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.
4. Francis Martes, SP, Houston Astros
I’m only going to write this one time, although it does apply to all three pitchers on this list: You can never have enough starting pitching! However, young starting pitchers with six years of team control have a ton of trade value, especially because the “sellers” typically don’t have nearly enough of it.
With Doug Fister likely to depart as a free agent after the season, the Astros have several good internal candidates to replace him in 2017. Joe Musgrove, Michael Feliz, David Paulino, Francis Martes and Brady Rodgers could all be in the mix. Those are all very good pitching prospects. All will be in the Major Leagues someday—Feliz is already there and has pitched very well out of the Houston bullpen—but not all will break into the Major Leagues with the Astros.
Aside from Rodgers, who profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter, all of the aforementioned pitchers have at least mid-rotation potential. Because Martes has the highest ceiling—he’s holding his own in Double-A as a 20-year old (4.08 ERA, 81.2 IP, 75 H, 37 BB, 80 K)—he’d probably net them the biggest return in a deal.
5. Gleyber Torres, SS, Chicago Cubs
The Cubs’ position players aren’t just talented. They’re also versatile, which has allowed them to work some younger hitters into the mix who would otherwise be blocked if not for their ability to play multiple positions. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist, All-Stars at their regular spots, have also helped the cause with their ability to play several positions. Still, this is a roster that presents very little opportunity for an infielder hoping to break in the Major Leagues anytime over the next few years. That wouldn’t normally apply to a 19-year-old, but Gleyber Torres is on a faster track than most.
Torres is thriving in High-A with a .791 OPS and 18 stolen bases. Keep in mind that he started the year off with only six hits in his first 53 at-bats and has been one of the best players in the league since.
After acquiring Mike Montgomery to fill their need for a power lefty out of the bullpen, the Cubs might not need much more. But if they decide to do something big this month or in the offseason, Torres would be a nice centerpiece for any deal that would bring back an impact player.
6. Cody Bellinger, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers
It wouldn’t be unrealistic for first base prospect Cody Bellinger to finish off the 2016 season in Double-A, where he currently has a .778 OPS and 11 homers, play in Triple-A for at least the majority of 2017 and break into the Major Leagues as a 22-year-old in 2018. He could play in the outfield as a rookie—he’s spent time at all three outfield spots this season, but has Gold Glove potential as a first baseman—before taking over as Adrian Gonzalez’s successor the following season.
As easy as it is for me to look ahead to see how and when Bellinger fits in with the Dodgers, teams with close to a $250MM payroll are always in “win-now” mode. And the “win-now” Dodgers are also in serious need of some help with best pitcher on the planet Clayton Kershaw out indefinitely with a back injury. That means that Bellinger, who shot up the prospect ranking lists after hitting 30 homers and 33 doubles in his age-19 season with High-A Rancho Cucamonga, and any Minor Leaguer who isn’t expected to help in 2016 could very well be used as a trade chip.
7. Reynaldo Lopez, SP, Washington Nationals
Reynaldo Lopez’s big league audition as a starting pitcher did not go well, and that shouldn’t come as a total shock. He’s not ready to be a successful Major League starter. As a reliever in shorter stints, however, many believe that the 22-year-old can help the Nats right now. In fact, it’s more realistic to think he’ll be the team’s future closer rather than a starter in a rotation that doesn’t have a spot for him anytime soon.
Even if the Nats decline Gio Gonzalez’s $12MM club option for 2017, top prospect Lucas Giolito is next in line for a spot and there is still plenty of depth behind him, with Erick Fedde, A.J. Cole and Austin Voth each still in the mix as well. Lopez’s chances to break into the Major Leagues as a starting pitcher are better elsewhere, and a team that believes he can be a part of its rotation in the near future will place a high value on him in trade talks.
8. Tyler Beede, SP, San Francisco Giants
Since drafting and winning championships with first-rounders Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, the Giants have been unable to produce another great homegrown pitching star. They might not need one in 2016, especially if Cain can finally remain healthy, but there are a few that could make a case for a spot in the 2017 rotation, including Tyler Beede, Clayton Blackburn and Adalberto Mejia.
But with only one expected opening—Jake Peavy will be a free agent after the season—the Giants find themselves in a position of strength with the ability to deal a young starting pitcher with upside in order to improve their chances of winning a fourth World Series title this decade. Beede, a former first-round pick out of Vanderbilt that could pitch near the top of a rotation, is the one that teams will be asking for the most during trade talks.
9. Amed Rosario, SS, New York Mets
The offseason signing of Asdrubal Cabrera, the mid-season return of Jose Reyes and a second consecutive strong season in the upper minors from former first-round pick Gavin Cecchini hasn’t overshadowed the season that shortstop prospect Amed Rosario is having. In 90 games between Double-A Binghamton and High-A St. Lucie, the 20-year-old has put together a .323/.374/.466 slash line.
If the Mets, who are only 1.5 games out in the Wild Card race, don’t believe that they can overcome their injury woes and make another run similar to 2015, they won’t make any major trades before the Aug.1 non-waiver deadline. But if that’s not the case and they’re not ready to give up on their playoff hopes, they’ll need to add some talent to the roster. Rosario will net the best return out of any of their minor league assets.