Top 5 MLB Prospects Who Could Soon Be on the Trading Block
We’re now over two months into the 2014 season, which means it’s about that time of the year when teams begin to assess—if they haven’t already, that is—whether or not they can contend for a postseason berth.
For teams on the outside looking in, the remainder of the season presents a potential opportunity to part with either older or costly players—guys who can improve another team in the short term but offer minimal long-term value to their current organization. In such a scenario, a team that’s willing to move a legitimate major league asset typically receives an influx of young, high-upside talent in return.
So, who are the prospects that could be on the move this season?
While my selections for this article aren't necessarily based on any specific rumors, I did focus on prospects who are part of an organization that has a glaring need at the major league level. Along those same lines, I also looked at what each prospect means to his respective organization—both at the present and in the future—in order to determine whether he realistically could be used as a trade chip at some point this season.
Here are the top MLB prospects who could soon be on the trading block.
Gary Sanchez, C, New York Yankees
Top prospect Gary Sanchez’s chances of becoming the Yankees’ starting catcher in 2014 were crushed last offseason when the team signed free agent Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract.
After an impressive full-season debut in 2012, the 21-year-old didn’t progress as well as expected on offense last season, as he batted .253/.324/.412 with 42 extra-base hits (15 home runs) and an 87/41 K/BB in 509 plate appearances between High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton.
Back at Trenton this year for an extended tour of the Eastern League, Sanchez’s current performance is shaping up to be almost identical to his 2013 campaign. Through his first 53 games this season, Sanchez is batting .251/.328/.414 with 19 extra-base hits (seven home runs) and a 39/29 K/BB.
According to Andy McCullough of the Star Ledger, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman received interest in Sanchez from other teams following the McCann signing.
Considering the team’s lack of production from its second basemen this season—they currently rank 14th in the American League, trailing only the Orioles, with a -0.2 fWAR at the position—the Yankees could potentially offer Sanchez as part of a larger deal in order to land a player who fits their immediate and long-term needs at the position.
The organization might also choose to explore moving him in a deal for an arm or two, with the goal of improving the back end of the starting rotation and, in general, establishing more depth on the mound.
Devon Travis, 2B, Detroit Tigers
Selected in the 13th round of the 2012 draft out of Florida State University, Devon Travis has done nothing but open eyes since beginning his professional career.
The 23-year-old’s prospect stock took off last season due to one of the best statistical performances among all Class-A prospects. Splitting the year between Low-A West Michigan and High-A Lakewood, Travis batted a robust .351/.418/.518 with 177 hits, 48 extra-base hits (16 home runs), 22 stolen bases and a stellar 64/53 K/BB in 132 games.
Moved up to Double-A Erie for the 2014 season, Travis played in five games before landing on the disabled list with an injury, and that is where he’d remain for the next five-plus weeks. However, after returning to Erie’s lineup on May 19, Travis has gradually shed his understandable rust and is now putting up solid numbers in the Southern League, with a .302 batting average, 12 extra-base hits and 15 RBI in his last 22 games.
At 5’9”, 183 pounds, Travis, a right-handed hitter, does an excellent job of getting the barrel on the ball and showcases surprising power thanks to above-average bat speed and strong wrists. He’s a patient hitter who employs a consistent approach at the plate and lets the ball travel deep—qualities that should translate favorably as he moves up the ladder. And while his defense lags behind the bat, he still possesses the quickness, range and hands to handle second base at the highest level.
Unfortunately, at least for Travis, his opportunity to crack the Tigers’ everyday lineup at the keystone won’t come as soon as it seemed it might have at the end of his full-season debut. Following the acquisition of Ian Kinsler from the Rangers in the Prince Fielder trade, Travis is now blocked at the position through the 2017 season.
Given the lack of projectable second base prospects in the minor leagues, dealing Travis at the right time this season could help the Tigers straighten out its current bullpen situation.
Aaron Sanchez, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
We've all been waiting patiently for Aaron Sanchez to realize his potential since his impressive full-season debut in 2012. However, the 21-year-old right-hander has yet to improve upon that performance in subsequent years.
