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MLB Offseason 2012: Bryce Harper and the Top Prospects Who Are Still Untouchable

Ash MarshallSenior Analyst IDecember 13, 2011

MLB Offseason 2012: Bryce Harper and the Top Prospects Who Are Still Untouchable

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    Bryce Harper is one of the brightest young talents in the baseball world right now. Regardless of the personnel offered or money involved, the Washington Nationals are not going to move this teenage prodigy.

    But Harper is not the only prospect who falls into this "untouchable" category.

    Position players like Mike Trout and pitchers such as Shelby Miller are also off limits when it comes to the stars of the future who aren't getting moved anytime soon.

    Baseball teams have spent the last few weeks signing free agents, trading for players, signing prospects in the Rule 5 draft and shoring up their lineups, pitching rotations and bullpens.

    Not every team, however, can just go out and get any player they like.

    Here are 10 of the top prospects in the game right now who are off limits.

    For the purpose of defining someone with "prospect status" I used MLB's criteria for determining rookie eligibility.

    Follow me on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB

Honorable Mention: Jarrod Parker, Oakland A's

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    I honestly thought Parker was untouchable.

    Now that he's in Oakland, I'm positive he's not getting moved.

    No, really. If I made this list last week, he would have been in my top 10.

    If there were any lingering doubts about Jarrod Parker, the ninth overall selection of the 2007 draft proved he was healthy and ready to compete again this year.

    After missing the 2010 season with elbow surgery, Parker put together a solid 11-8 record and 3.79 ERA across 26 starts with Double-A Mobile.

    He held batters to a .236 average and struck out 112 batters in 130.2 innings.

    "Everything has gone to plan this year," Parker told me in August. "I'm healthy and strong and I've made every start. It's all been great and now I wanted to finish the season strong."

    After not playing for more than 21 months, Parker came out the gate slowly but found his groove as things went along. His 5-6 record and 4.87 ERA was more due to rust than a lack of ability, and his 6-2 mark (and a 2.84 ERA) was much more indicative of what you can expect down the road.

    Parker was restricted by an innings limit throughout most of the season and traded to Oakland on Friday.

    I would have said he was virtually untouchable in Arizona, and I would have assumed it would have been one of their other future aces the D-backs dealt, if they were going to move anyone.

    Between Parker's injury history and Arizona being stacked at the position, I guess they thought he was expendable.

    The A's got away with robbery in this deal, and I would never had imagined the D-backs moving Parker for someone like Trevor Cahill. Expect Oakland to stretch Parker out at Triple-A in 2012 and hold onto him for years to come.

    He instantly becomes the best minor leaguer in the system.

Yonder Alonso, Cincinnati Reds

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    Whether Yonder Alonso still profiles primarily as a first baseman in the Cincinnati Reds organization is unclear, but the fact remains that he is a stellar prospect.

    A move to left field has been discussed, and if that's what the Reds need to do to find a place for him, that is what they should pursue.

    It's true that Alonso overachieved during his quarter-season in Cincy, and it's also unlikely that his numbers would hold up over the course of a full major league season.

    But just because he's not a .330, 20-homer threat immediately, it's not unrealistic to think he could be a .290 hitter right away and a .300 hitter with pop further down the road.

    At 24 years old, age is not exactly on his side, but it's not as if he has a long way to go before he secures a full-time role.

    When it comes to legitimate outfield prospects in the Reds system, only Yorman Rodriguez even deserves consideration. That said, Rodriguez is not only maybe three years away from the majors, he's also a right fielder.

    The Chicago White Sox were rumored to be interested in Alonso, but I'm not convinced that the Reds are shopping him that highly.

    No team has offered a pitcher even close to what Cincy needs to bulk up its rotation or bullpen. Even if they do, I feel the club will look to move other players before they move Alonso.

Jacob Turner, Detroit Tigers

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    Jacob Turner is still just 20 years old.

    He won't turn 21 until the middle of May, by which time he could have already made six or seven major league starts.

    Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

    There's a tricky road ahead if he wants to break camp with the club in spring training, but his fastball is good enough that he could do just that.

    He commands all three of his pitches, and that plus fastball is complemented by two above-average off-speed pitches in his change and hook.

    The words "fast-tracked" get thrown around a lot when people speak about Turner. He pitched for West Michigan and Lakeland in the Midwest League and Florida State League respectively in 2010, and he moved from Erie to Toledo to Detroit in the space of six months in 2011.

    Turner, a first-round draft pick from the '09 class, is well on his way to becoming a front-line starter in the Tigers' rotation.

Gary Brown, San Francisco Giants

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    Now approaching his third year in pro ball, San Francisco Giants prospect Gary Brown is establishing quite a name for himself.

    The 23-year-old is a center fielder with a toolbox stuffed with talent and swag.

