10 MLB Prospects Who Could Be Major Trade Bait at the Winter Meetings
Major League Baseball’s annual Winter Meetings is coming up fast, with the event to be held on Dec. 9-12 in Orlando, Florida.
With front-office personnel and executives present from all 30 teams, the Winter Meetings typically produce both big-name free-agent signings and blockbuster trades.
Unlike in the NFL, where the league’s premier free agents seemingly sign within a matter of days, MLB’s top free agents (and their respective agents) will let the market unfold so as to drive up their respective price tags.
This year, the big names on the open market are outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, along with second baseman Robinson Cano. While none of the aforementioned players are expected to sign before the start of the meetings next month, they’ve quietly transformed this year’s free-agent market into one that favors sellers rather than buyers.
Additionally, because teams will hold onto the hope of signing one of the aforementioned players, it creates a potential opportunity for other organizations to cash in on the value of its current players via an offseason trade. Therefore, with the deals that have already taken place this offseason, namely the Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler trade between the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers, it’s a safe assumption that even more high-profile players will be on the move in the coming months.
If we learned anything from last year’s offseason trades of Trevor Bauer, Travis d’Arnaud, Wil Myers and Noah Syndergaard, it’s that prospects have the potential to be the deciding factor in a blockbuster trade. And considering how the market is expected to unfold, there may be even more prospects changing teams in the near future.
Here’s a look at 10 prospects who could be major trade bait at the 2014 MLB Winter Meetings.
Taylor Lindsey, 2B, Los Angeles Angels
Selected out of high school with the No. 37 overall pick in the 2010 draft, the Los Angeles Angels initially took their time developing Taylor Lindsey, assigning him to the rookie-level Pioneer League for his first full season in 2011. The left-handed-hitting second baseman rewarded the organization by quickly emerging as the league’s top hitter, as he batted .362/.394/.593 with 43 extra-base hits in 63 games.
Bumped up to High-A for his full-season debut in 2012, Lindsey had a solid campaign in the hitter-friendly California League but didn’t take a significant step forward in his development as expected. Overall, he batted .289/.328/.408 with 41 extra-base hits in 134 games.
This past season, however, Lindsey turned in the breakout performance that many expected in 2012. Moved up to Double-A Arkansas, the 21-year-old posted a career-low .274 batting average in 134 games, but he also set career highs in home runs (17) and walks (48).
Lindsey has excellent hand-eye coordination and bat-to-ball skills that allow him to make consistently hard contact. The left-handed hitter sets up with his hands low around the torso, only to elevate them as part of his timing mechanism, and surprisingly doesn’t struggle to turn around quality velocity.
While he had always shown plenty of gap power with the ability to barrel the ball to all fields, Lindsey showcased improved over-the-fence pop this past season at Double-A and could develop more as he continues to rise toward the major leagues.
However, with Howie Kendrick signed through the 2015 season, Lindsey’s potential emergence as the team’s second baseman is still at least two years away. And while the Angels have expressed interest in shopping the 30-year-old this season in exchange for pitching, it may make more sense for them to move Lindsey as part of a larger deal.
Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Dylan Bundy entered the season as the consensus top pitching prospect in baseball. Sadly, the 20-year-old was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery, performed by Dr. James Andrews, in early May.
Bundy first experienced “mild elbow tightness” during spring training that was believed to be related to his right flexor mass. However, the discomfort resurfaced when he began a throwing program in April and ultimately led to an appointment with Andrews.
On April 29, Bundy received a platelet-rich plasma injection and was ordered to rest for six weeks before starting another throwing program. But just when it seemed as though the right-hander might work his way back from the unexpected injury, the elbow discomfort returned while throwing from 120 feet on flat ground. And after he was re-examined by Dr. Andrews, the original fear that Bundy might need reconstructive elbow surgery became an unfortunate reality.
As the top pitching prospect in the minor leagues heading into the 2013 season, Bundy has the potential to be an absolute monster. With a combination of physical strength, stuff and pitchability that’s rare for a pitcher of his age and relative lack of experience, the 6’1”, 195-pound right-hander is the definition of a future ace.
Thanks to his outstanding arm strength and a strong, repeatable delivery, Bundy’s fastball works consistently in the mid- to upper-90s, with late, explosive life, and the pitch plays up due to his effortless release.
His curveball is of the 12-to-6 downer variety with tight spin, though his command of the pitch leaves room for improvement. What was once a plus cutter in high school has evolved into a potential above-average-to-plus slider that exhibits a ton of promise but needs further refinement. Bundy also works in an above-average changeup with some fade and generates plenty of whiffs due to his deceptive, fastball-like arm speed.
Given Baltimore’s ongoing quest to find a legitimate staff ace, the team may decide to make Bundy available this offseason. Of all the players in their system, the right-hander has the potential to yield the greatest return, despite the fact that he's unlikely to take the mound again until the second half of the 2014 season.
Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees
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.
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.
While 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 last weekend, when the team signed free agent Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract with a sixth-year vesting option.
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. He still comes with considerable risk given his bat-first reputation and defensive concerns, but he could be a healthy gamble for an organization with a dearth of young hitters.
Devon Travis, 2B, Detroit Tigers
Selected in the 12th round of the 2012 draft out of Florida State University, Devon Travis has done nothing but open eyes since beginning his professional career.
Assigned to the Short Season New York-Penn League after signing last summer, Travis batted .280/.352/.441 with 17 runs scored, seven extra-base hits and a 10-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25 games.
