Each MLB Contender's Most Untouchable Prospect at 2020 Trade Deadline
Even in a normal Major League Baseball season, it's hard for teams to pry top prospects away from other teams at the trade deadline.
With a select few prospects in particular, it figures to be pretty much impossible in 2020.
Because this season's 60-game schedule didn't begin until July 23, MLB moved the trade deadline from July 31 to August 31. Teams have therefore only had about a month to assess what they need, and whatever players they trade for may also be around for just one month.
There's also the reality that, sans a minor league season, the league's top prospects aren't continuing their development in competition against their peers. That creates some uncertainty about their present value, which may have their parent clubs resolved to hold on to them.
With all this in mind, let's take a look each contender's most untouchable prospect—save, of course, for the ones that already have everyday jobs in the majors—at this year's deadline.
Arizona Diamondbacks: OF Kristian Robinson
Even if they remain in contention for the eighth and final playoff spot in the National League, the Arizona Diamondbacks will probably have limits on their trade ambitions.
This is a team that doesn't necessarily have to win now. Though the D-backs stand to lose ace left-hander Robbie Ray to free agency this winter, most of their key parts are signed through 2021. Stars like Ketel Marte, Nick Ahmed, Madison Bumgarner and Zac Gallen are signed for even longer.
The Snakes presumably have it in mind to add to this core by promoting talent from their eighth-ranked farm system. And of their most talented prospects, none carries as much promise as Kristian Robinson.
He's only 19, yet he's coming off a 2019 campaign in which he had an .881 OPS with 14 home runs and 17 stolen bases in only 69 games at Low-A and Single-A. Further development should make him a truly special player.
Atlanta: RHP Ian Anderson
Given the circumstances, Atlanta has every reason to be in buy mode at the trade deadline.
Brian Snitker's squad is chasing a third straight NL East title, yet it also badly needs starting pitching. By way of injuries and other developments, there's nothing but question marks after up-and-coming lefty Max Fried.
Because Atlanta has MLB's No. 3 farm system, it will be able to pursue blockbusters if it so chooses. Yet the dire state of the club's rotation may have its front office feeling protective of its MLB-ready arms, of whom Ian Anderson is surely the best.
Atlanta drafted the 22-year-old third overall in 2016, and he's since developed into one of the league's most promising pitching prospects. Most recently, he put up a 3.38 ERA with 172 strikeouts in 135.2 innings at Double-A and Triple-A in 2019.
Baltimore Orioles: C Adley Rutschman
Whether the Baltimore Orioles can last in the American League playoff race is debatable, but it's remarkable that there's even a conversation to be had about their chances.
These are, after all, the same Orioles who lost 115 games in 2018 and 108 games in 2019. Yet they're suddenly competitive in 2020, mostly thanks to their surprisingly above-average offense.
And yet there's little question that the Orioles are still rebuilding and thus won't be going all-in on any major additions at the trade deadline. In other words: Nobody should ask them about Adley Rutschman.
The 22-year-old only has 37 minor league games under his belt, but that's because he's only a year removed from going No. 1 overall in the 2019 draft. With star-caliber skills on both sides of the ball, he looms as Baltimore's catcher of the future.
Chicago Cubs: LHP Brailyn Marquez
After laying low on the 2019-20 offseason market, the Chicago Cubs might make some noise at the August 31 trade deadline.
They're back atop the NL Central after a disappointing season in 2019, and they absolutely should be thinking about making the most of it. With few stars controlled past 2021, Chicago's championship window is shutting fast.
Infielder Nico Hoerner is technically the Cubs' No. 1 prospect. But since he has neither a particularly high ceiling nor a starting job with the big club, he might actually be trade bait in the club's eyes.
The Cubs may be more loath to part with 21-year-old lefty Brailyn Marquez. With a true 80-grade fastball at his disposal and a 3.13 ERA at Single-A and High-A fresh in his wake, he could be the homegrown ace that the Cubs have been waiting for.
Chicago White Sox: 1B Andrew Vaughn
Now that the Chicago White Sox's efforts to return to contention in 2020 are paying off, the organization must consider doubling down.
The White Sox don't need any more hitters for their powerful offense, but they might consider adding arms. Their rotation, especially, looks a little iffy underneath Dallas Keuchel, Lucas Giolito and Dylan Cease.
