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July 14, 2010

Future Shock

Org Watch: Braves, White Sox, Cardinals

by Kevin Goldstein

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The trade market is heating up—the deadline just over two weeks away—and we've already looked at the prospects with the highest trade values. But three squads that are enjoying success in the majors—the Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals—have very little on the farm to help swing a deal. This is obviously a problem for all three teams, as they're locked in competitive races with the likes of the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, Detroit Tigers, Minnesota Twins and Cincinnati Reds; if you look at that link above, almost all of those squads have the necessary prospects to help make a trade.

Let's look at the situations in Atlanta, Chicago and St. Louis more closely to see why they lack the potential trade chips.

Atlanta Braves: Imbalanced, inflexible

The Braves don't have a particularly bad system, but it's headlined by top-of-the-line pitching prospects that aren't going anywhere. Julio Teheran is in the conversation for the top right-hander in the minors and, before he got hurt, Arodys Vizcaino was close to joining the discussion as well. Along with Randall Delgado, the Braves see the trio as future rotation fixtures; with them off the table, Atlanta has few chips left. Its top position prospect, Triple-A first baseman Freddie Freeman, is lined up to assume the big-league job next year. The drop-off from there is quite deep. Toolsy shortstop Mychal Jones could generate some interest, but not the kind that is going to get anything big in return. Another long shot is once highly rated outfielder Jordan Schafer, who is doing nothing at Triple-A this year except producing ugly scouting reports; he could be an extra player in a deal with a team willing to take a chance.

As disastrous as the Mark Teixeira deal was for Atlanta—both in terms of how much they gave the Texas Rangers to get him and what little they gained in sending him away—one player received in the package from Anaheim is starting to create some buzz among scouts. Originally signed in 2005 by the Angels as a draft-and-follow, righty Stephen Marek has been rejuvenated as a reliever and boasts a miniscule 0.69 ERA in 37 appearances split between Double- and Triple-A. His fastball has been up to 96 mph this year and his breaking ball is a plus power pitch. He's close to the big leagues and, if the Braves don't want to bring him up, others teams might.

Chicago White Sox: Nothing left

Chicago went from potential seller to buyer by landing in first place at the break thanks to a 25-5 run to close out the first half; but if you believe in the White Sox, you believe in this team as it stands right now.

The White Sox had a bad system entering the year and it's gotten worse due to some poor performances. Most notably, catcher Tyler Flowers is hitting just .198 since May 1 and, according to scouts, he's making no progress in his well-below-average defense behind the plate; some talent evaluators have said he's actually gotten worse.

One player who has taken a step forward while generating considerable interest from other teams is Brent Morel, but his availability depends on the White Sox making some difficult long-term decisions. With Paul Konerko and Dayan Viciedo already big-league corner infielders, Morel is the odd man out. Two months ago, moving Konerko seemed logical; now, that's out of the question because of the White Sox's contending status. A 2011 timetable for Morel is reasonable, but that's only assuming Konerko departs via free agency this winter.

A third-round pick in 2008, Morel isn't the next big thing, but he's nearly universally seen as a solid everyday third baseman down the road. Hitting .311/.356/.431 between Double- and Triple-A, Morel is more of an average/doubles hitter than a pure power threat. Scouts also love his max-effort style on defense. The White Sox envision a future with Viciedo at first with Morel manning the hot corner, but Morel could be the only player who could garner something important down the stretch.

St. Louis Cardinals: One is untouchable, the rest are "eh"

Entering the season, the Cardinals' system pretty much began and ended with 2009 first-round pick Shelby Miller, who for the most part has lived up to expectations by easily hitting 98 mph while striking out 72 in 52 1/3 innings during his full-season debut at Low-A. He's almost assuredly untouchable, but who does that leave for the Cardinals to dangle as bait? The answer is no one.

One scout who was recently assigned to watch the Cardinals' prospects and viewed the Double-A Springfield and High-A Palm Beach squads said, "I didn't write up a single position player as a future everyday big-leaguer." Things are really no different at Low-A Quad Cities, while the Triple-A Memphis roster is loaded with up-and-down types other than second baseman Daniel Descalso, who some see as a future second-division starter.

That's really the system's strength—a Triple-A squad loaded with players who are going to make it to the big leagues, albeit in bench and middle-relief roles. That kind of assurance and closeness has some value, but not enough to make a difference for the Cardinals.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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