When discussing top prospect trade chips, it’s important to note the difference between those who simply have the most value versus those who are most likely to be traded due to an abundance of organizational depth or talent ahead of them at the Major League level.
For example, Red Sox infield prospect Yoan Moncada might have more value than any prospect in baseball. His Double-A teammate, Andrew Benintendi, isn’t far behind. Yet, neither is on this list. Both have a pretty clear path to the MLB roster with their current organization in the very near future—Moncada as the starting third baseman and Benintendi in left field—which makes that the more likely scenario. Of course, if the Red Sox really wanted to make a splash and acquire an impact player signed beyond 2016—think Chris Sale—they’d have to be willing to part with at least one of them.
The players listed below might not be completely blocked from a starting job in the big leagues, as was the case with the recently-traded Dan Vogelbach, but some of them have obstacles for at least the next couple of seasons. Likewise, the players’ respective organizations are in a position to take the risk of a trade, because of sufficient depth, in order to improve their chances to win a championship in 2016.
1. Austin Meadows, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Even for Austin Meadows, who has quickly become one of the best outfield prospects in the game, there isn’t a spot available in the Pirates’ outfield for the foreseeable future with Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco locked up to long-term deals and Andrew McCutchen signed through 2017 with a very team-friendly club option for 2018.
After missing time with an orbital fracture suffered during Spring Training, Meadows posted an impressive .976 OPS with 16 doubles, eight triples, six homers and nine stolen bases in only 45 Double-A games. He had a 24-game hitting streak when he was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis on June 18th. If not for a hamstring injury that’s sidelined him for the entire month of July and the fact that he’s blocked by three of the best outfielders in baseball, there would be plenty of buzz surrounding his potential call-up for the stretch run.
The Pirates have been hesitant to trade away any of their top prospects in recent years. But with the 21-year-old Meadows capable of contributing at the Major League level no later than mid-2017, it could finally be the right time to cash in on one of their biggest chips.
2. Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas Rangers
When the Rangers gave Adrian Beltre a two-year contract extension through the 2018 season, it was clear that Joey Gallo wouldn’t be their starting third baseman anytime soon. His future big league position, at least with the Rangers, appeared to be as a first baseman or designated hitter. This meant that he’d have to leapfrog either Mitch Moreland, who had an .812 OPS in 2015, or Prince Fielder, who the Rangers are paying $18MM per season through 2020.
At this point of the season, it appears that this possibility is less likely than anticipated. Jurickson Profar’s return to health, position versatility and immense talent has resulted in another roadblock for Gallo. The former top prospect in baseball, Profar had worked his way into the mix as a utilityman with semi-regular playing time around the infield and at the designated hitter spot. With Fielder out indefinitely with a neck injury, Profar will take his at-bats while Moreland is still in Gallo’s way. Before you decide that Moreland should be benched in favor of Gallo, I should let you know that he has an OPS over .900 with seven homers since early June.
With Fielder facing an uncertain future if he has to undergo what would be his second surgery in three seasons for a herniated disc in his neck and Moreland eligible for free agency after the season, Gallo’s value to the Rangers is still high. But with first base prospect Ronald Guzman having a terrific season in Double-A, the Rangers could still be comfortable enough to deal the 22-year-old Gallo for an impact player who can help the 2016 team hold off the talented Astros for the AL West crown.
3. Clint Frazier, OF, Cleveland Indians
Lonnie Chisenhall and Rajai Davis, who have been getting most of the starts in the corner outfield spots for the division-leading Indians, aren’t major roadblocks for a guy with Clint Frazier’s skill set. But it’s not that difficult to picture an outfield of Michael Brantley, Tyler Naquin and Chisenhall in 2017 with top prospect Bradley Zimmer pushing for playing time and super-utilityman Jose Ramirez also in the mix. Same for 2018, which would be Brantley’s last year under contract by virtue of an affordable $11MM club option.
It’s also easy to make a case for Brantley-Zimmer-Frazier being the most talented outfield combination in the organization. Why break that up? Because this might be the best Indians roster since the mid-to-late 90’s. Their starting pitching is championship-caliber. The bullpen, however, is suspect and they can also use a catcher. If they have a chance to significantly upgrade both areas in the same deal—Jonathan Lucroy, Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith are said to be available—Frazier is the kind of prospect that can make that deal happen.