Updating the Top 10 MLB Prospects Potentially on the Trade Block
The prospect boom in Major League Baseball has made it so blockbuster deals built around young stars with great potential are increasingly rare.
Teams understand the value of a player in those pre-arbitration years, even if they don't have an elite ceiling, and how much bang it provides for the buck. It's because of this fiscal responsibility that we haven't seen a blockbuster deal involving an established big league star, like David Price.
A team like the Texas Rangers, which had every reason in the world to try trading Jurickson Profar, didn't make a hard push to move him because he's a 20-year-old shortstop who is six years away from free agency.
Instead, the Rangers opted to trade the aging, expensive, declining second baseman Ian Kinsler for Prince Fielder and insert Profar in the starting lineup next season.
However, just because teams are putting an emphasis on prospects doesn't mean there aren't players who won't end up on the trade block.
We are going to look at the 10 best prospects in baseball, ranked in ascending order, who could potentially be dealt at some point in 2014. Some of these are names that have been mentioned previously, others are pure speculation on our part, but all of them make sense for reasons we will dive into.
10. Sammy Solis, LHP, Washington Nationals
Sammy Solis isn't a pitcher with stuff that is going to make you take notice, but the 25-year-old has a clear plan on the mound that helps his above-average fastball play better than the velocity suggests.
In addition to the heater, Solis works with a solid-average changeup that he uses to carve up right-handed hitters. (They hit just .219 against him in the Arizona Fall League). He lacks a breaking ball, which makes it easy for lefties to tee off on him.
But if Solis can figure out some consistency with the slider, he could end up as a No. 3-4 starter. That's a big if, especially since he hasn't pitched more than 100 innings in any minor league season. The lefty also had Tommy John surgery in 2012, increasing the risk exponentially.
The Nationals have built a deep, young starting rotation and have more help coming in the next three years with Lucas Giolito and A.J. Cole in the minors, so a player like Solis can become expendable to fill an offensive need the team might have.
9. Tyler Austin, OF, New York Yankees
Tyler Austin is the first of two Yankees on the list. The second one, Mason Williams, will appear very soon and could be flip-flopped on a rankings list with no argument from me.
Austin slots in here because he's more of an injury risk than Williams, though neither player has been the picture of health in their minor league careers.
Being a Yankee prospect is always a difficult position for a player, because you will either get too much attention by virtue of being in the organization, or the team won't have a spot for you because they spent on a big-time free agent.
Austin falls into both categories, as the Yankees signed Carlos Beltran to play right field for the next three years, and he hasn't played enough to show his skills off on a consistent basis.
The 22-year-old finished the 2013 season with Double-A Trenton, playing a total of 85 games and hitting an uninspired .265/.351/.378.
If Austin is able to stay on the field in 2014 and post an OPS over .900, like he did in 2011 and 2012, the Yankees might be able to flip him in a package for a pitcher.
8. Mason Williams, OF, New York Yankees
Mason Williams, 22, had already entered into the "overrated, overhyped Yankees prospect" category last season. The only reason he's starting to fall out of it is opposing talent finally caught up to him in 2013.
Playing 117 games between High-A and Double-A, Williams hit just .245/.304/.337. He's got virtually no power in his thin 6'1", 180-pound frame, using speed to create a lot of doubles and triples.
One thing Williams does offer is plus defense in center field. He's got the speed to cover a lot of ground and reads the ball well off the bat. His arm strength is solid-average.
If a team out there sees something in the bat, even as a bottom-of-the-order hitter, Williams could get a low-level pitcher in return.
The Yankees have Jacoby Ellsbury locked into center field for the next seven years, so Williams doesn't seem to have a place in New York's future.
7. Mike Olt, 3B, Chicago Cubs
I'm not sure what to do with Mike Olt from a prospect perspective. He's a 25-year-old coming off a disastrous season in 2013 in which he played 107 minor league games and posted a paltry .201/.303/.381 line with 132 strikeouts in 373 at-bats.
Some of Olt's issues can be attributed to vision problems that required special drops so he could see correctly out of his right eye.
However, until we know if Olt is 100 percent, it's hard to say what exactly he is. The Cubs could use the third baseman they acquired from Texas last year as trade bait, if he proves to be back at full strength in spring training.
The Cubs have two better prospects likely to end up at third base in the next year or two (Javier Baez, Kris Bryant). It's possible Bryant ends up in right field, but Baez seems like the third baseman of the future.
Olt could move to first base, though that might not happen in Chicago with Anthony Rizzo signed long term. It also diminishes Olt's value since a lot of his stature is tied up in being a plus defensive third baseman.
Of all the players on the list, Olt seems like the longest of long shots to be dealt because of what happened last year. He has to prove those issues are behind him and rebuild some of that lost value to be an attractive option.
6. Christian Bethancourt, C, Atlanta Braves
When Brian McCann took his talents to New York, it seemed to open the door for Christian Bethancourt to at least warrant a look at an MLB job with Atlanta in 2014.
Unfortunately for the 22-year-old, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, the Braves reportedly acquired Ryan Doumit from Minnesota and could spell him with Evan Gattis behind the plate next season,
If there is a light at the end of the tunnel for Bethancourt, it's that Gattis is a terrible defensive catcher and Doumit was barely a replacement-level player in 2013.
Bethancourt is one of the best defensive catchers in the minors, competing with San Diego's Austin Hedges for that crown. He's got one of the best arms you will see and is an advanced blocker/receiver.
The bat is where Bethancourt struggles to measure up. He's got above-average raw power but doesn't make enough hard contact to show it off. Last year was a positive step forward, as the Panama-born backstop hit .277/.305/.436 with 12 home runs for Double-A Mississippi.
