locked into the starting spot and 21-year-old prospects Nick Castellanos and Avisail Garcia (pictured) both in Triple-A, they looked to be in good shape at the position.
The Tigers didn’t get much production out of the trio in April, however. Castellanos is slumping (.671 OPS in 31 games) and Garcia started the season on the disabled list with a heel contusion. This allowed Dirks’ 8-for-48 start to fly under the radar. The 27-year-old now has 10 hits in his last 29 at-bats, including his first two homers of the season.
Garcia is 5-for-8 in his first two Triple-A games since returning from the major league disabled list. He’s an ideal platoon partner for Dirks once he’s had a few weeks of games under his belt.
Castellanos is still considered a big-time prospect, so his early struggles in his first Triple-A season won’t hurt his stock much. He’s also capable of heating up really quick and could push for the full-time left field job by midseason if Dirks isn’t putting up good numbers. After hitting three homers in four games in late April, Tigers beat writer Lynn Henning speculated that he could be headed for Detroit soon.
Nick Castellanos heating up: 3 HRs in last 4 games, batting .289 in last 10. Guess who's headed for LF -- and fairly soon.— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) April 27, 2013
He’s now one for his last 17, so that buzz faded quickly, especially with Dirks heating up. But Castellanos is talented enough to make an impact on the major league team once he’s ready. That is why teams would target him in any trade and why the Tigers probably won’t trade him unless the return is an impact player who can make a huge difference down the stretch.
Still enough hitting depth to trade? Yes, although they don’t necessarily have to trade either of the three. Castellanos’ ETA is 2014, while Garcia proved late last season that he’s more than capable of being a productive part-time player. Unless a hole on the roster needs to be filled with an impact player, Castellanos and Garcia will likely stay put.
Yasiel Puig’s impressive spring had baseball fans already wondering when he’d arrive in Los Angeles despite having just 23 games of professional experience—14 in High-A, nine in the Arizona Rookie League—under his belt.
Andre Ethier’s (pictured) struggles against left-handed pitching in 2012 also played a part, as well as the uncertainty of Carl Crawford and whether he’d return to his pre-Red Sox form. Well, Ethier is handling lefties fine this season (.746 OPS), and Crawford, at least in 28 games, appears healthy and back to performing at an All-Star level (.878 OPS, 6 SB).
Puig, in the meantime, appears to be on the fast track. In his first 19 Double-A games, he has a .964 OPS (5 HR, 4 SB). With the entire outfield signed long-term, general manager Ned Colletti will have to trade one in order for the 22-year-old Puig to be a regular in the big league lineup. Ethier, signed through 2017, would be the most logical choice, although the Dodgers might have to eat some of his remaining contract.
Of course, if the Dodgers can rebound from their rough start (13-17, 5.5 games out in NL West), Puig would be their top trade chip if they wanted to go out and acquire an impact player.
Still enough hitting depth to trade? Yes. They are thin just about everywhere else, but the outfield depth is looking strong. Puig’s teammate in Double-A, 21-year-old Joc Pederson, has a .958 OPS (7 HR, 7 SB). The farm system wouldn’t be void of a major league-caliber outfielder if Puig was traded or graduated to the majors.
The Mariners appeared to have too many designated hitter types on their roster to start the season, forcing Michael Morse to the outfield and Raul Ibanez to a part-time role.
Injuries to Franklin Gutierrez and Michael Saunders cleared up playing time in a crowded outfield, which has given Jason Bay (.801 OPS) a chance to show that he still has something left in the tank. If he keeps it up, he could have some trade value at the deadline, as will Gutierrez, who was playing well (.823 OPS) before a strained hamstring knocked him out of action.
It’s the catching and middle infield situations that are most intriguing, though. Prospects Mike Zunino, the third pick in the 2012 draft and the Mariners’ “Catcher of the Future,” and Nick Franklin (pictured), who would probably already be the starting shortstop if he were a better fit defensively at the position, are waiting in the wings in Triple-A.