    He can hit for average, hit for power, run and defend.

    In 131 games with the San Jose Giants, Brown looked a class apart from the competition this season, his first full year.

    He hit .330 with 14 homers and 80 RBI in 131 games, stealing 53 bases and scoring 115 runs. He also smacked 34 doubles and legged out 13 triples.

    I don't care who you are or what level you're playing at—those are big numbers. Yes, it's the California League and yes, those numbers might be a little inflated, but he's the real deal.

    Brown has prototypical leadoff hitter written all over him, and there's every reason to think he'll be in San Francisco by 2013.

    He's the Giants best hitting prospect by quite a margin.

    With Zack Wheeler going to New York in the Carlos Beltran deal, he may be the No. 1 guy in the entire system.

    Brown may not be in the same conversation as Bryce Harper or Mike Trout when it comes to the truly elite outfield All-Stars of the future, but he's certainly right up there in the top 10 with the likes of Wil Myers and Brett Jackson.

Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Shelby Miller is legit.

    The 21-year-old native of Texas is ready for the challenge of Triple-A, and I don't think anyone would be surprised to see him pitching in the Cardinals' rotation by the All-Star break.

    Miller has a plus fastball with decent movement, an impressive changeup and a mid-70s curve ball that should develop into a solid third pitch.

    Combined with a projected 6'3" frame and a revised leg kick with less unnecessary movement, Miller has the potential to dominate.

    He went 11-6 with a 2.77 ERA across two levels in 2011, striking out 170 batters over 139.2 innings and holding batters to a .219 average. Maybe most impressive of all, Miller limited left-handed hitters to just a .171 clip during his 16 Double-A games with Springfield.

    Selected 19th overall in the 2009 draft, Miller has improved in each of his three years.

    With a little refinement, he will be a top-end starter when he reaches the majors. He's not only the Cardinals' best prospect, he's arguably the No. 1 pitching prospect in all of baseball.

Jameson Taillon

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    In terms of a proven track record, Taillon still has a little way to go before he can be considered truly elite.

    On raw stuff alone, few compare.

    But what makes him untouchable is the fact that he's the best young arm on one of baseball's worst teams.

    The Pirates will be building their franchise around this kid by 2014, much like the New York Mets will do with Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey.

    The Pirates have a couple other right-handers on the farm (Stetson Allie, Bryan Morris, Luis Heredia) but none of them have the kind of upside that Taillon possesses.

    Pittsburgh took things slowly with their second overall pick of the 2010 draft this season, eventually sending him to the Sally League in late April but limiting him to just 92.2 innings in 23 starts. Ignore the 2-3 record and focus on the other numbers—in particular 97 strikeouts and 22 walks.

    Taillon has solid command, great pure stuff and four pitches that he can use in any count.

    His heater is already major league-ready and his slider is filthy. Throw in a knee-buckling curve and a rapidly-improving changeup, and it's easy to see why the organization is so high on him.

    Expect to see him in Pittsburgh by 2013. Expect to call him the face of the franchise very shortly after.

Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays

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    After six years in the minor leagues, Matt Moore finally got his shot in the majors in 2011.

    An above-average pitcher with gaudy strikeout numbers, Moore finally got the run support this year to give him a record that was much more indicative of his other peripheral stats and talent.

    He went 12-3 with a 1.92 ERA between Montgomery and Durham, striking out 210 batters over just 155 innings and needing only nine games at the Triple-A level before convincing the Rays he was ready for the big time.

    He has a mid-90s fastball, a solid curve ball and a changeup that could develop into a third plus offering.

    When it comes to minor league awards, Moore had a clean sweep this season.

    He was MLB.com's Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year and Baseball America's Minor League All-Star. He was also a two-time Southern League All-Star and a Futures Game selection.

    Moore just signed a five-year deal that could be worth up to eight years with the options. The first five years and $14 million of the deal are guaranteed, showing Moore just how much the Rays value him.

    At that price, too, Moore will quickly become one of the best value-for-money players in the league.

    If you want any more proof of his pedigree, re-watch Game 1 of the ALDS. Moore will play a huge role in Tampa Bay over the next decade. He's not going anywhere.

Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles

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    Manny Machado's value comes from his future Gold Glove defense and his versatility.

    He has soft hands and exceptional range for someone of his size (6'3", 190 pounds), and he will be a permanent fixture on the left side of the Baltimore Orioles defense for a decade.

    Selected third overall in the 2010 draft, Machado shone in Delmarva in his first taste of a professional full-season league.

    He hit .276 with six homers, eight doubles and two triples in 38 games, driving in 24 runs and posting an .859 OPS.

    While his numbers took a slight dip across every offensive category following his promotion to Frederick, there are enough positive signs to believe 19-year-old Machado is legit.

