It's already been a very active season for baseball's top prospects, with some of the top players in the game on the move.
Derek Norris, widely regarded as one of the top offensive catchers in the game, was dealt from Washington to Oakland, along with RHP Brad Peacock, who had one of the finest seasons of any pitcher (15-3, 2.39 ERA) in the minors in 2011, LHP Tom Milone, one of baseball's top young control specialists (155-to-16 K:BB ratio in 2011) and RHP A.J. Cole, one of the Nats top young pitching prospects.
Cincinnati sent a massive haul to San Diego in exchange for starting pitcher Mat Latos, including C Yasmani Grandal, the 12th-overall selection in the 2010 draft, 1B/OF Yonder Alonso, the seventh-overall pick in 2008 and Brad Boxberger, potentially San Diego's closer of the future.
Don't expect the fun to end anytime soon, however, with several teams looking to bolster positions of weakness on their roster before spring training.
As such, let's take a look at the top trade-chip from each team heading into the new year.
The Diamondbacks reportedly dangled 2011 first rounder Trevor Bauer in trade-talks with the A's. They eventually reneged on that and dealt 2007 first rounder Jarrod Parker instead, along with outfielder Collin Cowgill and reliever Ryan Cook.
With Parker out of the way, and Bauer, RHP Archie Bradley and LHP Tyler Skaggs seemingly untouchable, the top bargaining chip Arizona has is likely corner infielder Bobby Borchering, who was also drafted in the first round back in '09.
Borchering was once upon a time the D-Backs top position player prospect, but has since been passed by several new additions, including OF A.J. Pollock, 3B Matt Davidson and SS Chris Owings. That's not to say there isn't plenty to like about him. With 41 home runs in his first 292 minor league contests, there's no better power threat in Arizona's system.
His biggest detriment to a long and fruitful big-league career has been strikeouts. He whiffed a career-high 162 times in 2011, a hike in an already depressing total of 128 the year before.
The fact that Borchering and Davidson play the same position (first and third base) will likely lead to one of their departures.
Minor doesn't technically have prospect status after spending chunks of the past two seasons in the majors, but he's still the most likely piece of trade bait among Atlanta's fine collection of arms.
The front office has already made perfectly clear, both at last year's trade deadline and this offseason, that their top three arms (Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcanio and Julio Teheran) are not even remotely available. Minor, on the other hand, is mighty fine trade bait.
He's an incredibly polished left hander who needed only 25 minor league starts before reaching Atlanta. He's bounced back and forth from Triple-A to the majors the past season and a half, but has looked very much like a top-three starting pitcher.
Unfortunately, the Braves have four really good starters right now, and three more in the pipeline, leaving Minor as the odd man out.
Like Minor, Tillman no longer qualifies as a prospect, although his results in the majors have been so inconsistent (7-15, 5.58 ERA) that it's not a complete stretch to think of him as one.
Those results were accumulated over 36 starts (roughly the number that a regular starter would make) and fail to justify the kind of promise Tillman showed in the minors: 22-19, 3.61 and a 247-to-94 K:BB ratio.
Also consider that at age 23, Tillman is still one of the youngest starting pitchers in the Majors.
The O's seem pleased with their stable of young pitchers, including LHP Brian Matusz, RHP Jake Arrieta, LHP Zach Britton and RHP Brad Bergesen. Tillman could be a piece that the front office could dangle.
Let's face it, the Red Sox have never been real big on promoting from within, especially when it comes to their starting rotation. Of their current starting five, only two (Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester) are homegrown, and only one of those two isn't accused of drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during the Sox late-season collapse.
As such, no starting pitching prospect is safe when it comes to trade talks, not even Anthony Ranaudo, the right hander that the team shelled out $2.55 million to sign back in 2010.
Ranaudo has front-of-the-rotation stuff, but as long as he remains in Boston's organization, he's not likely to crack the starting five any time soon.
As if you couldn't tell by the ease at which his name was included in trade talks, the Cubs, and especially Theo Epstein, aren't particularly sold on the right hander's potential.
