Beneath Late-Season Pennant Moves, Foundations Shift
If you're like most baseball fans this week, you're still a bit staggered by all the trades pulled off before yesterday's deadline, especially the ones that rebalanced (?) the National League West. But there's another side to all the wheeling and dealing: the future impact.
With the Dodgers and Giants loading up for an autumn war (and the sneaky Phillies arming both sides of the conflict), not to mention the surprise scooping of National League ERA leader Ryan Dempster by the Texas Rangers, a lot of pennant races have been jostled.
But in almost every trade of an impact player, front-line starter or possible game-changing veteran, there are prospects and young players sent the other direction, usually as payment for a team's 'win now' imperative. When teams cash in their future for a shot at 2012, there's always another team that benefits, and a farm can get much, much better as a result.
Dozens of young prospects were shipped in the past few weeks like so much loose change, and many of them could profoundly impact the future of their new ballclubs, come 2013 or 2014. So today, we'll take a quick look back at the most interesting of the young movers, with some thoughts on how their own fortunes may have shifted along with their mailing address.
The Houston Astros were the biggest "winner" in the cost-shedding derby this year. The team did more than any other franchise to build a future, acquiring more potentially-impactful prospects than any other club. As the team prepares to move to the very, very difficult AL West next season, it's easy to see why the Astros are loading up, especially on bats with high-power upsides.
Outfielder Marc Krauss, for example, the Diamondbacks' second round pick in 2009, should fit in nicely in a near-future Astro outfield. Kraus was recently hitting at a .283/.416/.506 clip at AA Mobile, and the Astros will be prepping the 21 year old to man a corner outfield spot in 2013. He should be ready, and his mix of patience and pop is just about right for a middle-of-order bat.
Lest it seem like the Astros downgraded by moving the certainly-good Chris Johnson for probably-good Krauss, note that they actually pulled off a 2-for-1, picking up fellow OF and 3B-capable hitter Bobby Borchering in the deal as well. Borchering, the Diamondbacks' first overall pick in 2009, was looking rough at AA Mobile this year (.130/.183/.208), but his A-level numbers (.277/.340/.534 with 18 homers in 81 games) are more indicative of his offensive ability. Given another year to brew, both Borchering and Kraus should be integral parts of an exciting young Houston lineup that will compete with the Mariners as one of the youngest in the AL.
If those two bats were all that the Astros added to the farm, it would be a huge improvement. But the team went much further, tacking on recently-stellar prospect Matt Dominguez from Miami (another OF/3B bat), outfielder Robbie Grossman from Pittsburgh (.266/.378/.406 in 350 ABs at AA Altoona), and even young catcher Carlos Perez from the Blue Jays, a player who was recently slashing .275/.358/.447 at A-Level Lansing, and who many regarded as Toronto's hard-hitting catcher of the future. Overall, the offensive potential on the Astros farm has gone from so-so to high-impact in the course of two weeks.
While the team didn't do as much to polish up the pitching side of the equation, they certainly weren't idle, either, acquiring former first round pick Asher Wojciechowski from the Jays. The Astros will probably move Wojo to AA immediately, the better to prepare him for a 2013 debut. Second rounder Rob Rasmussen, too, though last seen scuffling a bit in A-level Jupiter, will probably be moved to AA so that Houston's best development people can get to work on him as soon as possible. Young lefty Colton Cain, on the other hand, will probably need a little more seasoning time: he's still walking a few too many batters to really earn a promotion. Long-term, however, he's not that much less a prospect than Wojciechowski or Rasmussen; he's just on a slower path: Cain has been zipping up charts since his lowly eighth-round selection back in 2008's draft. He'll make the MLB roster in a year or two.
The Astros were the greediest prospect-collectors this season, but other teams also added stock for the future, sometimes in head-scratching ways, and sometimes by showing straight-up Machiavellian shrewdness.
The Miami Marlins, for example, shocked many by dumping once (and future?) superstar Hanley Ramirez before the deadline as part of a sudden fire sale. While it's almost too easy to criticize this erratic franchise (it's only six months ago they were loading up for a title run, remember?), they didn't exactly come out empty-handed. The team added at least one legitimate future star in infielder Zack Cox, St. Louis's number one draft pick in 2010, who was recently knocking balls around at a respectable .254/.294/.421 clip (with nine homers) in AAA Memphis. His full-season .293/.355/.432 line in AA last year is a better indicator of his potential, of course, and that's about where we expect him to end up after adjusting to MLB in 2013. The Marlins also added RHP Jacob Turner, the Tigers #1 pick back in 2010, who should be more than an adequate replacement for the departing Anibal Sanchez, given another year or two to get his feet wet.
Outfielder Gorkys Hernandez, catcher Rob Brantly and LHP Brian Flynn, also all new to Miami via multiple trades, could also contribute to the MLB team soon, though none of those are likely to be All Stars in the near future.