The tricky part here is that all four of Chicago's remaining top-tier prospects are likely untouchable in trade talks. Two of them (Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal) already figure into the club's plans for 2020, and another (Michael Kopech) is in a sort of no man's land at the moment.
So why single out Andrew Vaughn? Because while he's in the background right now, the 22-year-old is Jose Abreu's heir apparent at first base. If the White Sox keep him, he would join Robert, Madrigal, Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada as long-term cornerstones.
Cincinnati Reds: LHP Nick Lodolo
Like the White Sox, the Cincinnati Reds also approached 2020 with a mindset that this would be the year that they ended their playoff drought.
Unlike the White Sox, however, the Reds' early returns have been mixed. The bright side is that they control a good chunk of their core past 2020, so they don't need to mortgage their future in order to salvage this season.
Among other things, that means Nick Lodolo probably isn't going anywhere.
The Reds drafted the 22-year-old southpaw at No. 7 overall in the 2019 draft, and he promptly put up a 2.45 ERA with 30 strikeouts and zero walks in his first 18.1 professional innings. He could be ready for The Show as soon as 2021, at which point the Reds will likely have openings behind Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo.
Cleveland: 3B Nolan Jones
On paper, Cleveland looks like an ideal candidate to get involved in this summer's blockbuster market.
For one thing, Terry Francona's squad has first place in the AL Central within its sights. For another, its chances of finishing in first place would look a lot better with an impact bat or two. For yet another, Francisco Lindor's inevitable exit should have the club's front office feeling urgent.
Yet even despite the Lindor situation, it's unlikely that Cleveland will put all its chips on 2020. The idea may instead be to let this year play out and then pivot in a new direction that involves trading Lindor and establishing a new core.
If so, Nolan Jones will almost certainly be a part of said core. Especially after a 2019 campaign in which he had a .409 on-base percentage at High-A and Double-A, the 22-year-old third baseman looks like a keeper.
Colorado Rockies: 2B/SS Brendan Rodgers
Even despite their recent hardships, the Colorado Rockies still have a shot at making the postseason for the third time in four years.
Completing this effort may require a few moves at the deadline, as the Rockies need bats, starters and relievers. And because they're not exactly building for the long haul, they may indeed be willing to sacrifice some of their top prospects for the betterment of the here and now.
Nonetheless, Colorado probably won't be in a hurry to part with Brendan Rodgers.
The 24-year-old has had ups and downs since being drafted third overall in 2015, yet he still profiles as a middle infielder who'll hit for average and power. The Rockies need one of those at second base now, so it's no small wonder that he hasn't already been granted the everyday job.
Houston Astros: RHP Jose Urquidy
After a slow start that left them at 6-9 through 15 games, the Houston Astros have come around and are now chasing a fourth straight first-place finish in the AL West.
This calls for a tip of the ol' cap to manager Dusty Baker, and more specifically to a pitching staff that's weathered injuries to Justin Verlander (forearm) and Roberto Osuna (elbow). And yet, said staff's depth issues could put the Astros on the prowl for arms.
Or, they could just wait for Jose Urquidy to get healthy.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 2B Gavin Lux
The Los Angeles Dodgers are enjoying the best of both worlds right now.
As in, they have the best record in baseball and there isn't anything they truly need to acquire at the August 31 deadline. As evidenced by their outstanding plus-79 run differential, both their offense and their pitching staff are in tip-top shape.
Not that they were going to trade him anyway, but such things are a pretty good excuse for the Dodgers to hold on to Gavin Lux.
To be sure, the 22-year-old's stock took a hit when the Dodgers declined to carry him on their Opening Day roster. Yet this is still a guy who had a 1.028 OPS and 26 homers at Double-A and Triple-A in 2019, and he happens to play a position (second base) where the Dodgers lack a long-term regular.
Miami Marlins: OF JJ Bleday
Despite all the adversity that's come their way, the Miami Marlins are indeed still a contender.
They've certainly come down to earth since getting off to a 7-1 start. But until the NL East produces an obvious challenger to Atlanta's superiority, the Marlins have a real chance of stealing the division's second playoff spot.
Of course, even if the Marlins buy at the deadline, their long-term plans will surely preclude them from dealing the best players from their No. 5 farm system. Indeed, they've already promoted right-hander Sixto Sanchez and outfielder Jesus Sanchez to work in regular roles.
