Red's Prospects Included
Contenders use prospects as trade bait
Every July, there's a lot of discussion of which prospects might be available in trades. But in the end, few of those guys actually are traded because top prospects -- the most common topics of discussion -- usually don't change hands.
Instead, the prospects who are traded tend to be midlevel prospects who project as major league regulars; under-the-radar guys the acquiring team likes a good bit more than the players' current team does; and hyped guys the selling teams have soured on and are making an active effort to move.
So here's an attempt to put the names of some the top prospects on each contending team into categories:
• The star -- The team's best prospect. In other words, the player every selling team will ask for, but probably won't get.
• The solid guy -- Probably the player most likely to be traded for each organization because he's a good prospect but not the system's best, and doesn't project as a star.
• The sleeper -- Someone I particularly like in each system who could represent a chance to acquire an undervalued prospect.
• The suspect -- The player each contending team is most likely to try to foist on sellers, where the player's hype or reputation exceeds his true potential.
I've limited the list to teams I think have a legitimate shot to be buyers in the July trading market, so no sub-.500 teams (Cleveland, Minnesota). I also owe a hat tip to Clay Davenport at Baseball Prospectus, as I used his playoff odds report to help me separate the wheat from the chaff.
New York Yankees
Most of the Yanks' minor league talent lives in Class A, putting them in a similar boat to the one Boston is in, with little to trade this year despite some good long-term potential.
• The star: Philip Hughes is the only Yankee farmhand above A-ball with any serious trade value. He has a plus fastball with excellent command and control, and his curve has a chance to be a plus pitch. He'd probably be the second- or third-best prospect in most systems.
• The solid guy: Brett Gardner is the Yanks' version of Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury -- plus speed, plus defense, plus plate discipline, but minus power. There is no way this guy plays a day in the Bronx.
• The sleeper: Jose Tabata is a long way away, but a 17-year-old hitting .300 with power in a full-season league is special by definition. He's built like a smaller Gary Sheffield, has plus power and a plus arm, and makes hard contact. He's one of the few Yankees bats with real star potential.
• The suspect: Eric Duncan was a first-rounder in '02, but the Yankees have pushed him too aggressively and he has never had that breakout year that would mark him as a prospect and give him real trade value. After stumbling in his first Triple-A exposure this year, he's blemished.
Boston Red Sox
A slew of extra picks in the last two drafts have helped restock the farm system, but few of those players have advanced enough to be major trade bait this year.
• The star: Jon Lester is a big, physical left-hander with a plus fastball in the low 90s and a plus slider (which he calls a cutter) that is a probable out pitch in the big leagues, as well as a fringe-average curveball. His first big league start came in less than optimal conditions, and he has struggled with his control in Triple-A, but he still has a good chance to be a front-line starter for many years.
• The solid guy: Jacoby Ellsbury is a plus defensive center fielder with good plate discipline, but his slashing swing isn't likely to generate enough power to push him to star status.
• The sleeper: Edgar Martinez spent six years in Boston's farm system as a catcher, hitting a combined .223/.282/.298. In 2004, the Sox gave him 10 innings in the Sally League; they must have liked what they saw because they converted him to the mound full-time in 2005. He throws a 93- to 95-mph fastball with a hard mid-80s slider and has been dominant in Double-A this year.
• The suspect: David Murphy was the Sox's first-round selection in 2002, but his power hasn't developed as expected. He projects more as a fourth outfielder than as an everyday player. Knee problems have slowed his progress, as well.
Toronto Blue Jays
Two factors -- extremely conservative drafting, especially in the first round, and a major trade with Milwaukee for Lyle Overbay -- have left the Jays' system in its weakest state since the late 1990s.
• The star: The Jays don't have a star prospect of the same caliber as other players with that label here, but their top prospect is left fielder Adam Lind, a third-round pick in 2004 with a quick bat and 25-30 homer potential. With few other legitimate hitting prospects in their system, the Jays aren't likely to let Lind go.
