MLB Trade Rumors: 9 Top Prospects Who Could Be Dealt This Winter

Zachary Ball@MLBDraftCntdwnAnalyst IOctober 4, 2011

MLB Trade Rumors: 9 Top Prospects Who Could Be Dealt This Winter

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    It's always a crap-shoot trying to determine which prospects might become trade bait during baseball's offseason. Projecting those that might swap teams during the trade deadline is child's play, but hitting the nail on the head from October through February is tougher than...well, just about anything.

    Take last year for example.

    Nobody could have predicted that the top hitting and pitching prospect from Milwaukee's farm system would be sent packing. But it happened, with Brett Lawrie dealt to Toronto and Jake Odorizzi to Kansas City. And all the names that were widely rumored as being trade bait, such as Colorado's Charlie Blackmon and New York's Jesus Montero, ended up staying put.

    Like I said, a crap-shoot.

    Take that into account as I present the nine top prospects most likely (according to me, myself and I) to find themselves hitting or pitching for another team come spring training 2012.

    And keep in mind, as you'll find that many of these players aren't necessarily THE top prospects in their organization, that the players who get dealt won't be traded as a result of their awesomeness, but rather due to the needs of the team that's dealing them.

Jesus Montero, C, New York Yankees

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    While it may seem virtually impossible for Montero to escape trade rumor talk, the reason for it is simple. 

    He's not any good on defense.

    The Yankees are desperate for an heir apparent to Jorge Posada, but what good is it "upgrading" to a player who is just as big a liability behind the plate as Posada is now? The Yankees have no room for Montero at first base either (see Mark Teixeira) and since he only has 61 big-league at-bats under his belt it seems unlikely that the team would hand over the DH spot to an relatively unproven rookie.

    Aside from catcher, the Yankees have tons of holes. In case you hadn't noticed the Yankees had one of the oldest rosters in baseball this season. Derek Jeter is 37, A-Rod is 35 and Mariano Rivera is 41. Their rotation featured three members age 34 or older, and just 27 percent of their starts came from players under 30.

    As such, it might make the most sense to go after some younger players who can fill needs for them. Last time I checked, they didn't need another bat-only player with no long-term position on defense.

    The team also has the added benefit of having a few above-average catchers down in the minors, notably Austin Romine, who earned a handful of starts late this season and looked great behind the plate. His bat isn't as sizzling as Montero's, but his all-around game is much more seasoned.

Tyler Matzek, LHP, Colorado Rockies

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    I feel kind of bad picking on Matzek, who missed a good chunk of the 2011 season due to some incredible wildness that eventually forced him to take a sabbatical. He used the time to head back to his hometown and work on his mechanics with his high school pitching coach.

    Whatever they worked on worked wonders, for when the lefty returned to the minors he performed much better, and more importantly, he showed better mechanics. Still, the final line for the former first-round pick was very ugly: 5-7, 6.22 ERA, 111-to-96 K:BB in 97 IP.

    Combine that with an up-and-coming Rockies rotation that includes Jhoulys Chacin (23 years old), Jason Hammel (28), and Jorge de la Rosa (30), as well as the late-season acquisition of two incredibly talented future starters, Alex White and Drew Pomeranz, and it's clear that the Rockies are in good hands pitching-wise.

    They could afford to cut loose a guy like Matzek, who still has tons of talent, but also too many question marks to really count on long-term. Like New York, Colorado has some aging players at some vital positions, and could use some reinforcements, through either free-agency or trade.

    Matzek could be an interesting piece who might draw some interest.

Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins

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    The Twins aren't known for being an organization that gives up on talented position players.

    And if they ever were to fold on the cards they hold with Aaron Hicks, they very well might end up regretting it, but then again, given his production as an older player in younger leagues now might be just the right time to cut bait.

    Hicks' average dropped to .242, a career-low and 37 points below the number he posted last year. He only managed five home runs and drove in just 38 runs in 122 games. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a worse stat-line from a player who made as many appearances as Hicks did.

    Still, for all of his poor statistical showings, Hicks still has plenty of talent. He's a borderline five-tool guy with above-average speed and incredible raw power. 

    I know the Twins are entering what appears to be a rebuilding process, and they'll need all the players like Hicks they can get their hands on, but if the right deal came along, I'm sure they'd be much more willing to part with him than they were say, this time last year.

Andrew Brackman, RHP, New York Yankees

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    Despite failing to even make an appearances in the majors, Brackman has become probably the only member of the Yankee organization more frustrating to watch than A.J. Burnett. At least Burnett has some past success to his name. Brackman, on the other hand, continues to underwhelm despite being one of the most intimidating prospects in all of baseball.

    At 6'10" and 230 pounds, there's no wonder the Yankees haven't given up on him...yet. Especially when you consider how good he has the potential to be. For some reason, however, consistency has never been Brackman's strong suit. This year he regressed even further. His issues on the mound were so bad that he was eventually squeezed out of the rotation and moved to the pen.

    That did nothing to solve his issues, and he ended the season with one of the worst lines in the system: a .333 winning percentage, an ERA of 6.00 and as many walks (75) as strikeouts.

    Pitching in Triple-A for the first time didn't agree with him, as he also served up 10 home runs (a career-high), hit 14 batters (also a career-best) and threw 19 wild pitches, seven short of a new personal high.

    Despite his immense potential, Brackman's career line now looks like this: 15-29, 5.11 ERA, 304-to-190 K:BB ratio in 343.1 innings.

