Even when a player has developed and shows he might be ready to handle major league competition, some clubs are still hesitant to promote from within, preferring instead to play a veteran incumbent. This is often particularly true if the club is trying to compete rather than rebuild. However, many organizations are willing to bet on youth, even if letting the incumbent go is more expensive.
Several top prospects figure to play heavily into the decision-making process this winter when their clubs consider trades and free agents to shore up their rosters. Here are just a few players who are good bets to get some consideration as viable options:
Shelby Miller, RHP, Cardinals
Right-hander Miller is ready to jump into the big-league rotation and has shown poise, command and stuff during his time with the parent club in September; if the Cardinals advance today, he could get the opportunity to show more of that in the postseason since he was added to the roster in place of the injured Jaime Garcia.
Miller was inconsistent at best during his first 17 starts in Triple-A Memphis before tweaking his mechanics and showing his offspeed stuff with more regularity. He also put back on some of the weight he lost over last offseason, which may have aided the life on his fastball and his durability within each start.
If the Cardinals are as convinced as I am that Miller is ready for a full season in the majors—workload should not be much of an obstacle, ether—it could mean the end of the line for soon-to-be free agent right-hander Kyle Lohse, even if Garcia's status for 2013 does not fall in the club's favor.
If Garcia is ready to go next spring, Miller could push Lance Lynn or Jake Westbrook to the bullpen, and certainly allows GM John Mozeliak to focus on improving the club's middle infield and bullpen depth rather than having to consider spending money or trade assets on the rotation.
Jurickson Profar, SS, Rangers
Profar is a potential superstar whose presence on the Rangers' big-league roster could alter the roles of several established veterans, including shortstop Elvis Andrus and second baseman Ian Kinsler. Profar has five tools, bettered only by his maturity and instincts, and showed this summer that he was too good and too polished to leave in Double-A Frisco; in his ultra-small sample size in the big leagues he appeared utterly unfazed by the challenge.
Since day 1 in pro ball, Profar has shown an advanced set of skills to go with his confident approach at the plate. He won't turn 20 until February but could be starting for the Rangers right out of spring training in April. If this were to happen, there’s a domino effect this will trigger, since there isn’t exactly room for Profar as the Rangers roster is currently constructed. Ian Kinsler could move to left field to help fill a potential void left by free agent Josh Hamilton, while Profar could slide to second base.
Or, on the more extreme side, Andrus could be dangled on the trade market to try and land pitching or a bat to replace Hamilton's production, opening shortstop for Profar. Some believe Profar could be transitioned to center field in the long-term, but the Rangers would lose some positional value on a player who has shown he can play an above-average shortstop.
Trevor Bauer, RHP, Diamondbacks
Bauer, the No. 3 pick in the 2011 draft, has fallen behind teammate Tyler Skaggs on the depth chart and has potentially fallen a bit out of favor by the organization. Once thought to be among the sure things for a rotation spot in 2012, Bauer does not appear to have any kind of guarantee to win a big league job to start next season. If Bauer makes the kinds of adjustments the organization has asked him to make, I have to believe Bauer starts spring training with the upper hand on southpaw Patrick Corbin.
Once established, it's not out of the question that GM Kevin Towers trades from his rotation depth, but neither Bauer nor Skaggs have solidified their futures as big-league starting pitchers. Both could do so in 2013, which could make for an interesting trade deadline in the desert.
Wil Myers, OF, Royals
One scout told me late in the year that Myers was the best player he'd seen all season in the minors, and that included Baltimore Orioles young star Manny Machado and the game's top catching prospect, Travis d'Arnaud of the Toronto Blue Jays. Myers' power developed this past season and he showed good athleticism, instincts and arm strength that profiles well in right field.
Myers, if the Royals believe he's ready to play regularly in the majors, could push out veteran Jeff Francoeur, but if GM Dayton Moore is willing to listen, the offers for DH Billy Butler or even left fielder Alex Gordon could meet his standards in the club's search for starting pitching.
Gordon is coming off a terrific season and is signed through 2016, suggesting in theory that he could bring back a frontline starting pitcher in return. One can argue Myers could replace most of, if not all of, Gordon's offensive value very early in his career, if not right away.
Chris Archer, RHP, Rays
Archer improved both his changeup and fastball in 2012 but, most importantly, began using both pitches to set up his breaking ball, a 70-grade slider that induces a high rate of swings and misses. This progress suggests he can start in the long term, something many scouts questioned entering the season.
Archer's presence could give the Rays the depth to trade a starter, possibly James Shields or, more boldy, ace David Price. Jeff Niemann and Jeremy Hellickson could also be bait. If the Rays stick Archer in the bullpen—something I'm not yet willing to concede is necessary, at least not long-term—he could set up or close as the club looks to replace free agent Joel Peralta or if the club chooses to cash in on the career year of Fernando Rodney by trading him this winter.
Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Twins
The Twins aren’t likely to compete in 2013, so the timetable for Arcia—mid-to-late next season or early 2014—still could impact the club's offseason plans. The left-handed hitting corner outfielder greatly improved his approach this season, nearly tripling his walk totals from 2011 while maintaining his power and enough of his ability to make consistent contact.
The Twins may look to move a position player or two this offseason, preparing for 2014 and beyond as they rebuild the starting rotation. Josh Willingham may be prime trade bait, having just completed a career year, and first baseman Justin Morneau, who has one year left on his deal, could also be shopped.
With Arcia well on his way to MOTO (middle of the order) status, the Twins can confidently trade a hitter, even Willingham, to directly acquire pitching or clear space to sign a free agent. An improved 2014 lineup that includes Joe Mauer, Denard Span, Trevor Plouffe and Arcia should be able to competitively support a solid pitching staff in the American League Central.
Adam Eaton, OF, Diamondbacks
Eaton torched the PCL to the tune of a .381/.456/.539 triple slash—including a .371/.445/.504 mark away from the hitter's paradise that is Aces Ballpark—and played well in 22 games in the big leagues before suffering a broken hand.
Eaton handles center field well with terrific range, thanks to plus speed, great jumps and smooth routes to fly balls and liners, and is ready to take over at the leadoff spot and allow GM Kevin Towers to consider trading either Chris Young or Gerardo Parra. A.J. Pollock's development could be enough to warrant the club moving both veterans, or even Jason Kubel, but Pollock lacks ideal power and might be more of a fourth outfielder or platoon option for next season.
The club has needs at shortstop, third base and in the bullpen, so it's highly unlikely the entire outfield crop returns, as it serves as the Diamondbacks' best chance to make a significant trade without dipping into their starting pitching. If Young and/or Parra are dealt, the Diamondbacks should not miss a beat, as Eaton is already a better player than either.