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Ranking the 25 Highest-Upside MLB Prospects That Could Be Traded This July

Ely SussmanCorrespondent IDecember 26, 2016

Ranking the 25 Highest-Upside MLB Prospects That Could Be Traded This July

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    Upon the completion of MLB trades, we instinctively turn our attention to the veterans who moved and their immediate impacts.

    In reality, the high-upside prospects who could change uniforms this July will be equally important in shifting baseball's balance of power.

    Long-term building blocks can be acquired during the madness prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, like Elvis Andrus in 2007. Prominent minor league players who were dealt last summer included Jacob Turner and Jean Segura, and the latter is already blossoming into a superstar.

    To address present weaknesses, contenders will once again consider sacrificing their prized youngsters.

    The likelihoods of a player changing organizations or actually reaching his full potential did not affect his spot in these rankings.

     

    *All stats accurate entering July 8, 2013 and provided by Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Notable Non-Prospects

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    So that there's no confusion, we're defining prospects the same way that Major League Baseball does.

    In other words, "A player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the 25-player limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or in military service."

    High-upside individuals who don't fit that criteria were not considered for the following slides. For example, you won't find Rubby De La Rosa, Avisail Garcia, Didi Gregorius or Jurickson Profar.

Untouchables and Other Desirable Non-Trade Candidates

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    Bleacher Report's own Jason Martinez force-feeds us the disappointing truth: "While it sure is fun to discuss which top prospects might be changing teams in a deadline deal trade, the reality is that it doesn't happen that often."

    Moreover, awful teams do not make their developing gems available, and ill-timed injuries also take some individuals out of the equation.

    Therefore, the following potential stars do not appear in this article because they will surely stay put through July 31: Javier Baez, Xander Bogaerts, Archie Bradley, Dylan Bundy, Byron Buxton, Danny Hultzen, Yasiel Puig, Addison Russell, Aaron Sanchez, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Sano, Oscar Taveras, Taijuan Walker and Zack Wheeler.

25. Ty Blach, LHP, San Francisco Giants

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    Current level: High-A, California League

    The San Francisco Giants have major question marks in the outfield and starting rotation. There's a heightened sense of urgency for them to improve via trade during a year when the NL West is competitive from top to bottom.

    The breakout star of their farm system, Ty Blach, boasts a 2.59 ERA and .620 OPS against with a sparkling 9.00 K/BB in his first professional season. He's also left-handed.

    Already 22, Blach is at least a year away from debuting in the majors. Even so, whether as a petty reliever or a mid-rotation starter, it's clear that he has a future at the highest level.

24. Michael Choice, OF, Oakland Athletics

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    Current level: Triple-A, Pacific Coast League

    Leading up to the trade deadline, blog Athletics Nation has wondered if the Oakland Athletics might look to improve their middle infield or starting rotation to keep pace with the Texas Rangers atop the AL West.

    Slugger Michael Choice hasn't yet validated his high selection in the 2010 amateur draft, but at 23 years old, he's still legitimate trade bait.

    Strangely, this right-handed batter has been struggling with the platoon advantage in 2013. His OPS drops by more than 200 points against southpaws. Overall, Choice is slashing .283/.378/.427 with 10 home runs—only two since Memorial Day—and 80 strikeouts through 381 plate appearances.

    He has the necessary defensive tools to play either left or center field.

23. David Holmberg, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Current level: Double-A, Southern League

    David Holmberg has a repertoire of four pitches, all of which could develop into legitimate weapons later in his career.

    He'll never be the ace of a major league staff. After all, he has only 6.4 K/9 in parts of two seasons at Double-A.

    However, Holmberg is equipped with the prototypical workhorse frame, and he hasn't even turned 22 yet. Per MiLB.com, he leads the Southern League in innings pitched and cracks the top five in ERA and WHIP.

22. Tyler Matzek, LHP, Colorado Rockies

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    Current level: Double-A, Texas League

    Tyler Matzek received rave reviews from scouts coming out of high school and even through his first professional season. The hype quickly faded when he moved up a level and still struggled to repeat his delivery.

