Each MLB Contender's Most Untouchable Prospect at the 2018 Trade Deadline
It's risky to call any prospect untouchable, as we've seen too many blockbuster deals in recent years to believe anyone is 100 percent safe from being moved in the right deal.
After all, who would have guessed the Chicago Cubs would trade Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease to their crosstown rivals last summer?
That said, a handful of prospects around the league come close to being untouchable, as their future upside and expected long-term role with their teams make trading them unlikely.
Ahead is a division-by-division look at each club's most untouchable prospect—though a number of franchises didn't necessarily qualify for this exercise, as you'll see along the way.
Boston Red Sox: RHP Bryan Mata
With Michael Chavis fresh off an 80-game suspension for a positive performance-enhancing drug test and blocked in the big leagues by Rafael Devers, and Jay Groome lost for the season to Tommy John surgery, Bryan Mata is the closest thing the Red Sox have to an untouchable prospect.
The 19-year-old signed for just $25,000 out of Venezuela in 2016, and his full-season debut last year was a rousing success, putting him on the fast track to the big leagues.
MLB.com praised his combination of stuff and future projectability, noting there's room to add strength to his 6'3", 160-pound frame. With a strong three-pitch mix and advanced pitchability, a 2020 debut is not out of the question, despite his age.
The Red Sox can make a World Series run this year, and without an elite prospect in the system, they probably don't have an untouchable chip. That said, Mata would be the one they'd likely try to keep out of deals.
New York Yankees: LHP Justus Sheffield
If the Yankees swing a blockbuster swap this summer, it will likely be to acquire another top-tier starting pitcher to slot alongside ace Luis Severino.
But they might want to consider giving Justus Sheffield his first taste of MLB action instead.
The 22-year-old lefty has posted a 2.44 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 95 strikeouts in 85 innings between Double-A and Triple-A while holding opposing hitters to a .193 average.
He's a bit undersized a 6'0" and has yet to top 130 innings in any season, but he has the stuff, command and feel for pitching to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter with a chance for more.
The Yankees have a deep enough farm system that they can build an attractive trade package without sacrificing a player who could address the team's most glaring need.
Unlikely to Trade Prospects: BAL, TB, TOR
The Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays are both destined to be sellers at the trade deadline and appear to be headed for a rebuilding period, so don't expect to see any of their top prospects on the move this summer.
As for the Tampa Bay Rays, they're hovering above the .500 mark and could explore smaller-scale deals if that's still the case at the end of July. However, they're a small-market team that relies on cheap, controllable homegrown talent. As such, they won't consider dealing any of the top-tier guys from their system.
Cleveland Indians: RHP Triston McKenzie
Triston McKenzie got off to a strong start to his pro career after going No. 42 overall in 2015. Then he emerged as one of the game's top pitching prospects.
As a 19-year-old in High-A, he went 12-6 with a 3.46 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 186 strikeouts in 143 innings.
He hasn't missed a beat this year while making the often difficult jump to Double-A. With electric stuff and a projectable 6'5", 165-pound frame, he may just be scratching the surface of his potential.
Francisco Mejia is an elite prospect in his own right, and it would take a major addition to pry him loose, but McKenzie looks like the most untouchable talent in the Cleveland system. Mejia does not have a clear path to playing time, and McKenzie has a chance to be a staff ace.
Unlikely to Trade Prospects: CWS, DET, KC, MIN
The Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers have spent the past year flipping established veterans for prospect talent, and it will be more of the same this summer. Neither is close to contending, so their farm systems should remain intact. The Kansas City Royals are beginning a rebuild of their own. They already flipped closer Kelvin Herrera for prospects, and the same could happen to Mike Moustakas and perhaps a few others.
It's been a disappointing season for the Minnesota Twins, and while the future still looks bright, they're likely headed for some short-term selling of their own. If they can acquire a controllable starter, they might consider making a move for the sake of 2019 and beyond, but such a deal seems more likely to be made during the upcoming offseason.