McNutt entered the 2011 season as the top prospect in the system, but struggled greatly, posting a 4.55 ERA in the Southern League. He struck out a mere 65 batters in 95 innings. His 2011 campaign put quite a damper on what had been a very stellar pro career. He compiled a sub-1.00 ERA in his pro debut and went 10-1 with a 2.48 ERA over three levels in 2010.
McNutt has great stuff, but not the best command, and it's shown as he's risen up the ladder.
As Epstein looks to fill holes all across Chicago's roster, it's likely he'll turn to some free agents, making McNutt a valuable trade piece.
Reed rocketed through the Sox system in 2011, dominating minor league hitters to the tune of a 1.26 ERA and a 111-to-14 K:BB ratio in 78.1 innings.
His dream ride culminated in a late season promotion to the Majors, where he looked just as sharp, striking out 12 batters in 7.1 innings, issuing just one walk.
Reed is going to be a full-time reliever, and those are always in demand, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see a team try to steal him away with a big-time offer.
Despite Frazier's successes in the minor leagues, it's been hard for him to crack the big-league roster. Such is life for prospects in Cincinnati. See Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal.
Frazier has bounced around from position to position, looking for a long-term home, but has yet to find one, despite seeing significant time at multiple positions in the minors. In his 41 game big-league trial, he played at five different spots, including shortstop and first base. If he ever sticks, it will likely be as an outfielder.
The more likely option, however, is that he goes the way of Alonso and Grandal and gets his chance with another organization.
Long forgotten about due to his numerous ailments, Jason Knapp remains one of the top pitching prospects in the Cleveland system.
When healthy, he's capable of throwing in the mid-to-high 90s, and as he showed back in 2009 (123 K in 97 innings), he's a strikeout machine who needs little more than his fastball to dominate.
Knapp was shutdown midseason after undergoing shoulder surgery, but should return at some point during the 2012 season. His stuff is more than enough to warrant a long look by other squads.
In case you hadn't noticed, the Rockies have a franchise shortstop in Troy Tulowitzki. His presence made the selection of prep shortstop Trevor Story, considered one of the top middle infielders available in the 2011 draft, somewhat puzzling.
Yes, Story is young and should take at least three years of minor league seasoning, but he's still an incredibly impressive specimen, and one that could fetch a nice return for Colorado if the early returns on him are any indication: .268, six HR, 28 RBI, 13 SB in 47 games.
Story's defensive prowess is by far his top tool, although his ability to make contact and his seasoned approach at the plate don't hurt.
Castellanos was nearly dealt to Seattle this past season, but the Mariners, in the end, preferred Chance Ruffin, leaving Castellanos as the Tigers best hitter.
He looked much more impressive than most other 19-year olds this past season, hitting .312 with 76 RBI in the Midwest League. If he can continue to hit that well as he progresses to High-A and beyond, he could have a future as Detroit's long-term third baseman.
Or there's always the possibility that he could end up being dealt in exchange for another veteran piece that could help Detroit in 2012.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Villar, you better familiarize yourselves. Word in the scouting community is that this kid is just a good season or two away from receiving praise as the next Jurickson Profar.
Villar had the ability to play shortstop in the majors years ago, quite an impressive feat considering he's only 20 years old. So far, it's been his bat that's held him back.
For the most part, however, he's not really to blame. The Astros have been incredibly aggressive promoting him, and he spent the majority of the 2011 season at Double-A, where he hit a meager .231 and struck out 100 times in 367 at-bats.
Villar has shown flashes of being a dynamic hitter, and if he can string together a few solid months, he could emerge as one of the top shortstop prospects in the minors.
Chances are, somebody will try to pry him away from Houston before then.
Robinson has failed to make much progress the past two seasons, both of which have been spent at Double-A Northwest Arkansas. Now, he's 24 years old and heading into his third season at that level or above, but he has yet to crack the big-league roster.
It appears his time has passed, and with several other more talented prospects gaining on him, including Brett Eibner and eventually five-tool stud Bubba Starling, it might be time to look for a suitor who would be willing to take a chance on one of the fastest players in the minors.
Robinson swiped 55 bases last season, giving him an astonishing 291 for his six-year pro career. He stole a career-high 69 in 2009.