Specifically, Sanchez has struggled to find consistency this season in his first taste of Double-A, posting a 3.82 ERA and 57/40 K/BB in 66 innings spanning 14 starts. He’s walked three or more batters on eight occasions and fanned three or less six times.
At 6’4”, 200 pounds, Sanchez is an impressive athlete with a lightning-quick arm and explosive trunk rotation. I’m not sure if there’s another pitcher in the minor leagues that makes a mid-90s fastball seem so completely effortless. The right-hander’s command of his secondary offerings is still fringy, though he threw both his changeup and curveball with more conviction in strikeout counts last fall and did so once again during spring training.
According to ESPN Chicago’s Bruce Levine, the Blue Jays inquired about starter Jeff Samardzija before the season began, but the Cubs asking price of Drew Hutchison plus one of either Marcus Stroman (now in the major leagues) or Sanchez was simply too steep. Meanwhile, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports argues that the Blue Jays would be better off targeting a short-term rental such as James Shields, though it would still presumably cost the team one of their aforementioned young arms.
But with Toronto sitting atop the American League East behind baseball’s best offense—it currently ranks first among all 30 teams with a 114 wRC+ (weighted runs created), per FanGraphs—it’s increasingly doubtful that the organization will part with a major league asset such as Hutchison or Stroman. Plus, considering the team’s recent history of trading high-end pitching prospects (Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino), all signs point to Sanchez being moved at some point this season.
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Though viewed as a potential fourth outfielder upon entering the Dodgers system, Joc Pederson’s well-rounded, consistent production over parts of the last three seasons, not to mention his rapid ascent up the organizational ladder, has convinced the baseball world that the 22-year-old has a bright career as a first-division outfielder.
After ranking third in both OPS (.878) and stolen bases (31) last season in the Southern League, Pederson has emerged as one of top hitters in the minors this season—albeit in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Specifically, Pederson currently ranks first in the Pacific Coast League in on-base percentage (.436) and OPS (1.038), and he ranks third in home runs (16), slugging (.603) and stolen bases (15).
A left-handed hitter, Pederson has the potential for an above-average-to-plus hit tool, and he already knows how to control the strike zone and get the barrel on the ball. The fact that his power translated at every level continues to be a pleasant surprise and suggests the potential for above-average power at maturity.
As of now, however, Pederson’s chances of receiving consistent playing time in the major leagues this season will be contingent upon the health of the Dodgers’ everyday, veteran outfielders. At the same time, the 21-year-old is a valuable fallback option for the organization; he carries huge trade value considering his consistent track record in the minors and current proximity to the major leagues.
If the Dodgers decide to target an impact player (or multiple players) later this season in order to improve their chances of a postseason berth, then expect Pederson to be at the center of most trade talks regardless of whether or not he's actually made available..
Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates
To say that Tyler Glasnow impressed last year in his full-season debut would be a gross understatement. The 20-year-old was utterly dominant in the South Atlantic League, as he led the league in ERA (2.18), opponents’ batting average (.142), strikeouts (164) and strikeouts per nine innings (13.26).
This season, Glasnow has turned in an uneven performance through eight starts in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, as he’s posted a 2.15 ERA, .167 opponents’ batting average and 41-26 K/BB in 37.2 innings. The right-hander has also struck out 16 batters and allowed just three hits over 10.2 scoreless innings in his last two turns in the rotation. More significantly, he solidified his status as one of the sport's more exciting high-ceiling pitching prospects, even ranking as Prospect Pipeline’s No. 35 overall prospect following the 2014 draft.
A 6’7”, 195-pound right-hander, Glasnow’s arsenal is comprised of a heavy fastball that works easily in the mid- to upper-90s with late life, a sharp curveball that flashes plus potential and a changeup that will need ongoing refinement as he moves up the ladder. Basically, the sky is the limit for Glasnow; however, it’s hard to ignore the sizable gap between his current ability and his overall future potential.
If the Pirates ever decided to try to reverse their fate this season—they’re only 7.5 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central despite a losing (31-34) record—making Glasnow available in a trade would undoubtedly help the organization improve its on-field product at the highest level.