• The solid guys: Curtis Thigpen was only a part-time catcher behind defensive specialist Taylor Teagarden at the University of Texas, but he has developed into an average glove behind the plate, and he has been on a tear the past six weeks, showing good power and plus plate discipline. Last year's first-round pick, Ricky Romero, is a lefty with three average pitches and plus command, but he had a late start this year because of minor elbow pain.
• The sleeper: Jesse Litsch is a little-known right-handed starter with a plus slider and an average fastball, but he's best known for superb control and competitiveness. He's pitching extremely well for the Jays' high-A affiliate but easily could finish the year in Double-A.
• The suspect: David Purcey was a first-rounder in 2004, but he was raw for a college arm, with two plus pitches (fastball and a big-breaking curve) but below-average command. The Jays have been too aggressive in promoting him, and his control was awful in Triple-A before his demotion this week; he hasn't gone more than six innings in any start this year because of his high pitch counts.
It's a simple fact: If your big league club stinks for long enough, you'll get enough high draft picks to beef up your farm system. The Tigers deserve credit for hitting on their last two top picks, although their 2003 No. 1 (Kyle Sleeth) has been slow to return from Tommy John surgery.
• The star: Cameron Maybin was seen as the poor man's Justin Upton in last year's draft, a less-polished five-tool high school talent looking for a sizable signing bonus. He already has established himself as the jewel of the Tigers' resurgent farm system, playing good center field and showing his plus speed and flashes of power as well as a surprisingly adequate walk rate.
• The solid guy: Humberto Sanchez had a pretty undistinguished career before this season, but he has probably the best fastball left in Detroit's farm system and has improved his control dramatically.
• The sleeper: Jeff Larish is a bit of an old players' skills guy, drawing walks and hitting for power while contributing no defensive value. Those guys are often valuable in their 20s and end up as busts for their second employers, but Larish's 2008-2010 seasons would be appealing to many small-market clubs.
• The suspect: Jeff Frazier slipped in the 2004 draft in part because of an unflattering (to say the least) MLB Scouting Bureau video and in part because of an unorthodox swing that appears common to all the Frazier boys. He's now 23, still in A-ball, showing neither patience nor power, and his swing is resulting in far too little contact.
Chicago White Sox
The Sox's thin system can be attributed to trades involving two of the game's best prospects (Gio Gonzalez and Chris Young) this winter.
• The star: Josh Fields was a two-sport star at Oklahoma State who was still projectable because he hadn't really devoted himself to baseball. He has responded to Chicago's aggressive promotions with a breakout year in Triple-A, converting his plus bat speed and raw power into real results for the first time.
• The solid guy: Lance Broadway came out of nowhere in spring 2005 to become a legitimate first-rounder, and his late-breaking curve projects as a big league out pitch. A fringe-average fastball and mediocre strikeout rate might push him to a set-up role.
• The sleeper: Tyler Lumsden missed all of 2005 after surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, but has regained his velocity and is showing better control than he did at Clemson, although his low strikeout rate is odd in light of his plus breaking ball.
• The suspect: This could be former first-rounder Ryan Sweeney, who has yet to hit for any of the power projected for him (just 13 HR in more than 1,200 at-bats as a pro); or Jerry Owens, a poor man's Joey Gathright who is creating outs by the bushel in Triple-A Charlotte.
The A's were the originators of the "[forget] high school players" strategy, but a few disappointing drafts have left them with a system heavy on bench players and relievers and light on potential impact players.
• The star: The A's don't have a true star prospect in their system. The top name right now is Travis Buck, a first-rounder from 2005 who destroyed the Cal League in the early going this year but whose power is borderline for a guy stuck in an outfield corner.
• The solid guy: Jason Windsor missed chunks of time last year with minor arm injuries, but his stuff is still solid average and he has a great feel for pitching with plus control.
