This week on Big Hype Prospects, we’ll take a peek at some players who could find themselves shipped to the Nationals in the next 12 days. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, seven teams are currently in the mix for Juan Soto, although a surprise or three are liable to check in on this once-in-a-decade opportunity.
Five Big Hype Prospects
Diego Cartaya, 20, C, LAD (A+)
(A): 163 PA, 9 HR, .260/.405/.550
(A+): 137 PA, 5 HR, .288/.423/.514
Seemingly everybody who goes to watch Cartaya comes away impressed by the precocious catcher. If there’s a flaw in his game, it’s that he’s already embraced an extreme approach as a hitter. His combination of 50 percent fly balls, 50 percent pulled contact, and near-30 percent strikeout rate mark him as a classic slugger. He’s on a 30-homer pace this season – a rarity both for players this young and for catching prospects. He even draws praise as a defender, especially for his arm.
Prior to the lost COVID year, Cartaya had a reputation for aggression. Since then, he’s averaged a 13 percent walk rate in 437 plate appearances. Unfortunately, the more discerning approach is also why his strikeout rate has spiked. There’s wiggle room for more adjustments related to his swing decisions.
The Nationals already have one former Dodger catching prospect in their lineup (Keibert Ruiz). Even so, Cartaya almost certainly would be included in a Soto trade. As a centerpiece, he might have less heft than others we discuss today. We’ve known for over a decade that a pitching prospect is considerably less valuable than an equally skilled positional prospect. That mostly comes down to attrition associated with pitching. Catchers lurk between pitchers and the other positions – various flavors of attrition can play spoiler to an otherwise great prospect.
Francisco Alvarez, 20, C, NYM (AAA)
(AA) 296 PA, 18 HR, .277/.368/.553
(AAA) 34 PA, .087/.324/.130
If Cartaya is precocious, then I’m not sure we have a word for Alvarez. He’s two months younger than Cartaya and outperformed the Dodger prospect while playing in Double-A. Although it hasn’t gone swimmingly (yet), signs point to improvement ahead. For one, his .125 BABIP and .043 ISO will normalize. Alvarez is arguably the top prospect in the minors.
While the Steve Cohen Mets have shown no qualms with expending resources, their farm system is thin. Moreover, acquiring Soto would ensure they surpass the fourth luxury tax tier. The 80 percent tax rate associated with payrolls over $290MM has already been dubbed the “Cohen Tax.” Many observers believe Patrick Corbin will need to be absorbed as well. Whether or not the Mets are willing to take on these extra expenditures, it’s unclear the Nationals would risk losing another elite outfielder to a division rival.
Anthony Volpe, 21, SS, (AA)
348 PA, 12 HR, 35 SB, .253/.351/.461
Volpe had a chilly start to his 2022 campaign. Since mid-May, he’s batting .303/.386/.541 with 9.0 percent walk and 14.8 percent strikeout rates. He’s been ready for promotion for weeks if not longer. That he remains in Double-A could reflect the Yankees willingness to trade him at the deadline. As the top true shortstop prospect, he’d go a long way towards landing Soto.
The Yankees know the appeal of generational talents to their fan base, but they also know the value of a good, homegrown shortstop. Volpe has all the makings of a future All-Star. The presence of Oswald Peraza – also a well-regarded shortstop prospect – means the Yankees can probably hang onto a middle infielder for their 2023 campaign. They can attempt to tempt the Nationals with the likes of Jasson Dominguez, Alexander Vargas, and a brace of Major League-adjacent pitchers like Clarke Schmidt, Luis Medina, Deivi Garcia, and Luis Gil among others.
Jordan Walker, 20, 3B, STL (AA)
329 PA, 8 HR, 15 SB, .304/.392/.486
Like Volpe, Walker has seemingly overstayed his welcome in Double-A and could be hanging out for trade reasons. The Cardinals have sufficient infield depth to consider Walker expendable. As we discussed in this column last week, his prodigious power is somewhat wasted on a grounder-oriented batted ball profile. That same approach has helped him to hit for a high average despite plenty of swing-and-miss.
St. Louis is stocked with a deep system of future contributors even if scouting reports aren’t always enthusiastic. Juan Yepez would match the Nationals desire for a Major League return, and he’s a somewhat awkward fit on the current Cardinals roster. Nolan Gorman, Matthew Liberatore, Zack Thompson, and Masyn Winn are just a few of the others who might appeal to Washington. They’ll need to offer a lot of quantity to secure a Soto trade.
Marco Luciano, 20, SS/3B, SFG (A+)
164 PA, 8 HR, .288/.360/.507
Luciano is currently sidelined with a back injury. Prior to landing on the shelf in early-June, he’d shown considerable improvement in his second exposure to High-A. Not only was he hitting for power again, he also rediscovered his previously adequate plate discipline. Luciano is expected to slide down the defensive spectrum, but there’s still a chance he might stick as a bat-first shortstop.
The Giants system features a few tantalizing talents, but they’re mostly in the low minors. In addition to Luciano and Luis Matos (see below), San Francisco could entice with Kyle Harrison, Patrick Bailey, or Heliot Ramos. Unlike some other suitors, they’d need to spend most of their best prospect capital to consummate a deal.
Gunnar Henderson, BAL (21) and Grayson Rodriguez, BAL (22): The Orioles might not be everyone’s favorites to land Soto, but their combination of top farm system, nonexistent future commitments, and pivot back to relevancemake them the perfect match – if they’re mentally prepared to make a bold move. Henderson and Rodriguez are now widely-regarded as Top 5 prospects. Baltimore has another dozen prospects who look like future big-league contributors. Henderson has run into some strikeout issues upon promotion to Triple-A. Rodriguez is currently recovering from a lat injury. He was on the cusp of making his Major League debut when he suffered the injury.
Luis Matos, SFG (20): Matos has struggled in High-A this season. His scouting grades point to a bright future. However, unlike many top prospects in this era, his prospect ranking is built upon projection on his frame and tools rather than on-field results. The Nationals have the wherewithal to be picky when dealing Soto. Matos’ inclusion will depend on what their scouts say.
Noelvi Marte, SEA (20): With Julio Rodriguez untouchable – even in a Soto trade – Marte is the Mariners next-best bullet. Since late-June, he’s batting an incredible .390/.478/.729 with as many walks as strikeouts. Seattle can prime the pump with Jarred Kelenic, George Kirby, Matt Brash, Harry Ford, and/or Emerson Hancock.
Robert Hassell, SDP (20): The biggest barrier for the Padres is their long-term finances. They certainly have the prospects to get a deal done including a number of MLB-ready players. Hassell looks like a plausible centerpiece, a player who could join the Majors in late-2023. He’s currently thriving in High-A. If the Padres prefer not to part with C.J. Abrams, Luis Campusano, or MacKenzie Gore – all of whom have big league experience and are well-regarded – then they could offer toolsy youngsters like James Wood and Jackson Merrill. Eguy Rosario and Esteury Ruiz should be appealing too.