It's hard to justify including Cron on this list. After all, he was the team's first-round pick this past June. Unfortunately, a lot has happened since then, including the arrival of Rookie of the Year candidate Mark Trumbo, and more importantly, the Angels' signing of Albert Pujols. Toss in the injured Kendry Morales, and the Angels have four players capable of playing first base at the big-league level.
The problem with the three non-Pujols candidates, however, is that neither Morales, Trumbo or Cron seem to fit at any other position than first base. The organization has talked about moving Trumbo to third base or the outfield, but where does that leave Cron? He played some catcher in college, but ultimately outgrew the position and seems unlikely to return there as a pro.
The team could probably do well by dealing Cron, who is arguably their best trade chip.
The Dodgers' recent first-round picks haven't worked out too well, and the problem is amplified by the fact that so many of those picks have been pitchers through whom the Dodgers have tried to rebuild their big-league squad the past few years.
There's still hope for a few guys, especially 2010 first-rounder Zach Lee, but the verdict is most definitely still out on right-hander Chris Withrow. He has arguably the best velocity in the system now that Rubby de la Rosa has graduated to the majors, but control has never been his strong suit. He walked a career-high 75 batters in 2011 in just 128.2 innings. In five pro seasons, he has yet to compile an ERA below 4.20, the number he posted in 2011.
Still, with his impressive velocity, there is bound to be some team that would love to get their hands (and coaching staff) on his fastball. Even if he burns out as a starter, he has great value as a reliever.
James is one of the most underrated arms in the minor leagues. He has no doubt helped himself achieve that status by losing 25 games the past two seasons, but his win-loss record (10-25) in no way signifies the talent that he has.
James was touted as one of the most seasoned high school prospects in the 2009 draft class and has shown incredible poise, holding down a 4.37 ERA while he's been saddled with a record number of losses. This past season, he was brilliant, posting a 3.80 ERA and racking up 124 strikeouts in 149.1 innings. He made a career-high 27 starts, but still managed to lose 15 games.
I guess you could call him the unluckiest pitcher in the minor leagues.
James will likely take his poise and vast repertoire of pitches to Double-A this season as a 21-year-old.
The Brewers showed last year that they were willing to part with their top prospects if the price is right. Before the season began, they dealt their top hitter (Brett Lawrie) to Toronto and their top pitchers (Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress) to Kansas City in exchange for Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke.
Fortunately, the move paid off, so a repeat might be possible if the Brewers could get their hands on a power-hitting outfielder to take the spot of the soon-to-be-suspended Ryan Braun. Their top prospect as of December 23 is Wily Peralta, a hard-throwing right-hander who in many ways resembles former Brewers pitcher C.C. Sabathia.
Peralta could theoretically challenge for a spot in the rotation next spring, but it's likely he begin the season at Triple-A.
Trades in baseball aren't usually about getting players changes of scenery, as is often the case in the NBA, NFL or NHL, but sometimes, it's the case. If any player could benefit from a change in organizations, it's Minnesota's Aaron Hicks.
Once upon a time, Hicks was the team's top prospect. He offered a chance for five-tools and had a Jason Heyward-like approach at the plate. It seemed only a matter of time before he broke out and emerged as one of the top position player prospects in baseball. Only that never happened.
Hicks spent two years (2009-10) at Low-A Beloit and failed to show any progress, hitting a combined .269 with 12 home runs and 31 steals in 182 games. He received a bump to High-A ball this past season, not because he deserved it, but because the Twins wanted to see if it would give his bat a jolt.
It didn't work. Hicks hit a career-low .241, hit just five home runs and drove in just 38 runs in 122 games.
Hicks just turned 22, and with a solid group of outfielders in the pipeline (Miguel Sano, Joe Benson, etc.), the Twins patience might be running too thin.
Despite being just 20 years old, it appears as if prospect fatigue has set in with Flores. Case in point, he put together arguably the best offensive season of his career in 2011 and received very little attention from any publication. He dropped all the way to No. 10 in the Mets top ten, according to Baseball America.
The lesser attention doesn't mean that Flores isn't just as talented as he was two years ago, when he ranked inside the top five. He still has an incredible bat, one that should allow him to hover around .300 as a big-leaguer.