• The sleeper: Catcher Kurt Suzuki was one of the top offensive players in the country for Cal State Fullerton in 2004, but serious questions about his defense knocked him out of the first round. His defense has improved to the point where his bat -- a slashing stroke with plus plate discipline -- can more than carry it.
• The suspect: OF Richie Robnett was a bit of a surprise selection in 2004's first round, a toolsy, projection college guy taken by the club best known for taking polished players. Two years later, he still hasn't put the game together, with his inability to make consistent contact at the top of his list of flaws.
A system loaded with power arms in an industry that craves velocity, the Rangers should be in good position to add a player if they're still atop the division in July.
• The star: John Danks is a 20-year-old power lefty who already is throwing well in Double-A after struggling a half-season there in 2004. He still has some projection, but already has an average fastball with good command and an out-pitch curve.
• The solid guy ... sort of: Edison Volquez's numbers were only fair in Double-A last year when the Rangers recalled him; apparently, they had a need for a pitcher who could come in and get the crap kicked out of him every couple of days. He does have a tremendous fastball-changeup combination, and he's pitching moderately well in Triple-A at 22.
• The sleeper: Eric Hurley hasn't received the hype of the Rangers' top three pitching prospects, but he already has plus velocity with room to fill out his 6-foot-4 frame. He's pitching well in the Cal League but needs to improve his secondary pitches to remain a starter.
• The suspect: With Danks and Volquez, Thomas Diamond makes up the third leg of the vaunted "DVD" trio of prospects, but despite plus velocity, he has below-average command of his fastball and no breaking pitch to speak of. At best, he's a pen guy in the majors.
New York Mets
Just like the White Sox, the Mets used up a lot of their minor league currency to improve their big club this winter, so there's not much left in the till for Omar Minaya.
• The star: Mike Pelfrey was the top college arm in the 2005 draft and probably its third-best player, behind Justin Upton and Alex Gordon. Sporting a mid-90s sinker and an average changeup, Pelfrey probably will pitch for the Mets at some point this summer, although I think the Mets would do well to switch his breaking ball to a slider as his curve isn't a factor for him.
• The solid guy: The Mets dealt all their solid guys this past winter in deals for Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca, but one guy who could factor for the Mets in a trade is Philip Humber, their first-rounder from 2004 who had Tommy John surgery last July. Arguably the best pro prospect on the 2003 Rice squad that won the College World Series, Humber is pitching in extended spring now and should have a few weeks in the minors between now and the trade deadline.
• The sleeper: Fernando Martinez signed a pro contract in July 2005 with a $1.4 million signing bonus, and his pro debut this year in the Sally League -- at age 18 -- has been very impressive, as he has shown modest plate discipline and flashes of his raw power.
• The suspect: Carlos Gómez is a center fielder with big tools (plus power, plus runner), but he hasn't hit a lick this year in high-A, not even to repeat the empty batting average he posted at Hagerstown last year.
Pat Gillick wants to win now, creating a sort of "everything must go!" vibe around his club's limited set of prospects.
• The star: Gio Gonzalez came over in the Jim Thome trade and became the Phils' top prospect. A lefty with a plus curve and very good command, his major blemish is the shoulder soreness that ended his 2005 season early.
• The solid guy: Scott Mathieson dramatically improved his command and control between 2004 and 2005, turning himself into a solid midrotation prospect. He still doesn't have great secondary stuff, but the command of his fastball, which runs 90-94 mph, is a huge bonus.
• The sleeper: The Phils' system is short on midlevel prospects. Brad Harman is a mild sleeper, an Australian second baseman with good on-base skills who had a great 2005 but has struggled with Clearwater this year.
• The suspect: J.A. Happ is putting up good stats in Clearwater, but he's strictly a finesse lefty with a below-average fastball and no out pitch.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have the worst farm system of any contender, bar none. For a club that has talked publicly about how clever its player evaluation process is, St. Louis' draft results the past few years have been lousy, with only Colby Rasmus and 2003 15th-rounder Anthony Reyes showing even a chance of an impact.
