The Untouchables: Prospects staying put come July 31

By Sam Dykstra

We’re in July now (hope you and yours had a happy Fourth), and in baseball, that means two things: the Major League All-Star Game and the Trade Deadline.

You could argue that July 31 is one of the key dates in the game. It’s when some teams decide they’re going to make a playoff push and sell (all or part of) the farm to make that happen. Conversely, it’s when under-performing squads sell their Major League parts to stock up the Minor League system as part of that “There’s always next year” attitude that’s always difficult to swallow.

Obviously, all that movement has its effects — positive and negative — on the Minor League systems involved in each deal. Sometimes it’s just tinkering, like the Geovany Soto-for-Jacob Brigham last year between the Cubs and Rangers, and other times it can drastically change an organization’s depth, like the Angels’ Zack Greinke deal that netted the Brewers Jean Segura, Johnny Hellweg and Ariel Pena.

With that in mind, there are certain players that general managers just refuse to deal. OK, OK, maybe refuse isn’t quite the right word. Any player can be traded for the right price. Nonetheless, there are certain guys in the Minors right now whose names you will hear in a lot of trade rumors but should be considered for all intents and purposes untouchable. In fact, that’s what I’ll call them — the untouchables.

(Note: I’m only discussing the prospects of contenders here, and although it’s still early, I made the cutoff of a contender at seven games out of a playoff spot. No one expects a team out of contention to deal one of its great prospects, so there’s no point in listing them here. Also, only prospects in the Minors are listed. Wil Myers and Gerrit Cole would have made it, but both are already with their respective big clubs.)

Xander Bogaerts, Boston: Before the season, began if someone told you Boston would have a surprisingly strong year, you’d expect that would mean contending for a Wild Card spot. That’d represent a nice bounceback season for the Sox and would best even the most optimistic expectations by fans and pundits alike. And yet they stand now, not only at the top of the AL East but also with the best record in the entire AL. They’ll assuredly be buyers come the 31st.

Just don’t ask about Bogaerts. After putting together a dandy .311/.407/.502 slash line in Double-A Portland, Boston’s next big thing is just one step away from the bigs at Triple-A Pawtucket with potentially a clear path to the Majors next season. Shortstop Stephen Drew, who is on a one-year deal, has been solid defensively but hasn’t produced with the bat, meaning the position could be open in 2014 for Bogaerts or Jose Iglesias to take with the other taking third. Given the star potential the Aruba native possesses and his proximity to the Majors, it’s very difficult to see a trade out there that includes Bogaerts going elsewhere.

Xander

Oscar Taveras, Michael Wacha, St. Louis: Sitting just two games behind the Pirates in the NL Central and 1 ½ games up for the first Wild Card spot, the Cardinals seem well-situated to qualify for their third straight postseason. They may also be in a unique position compared to other contenders. The help they seek might already be in the organization.

Top prospect Taveras has battled an ankle injury the past few months but mashed enough in 46 games with Triple-A Memphis that he could be considered for a Major League spot in the coming months, if healthy. Wacha, on the other hand, has already been with the big club for a three-game stint and showed he can hold his own (4.58 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) while up there. They are the two jewels in the Cardinals crown of a system, and considering the team wouldn’t have to wait long to enjoy them, they’re safe where they are.

(Note: I didn’t include Cardinals No. 2 prospect Carlos Martinez here for a reason. Nobody — St. Louis included — seems sure whether his future is in the bullpen or in a starter’s role.)

Aaron Sanchez, Toronto: The Blue Jays made the biggest waves of the 2012-13 offseason by acquiring Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle & Co. from the Marlins as well as R.A. Dickey from the Mets. Of course, they lost some pieces in the process. Most notably, they broke up their lauded trio of arms with Noah Syndergaard heading to the Mets system and Justin Nicolino going Miami’s way.

