MLB Prospects Turning Vets into Trade Bait

Rick WeinerFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2014

MLB Prospects Turning Vets into Trade Bait

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Right about now, debates are heating up in front offices around baseball as to what moves teams can make to improve their rosters—and in some cases, their chances of remaining in contention for a playoff spot.

    Some teams are focused on acquiring that help via the trade market, while others have their eyes on the pair of established veterans who remain available as free agents: Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales.

    But there's a small group of clubs which, whether they wanted to or not, are being forced to turn their gazes in, as prospects down on the farm are producing at a level that simply cannot be ignored.

    Of course, to add a prospect to the major league mix someone needs to be displaced.

    Here's a look at a handful of prospects who are forcing their way onto a major league roster with their play—and the veterans blocking their path who would be wise to start looking over their shoulder well before the July 31 trade deadline arrives.

     

    *Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and MiLB.com and are current through games of May 19.

Tsuyoshi Wada, LHP, Chicago Cubs

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    2013 Stats (Double-A): 8 GS, 4-1, 2.10 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 51.1 IP, 38 H, 12/51 BB/K

    40-Man Roster: No

    Veterans in Danger: Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Carlos Villanueva

    Maybe it's a stretch to call a 33-year-old who spent nearly a decade as one of the better pitchers in Japan a prospect. But with the way that Tsuyoshi Wada has been throwing the ball for Triple-A Iowa, the day when he can drop the prospect label is quickly drawing near.

    Wada has allowed more than one earned run in only two of his eight starts, recording at least eight strikeouts in four of them. While he's not an overpowering presence on the mound, Wada has shown the ability to keep his team in games even when he doesn't have his best stuff.

    Jake Arrieta has struggled with his command and control (8 BB, 17 H and a 1.88 WHIP over 13.1 IP as a starter) and Carlos Villanueva has been mediocre as both a starter and long reliever. Wada could be an upgrade over both.

    Additionally, Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi believes that the Cubs are going to try to flip Jason Hammel as the trade deadline nears, just as they did with Scott Feldman a season ago. 

    Wada has clearly pitched well enough to earn a look in Chicago, if for no other reason than for the Cubs to showcase him to contending teams looking for an upgrade at the back end of their rotations.

    After all, a 33-year-old pitcher with no major league experience may not be a part of a rebuilding club's long-term plans.

Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    2013 Stats (Triple-A): .382/.444/.612, 24 XBH (5 HR), 38 RBI, 18/32 K/BB, 10-14 SB

    40-Man Roster: Yes

    Veterans in Danger: Travis Snider and Jose Tabata

    There's only a handful of people who believe Gregory Polanco isn't ready to help Pittsburgh.

    Unfortunately for the team's top prospect and his supporters, two of those people happen to be Pirates GM Neal Huntington and president Frank Coonelly.

    "Our job," Huntington told MLB.com's Tom Singer, "is to put [Polanco] in a position to be successful, and to be successful quickly -- to put this young man in position to thrive from Day 1."

    Given Polanco's performance with Triple-A Indianapolis, it's easy to argue that he's ready to thrive as Pittsburgh's starting right fielder. The 22-year old leads the International League in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, triples, RBI, runs scored (31) and total bases (104). 

    Neither Travis Snider nor Jose Tabata, who have underwhelmed Pirates fans for years, have Polanco's athleticism, power or speed. While he's not a finished product in the outfield, the offensive boost that he could bring to a lineup that struggles to put runs on the board cannot be overstated.

    If the Pirates hope to continue riding the wave of good vibes that carried over from last season—and make their second consecutive playoff appearance—they simply cannot afford to keep Polanco down on the farm for much longer.

Trevor May, RHP, Minnesota Twins

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    2013 Stats (Triple-A): 8 GS, 3-3, 3.35 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 43.0 IP, 30 H, 17/47 BB/K

    40-Man Roster: Yes

    Veteran in Danger: Kevin Correia

    Minnesota's starting rotation continues to underwhelm, with Kevin Correia (1-5, 6.80 ERA, 1.68 WHIP) and Ricky Nolasco (2-4, 5.50 ERA, 1.53 WHIP) doing more harm than good.

    But the Twins aren't about to jettison Nolasco, who they signed to a four-year, $49 million deal this past winter, making Correia's spot in the rotation the one that could be up for grabs.

    Trevor May is pitching his way into that spot.

    Now, you could make a case that Alex Meyer, Minnesota's top pitching prospect, is more deserving of this spot than May, but May has two things working to his advantage.