The 22-year-old Franklin, who has a .936 OPS, is more likely to break into the majors as a second baseman. He’s played 13 games there and eight games at shortstop. Dustin Ackley, trying to bounce back from a mediocre 2012 season (.622 OPS), is not doing a great job of convincing the Mariners that he can be their second baseman for the next several years and not Franklin. The 25-year-old Ackley has a .593 OPS in 30 games.
While Zunino isn’t hitting for much average (.202 BA) in his first full pro season, he has a .488 slugging percentage (5 HR, 5 2B, 2 3B) and Jesus Montero (.574 OPS) isn’t doing much to prove that he’s the answer behind the plate long-term.
Still enough hitting depth to trade? Yes, but that doesn’t mean they’ll receive the best value for the players who could be available. Ackley, Montero and first baseman Justin Smoak are former top prospects who are struggling to hold on to big league jobs early in their careers.
The thinking was that the Cardinals, a team also extremely deep in young pitching talent, could have three major league ready position players by midseason in first baseman Matt Adams, second baseman Kolten Wong and outfielder Oscar Taveras (pictured).
While all has been quiet on that front, mostly because the Cards are at the top of the NL Central with a 20-11 record, the fact remains that this trio could be ready to help at some point.
Adams was already making an impact (13-for-24, 3 HR) as a part-time player before he landed on the disabled list with a strained oblique. He’s expected back in the next day or two. Coincidentally, starting first baseman Allen Craig has broken out of a season-long slump with seven hits in his last 14 at-bats.
Neither Taveras (.760 OPS) or Wong (.665 OPS) is having a big season in Triple-A, but both should at least be able to help late in the season and would likely take on starting jobs in 2014.
If the Cards do get desperate enough to fill a hole on their roster, they might be in better shape than any other team in baseball in terms of resources to acquire an impact player.
Still enough hitting depth to trade? Yes!
The Rangers have been one of the best teams in baseball for a few years, so their 20-11 record in 2013 shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Or should it? Rookies Nicholas Tepesch and Justin Grimm are the team’s fourth and fifth starters. The lineup and the bullpen had questions marks heading into the season. But the Rangers, as it turns out, were actually much better than most had expected.
Grimm (2.28 ERA in four starts) and Tepesch (3.54 ERA in five starts) have been terrific, and Tanner Scheppers (0.56 ERA, 6 holds) has done an excellent job as the primary setup man for closer Joe Nathan.
One of the keys to the Rangers’ hitting depth, Mike Olt (pictured), is struggling, however, with a .471 OPS in 20 Triple-A games. Top prospect Jurickson Profar is off to a decent start (.727 OPS in 25 games), and he’s actually played in three games at second base, which is where he’d eventually play as a regular with the Rangers. So all is quiet on the trade front involving those two.
Ideally, Olt will heat up closer to summer, and the Rangers could either insert him into their lineup rotation at first base and possibly left field or they can use him as a trade chip to acquire an impact player near the deadline.
Still enough hitting depth to trade? Yes. Profar is still without a clear path to the majors, and Olt, despite his struggles, won’t be the Rangers’ third baseman anytime soon, barring an Adrian Beltre injury. It’s the organization’s low-level depth and talent that give them the capability to pull off a deal for one of the better players in the game, should one become available.
Top prospect Anthony Rendon and a deep major league bench put the Nats in good shape heading into 2013. And they’ve already had to lean on that bench with Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore (pictured) already combining for 90 at-bats. Rendon also made his major league debut while Ryan Zimmerman was on the disabled list with a strained hamstring.
In addition to Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos spent time on the disabled list, Jayson Werth has battled a hamstring injury and Danny Espinosa is playing with a torn rotator cuff. First baseman Adam LaRoche is also off to a terrible start (.567 OPS).
Still enough hitting depth to trade? No. It’s becoming apparent that the Nats should hold on to Rendon and any other position player who can help out in 2013.