The 22-year-old’s prospect stock took off this past season, courtesy of one of the best statistical performances among all Class-A prospects. Splitting the year between Low-A West Michigan and High-A Lakewood, Travis batted a robust .351/.418/.518 with 177 hits, 48 extra-base hits (16 home runs), 22 stolen bases and a stellar 64-53 strikeout-to-walk rate in 132 games.
At 5’9”, 183 pounds, Travis, a right-handed hitter, does an excellent job of getting the barrel on the ball and showcases surprising power thanks to above-average bat speed and strong wrists. He’s a patient hitter who employs a consistent approach at the plate and lets the ball travel deep—qualities that should translate favorably as he moves up the ladder. And while his defense lags behind the bat, he still possesses the quickness, range and hands to handle second base at the highest level.
Unfortunately, at least for Travis, his opportunity to crack the Tigers’ everyday lineup at the keystone won’t come as soon as it seemed it might have just a few weeks ago. Following the acquisition of Ian Kinsler from the Rangers in the Prince Fielder trade, Travis is now blocked at the position through the 2017 season.
Given the mediocre crop of second-base prospects in the minor leagues, dealing Travis this offseason could help the Tigers address their bullpen situation for the 2014 season.
C.J. Cron, 1B, Los Angeles Angels
After hitting 27 home runs during his full-season debut at High-A in 2012, C.J. 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.
But 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.
However, he’s blocked at first base for the foreseeable future in Anaheim by both Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo. So now might be the best time for the Angels to cash in on his value and deal him for starting pitching.
Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
There may not be a more exciting offensive prospect in the minor leagues than Javier Baez.
After a sluggish start to the season at High-A Daytona, Baez eventually caught fire and received a well-deserved promotion to Double-A Tennessee in late June. After that, the 20-year-old was one of the most productive hitters in the minor leagues, with a .983 OPS and 20 home runs over his last 54 games.
Between both levels, Baez batted .282/.341/.578 with 98 runs scored, 75 extra-base hits (37 home runs), 111 RBI, 20 stolen bases and a 147-40 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 130 games.
Baez is a right-handed hitter with extremely strong wrists and hands that lend to his elite bat speed—the best in the minor leagues. But while he makes a lot of hard contact and has no problems turning around the fastball, Baez still struggles to pick up spin and flails at too many breaking balls out of the zone.
While his pitch recognition may need further refinement in the minor leagues, Baez could still probably post an .800-plus OPS in The Show right now. He’s a streaky player who’s going to endure his share of struggles, but his .920 OPS and 37 home runs suggest he may not need much more time in the minor leagues.
With current shortstop Starlin Castro under contract through the 2019 season, Baez’s future at the position isn’t a sure thing. And if he shifts to third base in the coming years, then that has the potential to create an entirely different predicament regarding the development of Kris Bryant.
Cubs fans will probably chew me out for suggesting it, but the organization could potentially land multiple starting pitchers this offseason if they were to deal Baez.
Garin Cecchini, 3B, Boston Red Sox
Even though Garin Cecchini blew out his knee as a high school senior and was unable to take the field, it didn’t deter the Red Sox from nabbing him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft and subsequently signing him to an above-slot $1.31 million bonus.
Making his professional debut in the Short Season New York-Penn League the following year, Cecchini posted an .898 OPS and led the league with 12 doubles through his first 32 games before an errant pitch resulted in a broken wrist and sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
Despite his lack of experience and worrisome medical history, the organization moved Cecchini up to Low-A Greenville for his full-season debut in 2012. The left-handed hitter responded to the challenge by batting .305/.394/.433 with 84 runs, 46 extra-base hits (38 doubles) and 51 stolen bases in 118 games.
This past season, Cecchini managed to avoid the disabled list and, as a result, turned in a breakout season at the plate between two advanced levels. The 22-year-old batted .322/.443/.471 with 47 extra-base hits (33 doules), 23 stolen bases and stellar 86-94 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 129 games between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland.
Even though Cecchini boasts one of the best combinations of hit-tool projection and plate discipline among all minor leaguers, it’s difficult to envision him getting the nod over one of Boston’s talented infielders anytime soon. Plus, he lacks the power commonly associated with a big league third baseman.
Without a path to consistent playing time in the major leagues, Cecchini is arguably the organization’s top trade chip this offseason. His bat will play at the highest level. Now, he just needs a chance to get on the field.
Lucas Giolito, RHP, Washington Nationals
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 Washington 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 summer of 2012 and subsequently underwent Tommy John surgery.
This past season, the right-hander returned in early July and quickly made up for the lost time in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League by posting 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 it is 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 an impact arm such as David Price or Max Scherzer. Giolito has one of the higher ceilings among all pitching prospects in the game and, therefore, could serve as a deciding piece in an offseason trade.
Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Coming off a breakout campaign in 2012 at Low-A Lansing, Aaron Sanchez semed ready 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.
At 6’4”, 190 pounds, Sanchez is an impressive athlete with a lightning-quick arm and explosive trunk rotation. I’m not sure if 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 threw both his changeup and curveball with more conviction in strikeout counts this fall.
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.
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 or any other major trade this offseason.
Chris Owings, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
Despite his struggles at Double-A Mobile during the second half of the 2012 season, the Arizona Diamondbacks still promoted Chris Owings to Triple-A Reno for the 2013 season. In the face of advanced competition, the 22-year-old 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 past season 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 success, he 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.
Although he lacks a plus attribute, Owings has the potential for five average or better tools at maturity.
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.
With two major league shortstops in Didi Gregorius and Owings, the Diamondbacks could theoretically afford to trade either player this offseason, presumably in return for an established starting pitcher. Owings has more trade value given his age and offensive upside (compared to Gregorius), so expect him to be part of a potential deal.