    First, he's on the team's 40-man roster—Meyer is not. More importantly, 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson recently tweeted that it seems as if the Twins have Meyer on a game-by-game pitch count.

    There have been no reports of similar restrictions on May's workload, and the 24-year-old tossed a career-high eight innings (107 pitches) in his last outing, allowing four hits while walking four and fanning six.

    Up until this season, Correia has been a serviceable back-of-the-rotation arm. If the Twins have their sights set on a playoff berth (they sit one game out of a wild-card spot heading into Tuesday's games), upgrading the back end of the rotation is a must.

Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    2013 Stats (Triple-A): .279/.395/.584, 22 XBH (12 HR), 35 RBI, 30/44 BB/K, 0-for-1 SB

    40-Man Roster: Yes

    Veterans in Danger: Jesus Guzman and Marc Krauss

    It was widely assumed that Jonathan Singleton would be quick to follow fellow prospect George Springer to Houston, but more than a month after Springer's promotion, Singleton remains at Triple-A.

    “We’re not going to put a timetable on him,” Astros GM Jeff Luhnow told the Houston Chronicle's Jose de Jesus Ortiz. “If you look at his development, he missed a lot of time last year. He’s making up for it quickly, and he’s doing well. If that continues to happen, it could be any time.”

    Singleton has certainly made up for it, landing near the top of the Pacific Coast League's leaderboards in home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, OPS and total bases.

    Houston has lived with little to no production from first base since trading Lance Berkman during the 2010 season, using 11 different players who have combined to hit .244. Two of them, Jesus Guzman and Marc Krauss, are serviceable options for a rebuilding club that has no illusions of contending for a playoff spot.

    But the Astros need to show some progress in their rebuilding efforts—and Singleton continues to make a strong case that he's ready to help the team accomplish that goal.

Trevor Bauer, SP, Cleveland Indians

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    2014 Stats (Triple-A): 7 GS, 4-1, 2.15 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 46.0 IP, 36 H, 14/44 BB/K

    2014 Stats (MLB): 1 GS, 0-1, 1.50 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 6.0 IP, 4 H, 2/8 BB/K

    40-Man Roster: Yes

    Veterans in Danger: Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister

    After years of failing to live up to even the most modest of expectations, Trevor Bauer appears to have finally figured things out. He's been dominant for Triple-A Columbus, was effective in a spot start for Cleveland and, according to MLB.com's Jordan Bastian, has earned another shot in the rotation:

    Francona: Bauer will be promoted Tuesday to start for Indians.

    — Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 16, 2014

    While Bauer is essentially replacing Danny Salazar in the Indians' rotation, Salazar remains a part of the team's long-term plans.

    The same can't be said of Justin Masterson and, to some degree, Zach McAllister.

    A free agent at the end of the season, Masterson (2-3, 5.06 ERA, 1.48 WHIP) has struggled with reduced velocity (h/t Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan) while the oft-injured McAllister has gotten shelled over his last five starts, pitching to an 8.72 ERA and 1.71 WHIP).

    Is it crazy to think that Bauer's arrival could facilitate a trade of Masterson or McAllister? Perhaps.

    But Salazar won't be down on the farm for long, and if Bauer is able to sustain his early season success, he's likely in Cleveland to stay. That leaves someone as the odd man out in the rotation, with the M&M boys the most likely candidates.

Jonathan Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies

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    2013 Stats (Double-A): 8 GS, 4-2, 2.98 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 42.1 IP, 34 H, 7/38 BB/K

    40-Man Roster: No

    Veterans in Danger: Jhoulys Chacin and Franklin Morales

    Colorado has been one of the biggest surprises in the early part of the 2014 season, sitting three games back of San Francisco in the NL West and leading the race for one of the two wild-card berths available on the senior circuit.

    But as usual, Colorado's starting rotation has been mediocre, especially at the back end, where Jhoulys Chacin (0-2, 4.76 ERA, 1.59 WHIP) and Franklin Morales (3-3, 5.52 ERA, 1.62 WHIP) have been unable to get the job done.

    Jonathan Gray, the third overall pick in the 2013 draft, has moved quickly through Colorado's minor league system and has been stellar with Double-A Tulsa. While teammate Daniel Winkler has better numbers (5-2, 1.48 ERA, 0.74 WHIP), Gray is the superior talent.

    While the Rockies have been able to out-slug the competition, the they're going to have to address their starting rotation issues, especially if they consider themselves a contender.