    It's difficult to estimate his ceiling at this point. Although Matzek's career-best 4.9 BB/9 is encouraging on its own, you can't ignore his pedestrian batting average against and reduced strikeout rate. Most of his 2013 success has come since the start of June (1.96 ERA and .668 OPS against, but only 4.4 K/9).

    On the bright side, there's good life on his low-90s fastball, and he's only 22 years old. If included in the right package, Matzek can help the Colorado Rockies obtain a solid replacement for newly disabled Roy Oswalt.

21. Keyvius Sampson, RHP, San Diego Padres

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    Current level: Double-A, Texas League

    Losers of nine straight contests, the San Diego Padres are 40-49 entering July 8 and appear to be the weakest link in a tight NL West race.

    Yet there's still a slim possibility that they could pursue a veteran starting pitcher prior to the trade deadline.

    Keyvius Sampson began 2013 in a horrible slump (8.03 ERA through four starts), so the Padres demoted him to Double-A. Even against softer opposition, it took several weeks for him to get in a groove.

    J.J. Cooper of Baseball America notes that Sampson's recent excellence—0.33 ERA, 11 K/9 in last 27.0 IP—has a lot to do with his sharp slider, which makes batters chase out of the strike zone. The 22-year-old also possesses a solid changeup and fastball that sits in the low 90s.

20. Cory Spangenberg, 2B, San Diego Padres

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    Current level: Double-A, Texas League

    Instead of compromising future pitching depth to improve immediately, perhaps the San Diego Padres prefer to peddle Cory Spangenberg, their top draft pick in 2011.

    Don't let his .237/.321/.280 slash line for the San Antonio Missions fool you—he will cause mayhem atop a major league lineup someday. Offensive production at the beginning of his career and more recent success at the High-A level lead us to believe that.

    Bleacher Report's Kevin Goldberg wrote kind words about Spangenberg, but he agrees that he's might be best utilized as trade bait.

19. Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Current level: Triple-A, Pacific Coast League

    Before the 2013 season even began, Bleacher Report's Corey Noles envisioned the St. Louis Cardinals' second-base situation unfolding this way.

    Matt Carpenter has indeed emerged as an awesome everyday player in his first full major league season. While Kolten Wong is also enjoying all-around success, the Cards aren't hurrying to promote him, much less let him battle Carpenter for field time.

    Drafted by St. Louis only two years ago, Wong sprays balls to all fields, seldom whiffs and even flaunts respectable power for a middle infielder. The 22-year-old is batting .306 with seven home runs and 12 stolen bases this season. A Dustin Pedroia comparison would be generous, as Wong doesn't project as a Gold Glove-caliber defender.

    For the appropriate veteran pitcher, the Cards might listen.

18. Dorssys Paulino, SS, Cleveland Indians

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    Current level: Low-A, Midwest League

    "Anytime an organization has depth at a certain position," Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer explains, "it makes it easier for it to make a trade by using that depth." For the Cleveland Indians, that position is shortstop.

    Francisco Lindor, the 19-year-old switch-hitting successor to Asdrubal Cabrera, has been thriving in the Carolina League. Only an established and affordable MLB superstar would convince the Tribe to move him, and it's widely believed that no player on the trading block this summer meets that description.

    Low-A starter Dorssys Paulino could be exchanged for significant starting rotation or bullpen help. Only 18, the talented Dominican has blossomed into a dangerous offensive player, particularly since Memorial Day.

17. Alen Hanson, SS/2B, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Current level: High-A, Florida State League

    Alen Hanson would have surely placed higher on this list if not for his rough defense. Despite spending the bulk of his career at shortstop, relocating to second base seems inevitable.

    Of course, at whichever position Hanson ultimately settles in, he'll be a nightmare for opposing pitchers. After a rocky start to the 2013 season, the 20-year-old has slashed .326/.374/.537 with 23 extra-base hits in his past 44 games. He's a raw baserunner, but there's no doubting his rare athleticism.

    The Pittsburgh Pirates just activated him from the disabled list, so injury won't affect Hanson's availability at the trade deadline.

16. Matt Davidson, 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Current level: Triple-A, Pacific Coast League

    Bleacher Report's Adam Wells speaks highly of Matt Davidson, but he believes that his current team might take exception to an elevated strikeout rate:

    The Arizona Diamondbacks, as everyone knows, changed a lot of their philosophy coming into the 2013 season...

    The point of this is to say that Matt Davidson, who is a good prospect with a solid offensive upside, doesn't really fit the mold of a player like [Martin] Prado or other contact-oriented hitters the Diamondbacks want. 

    A preseason extension put Prado under control through 2016, and the D-Backs have long-term solutions for all the other infield positions too.

    The expectation is that Davidson can be an everyday player in the majors with 20-homer power. Defensive struggles from the 22-year-old third baseman suggest he might have to eventually shift across to diamond, and the swing-and-misses will always limit his batting average.

    It's no secret that Arizona wants pitching depth as the trade deadline approaches. Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic writes that we shouldn't be surprised if the Diamondbacks use Davidson as the centerpiece in a deal to reinforce the starting rotation.

15. Henry Owens, LHP, Boston Red Sox

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    Current level: High-A, Carolina League

    You can't teach left-handedness or height. Both those features make Henry Owens an intriguing prospect.

    He excited a lot of people in the Boston Red Sox organization with a 2.71 ERA, .193 BAA and 10.6 K/9 through his first 14 outings of 2013. Back-to-back poor performances have since bloated his numbers.

    Thanks to four solid pitches, even Owens' floor is pretty encouraging.

14. A.J. Cole, RHP, Washington Nationals

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    Current level: High-A, Carolina League

    Veteran right-hander Dan Haren is back from the disabled list...just in time to take Ross Detwiler's spot. The Washington Nationals were hoping to have their No. 4 and No. 5 starters healthy at the same time, but Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reports that Detwiler will rest his lower back through the All-Star break.

    A surging offense is fueling Washington's rise in the NL East standings. It's still unclear, however, whether or not the team has the rotation depth to leapfrog the Atlanta Braves by summer's end.

    According to Kilgore, the Nats have at least "started casting a net for possible trades," and a major league source says that red-hot Matt Garza is a possibility.

    The franchise can shop several desirable pitchers it's stocked up in the middle levels of the minors. Among the healthy options, A.J. Cole has the brightest future. 

    The off-speed stuff remains very ordinary, but his fastball touches 96 mph. Cole has amassed 340 strikeouts in 312 minor league innings with a solid 2.2 BB/9.

13. Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Current level: Double-A, Southern League

    The Los Angeles Dodgers have already attempted to upgrade their sub-.500 team with the acquisition of Ricky Nolasco.

    Still, they'll gladly absorb more expensive, expiring contracts if there's a reasonable fit.

    Southern California native Chase Utley has annihilated the Dodgers over the years. He boasts a gaudy .328/.399/.635 batting line in 34 career games at Dodger Stadium, not to mention a 1.618 OPS from a four-game series earlier this summer.

    CBS Sports insider Danny Knobler reports that Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. views Utley as "an iconic player." He would be reluctant to shop the second baseman, despite his team's mediocrity.

    On the other hand, how could Amaro say no to Joc Pederson?

    The 21-year-old is maintaining a .900 OPS for the third straight minor league season. He has experience at every outfield position—enough range for center and the arm strength for either corner—and a lethal power/speed combination.

    Bleacher Report's Jason Martinez was the first to suggest an Utley-for-Pederson exchange. The only thing standing in the way of that is a strained oblique, per Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.

12. Chris Owings, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Current level: Triple-A, Pacific Coast League

    Chris Owings starts alongside Matt Davidson at Reno. He's leading the Pacific Coast League in runs scored and total bases with another month to go before his 22nd birthday.

    Thanks to his athleticism and the optimism that he won't need to change positions, Owings has been slightly more coveted than Davidson. His .349 batting average in 2013 helps too.

    With that said, there's considerable risk involved for interested teams, one scout tells Nick Piecoro:

    For me, he's the ultimate prize. He’s got as much ceiling as anybody in the system, but I just think because of the plate discipline issues he’s got a pretty low floor. If I were a team that needed a shortstop or a second baseman, I’m pursuing that guy aggressively.

11. Anthony Ranaudo, RHP, Boston Red Sox

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    Current level: Double-A, Eastern League

    Anthony Ranaudo vanished off the radar last summer. He struggled to pitch through a groin injury in 2012 (6.69 ERA) and never returned from shoulder fatigue.

