Nationals prospect Nate Karns is on the move. What other youngsters are potential trade bait this spring?
Spring training has barely begun, and already, a trade involving a trio of prospects has taken place.
On Thursday, a swap occurred between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Washington Nationals, per Bill Ladson of MLB.com, in which the most recognizable name is catcher Jose Lobaton, a backup catcher whose name, let's face it, isn't all that recognizable in the first place.
The other three pieces are all prospects with some intriguing upside. Joining Lobaton in D.C. are young outfielder Drew Vettleson and lefty Felipe Rivero, while right-hander Nathan Karns (pictured), a 26-year-old who made three starts for the Nats last year, is heading to St. Petersburg.
This transaction occurred on the eve of spring training, so imagine what others might happen once the exhibition games actually get going. Over the next handful of weeks, prospects in big league camp will have a chance to show what they can do which might make them better known and more attractive to teams looking to acquire young, cheap talent for the future.
On the other side, any team that's going to consider giving up a prospect this close to the start of the 2014 season would not only expect to be a contender this year but also view the youngster as a commodity currently blocked by a big leaguer. Having an area of need or two would also help necessitate such a move.
Admittedly, though, it's hard to fathom a team willing to surrender anything more than a second- or third-tier prospect at this point, unless an unforeseen and catastrophic injury befalls a key member of the 25-man roster or a too-good-to-pass-up proposal comes to light at the last minute.
Still, here's a handful of intriguing prospects who will be in big league camps this month and next, giving them an opportunity to open some eyes and turn themselves into potential trade chips before the real games begin.
Blocked by: Brian McCann, Gary Sanchez
Areas of Need: Second Base, Third Base, Relief Pitching
The New York Yankees are well stocked at backstop. Having inked Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract to be their starting catcher, the club is set for the foreseeable future. In the distance, there's Gary Sanchez, a 21-year-old who hit .253 with 15 homers and 71 RBI in reaching Double-A last year and is considered the team's top prospect.
That leaves little room for J.R. Murphy, 22, who is further along in the developmental process than Sanchez but lacks the upside. After hitting .269 with 12 homers and 46 RBI between Double- and Triple-A in 2013, Murphy got a taste of the Bronx in September.
The fact that he's more or less big league ready means the Yankees could keep him around as a potential backup to McCann, but they also have Francisco Cervelli and fringier prospect Austin Romine for that. Catching is always in demand—witness the Lobaton trade—and even after remaking its roster this offseason, New York still has questions in the infield and bullpen.
Blocked by: Albert Pujols, Raul Ibanez
Areas of Need: Pitching
On one hand, trading C.J. Cron, the team's 2011 first-rounder who hit .274 with 51 extra-base hits at Double-A, doesn't make sense for the Angels, a team that badly needs to replenish and rebuild its destitute farm system.
On the other hand, trading Cron, who is projected to be a designated hitter type, could get the Halos more pitching, which remains their primary problem spot as far as depth, quality and role (both starters and relievers). That need is especially vital for a team with a batch of high-salary players that's built to win now but has disappointed the past two seasons.
Beyond that, there's the issue of how Cron eventually might fit in L.A. with Albert Pujols (and the $200-plus million remaining on his contract) having first base blocked off in the near term and DH in the long term. Offseason acquisition Raul Ibanez (aka The Ageless Wonder) will handle the latter role in 2014, so it's not as if there's an opening in the lineup.
The Angels, however, may be hoping the righty-swinging Cron will be ready to platoon with the lefty-hitting Ibanez by midseason.
Blocked by: Elvis Andrus, Jurickson Profar
Areas of Need: Starting Pitching
As if it weren't enough to be rolling with Elvis Andrus, 25, and Jurickson Profar, 21 later this month, at shortstop and second base, respectively, the Rangers have another talented, young middle infielder.
As a 20-year-old shortstop who's already played at Double-A and is above average with both the glove and his legs, Luis Sardinas would be a highly sought-after asset should Texas make him available. He has good bat control and makes contact, but his pop is nearly nonexistent (49 extra-base hits in nearly 1,200 minor league plate appearances).
That profile means Sardinas will have to prove he can hit his way out of a utility role, which would be his best fit, anyway, if he stays in Texas. Given the need for players who can handle the defensive responsibilities at short and offer at least some offensive upside, teams other than the Rangers would consider him a potential shortstop of the future.
That's the kind of bait that could help Texas address its rotation which has been battling injury after injury for more than a year now and remains full of question marks after Yu Darvish.
Blocked by: Ian Kinsler
Areas of Need: Corner Outfield, Relief Pitching
Devon Travis made a name for himself as a prospect in 2013. The soon-to-be 23-year-old triple-slashed .351/.418/.518 while splitting the season between A-ball and High-A.
A righty hitter who is listed at 5'9" and 183 pounds, Travis has his doubters when it comes to whether he's capable of being an everyday second baseman. The Tigers, though, could take advantage of what heat there is surrounding Travis at the moment, and for a team with 2014 World Series hopes, that could mean cashing in if he shows something in March.
Detroit has never been shy about pushing its prospects or using them to acquire major league assets, and if the club's internal evaluation of Travis pegs him in the latter category—especially with Ian Kinsler now in place at second—the time to strike is sooner rather than later.
With no genuine answer in left field and right fielder Torii Hunter entering the final year of his contract, the Tigers have needs both present and future.
Blocked by: Robinson Cano, Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, Kyle Seager
Areas of Need: Starting Pitching
As the list of players in the "blocked by" section shows, Seattle is practically drowning in infielders, and yet Chris Taylor is getting close to joining the party, too.
The 23-year-old played exactly 67 games at both High-A and Double-A in 2013, hitting .314 with a robust .409 OBP along the way. In addition to that on-base ability, his versatility is his best trait, which—stop us if you've heard this before—means he's cut from the likely-utility-player mold.
Given the Mariners' depth on the dirt, as well as their strategical shift this winter toward going for it with Cano and the simultaneous breaking into the bigs by the current crop of youngsters, Taylor has more value to the team if he brings a return that can help immediately.
Even more so because of the recent news, per Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, that No. 2 starter Hisashi Iwakuma could miss the start of the season.
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