Welcome to trade season here on Minor League Ball! Outside of the offseason and top 20 lists, this is perhaps the most exciting time of the year for prospects. I decided to offer a primer on valuable prospects who could be dealt as the deadline nears. We begin with every American League contender’s most valuable and movable youngster. This means that top prospects like Byron Buxton, who are certainly the most valuable, will not be included as they are off-limits to opposing teams. A 25-year-old reliever in A-ball might be easy to move, but he has no value. We are looking for a combination of both value and movability. For the purpose of this article, I consider a contender any team which is less than or equal to five games back in the second wild card as of July 26th. This a two-part series. The National League prospects will be detailed on Tuesday.
New York Yankees — C Gary Sanchez
Perhaps the most interesting team to watch at the deadline is the New York Yankees. The Bronx Bombers currently lead the mediocre AL East by seven games in the loss column, so the club is in prime position for another postseason run. I think the Yankees large lead in the division and new organizational philosophy concerning prospects will prevent them from trading Judge, Bird or Severino. However, tenured catcher Gary Sanchez could be available if the right trade arose.
Sanchez has been in the Yankees system for what seems like forever, but he is actually only 22 years old. Between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre, Gary has slugged an impressive 13 homers and posted a .268/.331/.811* slash line. The Santo Domingo native is a work-in-progress behind the plate. But with a cannon arm and strong offensive profile on his side, New York should have no trouble getting good value for the up-and-coming catching prospect.
Toronto Blue Jays — C Max Pentecost
The Blue Jays are in a muddled spot as we approach July 31st. With aging superstars like Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Jose Reyes all on the roster, Toronto is clearly in win now mode. However, contrary to most ball clubs, the Jays pitching is holding them back. If the team wants to make a run at the postseason, they’ll have to acquire someone who can go deep into games and provide quality innings. Such commodities will come at a cost, though.
I think, given the right deal, Toronto would be okay parting with catching prospect Max Pentecost. Pentecost, 21, was the Jays’ first round pick in the 2014 draft. He’s got a line drive swing with the potential to hit .300 in the major leagues. He won’t hit for power, but he will play solid defense and be a constant in your lineup for years to come. It’s risky to give up a talented player like Pentecost. Nevertheless, if the Blue Jays are really serious about making the postseason, a prospect of this caliber could net them a serious, possibly cost-controlled, return.
Kansas City Royals — SS Raul Aldaberto Mondesi
Raul Aldaberto Mondesi epitomizes the minor leaguer whose scouting report contradicts his numbers. All the tools are there for the 19-year-old, but he just has not been that good so far in professional ball. Obviously, a lot of those struggles can be attributed to his age. At every stop in his MiLB career, Mondesi has been around five years younger than league average. Still, when I look at the bat, I do not really see the potential for an above-average hitter. Raul has trouble recognizing breaking balls and often swings down at the ball, explaining his 50.4% ground ball rate (courtesy of MLBFarm.com).
There are a lot of positives to Mondesi’s game though. For one, mentioned earlier, this kid is young. He will get better every year and has plenty of time to develop. Secondly, Mondesi is supremely athletic, will likely stick at shortstop, and could be a spark plug with his surprising extra-base power. Rebuilding teams with time to spare will see that potential. Mondesi could be the catalyst for a big-time deal that would get KC what they need to make the World Series for the second straight year.
Houston Astros — 3B Colin Moran
Astros third baseman have not been good this season; they have combined to slash .215/.294/.424 with 21 home runs in 2015. That makes me a bit skeptical the team would deal 2013 first round pick, Colin Moran, in a deal this deadline. However, reports on Colin have been a tick down every since he left college. The sweet-swinging lefty’s minor league numbers are pretty underwhelming considering Moran’s college background and, furthermore, his power tool has just not developed.
A rebuilding team desperate for offense (thinking the Cincinnati Reds here) though, might not mind an athletic player who can hit for a good average, post a good on-base-percentage, and round out the lineup. I don’t know if Moran is enough to get a superstar like Price on his own, but, at the least, he would certainly be a very good starting piece for such a deal. One last note: the emergence of J.D. Davis as a legitimate two-way prospect at third base for the Astros makes Colin that much more expendable, in my opinion.
Detroit Tigers — OF Derek Hill
Despite a poor record, I decided to count the Tigers as a contender for now due to their big-name roster and the fact the team (4 games back for second Wild Card) still has a chance to make the post season. But if Detroit wants to play in October, they will need both resurgences from high-salaried pitchers like Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez as well as at least one significant upgrade in their rotation. After years of short-sighted trades, the Tigers’ farm system is pretty much depleted. One interesting name to watch on their farm, though, is 2014 first rounder Derek Hill.
Like Mondesi, Hill is a young player who has yet to add skills to the tools. He has a "bazooka for an arm", can fly on the base paths, and may have a good-enough eye to develop into a leadoff hitter. I had the opportunity to watch Hill last year in the Penn League. His defense and tools were very impressive. But, as reported, he needs a lot of development in order to reach his potential. Given the age on the Tigers’ roster, the team might just not have time to wait on a 19-year-old lottery ticket like Hill. If Detroit can get a consistent starting pitcher with some team control for the youngster, I think they might pull the trigger.