JJ Bleday probably won't be the next one to get the call, but the Marlins should nevertheless want to hold on to him. The 22-year-old was the No. 4 pick in the 2019 draft, and he sure looks like a slugging right fielder in the making.
Milwaukee Brewers: OF Garrett Mitchell
The Milwaukee Brewers have struggled to launch this year, yet they still have a shot at nabbing the NL Central's second playoff spot.
Nevertheless, it's going to take a few upgrades for the Brewers to have a real shot at playing deep into October. Arms are never a bad idea, and they certainly have a pressing need for bats in their well-below-average offense.
Given that the Brewers are already down to it with talent in their No. 28 farm system, nobody may be off-limits. Yet they probably don't want to and literally can't trade outfielder Garrett Mitchell.
Milwaukee just chose him in the 2020 draft, so he can't be traded until after the World Series. Besides, the speedy 21-year-old is now the best prospect the Brew Crew has.
Minnesota Twins: RHP Jordan Balazovic
The Minnesota Twins are in first place in the AL Central and therefore in a position to make a run at the World Series.
But like all non-Dodgers contenders, the Twins aren't perfect. They're having a surprisingly difficult time recapturing last year's offensive magic. Meanwhile, their pitching depth is fine but not clad in iron.
The Twins may endeavor to shore these weaknesses up by dipping into their 15th-ranked farm system for a blockbuster or two. And because they don't have clear avenues to playing time in the majors, even shortstop Royce Lewis and outfielders Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach may be attainable.
Jordan Balazovic should be a different story. Jose Berrios and Kenta Maeda are the Twins' only long-term starters, so they should want to hold on to a guy who had a 2.69 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 93.2 innings at Single-A and High-A in 2019.
New York Mets: SS Ronny Mauricio
The New York Mets have taken some licks in 2020, but the NL East hasn't left them behind.
As for what the Mets need, they surprisingly don't need bodies for a bullpen that's really come around in August. In this year's up-is-down reality, it figures that it's actually their rotation that will likely be their top priority at the deadline. After Jacob deGrom, it's not so good.
It may not be out of the question that the Mets will trade top prospect Ronny Mauricio for a starter or two. That said, they would probably prefer not to.
Though Mauricio hasn't exactly lit it up in the minors—he has a .681 OPS in 173 games at the low levels—he's still only 19, and there's plenty of room for bulk on his 6'3" frame. In the long run, he projects as a power-hitting shortstop.
New York Yankees: RHP Clarke Schmidt
The New York Yankees were on top of the world when they won nine of their first 11 games, but they've since leveled out and allowed the Tampa Bay Rays to overtake them in the race for first in the AL East.
Granted, the Yankees are likely making the playoffs no matter what. But if they want to make their first World Series since 2009, they need to consider trades that would benefit a starting rotation that's thin on talent after Gerrit Cole.
Or the Yankees could just call on their best pitching prospects, including right-hander Clarke Schmidt.
Though he might not be as well known as fellow righty Deivi Garcia, Schmidt put himself on the map with a 3.47 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 90.2 innings across three minor league levels in 2019. With three solid pitches, he has the goods to make an impact sooner rather than later.
Oakland Athletics: LHP A.J. Puk
After struggling to keep up with the Astros in 2018 and 2019, the Oakland Athletics have finally risen to the top of the AL West.
In theory, the A's should have it in mind to dig in their heels for the sake of not only holding on to first place but also positioning themselves for a deep playoff run.
However, it's typically not their style to trade top prospects for short-term upgrades. That figures to be the case once again in 2020, especially given that two of their two best prospects (Jesus Luzardo and Sean Murphy) already have everyday jobs in hand.
Philadelphia Phillies: SS Bryson Stott
Though their recent five-game skid didn't help matters, the Philadelphia Phillies are very much a win-now team that's already made two win-now trades.
Yet there's still more work to be done. Though their offense has been in fine form this year, their 5.67 ERA points to depth issues in their rotation and a conspicuous shortage of talent in their bullpen.
Because both are now operating in regular roles, it should go without saying that neither third baseman Alec Bohm nor righty starter Spencer Howard is a candidate to be traded before August 31. Otherwise, the Phillies should also be protective of Bryson Stott.
The 22-year-old went to the Phillies at No. 14 overall in the 2019 draft and promptly posted an .885 OPS in 48 games in the low minors. He might not take over for Didi Gregorius in 2021, but it won't be long before he's manning short in Philly if the club keeps him.
