Untouchable MLB Prospects Teams Should Consider Trading This Winter
If we learned anything from last year’s MLB offseason, it’s that blockbuster trades are more likely to happen when previously untouchable prospects are made available.
By this time last year, the Royals had already dealt Wil Myers and three other prospects to the Rays in exchange for right-handers James Shields and Wade Davis.
Similarly, the Blue Jays' last-minute decision to include top prospects Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard in the trade for R.A. Dickey ultimately brought the deal together.
For the most part, teams have held true to their words this offseason regarding the availability of top prospects. However, that could change in a hurry as the remaining big-name free agents come off the board.
Here’s a look at four untouchable prospects who could command a huge return for their teams in a trade if made available.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Arizona Diamondbacks have been the most active team on the trade front this offseason, tapping into their wealth of young talent to acquire major league assets.
However, the one player who has been deemed untouchable since the start of the offseason is Archie Bradley. The Diamondbacks desire to hold onto Bradley is understandable considering that he’s baseball’s No. 1 pitching prospect.
Moved up to High-A Visalia for the 2013 season, Bradley dominated in the hitter-friendly California League over five starts, posting a 1.26 ERA and a 43-10 ratio of strikeouts to walks in 28.2 innings.
As a result, the 20-year-old received an early-season promotion to Double-A Mobile, where he was even more impressive. Making 21 starts at the more advanced level, Bradley registered a 1.97 ERA, .214 opponents’ batting average and 119-59 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 123.1 innings.
Bradley has the deadliest two-pitch combination among minor league pitchers with a heavy fastball in the mid- to upper-90s that has late life, and a power curveball with 12-to-6 shape and a sharp downer bite. Even though both pitches already grade as plus offerings, they each have the potential to improve, along with his overall command.
The right-hander’s feel for a changeup noticeably lags behind that of his two other offerings, but it flashes above-average potential and should serve as a third weapon at maturity.
Bradley’s pure stuff is ridiculously powerful and arguably the best in the minor leagues. However, despite the overwhelming success this season, the right-hander is still learning how to harness it. He has the athleticism and aptitude to make adjustments along the way, which only strengthens his projection as a future No. 1 starter.
If the Diamondbacks were to make Bradley available this offseason, they might be able to offer the most flattering trade package for David Price or another front-line starting pitcher.
Javier Baez, SS, Chicago Cubs
After a sluggish start to the season at High-A Daytona, Javier 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 on pitches and flails at too many breaking balls out of the strike 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.
Cubs fans may hate the idea, and with good reason, but the organization could land multiple starting pitchers by packaging Baez in a trade.
With current shortstop Starlin Castro under contract through the 2019 season, Baez’s future at the position isn’t a sure thing. If he shifts to third base in the coming years, the potential for another logjam exists with Kris Bryant, Mike Olt and Christian Villanueva.
Dylan Bundy, RHP, Baltimore Orioles
Dylan Bundy entered the 2013 season as the consensus top pitching prospect in baseball.
However, the 20-year-old was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery that was performed by Dr. James Andrews in early May.
Bundy has the makings of a future ace with a combination of physical strength, stuff and "pitchability" that’s rare for a pitcher of his age and experience.
Thanks to his outstanding arm strength and a strong, repeatable delivery, the 6’1”, 195-pounder’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. Bundy also works in an above-average changeup with some fade and generates plenty of whiffs with deceptive, fastball-like arm speed.
Given Baltimore’s ongoing quest to find a legitimate No. 1 starter, the team may decide to make Bundy available this offseason—especially if it meant the acquisition of David Price or Cole Hamels. Of all the players in the Orioles' 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.
Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Robert Stephenson’s upside is tantalizing.
Assigned to Low-A Dayton to open this past season after reaching that level for the first time in late 2012, Stephenson struggled out of the gate, but eventually found his groove as the spring unfolded.
Though a minor hamstring injury sidelined the 20-year-old for a month in early June, he still dominated in the Midwest League with a 2.57 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 77 innings. As a result of his success, the Reds promoted Stephenson to High-A Bakersfield in mid-July, where he proceeded to post a 3.05 ERA with a 22-2 ratio of strikeouts to walks over four starts.
Stephenson received one last promotion in mid-August, moving up to Double-A Pensacola for the final month of the season.
While he showed the ability to miss bats at the more advanced level with 18 strikeouts in 16.2 innings, the right-hander struggled with his control and failed to work deep into games, posting a 4.86 ERA over four starts.
Stephenson has the makings of a front-line starter in the major leagues. boasting elite arm strength capable of pumping fastballs in the upper-90s and touching triple digits, as well as a pair of promising secondary pitches in a changeup and slider.
As the Reds' top pitching prospect—and one of the best in the minor leagues—Stephenson carries tremendous trade value and could be dealt for an upgrade at shortstop or in the outfield.