The Minor League 'All-Untouchable' Team at the 2014 MLB Trade Deadline
With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline edging closer every day, trade talks have begun to heat up as teams prepare to address their needs for the second half of the 2014 season and beyond.
For most organizations, their best chance at landing an impact player before the end of the month will depend on both the depth and strength of their farm system. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that every team hoping to make a deal before the deadline is willing to part with its top prospects. In fact, a majority of the game’s current top prospects have already been declared off limits.
To get on this list, a prospect must first have a high ceiling and a chance to be an MLB impact player. Next, he must be the best at his position who will not be dangled in a potential deadline blockbuster.
This is not an all-prospect team based solely on performance; rather, it's a minor league team of the best of the best who you won't see seriously discussed in any rumors. If you do, do not believe them!
With that being said, here’s a look at the all-untouchable prospect team headed into the 2014 MLB trade deadline.
Catcher: Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres
Austin Hedges is the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues, with elite, game-changing chops that would play in the major leagues right now.
The quickness and efficiency of his footwork are unparalleled among his peers. His top-end catch-and-throw skills, insanely quick transfer and plus arm strength allow him to essentially shut down the running game, as evidenced by his 39 percent caught-stealing rate this season.
Meanwhile, Hedges’ knowledge of and ability to handle a pitching staff give an unquantifiable value to the organization and its crop of young pitching prospects.
However, the right-handed hitter’s bat will ultimately determine whether he becomes the superstar people expect. His approach has translated favorably at advanced levels, suggesting that he’ll hit for average with further experience and development. And while power has never been Hedges’ calling card—and never will be—he does have the consistent gap pop to be a doubles machine.
Hedges’ defensive prowess and room for improvement at the plate make him the most valuable backstop in the minor leagues.
The 21-year-old should have a lengthy big league career even if his bat doesn’t develop as hoped—I personally think he’ll hit, as catchers’ offensive skills often lag behind their defense early in their careers—and the Padres would be crazy to consider trading him.
First Base: D.J. Peterson, Seattle Mariners
Regarded as the most advanced college hitter in the 2013 draft class, D.J. Peterson’s advanced approach and potential for plus hit and power tools already have him moving quickly through the Mariners’ system.
Although he's currently a third baseman, Peterson's long-term defensive home remains up for debate, as his lack of range and athleticism could eventually force him to move to first base. Regardless of where he winds up, Peterson’s impact potential at the dish is a clean fit at either infield corner.
The Mariners would benefit from adding a starting pitcher or power bat before the trade deadline, but it makes little sense for the organization to offer Peterson in return, as he’s roughly a year away from making Justin Smoak (or whomever the Mariners deploy at first base) more expendable than he is already.
Second Base: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox called up Mookie Betts on June 29 after he breezed through the Double- and Triple-A levels, and the 21-year-old has batted .235 with three extra-base hits and five runs scored in 10 games since the promotion.
Betts has plus bat speed with loose, quick hands, while his compact swing and excellent barrel control allow him to drive the ball across the entire field. The right-handed hitter offered gap power exclusively in 2012, but Betts is much stronger now and is showing more over-the-fence pop. Meanwhile, his plate discipline and approach are special and will allow him to make swift adjustments in the major leagues.
Betts has seen playing time in center and right field since his call-up because he has the athleticism to do so and it gets his bat in the lineup, but it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll eventually return to second base.
With Betts' projection as a top-of-the-order hitter at an up-the-middle position, it doesn't make sense for the Red Sox to dangle the 21-year-old as trade bait this summer.
Shortstop: Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
Regarded as the best defensive shortstop in the minor leagues, Lindor, 20, is an absolute wizard with the glove and has the potential to be an elite defender in the major leagues. Even if the switch-hitter’s bat doesn’t develop as expected, he has the potential to enjoy a long, successful career in the major leagues based on his defensive prowess, superb instincts and ability to control the speed of the game.
However, he shows all the signs of becoming an average-or-better hitter with an advanced approach and smooth stroke from both sides of the plate. Lindor has a realistic ceiling of becoming the top defensive shortstop in the game and could conceivably blossom into a frequent All-Star.
Lindor will receive a call-up during the second half of the season, as the Indians expect him to take over for soon-to-be free agent Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop in 2015. Among all prospects, the 20-year-old is arguably the safest bet to not be traded this year.
Third Base: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
The No. 2 overall selection in the 2013 draft, Bryant’s advanced approach and robust, 80-grade power already has him knocking on the door of the major leagues. The 22-year-old has clubbed nine home runs in his first 24 games since a promotion to Triple-A Iowa last month, and he now has 31 through 92 games on the season.
Bryant is also a better hitter than he's given credit for, as his line-to-line approach and pitch recognition could make him a .270-plus batter at the highest level.
While there’s some uncertainty as to whether he’ll remain at third base or move to a corner outfield spot, Bryant’s bat could have him in the major leagues by the end of the season and ready for an everyday role in 2015.