However, before we go claiming things are getting better, Bethancourt was repeating the league and still shows no desire to take a walk.
Bethancourt is going to be an attractive option for a lot of teams if the Braves were to dangle him because the defense behind the plate is so good.
5. Chris Owings, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
If you can explain to me what Kevin Towers and the Arizona Diamondbacks are doing this offseason, I would be more than happy to listen.
They dealt Justin Upton to Atlanta last year because he wasn't a "grinder," then traded for Mark Trumbo's .299 career on-base percentage in a package that cost them Adam Eaton and Tyler Skaggs.
Matt Davidson, an iffy defensive third baseman with plus raw power and a developing hit tool, was traded with six years of team control for Addison Reed, who is one year away from getting a big raise in arbitration.
I'm surprised Chris Owings has made it this long with the team. Towers has long had a fascination with Didi Gregorius, infamously saying the shortstop reminded him of a "young Derek Jeter."
Owings isn't quite as accomplished as Gregorius defensively, though he rates as well above-average at the position. He also has above-average raw power and a solid hit tool, though a lack of patience does knock him down.
Eventually the Diamondbacks will have to make a decision on whether to keep Owings or Gregorius. Unless Towers wakes up to see the light smacking him right in the face, odds are good it will be Owings.
4. Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Joc Pederson makes so much sense as the centerpiece of a potential trade by the Dodgers, it's scary.
There are already too many outfielders in Los Angeles, with Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig fighting for playing time. Puig, Kemp and Crawford are penciled in as the starters, which makes Ethier expendable.
However, Ethier is owed $69 million through 2017 with a $17.5 million vesting option for 2018. That's going to be difficult to move, especially since he's a platoon player with a .644 career OPS against lefties.
Pederson doesn't have an immediate spot open in Los Angeles, unless the team can create an opening in left field. He projects as an above-average big leaguer and won't need much more minor league development, so the Dodgers face a decision.
When the David Price-to-LA rumors were swirling, Pederson was one of the many names being thrown around as a piece Tampa Bay would ask for in a potential deal. He isn't enough on his own to bring a player like Price back, as few prospects are, but if he's one of the key pieces in a deal, the Dodgers could make a big splash on the trade market.
3. Marcus Stroman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto's top two prospects occupy the No. 2 and 3 slots on this list. Marcus Stroman has been as divisive as any top-tier pitching prospect in recent memory.
The 22nd overall pick in the 2012 draft, Stroman had the talent to go much higher than that. His electric stuff, highlighted by a plus-plus fastball-slider combination, makes it easy to see why those who love him see a No. 2 starter.
Stroman's biggest knock, and why he doesn't rate higher on prospect lists, is his small stature. He is listed at 5'9", two inches shorter than Tim Lincecum. You rarely see front-line starting pitchers under 6-feet tall because their frames can't handle the workload, or a lack of height makes the fastball straighter and easier to elevate because there's no downhill plane on it.
I hope the Blue Jays, or wherever he ends up, tries Stroman out as a starter, because the stuff really is that good.
The Blue Jays were rumored to be in the Jeff Samardzija sweepstakes at the end of November, with Bruce Levine of WSCR Radio reporting they were putting together packages.
Teams have inquired about StarterJeff Samardzija. Source: Toronto putting together package of young players.— Bruce Levine (@MLBBruceLevine) November 23, 2013
Considering the Cubs' need for high-end pitching prospects, it makes sense to assume that Stroman and/or Aaron Sanchez would need to be included.
Even though a Samardzija deal doesn't seem likely at this moment, the Blue Jays are built to win now and need starting pitching to do so.
2. Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Aaron Sanchez, to me, retains the top spot on Toronto's prospect list, though the gap has closed because of Marcus Stroman's performance and some lingering problems with Sanchez.
The 21-year-old right-hander has been brought along slowly by the Blue Jays, not throwing more than 90.1 innings pitched in three full seasons with the organization. Sanchez also shows significant control problems, walking 91 batters in 176.2 innings since 2012.
Sanchez's ceiling remains off the charts. He gets great velocity on the fastball with electric arm speed and can spin a plus curveball. The changeup lags behind the other pitches, though it has gotten better since he was drafted in 2010.
The Blue Jays traded two of their big three pitching prospects last year, dealing Justin Nicolino to Miami and Noah Syndergaard to New York, but kept Sanchez because he had the highest ceiling at the time.
Even with another lackluster year in the minors, Sanchez is still a coveted player. Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun reported the Cubs asked for both Sanchez and Stroman in a deal for Jeff Samardzija.
I don't blame Toronto for declining that offer, but Sanchez on his own could be in play if the Blue Jays aren't convinced he can overcome some of his consistency issues.
1. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Seattle Mariners
Despite what Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik says about Taijuan Walker not getting traded, I think the Mariners still have one big move left in them. You don't sign Robinson Cano for 10 years and hope one player solves all your problems.
To be fair, what Zduriencik was quoted as saying, per Bob Sutton of the News Tribune, is the Mariners "don't have intentions of trading Taijuan."
So if the Mariners could find a way to work out a deal with, say, Tampa Bay that would bring David Price back, which was a hot rumor at the winter meetings, Walker would almost certainly have to be part of it.
One team that has the stuff to get Price: Seattle. And sources said they may be inclined to include Taijuan Walker: http://t.co/RLcwaw5t2n— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 5, 2013
Walker is a lot like Aaron Sanchez. Both young pitchers have the stuff and athleticism to dominate but are still figuring out certain parts of their game that hold them back.
With Walker, his biggest problem is finding a curveball that will get out big leaguers. You want ceiling with any young player, and Walker's is as high as any pitcher in the minors not named Archie Bradley.
The Mariners are entering a transition phase where they believe contention is possible, so anyone in the minors would seem to be fair game.
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