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July 28, 2011

Future Shock

Overrated Contender Trade Chips

by Kevin Goldstein

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The final week before the trade deadline was a snoozefest until Wednesday morning, when the Giants and Mets conditionally agreed to a deal that would send Carlos Beltran to the Bay, while the Cardinals, White Sox, and Blue Jays consummated a complicated 11-player exchange in which Colby Rasmus moved to Toronto and Edwin Jackson to St. Louis. Finally some prospects were dealt, but the way teams are more interested than ever in holding onto their own players might be the cause of the big trade holdup in the first place. In Buster Olney’s recent article on ESPN.com, an executive told him, “I think teams increasingly value (or over-value) their prospects. In general, most GMs would rather make financial errors than errors involving prospects.”

It's a difficult thing to balance. Rarely is a rental—even a potential impact player like Beltran—worth six years of a cost-controlled prospect. But while it's impossible to match the two sides on a statistical level, flags really do fly forever. With that in mind, here are some prospects that the sellers in this market could be floating out there, but despite their performance or reputation, recent discussions with scouts show they should come with a buyer-beware sign.

American League East
Boston Red Sox: While the Red Sox have not been the subject of much rumor-mill chatter, there have been some predictions the team is working behind the scenes to make a big splash. Big splashes require big prospects. When the Red Sox gave right-hander Anthony Ranaudo the eighth-highest bonus in the 2010 draft, Boston hoped he'd return to the 2009 form that had him entering the spring as a potential first overall pick. An impressive early-season showing created some optimism, but he's yet to impress at High-A Salem. Multiple scouts have walked away from the 6-foot-7 right-hander’s games wondering what the hype has been about. “He's a big guy with a good delivery, but I don't see anything special about him,” said one American League executive. “His fastball spends a lot of time in the average-velocity range, and he tips his curve with a finger raised on the ball that is visible to everyone in the park. I just don't get what the big deal is about.”

New York Yankees: The Yankees nearly sent uber-hitting prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle last year in a Cliff Lee deal, and as he's still blocked by Russell Martin in the big leagues, Montero is the name most teams are after when talking to the Yankees. “The biggest problem with Montero is that if he can't catch, and our scouts don't think he can,” said a NL executive, “then all you have is a designated hitter, so that cuts out half of baseball as far as interest goes.” In addition, Montero's second year at Triple-A has been below expectations, generating some questions about his attitude and work ethic.

American League Central
Cleveland Indians: The Red Sox sent lefty Nick Hagadone to Cleveland in the 2009 Victor Martinez trade, and while it's taken a while to get fully healthy, Hagadone has reached Triple-A as a power bullpen arm seemingly on the verge of the big leagues, something that can have significant cache come trade time. It's easy to get excited about a 6-foot-5, 230-pound left-hander who can get into the mid-90s with his fastball, but despite that kind of scouting resume, one AL scout isn't sold on him as a future late-inning stopper. “It's 95, but it's also straight as an arrow,” he said. “I understand what all of the excitement is about, but for someone with his stuff, he's way too hittable.”

Detroit Tigers: The Tigers don't have many players to deal; they’ve taken prospects like righty Jacob Turner and third baseman Nick Castellanos off the table, but lefty Drew Smyly has created some buzz at High-A Lakeland with a 2.58 ERA, including a four-start streak in which he allowed two runs over 22 innings. A second-round pick in 2010, Smyly has yet to impress scouts as much as the stats would suggest. “He's just the perfect combination for a pitcher who gets over-hyped,” said an American League talent evaluator. “Not much velocity, but throws strikes and pitches in a very friendly league.”

American League West
Los Angeles Angels: The Angels are suddenly just two games behind Texas in the American League West standings, but at the same time, they tend to be among the game’s most cautious teams when it comes to dealing prospects. The highest-ceiling arm the Angels have is Garrett Richards, but since his days at Oklahoma, he's made a career of frustrating scouts. The power righty can touch 96 mph with his fastball and features a power slider, but despite a 3.23 ERA for Double-A Arkansas, scouts are left wondering how that kind of stuff can lead to just over six strikeouts per nine innings at Double-A. “I've seen him twice, and each time I get excited early in the game, and by the time he's done, I'm asking myself, 'Is that it?'” said a National League scout.