The Milwaukee Brewers (speaking of teams who were expected to compete) showed no fear in cashing in their biggest trade chip, ace Zack Greinke, once it became clear the season wasn't working out. In adding Futures Game standout Jean Segura, who was last seen stroking .294/.346/.404 at AA Arkansas, the Brew Crew may have found a franchise player, and one who might even return to shortstop now that he's no longer blocked by other talent.
The Brewers also added some future pitching that should help offset the loss of Greinke... eventually. Righthander Fautino de Los Santos is the most-ready for MLB, though he could use some help with his control problems first. Big righty John Hellweg is very promising, as he's zipped up everyone's chart in the years since being selected way down in the sixteenth round of the 2008 draft. Like DLS, Hellweg's walk rate is the prime concern, so it'll be very interesting to see what Milwaukee's coaching staff can do with him in the years to come. Young fireballer Ariel Pena has been hot in AA Arkansas (1.198 WHIP, 111 strikeouts in 114 innings), and while some scouts worry about his delivery, it's thus far hard to argue with his results. He'll probably be in Milwaukee late this season, if only from the bullpen.
The Philadelphia Phillies were seen as something of an unstoppable juggernaut before the season started, but baseball is nothing if not unpredictable. Marginalized by injuries and underperforming veterans, the Phils started shedding payroll fast and hard at the deadline, and while they didn't ever part with wise old Cliff Lee as expected, they did trade away two of their star outfielders, one each to the rival Dodgers and Giants, which we must admit has a whiff of cruel genius to it.
In return, the Phils add the sometimes-baffling and sometimes-baffled Ethan Martin, the Dodgers' first round pick back in 2008. The two-way player is all-pitcher now, but his 1.271 WHIP and 112:61 strikeout to walk ratio isn't exactly the sort of ace-level stuff anyone wants to see. He's still young, though, and his switch could flip from 'evil' to 'good' at any time.
Even more lucratively, the Phillies may have solved their long-term catching question by scooping the very talented Tommy Joseph from the Giants, who understandably undervalue hard-hitting catchers. The second-round draft pick was slashing .259/.305/.390 with seven homers at AA Richmond, which is more than impressive enough for a 21-year old who's still learning about calling professional ballgames. He's on a slow but steady course for a big league look in 2014 or even late next season, and while the team might still need to stable another veteran catcher for insurance, Joseph is a more interesting prospect than Sebastian Valle, and can now be seen as the eventual successor to Carlos Ruiz.
One team that was expected to make big moves ended up making only a couple, though they landed some premium high-upside youngsters as a result. The Chicago Cubs shipped off veterans Reed Johnson, Paul Maholm and "ace" Ryan Dempster in two trades that netted them at least two players with star potential: recovering ace Arodys Vizcaino was one of the Braves' shiniest prizes before taking a year off for TJ surgery, while Texas slugger Christian Villanueva was in the middle of a very big season (.285/.356/.421 with ) for high-A Myrtle Beach. Vizcaino could be a future ace, while Villanueva will almost certainly be a big part of the Cubs batting order in 2014 and beyond.
Other teams around baseball did less to improve their farms than the five big movers above, and of course many teams actually weakened theirs to win right now... but there were a few small upgrades to other minor league systems, as well. The Dodgers might be able to use infielder Osvaldo Martinez all over the diamond, for example, which could help them down the stretch as well as in the future, while the clever Twins will probably find a way to maximize the value of infielder Eduardo Escobar where his previous owners fell short.
The slow but steady Mariners, similarly, will probably make good use of pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar in the very near future. Pitchers Donnie Joseph and JC Sulbaran might benefit from changing their scenery to quiet Kansas City.
Perhaps the one prospect happiest for a new opportunity, aging slugger Lars Anderson could benefit most of all: the big guy might finally get the at-bats he needs to find a permanent home in Cleveland. Anderson, who has faltered in brief stints with the Red Sox over the last few years, continues to rake better than ever in AAA, most recently plastering gaudy numbers like .359/.415/.774 all over the board in AAA Pawtucket.
With the trading deadline now in the rear-view mirror and minor-league seasons wrapping up soon, transactions that impact farms will become less frequent, but as waiver trades continue to trickle in for the next month, as teams test out their youngsters in September, and as everyone continues to tweak and polish in the offseason, Scouting Book will be here to keep you up-to-date on the moves that matter.
We'll be 'graduating' all those rookies who have exhausted their eligibility in September, the better to get a clean look at 2013, and as autumn rolls around, we'll look to see how the farms all across baseball look very different than they looked last March. As always, we'll be updating our player capsules and other info all along the way to keep you on top of things: it's a long ride from here until spring training, but if you hang with us and hold onto the handrail, we'll do our best to point out everything of interest along the way.