The one they clung to was Sanchez, and because of that, don’t expect them to let go of him in any trade talks this time around either. Pitching for Class A Advanced Dunedin, the 20-year-old right-hander owns a 2.73 ERA and 0.95 WHIP over 52 2/3 innings. He missed a month with shoulder issues but has made a pair of three-inning starts since his return. No doubt any response to a call by the Blue Jays, who sit 6 ½ games out of the AL Wild Card race after a lackluster start, will start with the other team asking for Sanchez. It will likely be answered with a (polite) hang-up.

Aaron Sanchez

Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees: Like the above prospect who shares his name, Sanchez isn’t likely to move anytime soon because he’s more or less a lone standout in a dried-up system. Sure, Mason Williams (34), Tyler Austin (66) and Slade Heathcott (89) also feature in MLB.com’s top 100 list, but all three have underperformed this season and are candidates to drop in the rankings when they are updated.

Sanchez, meanwhile, continues to plug along as one of the best catching prospects in the game. The 20-year-old slugger owns a .273/.333/.478 line with 12 homers and 55 RBIs at Class A Advanced Tampa. By continuing to put up such solid numbers as he’s gone up the chain, he’s only improved his standing in the organization. Unless the Yankees want their prospect cupboard to be completely barren, they’ll hold onto Sanchez at the end of the month.

Francisco Lindor, Cleveland: Let’s face it. There was talk that the Indians would contend for a Wild Card spot this season, but did you really expect they’d be this close to division contention? At best, they seemed maybe a year away from challenging the Tigers. And yet here we are.

What we can expect though is that Lindor won’t be going anywhere soon, even if the Tribe decides it’s going to go for it all this month. Known primarily as a great fielder, the Puerto Rico native has taken a huge step forward this year with the bat for Class A Advanced Carolina. He has improved from last year in all three categories (.310/.379/.420 vs. .257/.352/.355) and remains a decent threat on the basepaths with 19 steals. Oh, and that’s all come as the youngest hitter in the Carolina League at just 19 years of age. Lindor is the Indians shortstop of the future. There is no trade Cleveland would make that includes him at this point.

Lindor

Addison Russell, Oakland: Like Lindor and the Carolina League, not many 19-year-olds get to play in the California League. In fact, right now there’s just one, and it is Russell. His play has ebbed and flowed — he owned a .208/.280/.425 line in May and .333/.367/.622 in June — but there’s a lot to like, given the age. MLB.com’s No. 41 prospect plays a premium position at shortstop (for now) and is already showing signs that he could grow into one of the best power hitters there.

The A’s haven’t been ones to trade away their best talent for Major League help, although seeing them contending for a playoff spot around Deadline time is more of a recent phenomenon. (Noted exception: A.J. Cole was dealt in the offseason in the Mike Morse-John Jaso trade last offseason, but only after his stock dropped after a rough year at Stockton.) They stood pat when they were 3 ½ games out last year, and now that they find themselves atop the AL West, Billy Beane might choose to do the same again, even if outfield or starting pitching help would be nice. Either way, it would be a massive surprise to see him ship Russell’s potential away this early in his development.

Addison Russell

Archie Bradley, Arizona: I can’t put it any plainer than this. Bradley isn’t going anywhere this July. He’s always been a highly touted pitching prospect, but as has been said here and several other places, he’s taken another big step this season. The 20-year-old right-hander made five dominating starts at Class A Advanced Visalia and carried that success to Double-A Mobile, where he is 6-3 with a 2.04 ERA with 69 strikeouts and a .211 opponents’ batting average in 70 2/3 innings (12 starts). In the next round of rankings, he will challenge Dylan Bundy and Taijuan Walker as the game’s best pitching prospect. The D-backs aren’t going to let that go, especially if he could be in the Majors for a brief stay come September and for good as early as the start of next season.

To give you an idea of where Bradley stands in Arizona trade talks, consider this tweet from ESPN’s Buster Olney:

Coming soon: Prospects who could be moved come July 31

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