It's hard to see any scenario where Royce Lewis, Alex Kirilloff or Brusdar Graterol are dealt, so they can all be considered untouchable.
Houston Astros: OF Kyle Tucker
The guesswork has been taken out of this one, as Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has already slapped the untouchable label on Kyle Tucker, according to Jim Bowden of SiriusXM.
It's easy to see why.
The No. 5 overall pick in 2015 hit .306/.371/.520 with 24 doubles, 14 home runs and 66 RBI in 80 games at Triple-A. Billed as one of the best pure hitters in his class, he's delivered on those expectations while growing into his plus raw power.
The 21-year-old earned his first big league promotion last week and could make a serious impact the rest of the way for the defending champs.
Los Angeles Angels: OF Jo Adell
The Angels had what was widely regarded as baseball's worst farm system just a couple of years ago.
Now Jo Adell is the crown jewel of a system on the rise.
The best all-around athlete in the 2017 draft went No. 10 overall and has emerged as one of baseball's top prospects. He boasts a .317/.368/.598 line that includes 22 doubles, 17 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 69 games between Single-A and High-A.
Still just 19, he has put himself on the fast track. With his superstar upside, it's tough to envision any scenario where Adell moves unless the Angels make a run at someone like Jacob deGrom. Even then, he could be off-limits.
Oakland Athletics: LHP Jesus Luzardo
Jesus Luzardo was acquired last summer in the deal that sent Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle to the Washington Nationals, and he's emerged as Oakland's No. 1 prospect.
A first-round talent who slipped to the third round of the 2016 draft after undergoing Tommy John surgery that spring, he's turned in dominant results since returning to full health.
The 20-year-old earned an early promotion to Double-A this season and has gone 8-4 with a 2.30 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 99 strikeouts in 78.1 innings. He could be in the majors by next season and has a chance to be a top-of-the-staff starter.
Catcher Sean Murphy should also be untouchable. He could take over the everyday job by next season and has a chance to be a two-way standout and franchise cornerstone for the next decade.
Oakland has been a surprise contender in 2018, but that won't cause it to overhaul its organizational philosophy of building from within.
Seattle Mariners: OF Julio Rodriguez
GM Jerry Dipoto has had no qualms about gutting the farm system since taking Seattle's reins in 2015, and as the team pushes for its first postseason berth since 2001, it could be more of the same this winter.
First-rounders Kyle Lewis and Evan White are the system's headliners, and 2017 second-round pick Sam Carlson is the club's best pitching prospect, but none of those players will be off the table in trade talks.
Instead, 17-year-old outfielder Julio Rodriguez earns that distinction.
Signed for a $1.75 million bonus as part of last year's international class, Rodriguez has still not made his way stateside, but he's hitting .333/.426/.492 with 14 extra-base hits in 31 games in the Dominican summer league.
He has the highest ceiling on their farm and is the one prospect the M's would be wise to build their system around.
Unlikely to Trade Prospects: TEX
The Rangers hold one of the top veteran trade chips on this year's trade market in Cole Hamels, and he might not be the only player on the move.
The team has also made Adrian Beltre, Jake Diekman and Keone Kela available, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, and they might also be able to find a taker for Shin-Soo Choo (138 OPS+, 17 HR) despite his $21 million salary for this year and next.
Either way, there's no scenario where they're subtracting from the farm system.
Atlanta Braves: 3B Austin Riley
The Atlanta system is loaded with pitching talent, so much so that it's tough to call any pitching prospect untouchable if moving him means a chance to add a vital big league piece.
In addition, Austin Riley looks like the long-term answer at third base, which should make him off-limits in trade talks this summer. The 21-year-old is hitting .306/.371/.556 with 15 doubles, 11 home runs and 41 RBI in 58 games between Double-A and Triple-A.
