Top MLB Prospects Who Could Be on the Move in Winter Trades
The free-agent and trade markets have been quiet since the conclusion of December’s Winter Meetings. However, with the Jan. 24 deadline for a team to reach a deal with Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka edging closer every day, it’s only a matter of time until things pick back up.
The few starters who are still on the market—namely Ervin Santana and Matt Garza—are likely to receive more lucrative contracts once the winner of the Tanaka sweepstakes is announced, so they’re wisely holding out until then. And once those pieces fall into place, there will likely be more activity on the trade front as well.
With that said, it’s not surprising that there is a complete lack of reasonable prospect-based trade rumors at the moment. However, ESPN.com’s Jim Bowden proposed several interesting trade scenarios earlier this week in a pair of articles about the missing links for every American and National League team (subscription required).
So, in the absence of prospect rumors, I thought I’d breakdown a few of his suggested trades in the aforementioned articles in order to determine the short- and long-term impact of the moves.
George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
Bowden mentions a hypothetical trade between the Astros and Reds involving George Springer, arguing that he would give the Reds a right-handed power bat between Joey Votto and Jay Bruce in the lineup:
The Reds are confident rookie Billy Hamilton can develop into one of the game’s best leadoff hitters. However, the Reds also are lacking a right-handed power hitter in between Votto and Bruce. Free agent Cruz would be a good short-term solution, but a trade for a younger developing bat such as the Astros' Springer would fit better in the Reds' mid-market budget.
Springer had an outstanding full-season debut in 2012, posting a .908 OPS with 24 home runs and 32 stolen bases in 128 games across two levels. However, his inability to control the strike zone and high strikeout rate (156-62 strikeout-to-walk ratio) suggested that his production might regress in 2013 in the high minors.
However, that was anything but the case, as the now-24-year-old put up numbers that made his 2012 stats look like a warm-up act. Splitting the season between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City, Springer posted a 1.010 OPS with 37 home runs (68 total extra-base hits) in 590 plate appearances and also stole 45 bases in 53 attempts.
Springer became the first prospect to have a 30-30 season in the minor leagues since Grant Desme in 2009, and he ultimately fell three home runs shy of joining the 40-40 club. Few players in the minors are as naturally gifted as Springer, who showcases four plus tools (power, speed, glove, arm) on a given night. For that reason, there are even fewer players with as high of a ceiling as the Astros’ future outfielder.
Springer’s game-changing power-speed potential should make him an impact player in the major leagues. However, the ongoing development of his hit tool and plate discipline will ultimately determine whether he’s an All-Star-caliber player or a major-league regular.
Though the Astros acquired Dexter Fowler this offseason and plan to deploy him in center field next season, it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which they deal Springer before he reaches the major leagues; there’s simply too much potential there to not at least see what he can do at the highest level.
Chris Owings, SS/2B, Arizona Diamondbacks
It seems that Chris Owings will continue to appear in trade rumors until the Diamondbacks make a decision regarding his role in 2014.
While there isn’t a specific team actively pursuing the 22-year-old, there’s roughly a handful of clubs that would jump at the opportunity to land the cost-controlled shortstop.
Bowden suggests that the A’s could upgrade their shortstop situation for 2014 by dealing for Owings:
The A’s only real weakness right now is second base, where Alberto Callaspo and Nick Punto are expected to share the position. Both players are probably better suited for the utility roles. However, the A’s can clearly solve the problem by moving Jed Lowrie from shortstop to second base, which arguably is his best defensive position. Of course, that means they must trade for a better defensive shortstop.
The Arizona Diamondbacks have two solid, young shortstops in Owings and Gregorius, and they would prefer to keep Owings because he is a better hitter.
Of course Bowden completely fails to mention Addison Russell, Oakland’s top prospect and 2012 first-round draft pick, who posted an .885 OPS with 56 extra-base hits last season as a 19-year-old in the High-A California League. Russell is expected to open the 2014 season at Double-A Midland, and if all goes well, he’ll take over as the A’s everyday shortstop by season’s end.
Anyway, back to Owings.
Despite his struggles at Double-A Mobile during the second half of the 2012 season, the Diamondbacks still promoted Owings to Triple-A Reno for the 2013 season. Facing 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 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 Arizona 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, the 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; he generates impressive extension after contact that enables him to generate considerable backspin carry. However, his approach is still too aggressive, and it 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, years of team control and overall offensive potential, and he could be used to land a frontline starter should the Diamondbacks not sign Masahiro Tanaka, Ervin Santana and/or Matt Garza.
Miguel Almonte, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Bowden proposes the Royals upgrade their starting rotation by trading for the Reds’ Homer Bailey—even if they don’t expect to sign the right-hander to a long-term contract extension.
In exchange for Bailey, Bowden notes that the Royals could offer a few of their highly regarded late-inning arms as well as pitching prospect Miguel Almonte:
The Royals are positioned to be a serious AL Central and wild-card contender for 2014, and while they wait for top pitching prospect Kyle Zimmer, they need a one-year stopgap. Bailey would be the perfect short-term solution. Reds GM Walt Jocketty has publicly stated it will be difficult to sign Bailey long-term, so Jocketty should trade Bailey rather than lose him to free agency. The Royals have a bevy of power arms they could dangle in a Bailey deal, including some combination of Aaron Crow, Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar, Wade Davis and prospect Miguel Almonte. The Reds could use the money saved on Bailey to re-sign Bronson Arroyo.
After spending parts of two seasons between the Dominican Summer League and Arizona Rookie League, Miguel Almonte was deployed to Low-A Lexington in 2013 for his full-season debut.
Though he was both young and inexperienced relative to the competition, that didn’t prevent the 20-year-old right-hander from emerging as one of the top pitchers in the South Atlantic League. Making 25 starts on the season, Almonte posted an impressive 3.10 ERA and 132-36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 130.2 innings.
At 6’2”, 180 pounds, Almonte has a loose, athletic frame that allows for smooth mechanics and encourages his fast but fluid arm. The right-hander has an aggressive approach and attacks the zone with a projectable four-pitch mix, demonstrating a rare blend of pure stuff and feel for a player of his age.
Almonte’s fastball is a plus offering that works consistently in the 91-95 mph range with above-average life, and it’s conceivable that he’ll add velocity as he adds strength. The changeup is a present plus with plus-plus potential and, in general, is highly advanced for his age; he shows confidence in the pitch against both right- and left-handed hitters, and it already serves as a swing-and-miss offering.
Although he’s young, Almonte has an impressive overall feel for changing speeds and keeping hitters off balance, throwing a curveball that features a nice shape and has average potential as well as a slider that’s inconsistent but definitely usable.
Bowden is right to suggest the Royals are most likely to move Almonte of all their prospects. With Yordano Ventura ready for the major leagues and Kyle Zimmer expected to arrive late in the 2014 season, Almonte gives the organization the depth to make a trade if necessary.