    He has natural athleticism in the field and on the bases as well as solid mechanics at the plate. With more repetitions, better pitch recognition and a natural power progression, Machado is primed to become a special player with the type of contact-power bat that GMs drool over.

    By the time he reaches the majors, maybe in two years' time, he'll be primed to take over from Robert Andino or JJ Hardy. Once he's there, he'll be there for years.

Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves

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    Julio Teheran has been compared with Pedro Martinez in the past.

    While it's clearly more because of his physical makeup and repertoire than future Hall of Fame credentials, Teheran certainly has every chance to succeed in the majors.

    The 20-year-old is well ahead of the game right now in terms of his ability, something Gwinnett Braves pitching coach Marty Reed always makes a point of mentioning when we speak. And it's true.

    "For a kid to be 20 years old and to be where he's at, he's well above the curve. He would be a junior in college right now. It's incredible. He has superstar written all over him," Reed told me when I profiled Teheran in October. "Considering his age, I would say he has a chance to be a Pedro Martinez-type of guy. He has a great future."

    There's that Pedro reference again.

    Teheran sports a mid-90s fastball that he can spot to both sides of the plate, a plus-plus changeup and a curve ball. He doesn't have overpowering stuff and his off-speed command still needs some work, but what's not to like about a right-hander who passed through three minor league classes in 2010 and went 15-3 at Triple-A 12 months later?

    If the Braves were looking to move a right-hander, I would expect it to be Randall Delgado or Arodys Vizcaino rather than Teheran. His future is too bright to trade away, regardless of who else is in the package coming the other way.

Mike Trout, Anaheim Angels

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    Mike Trout is right at the cusp of rookie eligibility, having appeared in 40 major league games.

    Right now, however, he should not only be considered a rookie, but also one of the best prospects in the game.

    As far as "untouchable" prospects go, Trout is right up there.

    The outfielder will be a cornerstone of the Angels franchise for years to come because he has all the tools needed to be successful at the highest level.

    He can hit for average, hit for power, run the bases and play defense.

    A first-round pick of Los Angeles in 2009, Trout's young resume speaks for itself. He's a two-time Futures Game selection and he's been selected to the mid and postseason All-Star games at both the Class A Advanced and Double-A level. Baseball America named him a Minor League All-Star in back-to-back years and Topps and Minor League Baseball have already handed him silverware.

    Remember, Trout is only a few months removed from still being a teenager.

    The 2011 season marked his second full year of pro ball. In 2010, Trout batted .341 with 10 homers, 58 RBI and 56 stolen bases across two levels. This year in the Texas League, he hit .326 with a career-best 11 homers in 91 games with Arkansas, prompting a call-up to the Angels.

    Ignore his .220 average in the majors or .245 clip in the Arizona Fall League. We know he can hit, and we know he was physically gassed by the end of the year.

    Trout has superstar written all over him. He's going to be a very special player for a lot of years to come.

    Once he fully adapts to big league hurlers, he's going to become a true household name.

Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

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    There is no prospect in baseball more untouchable than Bryce Harper.

    The 19-year-old signed a lucrative contract worth a little under $10 million when he inked a deal with the Washington Nationals as the first pick of the 2010 draft, and he's not going anywhere.

    The outfielder has struggled at times—sometimes with his adjusting to a new level, others with his maturity—but there's no doubt that his talent is legit.

    It's highlights like this walk-off homer against the Trenton Thunder on Aug. 12—a monster shot over the 400-foot wall—that make you forgive, or at least forget, incidents like this.

    Winning a Golden Spikes Award in college, Harper hit .318 with 14 homers and 46 RBI in 72 South Atlantic League games with the Hagerstown Suns before leapfrogging Class A Advanced to go straight to the Eastern League.

    In 37 additional games with the Harrisburg Senators, the 6'3" left-hander batted .256 with three more homers and 12 RBI.

    Across the two levels, Harper accumulated 387 at-bats before tweaking his right hamstring while running the bases in a game against the Akron Aeros on Aug. 18.  Back at full health this winter, Harper decided to work on his game with the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League.

    In 25 offseason contests, the native of Las Vegas hit .333 with six homers and 26 RBI.

    I spoke with Harper a couple times during the AFL, and I specifically asked him about his maturity and his approach to the game. The frightening news is that he's getting better—mentally and physically—every single day.

    "I still have some flaws to work on, and I have to look for pitches I can drive. I need to let the game come to me," he said. "I was trying to do too much. I was chasing. I just had to stay within myself."

    During a different interview a week later, he added, "I definitely am maturing. I'm trying to learn from the older guys like [Brandon] Crawford, and that has been huge. I'm learning when to run and not to run, I'm learning to see better pitches and I'm busting my butt every day. I'm trying not to chase pitchers' pitches, and when I get into an 0-2 hole, I'm learning how to battle. You can always improve every day."

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