• The star: There's only one candidate here, and that's Colby Rasmus, who probably wouldn't be the top prospect in any other system here. He has a good swing from the left side with the potential for above-average power and a good chance to stay in center field.
• The sleeper: Bryan Anderson is a 19-year-old catcher hitting .333 with patience and some doubles in the Midwest League, but although it looks as if he can hit, it's not clear he'll be able to stay behind the plate.
• The suspects: The rest of the Cardinals' system is populated with toolsy players who haven't panned out, such as Tyler Greene, a one-tool player (he can run) who doesn't hit, walk or hit for power; Mark McCormick and Chris Lambert, hard throwers without control and, in McCormick's case, with makeup questions; and Cody Haerther, a corner outfielder with some power who has a sub-.300 OBP this year in Double-A.
The Reds aren't typically known for a fertile farm system, but they've made some strides in that area, clicking with their last two first-rounders.
• The stars: The Reds boast two bona fide star prospects: Homer Bailey, a big 20-year-old righty with two plus-plus pitches (fastball and curve), and Jay Bruce, a power bat with a plus arm who is raking in the Midwest League at 19 but is still pull-heavy and doesn't have great instincts in the field.
• The solid guy: Joey Votto appears to be bouncing back from a terrible 2005, showing good power and plate discipline from the left side, but he's limited defensively to first base.
• The sleeper: Travis Wood might be too far away to have much trade value this summer, but he boasts the organization's best changeup and a plus fastball with fringy command.
• The suspect: Travis Chick was a touted prospect in the Padres' system, but in more than a year in Double-A, he has been wild and homer-prone, and he hasn't recovered the velocity he showed in his breakout 2004.
The Astros already have made the biggest midseason acquisition they're going to make (Roger Clemens), and their lack of prospects who are close to the majors will hurt their ability to add another major piece.
• The star: Hunter Pence is a bit below star caliber, as he's a slightly older slugger with questionable plate discipline. But he has 56 homers in 811 pro at-bats, including 16 this year in Double-A. He has an awkward swing you'd be loath to change, but that leads to a lot of swings and misses in addition to home runs.
• The solid guy: Troy Patton was one of the best pitchers in A-ball last year at 19. Now 20 -- who could have seen that coming? -- he's struggling a little with his control in a return to high-A but still features the low-90s fastball and plus changeup.
• The sleepers: Juan Gutierrez has a solid two-pitch combo of a plus curve and a fastball that's a tick above average. He has dialed his whole performance up this year despite making a two-level jump from low-A. Shortstop Ben Zobrist is also worth a mention; his defense is questionable, but he can hit and gets on base.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Dodgers scouting director Logan White has stocked his employer's system with a passel of high-ceiling players who'll be very attractive to trade partners in July.
• The star: Chad Billingsley just made his major league debut Thursday, and although it's probably a touch premature, he's still the Dodgers' best hope for starting pitching help from within. Billingsley has a plus fastball up to 95 with a 12-6 curveball that gets good depth and a hard slider.
• The solid guys: Andy LaRoche is a dead-pull hitter with modest pop who suddenly developed outstanding plate discipline in the middle of 2005. You'd like to see more power out of a corner bat, but the OBP skills and plus defense still project him as an everyday player.
• The sleeper: It's hard to have a sleeper in a system as well-regarded as the Dodgers' is, as players like Scott Elbert and Tony Abreu would be better fits in the "solid" category. One possible value guy in L.A.'s system is Xavier Paul, a left-hitting outfielder repeating high-A who is still young (21 years old) and who has posted a .286/.355/.465 line against right-handed pitchers at that level.
• The suspect: Joel Guzman's big tools come with a big makeup problem -- one pro scout called him a "dog" -- and his performance in Triple-A this year was quite poor considering his environment.
One of the majors' deepest farm systems keeps getting stronger thanks to the shrewd, controlled-risk drafting of scouting director Mike Rizzo.
