MLB Trade Rumors: Top Prospects on the Trade Block, Winter Meetings Edition
Beyond offering hope to fans of struggling teams, prospects serve a more important purpose at this time of the year.
With Major League Baseball’s winter meetings underway and every team evaluating their rosters for the 2014 season, prospects can be the deciding factor when it comes to an offseason blockbuster trade.
Last year, top-ranked prospects Travis d’Arnaud, Jake Marisnick and Wil Myers were each featured (as part of larger packages) in trades for All-Star players and went on to reach the major leagues during the 2013 season.
While outfielder Michael Choice and left-hander Robbie Ray were traded in smaller deals last week, there’s yet to be a trade involving a top-ranked prospect.
Similarly, there haven’t been many substantiated trade rumors so far involving prospects. However, that’s not to say the rumors aren’t out there.
So let’s break down the hottest trade rumors involving top prospects.
1. Corey Seager, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
After raking in the Pioneer League last summer during his professional debut, Corey Seager was moved up to Low-A Great Lakes for the 2013 season and batted .309/.389/.529 with 33 extra-base hits (12 home runs) and a 58-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 74 games.
Given his overwhelming success in the Midwest League, the Los Angeles Dodgers promoted the 19-year-old shortstop to High-A Rancho Cucamonga for the final month of the season. Somewhat surprisingly given the hitter-friendly environments of the California League, Seager struggled at the more advanced level, batting .160/.246/.320 with 31 strikeouts in 27 games.
Seager’s struggles stem from a combination of overstriding at the plate and drifting with his hips. As a result, he fights against his body to keep weight on the backside and in turn becomes vulnerable to quality secondary pitches. He’ll actively try to stay back and pepper the opposite field; however, that makes him susceptible to velocity up in the zone.
Overall, Seager’s bat-to-ball skills and ability to keep the barrel in the zone for an extended period of time give him a highly projectable hit tool, but there’s definitely some timing issues that will need to be worked out as the pitching improves.
The Dodgers are still in play for David Price and one of the few teams that lines up in terms of high-end prospects. Although it’s a weak rumor, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times notes specifically that teenagers Corey Seager and/or Julio Urias would likely be included in a deal of that magnitude.
And if the organization believes it can work out a long-term deal with current shortstop Hanley Ramirez, then the 19-year-old is suddenly expendable.
ETA: Late 2015
Potential Impact: First-division third baseman
2. Julio Urias, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Signed out of the Mexican leagues in August of 2012, Julio Urias doesn’t only have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the Dodgers system; he also has one of the higher ceilings among all pitchers in the minor leagues.
The Dodgers sent the then-16-year-old directly to Low-A Great Lakes for his stateside debut this past season, making him the youngest player to see time at a full-season level—not bad for a kid who otherwise would have been completing his sophomore year of high school.
Making 18 starts on the year, the left-hander posted a 2.48 ERA, .227 opponents’ batting average and stellar 67-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 54.1 innings.
Due to the combination of his age and the Dodgers’ desire to limit his workload, a majority of Urias’ outings this season were of the one- to two-inning variety. However, he did record a few three- and four-inning starts toward the end of the regular season after building up the necessary arm strength.
At 5’11”, 160 pounds, Urias has a projectable frame and is still growing. He possesses a rare combination of pure stuff and pitchability at such a young age. The southpaw employs a smooth, repeatable delivery with easy arm action, and he consistently uses his lower half.
Urias’ fastball sits in the low 90s, and remarkably, he’s been known to bump 94-95 miles per hour. In terms of secondary offerings, he features a curveball with plus potential, and he already demonstrates the confidence to throw it in any count. He also has an impressive present feel for a changeup, showing the ability to turn it over to create late fading action to the arm side.
Overall, Urias has a ridiculously bright future with true front-of-the-rotation upside. The Dodgers are likely to exercise caution with his workload moving forward, but there’s a realistic chance that the left-hander reaches the major leagues before his 20th birthday.
As mentioned in the previous slide, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times believes that Seager and/or Urias would have to be included in a trade for David Price. While the 17-year-old left-hander has ace potential, including him in a deal for the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner would be a no-brainer.
Potential Impact: No. 2 starter
3. Chris Owings, SS-2B, Arizona Diamondbacks
Promoted to Triple-A Reno for the 2013 season, 22-year-old Chris Owings thrived as one of the younger everyday players at the level and quietly emerged as one of the better up-the-middle prospects in the minors.
Owings posted video game-like numbers at Reno, batting .330/.359/.482 with 180 hits, 51 extra-base hits (12 home runs), 81 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 125 games. As a result of his success, he was named both the Rookie of the Year and MVP of the Pacific Coast League and was subsequently called up to the major leagues by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Appearing in 20 games over the final month of the regular season—most of his playing time came once the team was eliminated from the playoff race—Owings held his own with a .742 OPS, five doubles and 10-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61 plate appearances.
Although he lacks a plus attribute, Owings has the potential for five average or better tools at maturity. At 5’10”, 180 pounds, Owings, a right-handed hitter, has a direct bat path and knack for barreling the ball.
The power potential may be the most surprising aspect of his game, with impressive extension after contact that enables him to generate considerable backspin carry. However, his approach is still too aggressive and has the potential to be exploited against advanced pitching.
The Diamondbacks are now in trading mode after acquiring Mark Trumbo from the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday as part of a three-team deal. Next on their agenda, according to Nick Piecoro of AZCentral.com, is landing a starting pitcher, likely through a trade involving one of their young shortstops.
With two major league shortstops in Didi Gregorius and Owings, the Diamondbacks could theoretically afford to trade either player this offseason.
Owings has more trade value given his age and offensive upside, so expect him to be part of a potential deal.
ETA: 2014 (debuted in 2013)
Potential Impact: Above-average middle infielder
4. Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees
Gary Sanchez entered the 2013 season as the New York Yankees’ top prospect and future catcher.
In 2012, he enjoyed a breakout campaign, batting .290/.344/.485 with 48 extra-base hits (18 home runs), 85 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 117 games between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. Understandably, expectations were high for the young slugger heading into his age-20 season.
Opening the year back at Tampa, the 20-year-old struggled to progress offensively, batting .254/.313/.420 with 21 doubles and 13 home runs in 94 games. The Yankees moved him up to Double-A for the final month of the season, and he held his own with a .744 OPS in 23 games.
Sanchez showcases above-average power potential from a well-balanced swing, with plus bat speed and a feel for striking the ball. However, he has an overaggressive approach and tends to give away too many at-bats. His ability to control the strike zone has improved over the last year, but he still has plenty of room to improve.
In general, he’s an impressive young hitter, and the bat should play regardless of future position. Defensively, Sanchez has improved significantly over the last two years, but he still has a long way to go.
The 6’2”, 220-pound backstop possesses solid athleticism and agility, though it may not last for long as he continues to develop physically. It could also impact his ability to stick behind the plate moving forward. His blocking and receiving skills are still pretty raw and leave room for improvement. Sanchez’s arm strength is his biggest asset and helps negate some of the weaker aspects of his current defensive profile.
However, Sanchez’s chances of becoming the Yankees’ catcher were crushed when the team signed free agent Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract with a sixth-year vesting option, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.
According to Andy McCullough of The Star Ledger (via Twitter), general manager Brian Cashman has received interest in Sanchez, among others.
Compared to J.R. Murphy, who could serve as a solid backup to McCann next season, Sanchez would bring back greater value in a trade, perhaps for an outfielder or starting pitcher.
ETA: Late 2015
Potential Impact: Above-average starting catcher