Texas Rangers: The Rangers have the kind of young pitching to make any team envious, but yesterday an American League scout brought up a shocking name when trying to come up with an overrated Rangers prospect. The scout blurted out, “What about Martin Perez?” It's an understandable choice—the left-hander has three plus pitches but rarely dominates, but the scout added that he's worried about the direction his stock is going. “He throws harder now, but he also opens up in his delivery with it. He's still a top-20 prospect in the game probably, but he might have been a better pitcher two years ago than he is now.”

National League East
Atlanta Braves: The Braves have made it clear to teams that they will not trade any of their big four arms this week, but one American League scout wonders if one of those things is not like the other. “For me, you have the three of [Julio] Teheran, [Arodys] Vizcaino and Mike [Minor], but Randall Delgado is a level below,” he said of the 21-year-old Panamanian at Double-A. “He's a fastball/changeup right-hander without a good breaking ball. I just want to see more.”

Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies have been attached to numerous rumors this week, and one prospect frequently mentioned in these rumors is slugging first baseman Jonathan Singleton, who has received considerable hype despite not living up to last year's remarkable .407/.500/.704 first month for Low-A Lakewood. “He's a solid guy, but he's not a stud, which is what they are trying to market him as,” said an American League executive. “It's July 27. Go look up what he's done over the last calendar year and tell me if that looks like a top-25 prospect.” Sure enough, in the last 365 days, Singleton has hit .270 with just 11 home runs in 125 games.

National League Central
Cincinnati Reds: The Reds have made it clear that shortstop Billy Hamilton is untouchable, but should he be? The fastest player in the minors, Hamilton has 74 stolen bases in 97 games, but he's needed a hot July just to get his season averages up to a paltry .254/.319/.337. “I love the tool set, but I'm not convinced he's going to hit,” said a NL scout. “How many guys put up those kind of numbers at Low-A and turn into impact players?”

Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers emptied what was already a shallow system to acquire Zack Greinke, and while Caleb Gindl’s .296/.380/.477 line might look like a breakout year at Triple-A Nashville, one National League scout isn't convinced he'll ever be more than a fourth outfielder in the big leagues. “He can hit, he's a nice guy to have, and you are going to get big-league value out of him,” explained the scout. “But he's small, the power isn't there and the defense is just OK.”

Pittsburgh Pirates: Will they go for it? The other 29 teams are still wondering that, but they've lost a potentially big trade chip in catcher Tony Sanchez, who has gone from the catcher of the future to a player hitting just .235/.342/.311 in 85 games while throwing out a disappointing 21 percent of opposing basestealers. “I mean, this guy was the fourth pick in the draft, and now he's doing nothing,” said a National League executive.

St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals made their big move yesterday by acquiring Edwin Jackson, but many believe they're not done yet. St. Louis is said to be one of the leading contenders for Padres closer Heath Bell. While trading away Zack Cox, last year's first-round pick, might seem crazy on paper, the Cardinals did the same with Brett Wallace in 2009 to add Matt Holliday, so seemingly nothing would be off the table. Like Wallace, Cox has reached the upper levels of the system in his first full season, but his .276/.343/.395 line at Double-A has produced more questions than answers. “He's just not the kind of athlete that deserves a big-league deal,” said an American League scout in reference to Cox’s contract. “He's an average-only bad-bodied third baseman for me.”

National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Arizona continues to surprise by staying within striking distance of the Giants, and they have a glut of first basemen, with minor-league home-run leader Paul Goldschmidt at Double-A, and a pair of higher 2009 draft picks at High-A Visalia in Matt Davidson and Bobby Borchering. While Borchering was Arizona’s top pick in 2009 and has slugged 19 home runs this year, scouts remain low on him. “Borchering is a guy they seem to be always talking about, but I'd still rather have Goldschmidt,” said one National League scout. “Borchering can't play third base, he doesn't have impact power, and he's maxed out physically.”

San Francisco Giants: The Giants already got the big offensive prize with Carlos Beltran, but that doesn't mean they're done. Southpaw Eric Surkamp, who at one point rumored to be a part of the package heading to New York, has absolutely dominated the Double-A Eastern League with a 2.00 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 108 innings, but scouts don't see an arsenal that is anywhere near as impressive as the numbers. “He doesn't throw hard, but he has deception and good secondary pitches,” said a National League scout. “He's very good at what he does, but he's basically a trick-pitch lefty.”  

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

Related Content:  The Who,  Impact Trade,  Untouchable Prospects,  Scout

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