The Untouchables: Prospects who shouldn’t be traded by July 31
By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com
For some, this is the second-most exciting month in Major League Baseball. (We can all agree playoff baseball in October trumps all.) About halfway through July, we get the All-Star Game and get to celebrate not only the best of the best from the first half but also the game itself, as we’ve seen in each of the past two Midsummer Classics with the going-away parties for Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter.
Then there’s July 31, one of the most important dates on the baseball calendar. It’s the non-waiver trade deadline, the final day teams can wheel and deal freely in attempts to strengthen their rosters for the stretch run or shore up their farm systems during what is otherwise a down year. The biggest deal from last July was the one that sent Matt Garza to the Rangers for C.J. Edwards, Mike Olt, Justin Grimm and a player to be named later (Neil Ramirez). The Jake Peavy to Boston/Jose Iglesias to Detroit and Bud Norris to Baltimore trades produced some headlines closer to the deadline day itself.
The trade machine got churning in a big way this year when the Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija to the A’s for top prospect Addison Russell, Billy McKinney and Dan Straily.
As we get closer to July 31 — only 15 days away as of this writing — it’s time to consider which prospects you won’t see moved in a deadline deal this year. Each prospect you see here plays in an organization where the Major League club is within seven games of a playoff spot and could be conceivably seen as buyers come the deadline.
Corey Seager, shortstop, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have been in go-for-it mode ever since changing ownership groups back in 2012, and with the best record in the NL and a one-game lead over the Giants for the top spot in the NL West, that certainly hasn’t changed this season. The club has been linked to left-handed starters Cole Hamels and David Price this July. The price for either is expected to be steep and would perhaps surpass the package the A’s sent to the Cubs for Samardzija. That likely means not just one but two top prospects as well as other pieces.
Luckily for the Dodgers, they have four prospects among the top 51 in MLB.com’s overall rankings with Seager (28), Joc Pederson (29), Julio Urias (50) and Zach Lee (51). It’s easy to say because he’s the top of the top here — and that’s for several good reasons — but Seager should be the one the Dodgers refuse to send away.
As one of only 11 California Leaguers 20 years old or younger, the left-handed-hitting shortstop, brother of Mariners All-Star Kyle, ripped through the Class A Advanced circuit through the season’s first half, posting a .352/.411/.633 slash line with 18 homers, two triples and 34 doubles (most among all Minor Leaguers) in 80 games with Rancho Cucamonga. (News broke out at the Futures Game that he’s headed to Double-A Chattanooga this week, but nothing official has been announced yet.)
MLB.com gave both his hit and power tools 60 grades in the offseason, but it’s likely that those numbers could go up upon the next evaluation, especially given his demonstrated ability to drive the ball both to the gaps and over the fences.
The biggest questions surround his defense. His projected offense would be incredible for a shortstop, but many see the 6-foot-4 infielder eventually moving over to third. Even then, his offensive profile will be a plus. Seager’s as exciting a prospect as the Dodgers have in their system right now, and yes that includes Urias, who is also impressing in the Cal League at only 17, and Pederson, who really should be in the Majors by now given the way he’s slugged in the PCL. Either one of those would make for a great centerpiece, especially Pederson, who is surplus to LA’s outfield situation at this point, and would allow the Dodgers to keep one of the premier infield hitting prospects the game has right now. Those don’t grow on trees.
Lucas Giolito, right-handed pitcher, Washington Nationals
Giolito’s profile entering this season was filled with a lot of exclamation points and a couple question marks. The right-hander, who turned 20 on Monday, has two incredible pitches in his fastball and curveball while his changeup rates as above-average. He was finally going to be able to showcase that in his first full season since undergoing the Tommy John surgery in 2012 that kept him out most of 2013.
