Does the Yankees’ signing of Brian McCann mean prospect Gary Sanchez is available?
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 break down the hottest trade rumors involving top prospects.
Coming off a breakout campaign in 2012 at Low-A Lansing, Aaron Sanchez appeared poised to take a huge step forward this past season after moving up to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.
Unfortunately, the 21-year-old right-hander spent over a month on the disabled list with shoulder soreness and ultimately logged only 86.1 innings at the more advanced level.
And while he proved to be difficult to barrel with a .202 opponents’ batting average, his 75-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio and lack of a consistent third pitch left something to be desired.
That said, Sanchez looked really good this fall. His stuff inherently played up in an environment such as the AFL, where he ranked as one of the top arms in the league, but that didn't detract from the fact he was flat-out nasty.
At 6’4”, 190 pounds, Sanchez is an impressive athlete with a lightning-quick arm and explosive trunk rotation. I’m not sure there’s another pitcher (in the minor leagues) who makes a mid-90s fastball seem so completely effortless. The right-hander’s command of his secondary offerings is still fringy, though he has noticeably thrown both his changeup and curveball with more conviction in strikeout counts this fall.
The Toronto Blue Jays have no need to rush Sanchez to the major leagues; ideally, he’ll spend a majority of the 2014 season at the Double-A level.
However, according to Bruce Levin of ESPN Chicago, the Blue Jays have inquired about Chicago Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija and are putting together a pack of young players.
Well, considering that Sanchez easily ranks as the team’s top prospect, it’s a relatively safe assumption that he would be included in the deal.
Sanchez’s ceiling is up there with the likes of fellow prospects Robert Stephenson and Noah Syndergaard; however, they both feature better present command and therefore passed him developmentally this past season.
Regardless, he could emerge as one of the game’s top pitching prospects if he can put things together next year.
Potential Impact: No. 2/No. 3 starter.
Gary Sanchez entered the 2013 season as the New York Yankees’ top prospect and future catcher.
In 2012, he enjoyed a breakout campaign, batting .290/.344/.485 with 48 extra-base hits (18 home runs), 85 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 117 games between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. Understandably, expectations were high for the young slugger heading into his age-20 season.
Opening the year back at Tampa, the 20-year-old struggled to progress offensively, batting .254/.313/.420 with 21 doubles and 13 home runs in 94 games. The Yankees moved him up to Double-A for the final month of the season, and he held his own with a .744 OPS in 23 games.
Sanchez showcases above-average power potential from a well-balanced swing, with plus bat speed and a feel for striking the ball. However, he has an overaggressive approach and tends to give away too many at-bats. His ability to control the strike zone has improved over the last year, but he still has plenty of room to improve.
In general, he’s an impressive young hitter and the bat should play regardless of future position.
Defensively, Sanchez has improved significantly over the last two years, but he still has a long way to go. The 6’2”, 220-pound backstop possesses solid athleticism and agility, though it may not last for long as he continues to develop physically. It could also impact his ability to stick behind the plate moving forward. His blocking and receiving skills are still pretty raw and leave room for improvement.
Sanchez’s arm strength is his biggest asset and helps negate some of the weaker aspects of his current defensive profile.
However, Sanchez’s chances of becoming the Yankees’ catcher were crushed on Saturday when the team signed free agent Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract with a sixth-year vesting option, according of Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
This, in theory, makes Sanchez intriguing trade bait, argues ESPN.com’s Keith Law (subscription required):
The bat could be elite. He has strong hands and great hip rotation, with plus-plus raw power to his pull side and doubles power the other way. His approach needs work, as does his blocking and receiving, although he does have a 70-grade arm and nailed 44 percent of opposing runners this year.
If the bat develops as expected, he'll profile at any position, including first base or DH if the catching thing doesn't work out -- although he's a potential MVP candidate if he stays behind the plate. The Yankees could use him as trade bait now if they don't believe in his future hitting potential or if his history of attitude questions has them doubting his commitment to improving his defense.
Compared to J.R. Murphy, who could serve as a solid backup to McCann next season, Sanchez would bring back greater value in a trade, perhaps for an outfielder or starting pitcher.
ETA: Late 2015
Potential Impact: Above-average starting catcher.
Joey Gallo has the best left-handed power in the minors, and he isn’t too far behind Miguel Sano in the running for best power overall.
After setting the rookie-level Arizona League home run record last season with 18 of them in 43 games—followed by four more in the Northwest League—Gallo became the first teenager since 1962 to hit 40 home runs in a season.
The 20-year-old missed most of July this season with a strained groin, but he still batted .251/.338/.623 with 23 doubles, five triples, 40 home runs, 15 stolen bases and a 172-50 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 111 games (106 games at Low-A Hickory; five games on a rehab assignment in the rookie-level Arizona League).
When Gallo is locked in, the 20-year-old is capable of putting together streaks on par with his final 10 games of the regular season: .361/.452/1.139, 11 R, 2 3B, 8 HR, 15 RBI, 12/6 K/BB. Even when he’s struggling and piling up strikeouts, Gallo’s raw power gives him the potential to flirt with an .800 OPS.
In a recent article, ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden (subscription required) suggested that the Texas Rangers could include Gallo in a package for David Price:
Why: At this point it's pretty clear that Price is going to be traded, and this would be a comparable package to what the Rays got from the Royals last winter in the James Shields deal. A little better, in fact, because Price is better than Shields and is two years from free agency, as Shields was last year. The Rangers have too many middle infielders, so Profar is expendable, and Price would make them the AL West favorites.
Jackson is a righty with serious potential who is probably a year away, while Gallo has incredible power but strikes out way too much (40 homers and 172 strikeouts in 111 minor league games in 2013). Meanwhile, Profar would be the Rays' shortstop solution for at least five years.
Gallo is a high-risk prospect given his prodigious power and swing-and-miss potential, but that makes him all the more attractive in the back end of a prospect package.
Potential Impact: One of the game's premier sluggers; middle-of-the-order beast; Three True Outcome masher a la Adam Dunn.
Christian Bethancourt is viewed as one of the better defensive catchers in the minor leagues thanks in part to an 80-grade arm and receiving skills that have steadily improved over the last two seasons. However, a punchless bat has prevented the 22-year-old from approaching his ceiling.
This season, his second straight at the Double-A level, Bethancourt finally made strides in his development at the dish. Making more consistent contact and striking out less, the right-handed hitter batted .277/.305/.436 with 33 extra-base hits (12 home runs), 11 stolen bases and a 57-16 strikeout-to-walk rate in 90 games.
Following the conclusion of the minor league season, Bethancourt was among the Braves’ September call-ups. He appeared in one game and struck out in his only at-bat.
Though the Braves’ catching situation is undecided for the 2014 season, Bethancourt currently is poised to serve as the team’s backup catcher to Evan Gattis. However, Atlanta could explore a trade for an established backstop such as Matt Wieters, according to Bowden:
The Braves splurged on a five-year, $90-100 million contract for B.J. Upton last offseason so forgive them if they are gun-shy about doling out another. However, if McCann departs and Evan Gattis and Christian Bethancourt can’t cut it, they might decide to try to trade for Wieters, a former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket.
Until the bat develops, Bethancourt is best-suited for a backup role given his defensive prowess. But if he comes close to reaching his lofty ceiling, he could be a Salvador Perez-type catcher.
ETA: 2014 (debuted in 2013)
Potential Impact: First-division catcher; multiple Gold Glove awards.