    Now, however, he's reminding us why the Boston Red Sox selected him so early in the 2010 draft.

    The 23-year-old could be due for a promotion, as he leads the Eastern League with a 1.04 WHIP and eight victories, per MiLB.com. Ranaudo also ranks among the best in batting average against and strikeout rate.

    Everything hinges on how he commands his above-average fastball.

10. Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Current level: Double-A, Eastern League

    Gregory Polanco emerged as a potential star in 2012 with a .325/.388/.522 batting line at the Low-A level. He nearly replicated those numbers in the pitcher-friendly Florida State early this year and has already been promoted.

    MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo expects Polanco to eventually slide over to right field, and the consensus is that he'll be a superior defender at the position. Blazing speed helps him in the field as well as on the basepaths, where he averages nearly one stolen base every three games with an 81 percent career success rate.

    The Pittsburgh Pirates could be patient until the middle of the decade, when he'll be ready to join Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen in the majors.

    However, with Alex Rios being shopped by the Chicago White Sox, don't rule out a possible departure to strengthen the present roster.

9. Mason Williams, CF, New York Yankees

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    Current level: High-A, Florida State League

    Worst-case scenario, Mason Williams will be a decent major league player thanks to his elite speed and great defensive instincts. His development as a hitter should determine whether or not reaching his All-Star potential is realistic.

    He's batting .256/.334/.355 for the Tampa Yankees with only three home runs in 69 games. On the bright side, Williams consistently puts balls in play against his mostly older competition.

    While catcher Gary Sanchez is virtually untouchable, the franchise has enough minor league outfield depth to acquire a veteran bat. ESPN's Jayson Stark tweets that the presence of a Yankees scout in Philly might suggest they're interested in Michael Young or Carlos Ruiz.

8. Mike Olt, 3B, Texas Rangers

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    Current level: Triple-A, Pacific Coast League

    Mike Olt's stock peaked last summer when he was slashing .288/.398/.579 at Double-A with a respectable a 101/61 K/BB. He struggled during his cup of coffee with the Texas Rangers in August and September, contributing just one extra-base hit in 40 plate appearances.

    All-Star third baseman Adrian Beltre blocks Olt at the major league level, so Texas entertained thoughts of trading him over the winter. His name popped up frequently in connection to Justin Upton.

    The Rangers didn't find a deal they liked, however, so they advanced the 24-year-old to Triple-A.

    Olt posted an anemic .471 OPS with 32 strikeouts in 20 games before landing on the disabled list with vision problems, per Todd Wills of ESPNDallas.com. His .234/.338/.460 batting line since rejoining the Round Rock Express has everybody in the organization breathing a bit easier.

    The scouting community still expects him to blossom into a formidable everyday player. Imagine Matt Davidson with superior plate discipline and defensive skills.

7. Allen Webster, RHP, Boston Red Sox

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    Current level: MLB

    The Boston Red Sox would've given themselves a better shot at shopping Allen Webster by delaying his major league debut. His first five starts weren't particularly encouraging (7.88 ERA, 19/12 K/BB in 24.0 IP).

    However, those numbers don't overshadow his outstanding stuff. There's plenty of sink on Webster's mid-90s fastball, and he complements it with a mid-80s changeup. Gaining confidence and command in his breaking balls would make him top-of-the-rotation material.

    Prior to the call-up, the right-hander thrived at Triple-A with a 2.94 ERA and 0.99 WHIP (albeit 11 HBP).

    With his stock down at the moment, the Red Sox probably won't see a deal they like.

6. Brian Goodwin, CF, Washington Nationals

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    Current level: Double-A, Eastern League

    Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo tells MLB.com's Bill Ladson that "no player is untouchable," regardless of how seamlessly he may fit into future plans.

    Brian Goodwin, for example, is expected to replace Denard Span in center field once Span's contract expires. He possesses tremendous pure talent, as evidenced by his .804 OPS—including 21 home runs and 34 stolen bases—through 184 career games.

    However, Jason Martinez explains that the Nats have alternatives for the "Center Fielder of the Future" job, albeit none with Goodwin's upside.

