Could Oscar Taveras be on the move this winter?
Beyond offering hope to fans of struggling teams, prospects serve a more important purpose at this time of the year.
With Major League Baseball’s free agency underway and every team evaluating their rosters for the 2014 season, prospects can be the deciding factor when it comes to an offseason blockbuster trade.
Last year, top-ranked prospects Travis d’Arnaud, Jake Marisnick and Will Myers were each featured (as part of larger packages) in trades for All-Star players and went on to reach the major leagues during the 2013 season.
Because the offseason is still young, there haven’t been many substantiated trade rumors so far involving prospects.
However, that’s not to say the rumors aren’t out there.
So let’s take a look at notable prospects who could be on the move this winter.
Oscar Taveras was widely regarded as the top offensive prospect headed into the 2013 season, as well as one expected to make an immediate impact upon arriving in the major leagues.
In 2012, Taveras—who was promoted directly from Low-A to Double-A—destroyed Texas League pitching to the tune of a .321/.380/.572 batting line with 67 extra-base hits (23 home runs), 94 RBI and a 56/42 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 127 games. It also marked the third consecutive season in which the left-handed hitting outfielder posted a .300-plus batting average.
Sadly, Taveras’ highly anticipated 2013 season didn’t unfold as expected. Opening the year at Triple-A Memphis, the 21-year-old suffered a high ankle sprain in late May and it ultimately bothered him throughout the season and led to two separate stints on the disabled list. Overall, Taveras batted .306/.341/.462 with 17 extra-base hits and 32 RBI at Memphis but was limited to only 46 games.
There was a glimmer of hope in mid-August when reports had Taveras nearing a rehab assignment, fueling the belief that the outfielder could still receive a September call-up. Unfortunately, it was announced a few days later that he needed season-ending surgery. The surgery went well, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, though Taveras was restricted to a walking boot for the following eight weeks.
Expected to be ready for spring training in 2014, Taveras could potentially contend for a spot in the Opening Day outfield depending on how Carlos Beltran's free agency plays out during the offseason.
However, if the Cardinals choose to lock up Beltran for several more years, Taveras could suddenly become expendable and possibly serve as top-notch trade bait in the team’s pursuit of a shortstop.
As Jim Bowden of ESPN.com suggests (subscription required)—a rumor that dates back to last offseason—the Cardinals could realistically send him to Texas in exchange for Jurickson Profar, who is still without a spot on the Rangers’ overcrowded infield.
Why: Taveras is one of the best middle-of-the-order hitting prospects in baseball, and although he
can play center field, he’s best suited for right field. However, you have to give up something significant to get something significant, and Profar would be the Cardinals’ long-term answer at both shortstop and in the second spot in the lineup.
Bowden is right; each player does fit the other team's needs. I still consider Taveras the best pure hitter in the minor leagues despite his disappointing, injury-plauged 2013 season. Meanwhile, Profar is waiting to break out and cash in on the promise he showed as baseball’s top prospect heading into the year.
Potential Impact: All-Star outfielder; should content for multiple batting titles; elite middle-of-the-order hitter
Lucas Giolito was viewed as a potential No. 1 overall draft pick early in the spring of 2012, but he unfortunately tweaked the UCL in his right elbow and missed the rest of the high school season.
Despite the injury, the Nationals gambled on his enormous upside and made the California native the No. 16 overall pick in the 2012 draft.
After rehabbing his elbow with extreme caution, Giolito re-aggravated the injury during his first professional start late in the 2012 summer and subsequently underwent Tommy John surgery.
This past season, the right-hander returned in early July and quickly made up for the lost time.
Assigned to the team’s affiliate in the Gulf Coast League, Giolito posted a 2.78 ERA and 25-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 22.2 innings (eight starts).
Moved up to Short-Season Auburn to finish the year, the 19-year-old was dominating over three starts, posting a 0.64 ERA and .191 opponents’ batting average with a 14-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14 innings.
At 6’6”, 225 pounds, the right-hander has a smooth and balanced delivery that produces a fastball that ranges anywhere from 94 to 99 mph, and he has the potential to reach triple digits when he regains full arm strength. While he’s understandably been kept on a short leash as a professional, Giolito demonstrated the ability to hold velocity deep into starts as an amateur.
His curveball is flat-out nasty and a potential plus-plus offering; it draws as many jelly-leg reactions as swing-and-misses. Meanwhile, Giolito’s changeup was a borderline plus pitch before the injury and should be excellent as he regains a feel against good competition
At maturity, Giolito should feature above-average command of all three offerings, which is impressive given the overall movement of his full arsenal.
Though it’s not anything more than speculation, the Nationals do possess the minor league depth to pull off a blockbuster trade for impact arms such as David Price or Max Scherzer.
According to Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider, Giolito could be in the mix should the team decide to take that route.
What does that mean in the Nationals’ case? Well, any trade proposal for Price or Scherzer is almost certain to begin with Anthony Rendon, the organization’s top-rated prospect entering 2013 who acquitted himself well during his rookie season.
And then is probably guaranteed to also include Lucas Giolito, the organization’s top-rated prospect entering 2014 who has come back from Tommy John surgery as strong as ever.
And then will most likely include another prospect or two from the upper reaches of the Nationals’ depth chart. Guys like A.J. Cole, Brian Goodwin and Robbie Ray.
As I mentioned, this is merely a rumor. However, depending on the activity this offseason of other National League East teams, it has the potential to gain traction.
Potential Impact: No. 2 starter; one of the best right-handed pitchers in the game
After posting a .913 OPS with 18 home runs and 26 stolen bases for High-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2012, Joc Pederson improved his prospect stock in a big way this past season with a strong follow-up showing at Double-A Chattanooga.