    If any team can afford to wait on Brackman it's New York, but unfortunately the Yankees also happen to be the least patient organization in baseball, so it wouldn't come as a total shock if he ended up somewhere else next season.

Engel Beltre, OF, Texas Rangers

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    He put up great numbers in 2010 (.300, eight triples, 49 RBI, 18 SB), but began the '11 campaign incredibly on the wrong foot.

    Just a handful of games into the new season, Beltre inexplicably lost his temper during a game and proceeded to throw items into the stands, including a trash can. He was eventually suspended for 15 games.

    When he returned, he wasn't very good. His average dropped from .300 in 2010, all the way to .231. He was never a homer-happy kind of hitter, but slugged just one long ball in 437 at-bats, and drove in a mere 28 runs. His plate discipline was awful and he struck out 103 times, compared to just 28 walks. 

    He still showed some flashes, especially on the base paths, where he legged out six triples and stole 16 bases, but overall it was a lost season for the soon to be 22-year-old.

    That flash was what earned him a top-ten ranking among Rangers prospects the past few seasons, and is what could convince a handful of other teams to give him a chance. After all, he's nearly big-league ready having spent the majority of the past two seasons in Double-A.

Derek Norris, C, Washington Nationals

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    As Norris continues to rise through the ranks, closer to Washington, the Nationals are going to face a major decision. 

    Is Norris' potential appealing enough to make him the favorite in a three-way race for the team's long-term catching role? After all, they have Jesus Flores, who is 26 and just three years removed from a solid 2008 campaign that saw him hit .256 with eight homers and 59 RBI. They also have Wilson Ramos, a former Twins prospect who was forced all the way to Washington by Joe Mauer blocking his path. Ramos, just 23, enjoyed a breakout season this year, hitting .267 with 15 homers, 52 RBI and a 32 percent caught stealing rate.

    Both are solid players, but neither offers the power potential of Norris, who's slugged at least 20 homers in two of the past three seasons. Unfortunately, Norris hasn't proven capable of hitting for average, mustering a .235 number last year before slipping to .210 this season.

    That could leave him on the outside looking in, but don't think he won't have teams lining up for his services. If the Nats really are all in on competing these next few seasons, they're going to have to shore up some holes in their lineup, bullpen and rotation. 

    Dealing a guy like Norris could help along the process.

Wily Peralta, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Assuming Prince Fielder doesn't resign with Milwaukee, the Brewers are going to have a gaping hole in their lineup, one that could be filled through free agency, but could also be tended to through one or more trades.

    The Brew Crew showed their willingness to deal this past offseason, netting both Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum in preseason trades. In both cases they gave up some very talented prospects, and you would think that they would be unwilling to risk such an endeavor again. But remember, the Brewers, even without Fielder, will still have an immensely talented squad next year.

    So all it might take to keep them in the forefront of the N.L. Central is a few pieces that could be obtained with the talent they have remaining in their farm system.

    Wily Peralta, a native of the Dominican Republic, had shown flashes of dominance before, especially during 2010, when he made the full-time commitment to starting. This year he was one of the best arms anywhere, putting up some pretty filthy numbers with incredible consistency. He dominated hitters in the Southern League for 21 starts before finally being granted his release to Triple-A, where he carved up PCL hitters with the same ease.

    He racked up 117 strikeouts in 119.2 innings in the Southern League, and added another 40 in the Pacific Coast League, giving him a grand total of 157 for the year, a career-high and more than any other pitcher in the system, save for Tyler Thornburg. 

    Peralta could be the centerpiece of a deal for someone to replace Fielder.

James Darnell, 3B, San Diego Padres

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    Darnell's 2011 campaign was widely overshadowed by fellow Padre prospect Jedd Gyorko, who tore through the minor league with a vengeance.

    Still, the 24-year old former second-round pick back in 2008, had a sensation season himself, putting his name back on the map in San Diego. In 76 games in the Texas League, Darnell hit .333 with 25 doubles, 17 home runs and 62 RBI. He also earned more walk (52) than strikeouts (48) and showed solid defensive ability.

    After a promotion to Triple-A he struggled, but managed to bounce back late for a final season line that looked like this: .310, 29 doubles, 23 homers, 79 RBI, 68-to-78 BB:K.

    Definitely a far cry from Gyorko's .333, 47 doubles, 25 homers, 114 RBI line, but impressive nonetheless and more than good enough to earn him a big-league look to finish out the season..

    And while Gyorko will eventually lay claim to the hot-corner long term at PetCo Park, Darnell might still be useful to the Padres.

    A hitter with a track-record like his could be in demand. 

Taylor Green, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Green has played a little first base down in the minors, so it wouldn't necessarily be a huge surprise if he ended up as Fielder's replacement there, but assuming the team goes outside the organization to find another heavy-hitting first baseman, Green could also be on his way out.

    Not only do the Brewers have the over-achieving Casey McGehee on their roster, but they also have sweet-swinging Mat Gamel down at Triple-A, just chomping at the bit to take over a big-league spot. Gamel has arguably more offensive potential than Green, making the latter slightly more expendable.

    Green drove in 91 runs this year, setting a new career high. This season marked the third time that Green has eclipsed the 80 RBI mark during his six professional seasons. He also set a career high with his .336 average.

    The Brewers thought highly enough of Green to bring him up for a 20-game cameo, during which he hit a respectable .270.