MLB.com wrote: "He looks like he'll fit the power-hitting, run-producing profile in the mold of a Troy Glaus type of player."
That's the kind of guy you build around, and he could soon join Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies and Dansby Swanson as part of a young core on the rise.
Philadelphia Phillies: RHP Sixto Sanchez
The Phillies have graduated a good deal of prospect talent to the big leagues of late, while recent first-round picks Mickey Moniak and Adam Haseley have not yet lived up to their lofty draft positions.
That leaves a pair of right-handers—19-year-old Sixto Sanchez and 21-year-old Adonis Medina—as their top prospects.
Sanchez has the higher ceiling, with a polished repertoire that features a 70-grade fastball, a plus changeup and a tight curveball. He doesn't offer much physical projection with a 6'0", 185-pound frame, but his stuff and feel for pitching are enough to give him front-of-the-rotation upside.
MLB.com wrote: "Seeing him in the Philadelphia rotation, with an ultimate ceiling to potentially lead it one day, by 2019 seems a distinct possibility."
Washington Nationals: CF Victor Robles
The Nationals have clung to outfielders Juan Soto and Victor Robles in recent seasons. As Soto's moved to the big league roster, Robles is an easy choice as the team's most untouchable prospect.
The 21-year-old has been sidelined since mid-April with a left elbow injury, and while he avoided surgery, it was still a significant setback. He's not expected to return anytime soon.
However, he has a chance to be a "true franchise player" with the "upside of a perennial All-Star and possibly an MVP candidate," according to MLB.com.
If they weren't willing to move him for J.T. Realmuto, it's hard to see anyone hitting the trade market who would entice them to deal the potential future star.
Unlikely to Trade Prospects: MIA, NYM
The Miami Marlins began rebuilding during the offseason when they shipped out Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon. More trades could be forthcoming ahead of the deadline, but they won't give away any of the top prospects they just blew things up to acquire.
Meanwhile, the New York Mets are lining up to be perhaps the most impactful seller of this year's deadline if they move one or both of deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Even if both pitchers stay put, the Mets won't be buyers this season, so the farm system will remain intact.
Chicago Cubs: RHP Adbert Alzolay
The Cubs traded a prospect many thought to be untouchable last summer when they sent Jimenez to the crosstown White Sox in the Jose Quintana deal.
While the system is deep, it's lacking in top-tier talent.
Right-hander Adbert Alzolay has drawn high praise from the front office, though—to the point that it's reasonable to believe he won't go anywhere.
"[He's] a really interesting, high-ceiling starting pitcher who—if he reaches his potential—will someday be one of the five, and closer to the 1 than the 5," team president Theo Epstein told Tony Andracki of NBC Chicago in January.
Unfortunately, the 23-year-old will miss the remainder of the 2018 season with a lat injury.
Milwaukee Brewers: RHP Freddy Peralta
Freddy Peralta entered the 2018 season ranked behind Corbin Burnes, Luis Ortiz and Brandon Woodruff among Milwaukee pitching prospects.
His early MLB success has changed things, though.
After striking out 169 batters in 120 innings between High-A and Double-A last season, he continued to overpower minor league hitters in Triple-A this year to earn his first taste of big league action.
The 22-year-old has gone 4-1 with a 2.14 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 46 strikeouts in 33.2 innings while holding opposing hitters to a .134 average in his first six MLB starts.
If the Brewers pursue a major trade, it will almost certainly be to upgrade the starting rotation. So dealing Peralta would be counterproductive, given his early success.
St. Louis Cardinals: C Andrew Knizner
Carson Kelly has been billed as the heir to catcher Yadier Molina for the past few seasons, but Andrew Knizner might have something to say about that.
A .311/.378/.464 hitter since going in the seventh round of the 2016 draft, Knizner capped off a breakout 2017 season by hitting .358/.403/.537 in the Arizona Fall League.
Still relatively new to catching after moving behind the plate during his sophomore season at NC State, he has a chance to be a standout defender thanks to his plus athleticism at the position.