Previously viewed as a potential fourth outfielder, Pederson’s performance this season in the Southern League makes me believe he can be an everyday guy.
Heading into the season, there was concern that the outfielder’s production wouldn’t translate outside the hitter-friendly California League.
Suffice it to say the 21-year-old silenced his skeptics by ranking third in both OPS (.878) and stolen bases (31) among all qualified hitters in the Southern League.
A left-handed hitter, Pederson has the potential for an above-average-to-plus hit tool, and he already knows how to control the strike zone and get the barrel to the ball. The fact that his power has translated at Double-A continues to be a pleasant surprise and suggests the potential for above-average power at maturity.
For Pederson to receive consistent playing time in the major leagues next season there would likely need to be an injury to one of the Dodgers’ everyday outfielders.
That presents another option: a trade.
In talking with baseball officials prior to the start of free agency, Peter Gammons of Gammons Daily spoke with one general manager who believes the Dodgers have the minor league talent to potentially land David Price.
But, suggests several general managers, the Dodgers can avoid the loss of their number one pick and the slot money if they trade for David Price and get Masahiro Tanaka from Japan. “They have the minor league talent to get Price,” says one GM. “If they would trade Corey Seager and Julio Urias (the 17-year old lefthanded pitcher) and a couple out of Zach Lee, Joc Pederson or Chris Withrow, it would get it done.
Though he represents a nice safety valve for the organization in terms of outfield depth, especially if the team decides to move Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford, Pederson would also carry tremendous trade value this offseason given his proximity to the major leagues.
Potential Impact: Above-average corner outfielder; 20-20 upside
After acquiring Didi Gregorius and Nick Ahmed in the offseason, the Diamondbacks promoted Owings to Triple-A Reno to open the 2013 season despite his struggles at Double-A Mobile in 2012. Well, in the face of those concerns, he thrived as one of the younger everyday players at the level and quietly emerged as one of the better up-the-middle prospects in the minors.
Owings posted video-game numbers this year at Reno, batting .330/.359/.482 with 180 hits, 51 extra-base hits (12 home runs), 81 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 125 games. As a result of his overwhelming success, the 22-year-old was named both the Rookie of the Year and MVP of the Pacific Coast League and was subsequently called up to the major leagues by the Diamondbacks.
Appearing in 20 games over the final month of the regular season—most of his playing time came once the team was eliminated from the playoff race—Owings held his own with a .742 OPS, five doubles and 10-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61 plate appearances.
Despite his lack of a plus attribute, the 22-year-old has the potential for five average or better tools at maturity. And while his numbers in the Pacific Coast League are obviously inflated, Owings is much more than a product of hitter-friendly parks.
At 5’10”, 180 pounds, Owings, a right-handed hitter, has a direct bat path and knack for barreling the ball. The power potential may be the most surprising aspect of his game, with impressive extension after contact that enables him to generate considerable backspin carry. However, his approach is still too aggressive and has the potential to be exploited against advanced pitching.
The Cardinals have made it clear that they’re in the market for a shortstop, but not necessarily a costly star-level player such as Troy Tulowitzki. According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Owings could be an option given his age and lack of a clear path to playing time on the Diamondbacks’ 2014 infield.
The new halls to explore for the Cardinals could be teams with stacked shortstops, or younger unproven shortstops. Arizona has Chris Owings rising from Class AAA and an MVP in the Pacific Coast League at the same position as 23-year-old Didi Gregorius, who started 97 games at short last season but faded offensively.
A personal favorite, I believe that Owings will enjoy a better-than-expected career as a big league shortstop. He’s a solid fit for the Cardinals as a hard-nosed ballplayer and he could be a guy in that organization, but don’t expect the team to overpay for him.
Potential Impact: Above-average middle infielder
After clubbing 27 home runs during his full-season debut at High-A in 2012, Cron took a step back this past season at Double-A—perhaps a result of offseason shoulder surgery. Playing in 134 games, the 23-year-old held his own with a .274 bating average but saw his home run total drop to 14 while striking out a career-high 83 times. As a first-base-only prospect, let alone a right-handed one, Cron’s bat (more specifically his power) will determine if he reaches the major leagues.
At 6’4”, 235 pounds, Cron’s raw power is as big as his size suggests. However, in my looks last week, he struggled to get on top of fastballs at average velocity, as well as those on the inner half of the plate. On the other hand, the right-handed hitter punished pitches down in the zone, especially fastballs.
When he’s able to drop the bat head on the ball, Cron gets excellent extension through the zone and generates big-time backspin carry to all fields. So, basically, while the power is definitely there, I’m skeptical of its utility at maturity.
Another worrisome aspect of Cron’s development is that he’s blocked at first base for the foreseeable future in Anaheim by both Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo. As Jim Bowden argues (subscription required), this could make the 23-year-old intriguing trade bait this offseason, especially to a team such as the Brewers who desperately need a slugging first baseman.
…The Brewers do have a depth of young starting pitchers and could afford to deal Peralta especially if the return is a future power bat like Cron, who is presently blocked by both Albert Pujols and Trumbo.
Although the Angels would prefer to hold on to Cron, if they can get the right starting pitcher, it would be a surprise if they didn’t trade him. The question is: Do the Angels like Peralta’s potential as much as GM Doug Melvin and the Brewers do?
Thanks a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League, highlighted by winning the league’s batting title with a .413 average, Cron has resuscitated his prospect stock that was down following his 13-home run 2013 campaign. Now might be the best time for the Angels to cash in on his value.
Potential Impact: Middle-of-the-order hitter; 25-plus home run upside