With the July 31 trade deadline edging closer every day, trade talks have begun to heat up as teams prepare to address their needs for the second half of the 2013 season and beyond.
For most organizations, their best chance at landing an impact player before the end of the month will depend on both the depth and strength of their farm system. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every team hoping to make a deal before the deadline is willing to part with their top prospects. In fact, a majority of the game’s current top prospects have already been declared off-limits.
With that being said, here’s a look at the all-untouchable prospect team headed into the 2013 trade deadline.
C: Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres
Regarded as the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues, Hedges’ bat emerged in a big way last year during his full-season debut for Low-A Fort Wayne. Appearing in 96 games, the right-handed hitter batted .279/.334/.451 with 28 doubles, 10 home runs, 14 stolen bases and 62/23 K/BB.
As a result of his success in the Midwest League, Hedges was promoted to High-A Lake Elsinore for the 2013 season. However, the 20-year-old got off to a slow start, as he was limited to only 20 games over the first two months of the season. Since then, though, he’s picked up the pace at the dish, batting .287 with 15 extra-base hits in 34 games.
1B: Jonathan Singleton, Houston Astros
Coming off a breakout 2012 campaign in which he posted an .893 OPS with 21 home runs and 131/88 K/BB in 131 for Double-A Corpus Christi, Singleton missed the first 50 games of the 2013 season after receiving a 50-game suspension for a second positive test for a drug of abuse.
Returning to action in May, the 21-year-old made stops at Low-A Quad Cities (1.210 OPS in six games) and Corpus Christi (.922 OPS in 11 games) before a promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Granted he’s still working his way back to form, but Singleton has struggled in his first taste of the Pacific Coast League, batting .219/.320/.343 with three home runs and 40 strikeouts through 30 games.
With no need to rush him to the next level, the Astros will allow their future first baseman as much time needed to develop at Triple-A, with the hope of getting him to the major leagues for the final month of the season.
2B: Eddie Rosario, Minnesota Twins
Since entering the Twins’ system in 2010, Rosario has moved up the ladder quickly thanks to his consistent left-handed bat. In his full-season debut in 2012, he posted an .835 OPS with 48 extra-base hits in 95 games for Low-A Beloit.
Moved up to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League for the 2013 season, Rosario, like teammate Miguel Sano, made quick work of the challenging level, batting .329/.377/.527 with 24 extra-base hits and 29/17 K/BB in 52 games. The 21-year-old was subsequently promoted to Double-A New Britain where he’s showed no signs of slowing down with a .312/.372/.464 batting line, 13 extra-base hits and 23/12 K/BB through his first 32 games.
Rosario still needs time to develop in the minor leagues—especially in terms of his defense at second base—but there’s reason to believe he’ll debut on the Twins’ infield at some point during the 2014 season. And given the dearth of up-the-middle talent at all levels in the their system, the 21-year-old figures to be a welcome addition to their lineup.
SS: Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
Bogaerts emerged as one of the top offensive prospects in the minor leagues last season when he posted an .896 OPS with 37 doubles and 20 home runs in 127 games between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland. Assigned back to Portland for the 2013 season, the 20-year-old picked up where he left off by batting .311/.407/.502 with 24 extra-base hits, and demonstrated vastly improved plate discipline with 51/35 K/BB in 56 games.
Promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket in mid June, Bogaerts has made a seamless transition to the International League, posting an .825 OPS with seven home runs and 21/16 K/BB through 30 games. The right-handed hitter’s bat is nearly ready for the challenge of the major leagues, and he could serve as an x-factor for the Red Sox during the second half of the season.
3B: Miguel Sano, Minnesota Twins
After batting .258/.373/.521 with 28 home runs and 144/80 K/BB last year during his full-season debut for Low-A Beloit, there were legitimate questions as to how Sano’s approach and pitch recognition would translate at higher levels.
Well, the 20-year-old quickly silenced his skeptics with a torrid start to the season at High-A Fort Myers in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. Through his first 56 games at the more advanced level, Sano batted .330/.424/.655 with 16 home runs and 61/29 K/BB. More importantly, the right-handed slugger’s performance prompted an ahead-of-schedule, midseason promotion to Double-A New Britain.
Since arriving in the Eastern League, Sano has struggled for the first time in his career. While his plate discipline has been respectable with 32/15 K/BB in 31 games, he hasn’t seen as many pitches within the strike zone and is making less favorable contact as a result. However, expect Sano to make the necessary adjustments over the second half of the season, as he’s currently on pace for a major-league debut at some point in 2014.