Kelly is further along in his development, but Knizner might wind up being the catcher of the future.
Alex Reyes is probably also untouchable, but after he suffered a season-ending injury for the second year in a row, there's a good chance teams would look elsewhere in the St. Louis system.
Unlikely to Trade Prospects: CIN, PIT
The Cincinnati Reds have been a pesky draw for the contending clubs in the NL Central and around the league. Still, they're not in a position to buy yet, and top-tier prospects such as Nick Senzel, Hunter Greene and Taylor Trammell all figure to be key factors on their next contender.
As for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the small-market club began a transitional period when they traded Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen during the offseason. They've never been apt to trade off impact prospect talent—young, controllable assets are a necessity—so expect more of the same this summer.
Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Jon Duplantier
The Diamondbacks acquired J.D. Martinez at the deadline last year without dealing any of their top-tier prospects, and they'll likely take a similar approach with any trades they explore this summer.
Jon Duplantier is the system's consensus top prospect after going 12-3 with a 1.39 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 165 strikeouts in 136 innings between Single-A and High-A in his first full pro season.
It's been more of the same this year from the 6'4", 225-pound right-hander, who possesses four average-or-better offerings and good command. He's 3-1 with a 2.52 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 41 strikeouts in 35.2 innings over seven starts at Double-A.
The 24-year-old has a chance to be a key piece of the rotation as soon as next year, and it's unlikely the D-backs will explore any trades significant enough to consider parting with him.
Colorado Rockies: RHP Peter Lambert
Brendan Rodgers is the top prospect in the Rockies system.
However, as Trevor Story is enjoying an All-Star-caliber season, DJ LeMahieu is a candidate to be re-signed and prospect Garrett Hampson knocking on the door, Rodgers could be considered expendable if the right opportunity presents itself.
Meanwhile, with the ongoing need for quality arms, a Peter Lambert swap might not be in the cards.
After all, as MLB.com wrote: "He looks like a future No. 3 starter and perhaps more if he can get stronger and add more velocity"
The 21-year-old is already pitching in Triple-A, and he's gone 9-2 with a 2.28 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and a 77-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 98.2 innings.
Los Angeles Dodgers: OF Alex Verdugo
Last July, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com offered the following:
"The Dodgers have told potential trade partners they're extremely hesitant to part with minor league outfielder Alex Verdugo and pitchers Walker Buehler and Yadier Alvarez. It might be a reach to classify those three prospects as 'untouchable,' but they're the closest thing the Dodgers have to the hallowed ground occupied by Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Julio Urias in recent years."
Buehler has since joined the starting staff, and Alvarez has seen his stock slide as a result of control problems, but nothing has changed on the Verdugo front.
The 22-year-old is still one of the best pure hitters in the minors, with a 60-grade hit tool that has helped him bat .350/.393/.513 at Triple-A this season.
An everyday spot in the Los Angeles outfield is waiting in the not-too-distant future.
San Francisco Giants: OF Heliot Ramos
The No. 19 overall pick in the 2017 draft, Heliot Ramos immediately became the top prospect in a thin Giants system.
With huge raw power and impressive athleticism, his upside is impossible to ignore.
A .348/.404/.645 line with 23 extra-base hits in 151 plate appearances in rookie ball further fueled the hype, and with the Giants headed for inevitable retooling in the near future, he looks like a building block.
There's significant swing-and-miss to his game, and he might not see the majors until 2021 at the earliest, but there's a good chance he'll be worth the wait.
Unlikely to Trade Prospects: SD
The San Diego Padres have worked hard to build one of baseball's deepest farm systems—a group that checked in at No. 3 in our most recent system rankings.
The future is bright, but they're still a couple of years away from contending, so there's no reason to think they'll part with any of that well-earned prospect talent.
Instead, they'll spend the deadline fielding calls on the bullpen trio of Brad Hand, Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen.