The National League playoff race is much more defined than the American League's. In the Mets, Nationals, Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, Dodgers, and Giants, there are seven clear contenders for five playoff spots. Today, we take a look inside the farm systems of these contending clubs and try to evaluate the most valuable trade chip of all seven organizations. As a reminder, we will only include valuable prospects that have a chance to be moved. For instance, Michael Conforto of the Mets is a very good prospect, but he will not be traded at this deadline. A 25-year-old reliever in A-ball might be easy to deal. He has no value, though. We are looking for a combination of value and mobility.
New York Mets — OF Brandon Nimmo
For the first time since 2008, the Mets are buyers at the trade deadline. New York has already strengthened their lineup and bullpen with the acquisitions of Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Tyler Clippard. However, if the Mets want a better shot at making the playoffs, they'll need another outfielder.
Brandon Nimmo could be the catalyst for a deal involving such a player. While he hasn't broken out yet at the minor league level, Nimmo is an all-around outfielder that could be ready in two years or fewer. The former first round pick's best attribute is his tremendous batting eye. I watched Brandon about one week ago in New Britain; he literally will not swing at pitches outside the strike zone. The downside to this approach is that Nimmo sometimes passes on hittable pitches in favorable counts. But perhaps a new regime could solve that problem. On defense, Nimmo has good range and a good arm. He can play all three outfield spots, Brandon profiles as a starting outfielder that could slash .270/.380/.400 if it all comes together. A deal centered around the Wyoming native might just be enough to land Gerardo Parra or Josh Reddick.
Washington Nationals — RHP Erick Fedde
With the Mets announcing they are pushing for the division title via their bevy of trades, the Nationals must get cracking on upgrading their offense and maybe even their ‘pen. Yes, the Nats have lost many starting position players to injury this year. Still, it would be devastating to lose the opportunity to throw the three-headed monster of Scherzer, Zimmerman, and Gonzalez in a short series.
Erick Fedde, the Nats' 2014 first round pick, could be on the block if the right player were available. The 6-4, 180 pound righty fell in the draft due to injury concerns, but Keith Law has reported that his stuff has "come back quickly" from surgery. That certainly shows in the results. Fedde has been lights out over his first six starts in Low-A Auburn, posting a sparkling 2.88 ERA with 31 strikeout to go against just six walks. Fedde is back to throwing in the mid-90s along with a power slider and an average change-up. With his command, that's a profile of a number two starter. The way Erick's stock is rising, I would not be surprised if Washington could trade Fedde for a controllable star. Reportedly, the Reds were scouting Fedde just a few days ago.
St. Louis Cardinals — OF Charlie Tilson
Far and away the best team in the National League, the Cardinals may still be looking to acquire an extra outfielder at the deadline. If they choose to go that route, dealing Charlie Tilson to a rebuilding team could pay dividends.
The verdict is split on Tilson. Some think the 22-year-old has the tools to be a starter. Others believe a career as a fourth outfielder is in his future. I fall into the former camp. The 2011 second-round pick has a simple, line drive stroke and should hit for average at the big league level. He also has the ability to generate some lift when needed. In 2015, Charlie is only three extra-base-hits shy of his career high despite playing in only 95 games. In the outfield, Tilson has the athleticism and arm to stick in center. The combination of a good eye (career .350 OBP in the minors) and excellent speed (33 steals this year) bodes well for a future as a leadoff-type guy. Some young team may be inclined to give the Cardinals more than the youngster is worth. If they could receive a starting centerfielder or a first base upgrade in the deal, St. Louis might pull the trigger.
Los Angeles Dodgers — OF Scott Schebler
Just one game ahead of the surging Giants, Los Angeles is desperate to upgrade their rotation before the deadline passes. The Cueto domino has already fallen, so it is time for the Dodgers to get moving on a deal.