OF: Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, Buxton has quickly emerged as the game’s top prospect thanks to a historically good full-season debut. The athletic and toolsy outfielder got off to a red-hot start this season in the Midwest League, batting .341/.431/.559 with 68 runs, 15 doubles, 10 triples, eight home runs and 32 stolen bases in 68 games for Low-A Cedar Rapids. But perhaps the most impressive aspect of the 19-year-old’s overall game was the better-than-expected secondary skills that resulted in 56/44 K/BB.
His overwhelming success in the low minors earned the outfielder a midseason promotion to the Florida State League. Although he’s been challenged at the more advanced level—at least compared to his time at Cedar Rapids—the outfielder has certainly held his own with a .297/.338/.419 batting line and five extra-base hits through 18 games.
Buxton has the makings of a future superstar, and is seemingly on the fast track to the major leagues. Given his enormous upside, the organization will presumably allow him to complete his development in the major leagues, possibly as early as next season.
OF: Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins
In possession of the sweetest swing in the minor leagues, Yelich breezed through the Florida State League last season, batting .330/.404/.519 with 20 doubles, 12 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 85/49 K/BB in 106 games. And despite his lack of experience above the High-A level, the left-handed hitting outfielder nearly broke camp with the Marlins after an impressive showing in major-league spring training.
When he was promoted to Double-A Jacksonville for the 2013 season, the belief was that Yelich wouldn’t be long for the level. However, the 21-year-old has been limited to only 45 games so far due to a pair of stints on the disabled list (heel, abdominal strain), which in turn has noticeably affected his rhythm and timing at the plate. But still, despite his struggle to stay on the field, Yelich has posted an .860 OPS with 25 extra-base hits and has finally started to heat up.
Even if his numbers don’t pick up over the second half, Yelich is ready to be challenged at the highest level—his bat is simply that good. And once he arrives, possibly as early as late July, expect him to be a fixtures in the Marlins’ outfield for years to come.
OF: Oscar Taveras, St. Louis Cardinals
Widely regarded as the best pure hitter in the minor leagues, Taveras turned in an absolutely monster season as a 20-year-old in 2012, batting .321/.380/.572 with 37 doubles, 23 home runs and 56/42 K/BB in 124 games for Double-A Springfield. While he could have handled the jump directly to the major leagues to open the 2013 season, the presence of Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Jon Jay in the team’s outfield ultimately led to an assignment to Triple-A Memphis.
Despite having spent roughly two months on the disabled list this season—he’s been sidelined twice with a sprained ankle—Taveras has still posted solid numbers in the Pacific Coast League, batting .306/.341/.462 with 17 extra-base hits in 46 games. As long as the 21-year-old can stay healthy, he should see time in the major leagues—even if it’s only as a September call-up—during the second half of the season. And if everything goes as planned, Taveras should be ready for an everyday role in the Cardinals outfield to open the 2014 season.
SP: Taijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners
Ranked as the best pitching prospect in the minor leagues, Walker went through a learning year in 2012 when he spent his entire age-19 season at Double-A Jackson. In 25 starts, the right-hander registered a 4.69 ERA with 118/50 K/BB in 126.2 innings.
Assigned back to the level for the 2013 season, Walker showcased across-the-board improvements in his second tour of the Southern League, posting a 2.46 ERA with 58 hits allowed and 96/30 K/BB in 84 innings before a midseason promotion to Triple-A Tacoma.
The 20-year-old has continued to deal in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, registering a 0.56 ERA with 16/5 K/BB through three starts. Given his current rate of development, it’s likely that Walker will see at least some time in the major leagues later this season, though that’s not to say he’s a finished product.
SP: Archie Bradley, Arizona Diamondbacks
Bradley shot up the prospect ranks last season during his full-season debut for Low-A South Bend thanks to a dominant fastball-curveball combination that resulted in a 3.84 ERA with 87 hits allowed and 152 strikeouts in 136 innings. But while the right-hander was difficult to barrel, he was also his own worst enemy by allowing 84 walks during that time.
Headed into the 2013 season, the consensus was that the 20-year-old had the potential to emerge as one of the game’s premier pitching prospects with improved command and consistency. And that’s exactly what has transpired, as Bradley registered a 1.26 ERA with 43/10 K/BB in 28.2 innings for High-A Visalia to begin his sophomore campaign. His utter dominance in the California League earned him a quick promotion to Double-A Mobile where he’s continued to thrive as one of the league’s younger pitchers. Through his first 13 starts at the more advanced level, Bradley has posted an impressive 2.37 ERA with 61 hits allowed and 72/34 K/BB in 76 innings.
Bradley still needs further seasoning in the minor leagues, but the stuff is good enough to get big league hitters out right now. And for that reason, I think there’s a realistic chance that the organization utilizes him in their starting rotation during the final stretch of the 2013 season.