5. Kyle Crick, RHP, San Francisco Giants

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    Current level: High-A, California League

    ESPN prospect expert Keith Law jokes that the San Francisco Giants would be mirroring their 2011 Zack-Wheeler-for-Carlos-Beltran overpay by trading promising pitcher Kyle Crick this July.

    Without a doubt, they need to bolster the starting rotation to stand any chance at repeating as world champs. The 20-year-old Texas native isn't ready to help them directly, but he could certainly compel a selling team to send the Giants someone who can.

    Crick missed two months of the season with an oblique injury. When healthy, however, he has posted a gaudy 14.6 K/9 and 1.46 ERA as one of the youngest players in the California League.

    Despite his current wildness (5.6 BB/9, 19 WP through 143.0 career IP), his size and stuff should eventually allow him to became a frontline starter in the big leagues.

4. Matt Barnes, RHP, Boston Red Sox

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    Current level: Double-A, Eastern League

    Like fellow Connecticut native Matt Harvey, Matt Barnes is a 6'4" right-hander and former first-round draft pick with terrific strikeout numbers since turning pro.

    However, judging by his 5.32 ERA and 1.52 WHIP at Double-A, he's still a ways away from being promoted to the majors. If the Boston Red Sox look to make a big splash before July 31, he could be a centerpiece.

    In his latest start, Barnes exited in the first inning as a precaution after taking a line drive off his pitching wrist. Thankfully for Boston, he "believes he avoided significant injury," per Alex Speier of WEEI.com.

    ESPN Insider Buster Olney reports that the Red Sox have been "actively talking" to the Chicago Cubs about Matt Garza (subscription required). Getting him would likely require two of the their top pitching prospects who appear on this list.

3. Jameson Taillon, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Current level: Double-A, Eastern League

    Now that Gerrit Cole has shown himself to be a serviceable major league starter and A.J. Burnett has returned from the disabled list, the Pittsburgh Pirates can concentrate on fortifying their lineup.

    As of July 8, they only rank 11th in the National League in runs scored, averaging less than four per game. Pittsburgh's first-base platoon isn't intimidating anyone, nor are the options at shortstop or right field.

    Though his walk rate and batting average against have climbed since last summer, Jameson Taillon continues to progress toward a major league debut. With a 6'6" build and great velocity, ESPN.com's David Schoenfield wonders if he could interest the Miami Marlins as the centerpiece of a Giancarlo Stanton blockbuster.

    If such an impact bat isn't available, the Pirates will surely keep Taillon within the organization. Bleacher Report's Pete Dymeck describes his scary repertoire.

2. Nick Castellanos, OF/3B, Detroit Tigers

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    Current level: Triple-A, International League

    To achieve any sort of consistency, the Detroit Tigers will need to acquire a reputable, late-inning reliever (e.g. Jonathan Papelbon, a healthy Jesse Crain).

    Completing such an acquisition might require parting with top hitting prospect Nick Castellanos, and ESPN.com's Jayson Stark hears that the Tigers would seriously consider it.

    The former first-round draft pick has shot up through the farm system. He'll be considered for a major league call-up if/when an injury affects Detroit's outfield. Castellanos' slugging ability has improved following each promotion (.469 SLG, 40 XBH in 2013), so reaching his ceiling could mean middle-of-the-order production and lots of balls in play.

    Detroit has groomed him to be a corner outfielder over the past calendar year, although other organizations may prefer to use him at third base.

1. Tyler Skaggs, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Current level: MLB

    The lowly Milwaukee Brewers look like ideal trade partners for the Arizona Diamondbacks in a deal involving accomplished veteran pitchers and promising developing ones.

    Jon Heyman of CBS Sports was first to the mention Yovani Gallardo and Tyler Skaggs in the same sentence. However, a major league source tells MLB.com's Steve Gilbert that Arizona has "no interest" in relinquishing the southpaw for a short-term fix.

    Skaggs made six not-so-memorable starts for the D-Backs toward the end of 2012, but he has clearly come a long way since then. Two of his four MLB outings this summer have been scoreless, including eight outstanding innings against the Colorado Rockies the last time he took the mound.

    A plus curveball and promising changeup distinguish Skaggs from other superb young pitchers. He compensates for ordinary velocity with precise fastball location.

     

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