Through 14 starts with Class A Hagerstown, Giolito has provided some answers to those health questions. With the Nats doing a good job of limiting his innings — they kept him out for most of May with the belief that they’d rather see him finish the season strong than have to cut him off early — the 6-foot-6 hurler owns a 2.47 ERA with a 9,9 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 through 65 2/3 frames. With that ability to back up the reports with results, Giolito has shot up midseason rankings, going from No. 13 overall to No. 6 for Baseball Prospectus and from 21 to 11 for Baseball America. (MLB.com hasn’t updated their rankings yet — he still sits at No. 36 there.)
Other teams, who should have had Giolito at the top of their trade request lists already, will undoubtedly mention the fireballer again and again in trade talks given his on-field production. But right now, the right-hander presents an all-too-great piece in the NL East leader’s future plans. He could very well end up being the top pitching prospect in the game within the next year as he gets further and further away from his surgery, and the Nats should treat him as if he already is.
Daniel Norris, left-handed pitcher, Toronto Blue Jays
Norris has been one of the biggest risers among pitchers on the prospect scene in the first half.
The 21-year-old left-hander put up an 8.44 ERA in 13 appearances (42 2/3 innings) in his first season of pro ball back in 2012, but scouts always liked his four-pitch mix (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup). The results have finally begun to match the potential. In 13 starts for Class A Advanced Dunedin, he posted a 1.22 ERA, 1.88 FIP, 10.3 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9. The Jays saw enough to promote him to Double-A New Hampshire, where he’s posted a 4.24 ERA in four starts but has also struck out batters at a rate of 13.2 K/9. He was ranked among the game’s top-33 prospects by both BP and BA on their updated lists.
Toronto, which sits four games back of the Orioles in the AL East, could use some offensive depth given its rash of injuries as well as help in the bullpen. Norris could be a big target in any talks, so there may be some desire to sell high on him given his ascent. But as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports pointed out last week, they could also bring up Norris and use him as a left-handed weapon out of the bullpen. Given both his potential and the way he’s pitched, Norris could be as valuable in that role right now for Toronto as anyone available on the trade market. Plus, there’s his potential ceiling as a solid member of the Jays rotation, so there’s potential value now and in the future. You don’t give that up for a simple depth move.
Pitching, both starting and relief, has been a point of concern for the Bucs, who sit ninth in the NL with a collective 3.76 ERA but are only 3 1/2 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central. With Gregory Polanco already in the Majors and Jameson Taillon out for the year following Tommy John surgery, two of their biggest prospect chips sit at Class A Advanced Bradenton, where they’ve both thrived.
Bell, deemed the prospect “most likely to rise in 2014″ by this blog back in January, has done just that, thanks to his production with the Marauders. The switch-hitting outfielder leads the FSL with a .502 slugging percentage, ranks second in both average (.335) and OPS (.886) and is now in the top-40 for both BP and BA. A promotion to Double-A Altoona — and away from the pitching-friendly confines of the Sunshine State — shouldn’t be too far away. If he can prove himself there against even more advanced arms, another ranking surge could follow.
Glasnow jumped on the scene with a 2.18 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 111 1/3 innings (13.3 K/9) at Class A West Virginia last season, and even after missing time at the start of 2014 due to a back injury, he has met even the loftiest of expectations at Class a Advanced ball. The 6-foot-7 right-hander owns a 1.91 ERA, 10.4 K/9 and .180 average-against through 14 starts (70 2/3 innings) in the FSL. Thanks to a 70-grade fastball and above-average curveball and changeup, he’s had no trouble getting the ball past hitters. His only trouble has been getting the ball in the strike zone, as evidenced by a 4.8 BB/9. Still, the strikeout numbers alone provide plenty of intrigue. As such, he’s now ranked No. 21 overall by BA and 31 by BP.
The Pirates have spent years building up one of the strongest Minor League systems in the game (ranked first preseason by BA), and Bell and Glasnow are big cogs in that ever-churning wheel for the Bucs at present. It would take a big prize to pry away either of those two, and unless Pittsburgh becomes a player for Price, the only moving the pair should make is up the Bucs’ chain.