Yes, his defense is borderline total crap, but whenever he makes the move to third base, or even to the outfield, hopefully he'll be able to focus more on his hitting.
The Mets have shown a greater propensity for trades under new GM Sandy Alderson, so it wouldn't be a total shock to see him try to move Flores.
Despite all the negative attention that Jesus Montero's defensive ability receives, the Yankees still seem content to enter the 2012 season with him as their primary backstop. Luckily, New York is one of the only teams in baseball that can afford to live with that kind of play behind the plate. It doesn't hurt that Montero's bat is legit.
What does his ascension to the Majors mean for Austin Romine, however? Romine is arguably one of the top defensive catchers in baseball and has shown considerable offensive ability the past two seasons. He hit .286/.351/.378 at Double-A Trenton this past season and had a tremendous showing in the Futures Game during the All-Star break.
His season culminated with a September promotion to New York , where he hit a mere .158 in nine games. Montero, on the other hand, hit .328 with four homers and 12 RBI in 18 games.
There isn't room for both Montero and Romine on the big-league roster, especially with New York's penchant for chasing after every big-name free-agent. One of them is leaving, and it's likely the guy with the weaker bat.
Milone is fresh to the organization, coming over in the trade that sent Gio Gonzalez to Washington.
He had a tremendous 2011 campaign, winning 12 games for the third consecutive season, posting a 3.22 ERA and compiling a 155-to-16 K:BB ratio. He earned a late season promotion to Washington and got a chance to audition for a job in 2012.
Apparently, the Nats had other plans, and now, Milone will try to establish himself in a system that prides itself on control pitchers.
Milone doesn't have premium stuff, and therefore, might not be able to stick as a starter, but Oakland has a great track record of turning former starters into solid relievers.
While it was somewhat of a shock that no team selected James in the Rule V draft, it made sense when you take into account how raw the 22-year-old still is.
James had arguably his best season in 2011, hitting .268 with 26 doubles, six triples and 31 steals. He also improved his success rate on the basepaths, upped his walk rate and cut down on his strikeouts. Still, he's considered somewhat of a project, and he's going to need a few more years of seasoning in the minors to be considered big-league ready.
He should enter the 2012 at Double-A and could be one of a select few prospects in the system who have appeal to other clubs.
Somehow, despite being 24 years old and having six seasons of pro experience, Gorkys Hernandez has yet to reach the majors. Pittsburgh is his third organization since being signed out of Venezuela, and while it has been hard for him to recapture his prospect glory from his days in Detroit, he has put together two solid seasons.
He set career highs in numerous offensive categories in 2011, including doubles, triples and slugging percentage.
Hernandez could be an interesting find for a team looking for a fourth or fifth outfielder with tons of speed and defensive versatility. He played all three outfield spots this past season and could finally reach the majors, assuming he stays healthy.
The Cardinals have never been shy about trading away promising young players. Just a few years ago, they dealt third baseman Brett Wallace, and just last season, they traded away outfielder Colby Rasmus.
So with several promising third base prospects (Allen Craig, David Freese and Matt Carpenter), what's to say they're going to hang on to Zack Cox, the 25th-overall pick in the 2010 draft.
Cox had a very strong full-season debut, hitting .306 with 13 homers and 68 RBI, showing the kind of veteran savvy that team officials expected when they shelled out $2 million for him.
In addition to being blocked behind a cache of other third baseman, Cox is likely to bring in a bigger haul than the other three if dealt.
Once upon a time, James Darnell was the top third base prospect in San Diego's system. He had a breakout season in 2009, hitting 20 home runs while maintaining a .311 average.
He regressed in 2010, dealing with a few minor scrapes and bruises, and when he returned to full-health in 2011, the Padres had added another, more highly-regarded third baseman named Jedd Gyorko. Darnell had a bounce-back season (.310, 23 HR, 79 RBI) in 2011, but was overshadowed by the historic production (.333, 25 HR, 114 RBI) put forth by Gyorko.
Now, Darnell finds himself on the outside looking in at the team's eventual long-term third baseman. He's a solid player who won't likely find himself with a long-term job until he finds another organization.
Joseph has endured quite the ride during his two seasons in pro ball.
