After focusing on the three worst teams in baseball last week, today we'll flip things and look at the best, zeroing in on possible moves to help a post-season run, or earlier mistakes in deals.
Tampa Bay Rays: Has the Master Plan Finally Reached an Apex?
In 2008, when the Rays were having their historic season, did nothing at the trade deadline. Seeing the team as ahead of schedule, the organization stuck to their master plan when it came to making improvements, focusing as much, if not more, on winning long-term as opposed to sacrificing any part of their future for a win-now scenario. Now, as the best team in baseball with an average age of 28, it's still an exceedingly young club loaded with upside, and the farm system remains strong. Come July, will the club finally focus a bit on making a run for the here and now with the thought that flags fly forever?
If so, they certainly have the chips to sit at the table and make a trade, the most intriguing of which might be Triple-A right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. Arguably the best command and control prospect around, he combines that skill with above-average stuff and would already be in the overwhelming majority of major-league rotations. There's no room in the big leagues for him right now, as the Rays’ rotation entered Tuesday's play with a 25-8 record and 2.84 ERA, but Hellickson also represents the most important insurance policy they have, as no team can go an entire season without needing that sixth starter.
Instead, come July, the Rays could be offering up any number of high-ceiling, further-away arms, and they are loaded with them as well. Their Low-A affiliate at Bowling Green in the South Atlantic League has scuffled with a 17-27 record, but don't blame starters Alex Colome and Wilkin Rodriguez, a pair of young Latin American fireballers who will likely be on the short list for teams looking to make a deal at the non-waiver trading deadline. Colome, the 21-year-old nephew of Seattle reliever and 10-year major-league veteran Jesus, has a 2.09 ERA in nine starts for the Hot Rods while limiting Sally League hitters to a .190 average thanks to a fastball than can peak in the upper 90s. Only 19, Rodriguez's heater ranks only a tick behind Colome's, and while he's displayed even better control, walking just nine over 47 innings, the lack of refinement in his secondary pitches has prevented him from dominating. These two high-ceiling arms could have new employers come August, without any sacrifice to the Rays' master plan.
Philadelphia Phillies: Can We Get a Do-over on the Cliff Lee Thing?
The Roy Halladay deal has certainly worked out so far, as the Phillies' new ace has averaged nearly eight innings per start with a 2.22 ERA for the team with the National League's best record, but what about the related Cliff Lee deal? It's far too early to be definitive on that one, but early returns are nothing short of poor. When the Phillies sent Lee to Seattle in December, they received three prospects in return: right-handers Phillippe Aumont and Juan Ramirez, as well as outfielder Tyson Gillies. Aumont and Gillies were both high on any Mariners' prospect rankings, and based on his size and velocity, some could argue that Ramirez belonged somewhere on that list as well. Meanwhile all three have seen their stock dip six weeks into the season.
A first-round pick in 2007, the Mariners converted Aumont to a relief role in 2009, hoping that he could move quickly through the system. However, the Phillies moved him back to a starting role this year, knowing that 200 innings are nearly always more valuable than 60. Unfortunately, many scouts are wondering if the relief profile is the one that works better for Aumont. In nine starts for Double-A Reading, Aumont's ERA sits at 6.25 with nearly as many walks (31) as strikeouts (32) in 40
Gillies has been equally disappointing for Reading, batting just .247/.291/.351, although hamstring problems limited him throughout the year before finally landing him on the disabled list two weeks ago. With a game that is nearly entirely based on speed, he needs his wheels to produce, and they just haven't been there. As for Ramirez, he's repeating High-A, where he had a 4.01 ERA in seven starts before hitting the disabled list. Even beforehand, his scouting report remained the same as it's been for years as a big, powerful right-hander with very good velocity but little in the way of secondary pitches.
The good news, of course, is that if the Phillies make a deal in July, they won't be trading for prospects—they'll be trading them away for big-league help.
Minnesota Twins: The Model of Success
When you talk to a team that is in the midst of rebuilding, the one thing you often hear is, “We want to be like the Twins.” It seems like a realistic goal. Teams can't aim to be like the Yankees or Red Sox, as they just don't have the resources, but the Twins are a franchise with a long history of success as a mid-market team, and they've done it through outstanding scouting and player development.
One aspect of the Twins' success has been shrewd drafting. With success comes a paucity of high draft picks (the team hasn't had a single-digit selection since drafting Joe Mauer first overall in 2001), but the Twins have made the most out of their late first-round selections. Both Denard Span (20th overall, 2002) and Matt Garza (25th, 2005) proved to be outstanding late first-round finds, but the Twins have changed things up of late, making surprising choices and proving doubters wrong. Only the Twins saw speedy center fielder Ben Revere as a first-round talent in 2007, but it's their selection of Kyle Gibson with their first-round pick last June that has some already calling it the steal of the draft.
Gibson, a right-hander from the University of Missouri, looked like a top-10 pick in the weeks leading up to the 2009 draft, but a stress fracture in his forearm put up too many red flags for most teams, dropping him all the way to the 22nd overall selection and into the Twins' lap. Minnesota had no problem going above slot to give Gibson a $1.85-million bonus, as a healthy version might have earned as much as double. So far in 2010, he looks like he might have been worth it.
Beginning the year in Low-A Fort Myers, Gibson had a 1.87 ERA in seven starts for the Miracle, and maybe even more impressively, compiled a ground-ball ratio of nearly 4-to-1. His stuff is all the way back to the prime of his college days, as he lives off a low-90s fastball that gets up to 94 mph with outstanding natural sink, with his slider and changeup both rating as above average. A promotion to Double-A has done little to slow him down, as he's allowed two earned runs over 21
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .