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December 6, 2011

Future Shock

Only the Good Buy Young

by Kevin Goldstein

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As Buster Olney recently wrote, this year's winter meetings could see a flurry of trades, as plenty of teams seem to be more focused on bargain hunting than playing with the big boys in what they see as an overpriced, weak free-agent class. Part of bargain-hunting involves buying low and identifying those players who might benefit from a change of scenery. Here are 10 players—some prospects, some early in their big-league careers—who just might be the kind of player who sees his career bolstered by a new uniform.

Gordon Beckham, 2B, Chicago White Sox
The eighth overall pick in the 2008 draft, Beckham was in the big leagues for good after just 59 minor-league games. But all the promise he showed as an amateur and as a rookie seems like a distant memory as—after sliding a bit in 2010—2011 was a disaster that saw him stumble to the finish with an unacceptable batting line of .230/.296/.337. The White Sox want to see if he can rebound with a new coaching staff, but the level of frustration he showed in 2011 may mean that only a fresh start could turn him around.

Engel Beltre, OF, Texas Rangers
Beltre has been one of the toolsiest players in the Rangers' system for five years now, but the statistics still fall well short of the potential; in 519 minor-league games, he's hit just .260/.308/.371. A monster athlete with power, speed and a good arm, Beltre has undone himself by never developing an approach, never learning how to drive balls and upsetting plenty of observers with his attitude on the field. He's still only 22 years old; a team trading for him would hope that the message received would be that it's time to make some adjustments.

Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies 
At times Brown has been considered among the top outfield prospects in the game, but the Phillies have done him no favors by jerking him around at the major-league level and going against the general thought that you don't bring up a top prospect unless you can give him consistent playing time. Brown has stagnated since a poor showing in 2010, and while the Phillies seem to have lost confidence in him, plenty of teams would like to show him some.

Kyle Drabek, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Drabek was the best prospect sent to Toronto by the Phillies in the Roy Halladay deal, and after he landed a job in the 2011 rotation, everything went downhill. Drabek stopped throwing strikes, put up an ERA over six for the Blue Jays, and then looked even worse after returning to Triple-A. The stuff, which includes a plus fastball and even better breaking ball, are still there, but he scuffled with his mechanics. With the Blue Jays loaded with young pitchers in their system, they might be willing to make him somebody else's project.

Aaron Hicks, OF, Minnesota Twins
Hicks is one of the most frustrating prospects in the game. If one made a ranking of top prospects solely on tools, Hicks would line up with nearly anyone. He's a plus runner, can put on a show in batting practice, and has one of the best outfield arms around. He even has a good sense of the strike zone—maybe too good—as he straddles the line between passive and patient. His slow development forced the Twins to repeat him at Low-A in 2010, and after a .242/.354/.368 line last year for High-A Fort Myers, there is little evidence that the former first-round pick is ready for Double-A.

Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, Kansas City Royals
Really the ultimate tease. Jeffress can touch triple digits with his fastball, and his power breaking ball can be equally dominating. But then there is the inconsistency, the inability to throw strikes, and the constant issues with marijuana use. Much of the industry believes that the primary factor for him getting added to the 40-man roster in his Milwaukee Brewers days was to avoid another positive test, which could have ended his career (union members are not tested for marijuana).

With the Royals already loaded with power arms in the bullpen—and adding more in the offseason with Jonathan Broxton—Jeffress has gone from potential closer to potential expendable.

Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick, OFs, Boston Red Sox
Kalish and Reddick have come up together through the Red Sox system and have similar potential as corner outfielders. Kalish is the more athletic of the pair, but Reddick has more power and the stronger arm. As of right now, Reddick is the starting right fielder in Boston, but as one scout put it, "They're both good enough to play every day in the big leagues… just not for the Red Sox." Both could be involved in potential deals that return older, more expensive upgrades.

Ethan Martin and Chris Withrow, RHPs, Los Angeles Dodgers
Martin (2008) and Withrow (2007) were both first-round picks and arguably have the best stuff in the system, but both are stuck at Double-A, regressing in terms of control. Flipping between the rotation and the bullpen also leaves little room for optimism. But both still have strong arms and the ability to spin it, although for the suddenly cost-conscious Dodgers, extracting prospects from them could prove to be difficult.

Kyle Skipworth, C, Miami Marlins
While cost certainly played a role in Skipworth being selected with the sixth overall pick in the 2008 draft, he was still universally seen as a talent worthy of the first half of the first round, regardless of bonus demands. But his career minor-league batting line of .220/.281/.365 is depressing for a player who was drafted more for his bat than his ability behind the plate, where he remains fringy. While Skipworth has hit just 40 home runs in 328 pro games, he still gets a hold of about one a month that leaves scouts buzzing, and they're not quite ready to give up on him.

Brett Wallace, 1B, Houston Astros
While he was a first-round pick just slightly more than three years ago, Wallace is already on his fourth organization, so what he likely needs is some stability more than change. He seemed to have finally found a home in Houston after hitting .388 in April last year, but he slipped to just .215 from there, was sent to the minors, and has no clear home on the 2012 roster without Carlos Lee somehow ending up back in the outfield. His star possibilities are all but gone, but some still see him turning into a Lyle Overbay type.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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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