Play poorly in the minor leagues and you’re in danger of losing your job as a professional baseball player. Play really well and you could get traded.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. In most cases, the player is traded because he has value. A prospect’s trade value has a lot to do with upside, but it can fluctuate depending on how that player is performing on the field.
Here are five under-the-radar prospects who are building up trade value based on their impressive early-season performances.
Aaron Altherr, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
Altherr has a ton of potential, but it hadn’t translated to the field over his first four pro seasons. If his first 32 games for High-A Clearwater (.336 batting average, four home runs, 14 two doubles, two triples, eight stolen bases) are any indication, though, the 22-year-old is ready for a breakout that would put him squarely on the radar of “selling” teams should the Phillies hang around the playoff race and look to add at the trade deadline.
While Jesse Biddle and Adam Morgan give the Phillies two very good pitching prospects, they lack much position player talent in the minors. Altherr’s teammate Maikel Franco (.884 OPS) might be the best in the system, but Altherr won’t go unnoticed. And not only because he’s 6'5".
David Holmberg, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
With a solid big league rotation and elite prospects Tyler Skaggs and Archie Bradley pitching in Triple-A and Double-A, respectively, Holmberg’s path to the big leagues isn’t clear in this organization.
The 21-year-old lefty, who has a 2.45 ERA in six Double-A starts, is projected as a back-of-the-rotation starter who can throw strikes consistently and eat innings. He’s not the type of prospect that would be the centerpiece of a deal for an impact player. But for what the Diamondbacks might need —bullpen help after closer J.J. Putz went down with an elbow injury — he could be a popular target.
Micah Johnson, 2B, Chicago White Sox
The baseball world witnessed the rise of Billy Hamilton in 2012 as he broke the minor league single-season stolen base record. Now another switch-hitting middle infielder is on pace to surpass 100 stolen bases and could get plenty of notice, especially from scouts if the White Sox are shopping for reinforcements at the trade deadline.
Through 27 games, the 22-year-old second baseman has a .367 on-base percentage and 25 stolen bases in 29 attempts. Hamilton ended up with 155 in 192 chances over 132 games between High-A and Double-A while getting on base at a .410 clip.
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
If the Dodgers can turn things around and somehow get back in the playoff race, they’ll likely go shopping for some help on the trade market. Teams will ask for top outfield prospect Yasiel Puig and the Dodgers will likely say no. But Puig’s Double-A teammate, 21-year-old Joc Pederson, is having a huge season and could be the next player teams ask for in a deal.
The former 11th-round pick, who leads the Southern League with a 1.013 OPS and seven homers, is playing mostly center field, but projects as a corner outfielder in the majors. As long as he continues to show power, that wouldn’t be a problem for teams looking to acquire him.
Alex Wood, SP, Atlanta Braves
By midseason, the Braves could have a rotation of Tim Hudson, Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Paul Maholm and Brandon Beachy and four very good starting pitching prospects—Julio Teheran, Sean Gilmartin, J.R. Graham, Alex Wood—in the upper minors. That's some serious rotation depth there.
If they needed some help, the Braves certainly have the trade chips to go and trade for some. Wood isn't as well known as the others because he was just drafted in 2012, but he' already in Double-A and appears to be on the fast track. The 22-year-old has allowed just two earned runs over his first 31 innings with seven walks and 38 strikeouts.
He may not have the upside of Teheran or Graham, but he could be the safer bet to be a very good mid to back-of-the-rotation starter in the majors. And he could be there by 2014.