San Diego Padres: LHP MacKenzie Gore
Even if they don't ultimately catch the Dodgers for the NL West lead, the San Diego Padres have made it clear that they're here and here to stay.
The Padres have been loads of fun to watch, especially while Fernando Tatis Jr. and Co. are doing their thing on offense. If they do make moves for a deep postseason run, they'll probably be for an impact starter or an ace reliever to filly Kirby Yates' (elbow) vacated shoes.
Just don't expect the Padres to even entertain trading MacKenzie Gore.
In the wake of a 2019 season in which he had a 1.69 ERA with 135 strikeouts and only 28 walks in 101 innings at High-A and Double-A, Gore might be the best pitching prospect in MLB. What's more, he could help the Padres as soon as next month.
San Francisco Giants: OF Heliot Ramos
Are the San Francisco Giants really a contender, though?
In theory, no. But in reality, their six-game win streak has put them in the mix for one of the NL's last two playoff spots. And with few trade chips that they absolutely must cash in, they might decide to go for it.
The Giants have already given the people what they wanted by promoting top prospect Joey Bart. He's not going anywhere as long as he's their everyday catcher, and the Giants are presumably planning on him one day sharing the field with Heliot Ramos.
San Francisco selected the 20-year-old outfielder 19th overall in the 2017 draft. After going through some growing pains in 2018, he flashed his potential with an .850 OPS and 16 homers at High-A and Double-A in 2019.
St. Louis Cardinals: 3B Nolan Gorman
The St. Louis Cardinals haven't had an easy season, yet they can rest easy knowing they're currently the team to beat in the race for the NL Central's second playoff spot.
In order to actually claim that spot, the Cardinals might upgrade an offense that's once again trafficking in well-below-average territory. Like virtually every other team, they could also stand to add more arms.
Even though he's now playing every day, the Cardinals have so much outfield depth that top prospect Dylan Carlson (who's now playing every day in center field) shouldn't be ruled out as a potential centerpiece in a blockbuster. Neither should Nolan Gorman, yet perhaps only if it involves a name-brand third baseman coming to St. Louis.
As of now, the Cardinals don't really have a long-term solution at third base. That ought to have them feeling attached to Gorman, as the 20-year-old has the goods to be a power-hitting, slick-fielding third baseman.
Tampa Bay Rays: SS Wander Franco
The Rays stumbled to a 6-8 start out of the gate, but they've since been playing like a real candidate to make it to the World Series.
Even still, it's safe to say that everyone would feel better about the Rays' chances if they added an impact hitter to their hit-or-miss offense. If not, it would be like the Rays to at least seek out some undervalued pitching.
But be warned that it's not like the Rays to trade away elite prospects. And if anyone calls about Wander Franco in the next week or so, the Rays might only laugh before hanging up.
Along with pretty much everyone else, B/R has the 19-year-old shortstop ranked as baseball's best prospect. Such is life when a guy has power and speed and is coming off a .327 average and 21 more walks than strikeouts as a mere teenager at Single-A and High-A.
Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Nate Pearson
The Toronto Blue Jays were just 7-11 not too long ago. But then their offense came to life and combined with their already solid pitching, resulting in a recent six-game win streak.
The Blue Jays aren't wanting for a whole lot right now, but neither their offense nor their pitching staff is fully equipped for a deep playoff run. The former could use some depth, while the latter would benefit from either (or both) an impact starter or a late-inning reliever.
Alternatively, the Blue Jays could hope that Nate Pearson recovers from a sore elbow in time to give them a boost in the stretch run.
Washington Nationals: RHP Jackson Rutledge
In fairness, the Washington Nationals can only be grandfathered into the contention conversation right now.
A year after winning the World Series, they're having trouble coming together and keeping up in the NL East. They almost certainly won't sell at the trade deadline, but they'll need to string a few wins together before they can consider shopping for bats or arms.
As it is, the Nats already have two top prospects (Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia) operating as regulars in their lineup. With that unlikely to change, Jackson Rutledge is the most untouchable prospect that they have down on the farm.
The 6'8" right-hander went to the Nats with the No. 17 pick in the 2019 draft and then posted a solid 3.13 ERA in his first 10 professional outings. With Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin getting up there in age, the Nats should be thinking about having the 21-year-old in their rotation down the line.