Minnesota Twins — OF Adam Brett Walker
Four years of patient rebuilding has finally paid off for the Twinkies. Not only is Minnesota sitting three games ahead of Toronto for the second wild card spot. The club also oversees a very balanced and advanced farm system that is starting to pay dividends at the big league level. One manifestation of this prospect depth comes in the form of Adam Brett Walker, a 23-year-old a power hitter currently raking at Double-A Chattanooga. On the year, Walker has 26 home runs, 84 RBI, and a .264/.318/.882 line in just 92 games.
The Twins could use a slugger like Walker. However, I think Minnesota could fetch a lot in return for Adam in a trade. Power is so down around the league that some rebuilding team will definitely overpay in order to land the budding prospect. If a team offered the Twins a controllable catcher or shortstop for a deal centered around Walker, I think Terry Ryan & Co. would have a hard time saying no.
Los Angeles Angels — LHP Nate Smith
I went back and forth between Nate Smith and Kyle Kubitza for this spot, ultimately settling on the lefty out of Furman. As a caution, that choice might be all for naught. LA’s depleted farms system means that any one-for-one deal is unlikely. The more probably trade scenario is a quantity over quality approach. Still, the Angels will have to make that strategy work. With the Astros just one game back in the loss column and in full win-now mode following the trade for Scott Kazmir, Los Angeles must make a move to strengthen their offense in any way possible.
Nate Smith, a 23-year-old in Double-A, could be an enticing piece for rebuilding teams looking for a near-ready starting pitcher. Smith, a southpaw, compliments an above-average change-up with a 90 mile per hour fastball and an average slider and curve. The former eighth round pick’s command and advanced feel for the game are two of his biggest strengths. As a heady player with average stuff and good control, Smith profiles as a No. 5 starter. As I mentioned before, that ceiling won’t be enough to get the Angels a star. But, if coupled with the right piece, the Halos may be able to use Smith in a depth trade that would strengthen the major league team and their chances of a division title.
Tampa Bay Rays — SS Hak-Ju Lee
The Rays do not typically sell the farm in exchange for short-term help. Sadly, I don’t think the team’s usual ‘stick with what we have’ approach will prove fruitful in 2015. Rays pitching has been stellar so far and will only get better as injured stars like Matt Moore return to form. However, Tampa simply has too many holes on offense to compete for a title. The highest-level prospect I could see Tampa parting with at the deadline is Hak Ju Lee.
Lee, a shortstop, has a great glove that should propel him to the big leagues. He couples his quickness with a strong arm and will play the position at a plus-level for a long time. The bat has always been the question. And it remains a question as he plays in Triple-A Durham for the second straight season. But everyone has offensive troubles at shortstop. And Lee, a left-handed hitter, has a fairly quick line drive stroke that may allow him to be a serviceable offensive player at maturity. At 24 years of age, time is not really on the Korean’s side. I still think a team desperate for answer at shortstop would plug Lee into their lineup and await the results. Left-hand hitting, plus fielding shortstops are extremely rare. The mere potential for some success at the plate should net the Rays a nice return for Lee, should they choose to deal him.
Baltimore Orioles — 1B Christian Walker
The Orioles showed a willingness to trade prospects to help the major league club last year by dealing Eduardo Rodriguez for the dominant Andrew Miller. Seven games out of the division and four out of the Wild Card, I don’t know if the O’s are comfortable parting with another top young player for a rental. However, I do expect GM Dan Duquette to make a move. I could see Baltimore trading first base prospect Christian Walker, who was called up to the bigs for a cup of coffee late last season. Walker, 24, has not replicated his 2014 success, but he still has the potential to be a major league regular.
The first baseman could hit around 20-25 home runs over the course of a full year, supplemented by solid defense and good plate discipline. That may not be too flashy. But I am sure some rebuilding team deprived of talent would love the chance to pencil in Walker as their first baseman of the future and maybe even the present. There is one more variable here. If Baltimore does not think Chris Davis is worth the big money he will be due next offseason, the Orioles will keep Walker as an insurance policy and let the deadline pass. Either way, Christian looks ready for a major league opportunity. If there is not a pathway onto the field in Baltimore for Walker, the O’s best route may be to deal the prospect and seek infield or rotation upgrades in return.
Texas Rangers — OF Ryan Cordell
In what could be a lost season for Texas, I have a hard time believing the Rangers will give up a premium talent just to get back into the playoff race. Still, the front office owes it to the likes of Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre to acquire some kind of improvement in centerfield or the rotation. I see Ryan Cordell as a potentially moveable piece at the deadline. A versatile outfielder that can play all three positions, Cordell can provide value with the bat and glove. He has a strong, linear swing with surprising pop from the right side of the plate.
Just an eleventh round pick in 2013, Ryan has already outplayed his draft spot. It might be time for the Rangers to cash in on their sound investment. To a rebuilding team, a player like Cordell is extremely valuable. Said team can use that defensive versatility to their advantage by placing Ryan wherever a need arises and not having to worry about developing too-many outfield prospects at one position. Ryan won’t pop than 15 home runs over a full season, but he makes up for that with a multitude of doubles and walks. A prospect who's stock is certainly on the rise (he owns a .295/.363/.855 slash line in 2015), the Rangers should be able to get a good starting pitcher or infielder to balance the team in exchange for Cordell.
*Note: I swap OPS for slugging percentage in the third part of the slash line because I find on-base-plus-slugging a more interpretable statistic. If you would like to know the aforementioned players' slugging percentages, just subtract the on-base-percentage from the OPS.