A 26th round pick given a $300,000 bonus in 2010, Scott Schebler is an athletic outfielder with pop from the left side of the plate. Even though he has not replicated his 2014 success in Triple-A this year, Scott has the skills teams crave at the big league level. Not only can the 24-year-old knock the ball out of the park, but he also has shown a proclivity for stealing bases, notching double figures in that category in all four full seasons as a pro, and can play anywhere in the outfield. Schebler's combination of polish, age, and success in the minors has probably merits a big league trial, at least in a bench role. The problem is that the Dodgers simply do not have the room or patience to give the young outfielder a chance. With offense so down around the league, a team with rotation depth to spare will be be willing to take a flier on Schebler. I think it is very likely that Scott is not with the Dodgers on August 1st.
Pittsburgh Pirates — SS JaCoby Jones
Pittsburgh is really playing for a Wild Card spot with St. Louis ahead by six games in the division. However, the Royals showed last year that it is possible to go far into the post-season from the one-game playoff. I think the Pirates will make at least one move as the deadline approaches, possibly to strengthen their infield or rotation.
A player who could be traded if Pittsburgh opts for a big splash is the 23-year-old Jones. Known for his loud bat after putting up a .288/.347/.504 line in the Sally last year, JaCoby has cooled down, predictably, as advanced pitching has taken advantage of his long swing. This year, Jones is down to .253/.313/.395. However, the oufielder-turned-shortstop has been playing solid defense up the middle and has a chance to stick there as he progresses. If the Pirates can corral a big name for Jones or even good depth, I think they take the deal. He is 23 and struggling in High-A, so, at the very least, it is going to take time for Jones to develop and age is not on exactly on his side. I think a rebuilding team would be willing to take a chance on Jones because if he can regain his stroke, he'll really be a good asset a short. JaCoby is one of the few modern shortstops who has 20+ home run potential.
San Francisco Giants — RHP Clayton Blackburn
After winning nine games out of their last ten, the Giants have closed the gap between themselves and the Dodgers as we enter the dog days of summer. San Francisco is in prime position for another postseason run. No team, though, wants to risk it all in that one game do-or-die contest. The Giants have to gun for the division crown.
I could see Clayton Blackburn, rated the organization's 5th best prospect by our own John Sickels in the offseason, included in a deal for an outfielder. Blackburn profiles as a No. 4 starter and will be ready for the big leagues very soon. The burly right-hander does not have one spectacular offering. But he knows how to pitch and effectively works in a mix of fastballs (touching 94 mph), curves, sliders, and change-ups. All of his pitches typically grade between 45-55 on the 20-80 scale. Blackburn has a very smooth and simple delivery, helping him command all his pitches and allow them to play above their average grades. And though Clayton's numbers are not eye-popping this year, his 3.84 ERA, 0.6 HR/9, and 2.4 BB/9 are excellent marks for a pitcher five years younger than league average in the hitters haven that is the Pacific Coast League. A rebuilding team close to making the jump may be interested in Blackburn. He won't be an ace. But he will eat innings and fill that middle-to-backend rotation slot.
Chicago Cubs — RHP Corey Black
The Chicago Cubs, like the Nationals, are going to have to make a deal if they want to stay ahead of the aggressive Mets. Just 2.5 games behind the Giants and armed with an elite farm system, the Chicago is in good position as we approach the deadline. I do not foresee the Cubs dealing any of their star prospects before July 31st. But it might just be the time to capitalize on the franchise's organizational depth and add veteran starting pitcher to provide quality innings and stability in a clubhouse full of youngsters.
Flamethrower Corey Black, acquired in the Alfonso Soriano trade with the Yankees back in 2013, could be available if the Cubbies are looking for such a deal. Black, 23, has a fastball that can reach 100 miles per hour and two potentially solid breaking pitches in his change-up and slider. The righty, who has started nine games this year, seems to profile more as a reliever due to his high-octane fastball and sometimes shaky control. However, interestingly enough, Black has been significantly better in starts this year (3.09 ERA, 1.071 WHIP) than relief appearances (7.15 ERA, 1.5 WHIP). Such splits give me hope that Black can develop into a quality No. 3 starter at maturity. That would be huge for the Cubs. But it might not be worth the risk to sit back and let Black develop, especially if he only turns out to be a reliever. Starting prospects who throw in the high-90s with (potentially) good breaking stuff are hard to find. A rebuilding team might be willing to deal that final piece Chicago needs for the playoff push in order to get their hands on the talented Black.