Bryant is one of the more untouchable prospects in the minor leagues, as he projects as a force in the middle of the Cubs lineup for years to come and has the potential to hit 35-plus home runs in his prime.
Outfield: Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
Byron Buxton is still the sport’s top prospect despite missing roughly half the season with a wrist injury. There’s still no other player who can match his combination of elite athleticism, legitimate five-tool potential and advanced secondary skills. The 20-year-old is a supremely gifted athlete with 80-grade speed and the potential to be an elite defender in center field.
At the plate, the right-handed hitter’s combination of explosive bat speed and hand-eye coordination will help him reach the major leagues quickly, while his mature approach and pitch recognition could make him one of the game’s top hitters. And while he’s already an extra-base machine, thanks to his wheels, Buxton also has the raw power to produce 20-plus home runs.
When he reaches his prime, Buxton has the ceiling of an MVP-caliber player. He also has five potentially plus tools and a feel for making in-game adjustments. Players like that are rarely traded, let alone by a team in the midst of a rebuilding process.
Outfield: Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets
Brandon Nimmo, the No. 13 pick in the 2011 draft, has seen his prospect stock take off this season thanks to a breakout performance at High-A St. Lucie and now Double-A Binghamton. The 21-year-old left-handed hitter hasn’t begun to tap into his raw power as hoped, but he’s still hitting for average and getting on base at a high clip while also holding his own in center field.
The Mets have been searching for long-term options in the outfield for what seems like an eternity—certainly far too long for them to consider trading their best offensive prospect any time soon.
Outfield: David Dahl, Colorado Rockies
Dahl was limited to only 10 games in 2013 after an early-season violation of team rules and then a season-ending hamstring injury shortly after his return. However, the 20-year-old has quickly made up for his lost season with a strong performance this year at Low-A Asheville.
A left-handed batter, Dahl has the potential for a true plus hit tool thanks to tremendous hand-eye coordination, preternatural barrel-to-ball ability and plus bat speed. He shows advanced barrel control and feel for the strike zone, using a balanced setup and a swing that allows him to use the entire field.
Dahl’s wheels translate better in center field than on the basepaths. He plays the position with confidence, showing smooth actions with good reads and more than enough arm strength for the position.
Though he’s yet to graduate from the Low-A level, Dahl has one of the highest ceilings among all outfield prospects and will not be traded by the Rockies before the end of the month.
Pitcher: Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Though he’s only 17, Urias features a truly special combination of stuff and pitchability that has him on the fast track to the major leagues. The left-hander’s repeatable delivery and smooth arm action allows him to work in the 92-95 mph range with his fastball, and he’s likely to gain a few more ticks as he develops physically.
Urias’ secondary arsenal is equally promising, with a potential plus curveball that he’ll throw in any count and a fading changeup that steadily improved over the last two seasons.
Given his age and highly advanced developmental state, Urias has legitimate front-of-the-rotation upside, and there’s a realistic chance he’ll be pitching in the major leagues as a teenager. It’d be foolish for the Dodgers to trade him this season.
Pitcher: Noah Syndergaard, RHP, New York Mets
At 6'6", Noah Syndergaard has a physical presence on the mound, throwing everything on a steep downhill plane and pounding the lower portion of the strike zone. The right-hander's plus-plus heater sits in the mid-to-upper 90s with late, arm-side life, and he frequently flirts with triple digits.
His curveball also has plus-plus potential, and his command of the pitch improved last season after he added a slider to his already impressive arsenal. He throws his changeup with good arm speed and confidence, and it could serve as a third plus-or-better offering at maturity.
The 21-year-old’s performance at Triple-A Las Vegas this season has been frustrating, as he’s continued to miss bats at a favorable rate and limit free passes, but he has also been knocked around at times in the Pacific Coast League.
Syndergaard has one of the highest ceilings among all pitching prospects, with the pure stuff and approach to pitch at the front of a rotation. He’s a huge part of the Mets' future, and there’s no chance they consider moving him anytime soon.
Starting Pitcher: Henry Owens, LHP, Boston Red Sox
Henry Owens has continued to surge toward the major leagues this season at Double-A Portland, as the 21-year-old has recorded 111 strikeouts in 105.2 innings and held opposing hitters to a .183 average. He also threw a scoreless inning as the starter for Team USA in Sunday’s Futures Game.
The 6’6” left-hander does a good job repeating his mechanics, as he works from a consistent high-three-quarter arm slot and on a downhill plane.
Owens’ fastball sits in the 88-92 mph range with sink, and his changeup is a plus offering thrown in the upper 70s with late sink and fade to the arm side. His curveball flashes above-average potential when he’s around the plate, though it’s his least consistent offering and needs further refinement.
It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Owens doesn’t reach the major leagues before the end of the season, so don’t expect to hear his name in trade rumors in the coming weeks. With a mostly veteran starting rotation, it’d be wise of the Red Sox to start getting their young arms acclimated to the major leagues this year.