Shortly after he was drafted (second round, 2009), he was considered one of the top young catching prospects in the game. That opinion lost some luster after he hit a mere .236 in his debut. He did show signs of having a true impact bat, however, as evidenced by his 16 home runs in 117 games.
The following season saw him restore faith in those who believed in him, as he boosted his average to .270 while maintaining his power stroke (22 in 127 games) at a higher level (High-A San Jose). Now Joseph is considered the likely successor to Buster Posey behind the plate, whenever Posey decides to move off of catcher to prolong his big-league career.
Still, Joseph has yet to play a game above High-A ball, and the Giants added an impressive backstop this past season in Andrew Susac, who garnered some top-10 love in the months leading up to the draft. If Posey does indeed stay behind the plate longer than expected, Joseph could find himself heading out of town.
You can make the argument that his stock has never been higher, as he was just ranked the second-overall prospect in San Fran's system by Baseball America.
In Poythress, the Mariners have one of the top slugging first basemen in the minor leagues.
The hulking slugger bashed 31 homers and drove in 130 runs in 2010, all the while maintaining a .315 average. This past season, he wasn't as effective, slugging just 11 homers in roughly the same number of games and at-bats, but he still has the power stroke to hit in the middle of a lineup one day.
Unfortunately, the Mariners have a very talented, young player at first base (Justin Smoak) who doesn't appear to be losing his grip on the big-league job. Smoak is a better defender than Poythress and should be able to hold off Poythress' challenge, leaving the Mariners in a bit of a pickle.
Poythress doesn't have the athleticism to play any other position than first base.
Few teams have the luxury of having the option of trading a former No. 1 overall draft pick who hasn't turned into a big-time bust.
Welcome to life in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.
Beckham hasn't flourished like the team expected when they shelled out more than $6 million for him back in 2008, and while he has slowly improved his game to the point where he was named to the U.S. Team in the Futures Game this past season, he still doesn't show the same potential that another Rays shortstop prospect has.
The presence of Hak-Ju Lee, a more seasoned, well-rounded shortstop, allows the Rays the opportunity to listen to offers for Beckham.
Scheppers has been all but forgotten about since he missed bits and pieces of the past two seasons due to injury, but the fact remains that he's still one of the Rangers top pitching prospects.
And while the Rangers have been increasingly unwilling to trade their top pitching prospects (Martin Perez, Neftali Feliz, etc), they have shown no such feeling when it comes to their mid-level pitching prospects (Joe Wieland, Robbie Erlin, etc).
After two up-and-down seasons in the upper levels of the minors, one has to wonder if Scheppers has fallen off of the top tier and into the middle level.
It's almost unfathomable to think that Jenkins was once considered one of Toronto's top pitching prospects. Just two years after being drafted, he has fallen out of the top 10 in the Blue Jays prospect hierarchy.
While that could easily be seen as a reflection on his production since signing, it's actually a testament to how much Toronto's farm system has improved since GM Alex Anthopoulos has taken over.
Jenkins had another solid season in 2011, winning nine games and holding down a 3.70 ERA, splitting time between High-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire. In 16 Double-A starts, he looked incredible, posting a 74-to-27 K:BB ratio.
Jenkins should spend the majority of the 2012 season at Triple-A and could be an interesting piece of trade bait considering his near big-league readiness.
Hand to the Bible, my choice for the Nationals was going to be 2010 fourth-rounder A.J. Cole, who became expendable with the additions of LHP Matt Purke and RHP Alex Meyer, as well as the emergence of RHP Brad Peacock and LHP Tom Milone.
Just Thursday, however, the Nationals packaged Cole, Milon and Peacock and sent the trio to Oakland in exchange for LHP Gio Gonzalez.
With those three pitchers out of the way, the "most likely trade chip" title falls to second baseman Steve Lombardozzi, who also had a breakout season in 2011. He hit .310 between Double-A and Triple-A and reached the majors. He showed solid power (25 doubles, eight homers), great speed (30 steals) and impressive defensive ability (just two errors all season).
Lombardozzi is blocked at second base by Danny Espinosa, and while the Nats could probably find another spot for him, they have a couple more infielders, including Anthony Rendon, marching through the minors as well, so it might make the most sense to trade him.