• The stars: There are several, but it's hard to see a scenario where shortstop Stephen Drew or outfielder Justin Upton is traded. Drew in particular is more likely to help Arizona this year than anyone the team is likely to acquire in July.
• The solid guy: Carlos Quentin projects as an above-average corner bat, with great plate discipline and good doubles power, but he's part of Arizona's surplus of outfield/first-base bats and would vie for the title of best prospect traded this year if he's dealt. Chris Young, a center fielder acquired in the Javier Vazquez trade this past December, is somewhere on the cusp of "star" caliber, and GM Josh Byrnes is going to have a tough time deciding where to draw his "untouchable" line.
• The sleepers: Miguel Montero is an offensive catcher who is adequate behind the plate; although his 2005 stats were boosted by his home park, he has continued to get on base and show moderate power this year. Carlos Gonzalez has shown up near the top of a lot of prospect lists based on his five-tool package, but he's still quite raw at the plate.
• The suspect: Dustin Nippert has a big fastball, but his knuckle-curve is often out of the zone and he doesn't miss enough bats for a guy who'll be expected to pitch in a hitters' park in Arizona.
The Rockies' system is a bit below the median among contenders, but the bigger obstacle is that they've been outscored on the season despite having a winning record.
• The star: Troy Tulowitzki was the Rockies' first-round pick in 2005 and already is hitting well in Double-A. He's a pure shortstop with a hose for an arm, but he needs to tighten his plate discipline a little bit.
• The solid guy: Ian Stewart is a third baseman with good power to all fields. Although his performance this year in Tulsa has been disappointing, he's very young for Double-A (21) and might still be feeling the effects of a wrist injury he suffered in the Arizona Fall League.
• The sleeper: Chris Iannetta gets very little publicity for a solid defensive catcher who hits for average, draws walks and has modest power. He also has bounced back well from a broken left wrist that ended his 2005 season.
• The suspect: Juan Morillo throws enough gas that he has been banned from Fall River. But like most ultrahard throwers, he doesn't have a plus second pitch, and he has struggled with walks at every stop so far.
San Diego Padres
Call it bad luck or bad evaluating, but taking Tim Stauffer and Matt Bush with their first picks in 2003 and 2004 and some very quick flameouts of other high selections have left the Padres with a meager cupboard.
• The star: George Kottaras is one of the better-hitting catching prospects in the game, and he's the only potential impact bat in the Padres' system. He has power and outstanding plate discipline, and he should stay behind the plate.
• The solid guy: Cesar Carrillo should have been a top-10 pick in the 2005 draft, but his slight build (6-3, 177 pounds) had many scouts questioning his stamina and future health. He has a low-to-mid-90s fastball and two average secondary pitches, as well as plus command, but he's on the DL right now with a strained forearm.
• The sleeper: Chase Headley was a popular name among stathead draft watchers in 2005, but despite his tremendous plate discipline in college, he projects as just a capable reserve in the big leagues.
• The suspect: Ben Johnson can run, he can throw, he can play defense, but he can't hit. And that's not a minor flaw.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants have made no secret of their disdain for the draft, and its first round in particular. Their approach has yielded one of the worst systems among contenders this year, including the lack of a single star-caliber prospect.
• The solid guy: Travis Ishikawa is a power-and-walks bat who had a breakout 2005, but he was off to a slow start in Double-A this year when he was called up to the big club. He's a plus glove at first, but at that spot, you must hit to pass "Go" and collect $200.
• The sleeper: Jonathan Sanchez is a lefty with a low-90s fastball and two decent secondary pitches (slider and changeup), and he projects as a short reliever without the major platoon issues that plague most left-handed pen guys.
• The suspect: Marcus Sanders has no power and can't throw because of a football injury to his shoulder, but he can really run. It's no surprise; he gets plenty of practice running back to the dugout after all the outs he makes.
Very good for future reference.