Minor-League Trading Arsenals – Pre-Deadline Update by Tony Blengino July 29, 2015 Last week, we took a look at each AL and NL club’s arsenal of minor-league prospects, with which they could pursue coveted established big leaguers at the deadline. A number of transactions have been made since then, so an update would be useful in advance of the anticipated storm of moves likely to take place before the sands run out of the hourglass on Friday. Which teams are best positioned to acquire the remaining plums on the market? As we did last week, we’ll rank the 30 minor-league systems based upon my midseason position-player and starting-pitcher rankings. If you aren’t familiar with my minor-league lists, here is a brief refresher. They aren’t pure top-prospect lists; they basically serve as follow lists, after which traditional scouting methods are used to tweak the order. Qualification for my lists are based upon a combination of performance and age relative to league/level. The younger a prospect is at each level, the less production is required to get him onto the list. At level-specific “optimal ages” (22 at AAA, 21 at AA, 20 at High-A, 19 at Low-A), a player qualifies regardless of performance. At level-specific, much older ages (26 at AAA, 25 at AA, 24 at High-A, 23 at Low-A), you can’t qualify for the list no matter how loud your performance. Only full-season league prospects are considered. Does my method miss some prospects? A few. Defense-first guys at offense-scarce positions and pitch-to-contact types with high grounder rates sometimes slip through the cracks. I’m ready for those guys, and can easily go find them to add to my list in the adjustment phase. Still, the vast majority of productive major leaguers qualified for my lists at one point in time in their respective minor-league careers. This includes successful major-league relievers, most of whom started at some point in the minors. Of the many, many relievers in the All Star Game, only Mark Melancon and Darren O’Day never started as prospects. Every one of the others did, and qualified for my list. Exactly 303 position players and 144 starting pitchers made the cut this time around. The first two columns in the table below list each club’s overall total and number of top-100 position players on my midseason list. The next two list each club’s overall total and number of top-50 starting pitchers on my midseason list. The next two columns add the two together to yield each club’s overall prospect total, and their number of higher-end prospects, while the final two columns update the totals for transactions that occurred by midday Wednesday. The table is sorted by number of current combined total of T100 position players plus T50 starting pitchers. HIT HIT T100 PIT PIT T50 TOT TOT 100/50 ADJ TOT ADJ TOP TEX 18 7 10 4 28 11 28 11 HOU 19 9 6 2 25 11 24 10 CUB 12 8 6 1 18 9 18 9 NYM 11 7 5 2 16 9 15 9 PIT 15 6 6 2 21 8 21 8 TB 14 5 6 3 20 8 20 8 ATL 11 6 6 2 17 8 17 8 NYY 17 4 7 3 24 7 24 7 MIN 11 5 6 2 17 7 17 7 BOS 12 3 7 3 19 6 19 6 CLE 14 4 4 2 18 6 18 6 COL 10 4 6 2 16 6 17 6 LAD 7 3 7 3 14 6 14 6 PHL 14 4 5 1 19 5 19 5 BAL 5 3 5 2 10 5 10 5 KC 11 3 10 2 21 5 19 4 OAK 11 2 11 2 14 4 MIL 10 3 3 1 13 4 13 4 CWS 7 2 5 2 12 4 12 4 TOR 9 2 4 2 13 4 12 4 WAS 5 2 4 2 9 4 9 4 SD 11 3 1 12 3 12 3 SEA 6 1 3 2 9 3 9 3 CIN 9 3 2 12 2 13 2 MIA 6 1 2 1 8 2 8 2 AZ 9 4 1 13 1 13 1 STL 5 5 1 10 1 10 1 DET 9 1 9 1 9 1 SF 3 1 4 7 1 7 1 LAA 2 1 4 6 1 6 1 Let’s briefly recap the prospect movement that’s taken place so far and its respective impact on the rankings above. For each ranked prospect that has moved, we’ll look for comparable prospect rankings during the development phases of current major leaguers. Kiley McDaniel has broken down the bulk of these prospects from a traditional scouting perspective; today, for the purposes of this analysis, we’ll focus primarily their performance and age relative to the league. AL EAST – TAMPA BAY RAYS: Acquired 20-year-old RHP Eduar Lopez, who has yet to pitch in a full-season league. Just a live arm, a low-end lottery ticket. – TORONTO BLUE JAYS: Only one of the prospects moved in the Troy Tulowitzki deal, RHP Jesus Tinoco, 20, qualified for my midseason list, at #83. His closest comp, rank-wise, among current MLB ERA qualifiers, is Jason Hammel, who ranked #112 at age 21, as an A-ball prospect. That’s a bit misleading, however, as the other two hurlers in the deal, Jeff Hoffman and Miguel Castro, are potentially better prospects. Hoffman has only recently returned from Tommy John surgery, and the 2014 first rounder’s strikeout rate has been a bit disappointing. Still, his stuff has been solid, he appears healthy, and is competing well in Double-A just a year out of school. The worst thing that might have happened to Castro, 20, was making the Jays out of spring training. Coming into 2015, he had hurled only 30 full-season league innings, and would have been best served accumulating innings as a minor-league starter this season. He didn’t meet the innings-pitched criteria for inclusion on my list, despite his tender age for his Triple-A level. While run prevention has been the Jays’ issue this year, they boldly opted to send these three, along with Jose Reyes, for a long-term upgrade to Tulo at the shortstop position. AL CENTRAL – CLEVELAND INDIANS: Acquired SS Eric Stamets in exchange for David Murphy. Stamets, 23, is a defense-first shortstop who has never qualified for my top-prospect list. This isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, as Zack Cozart, Nick Ahmed and Jordy Mercer never did either. That said, those three — even Ahmed — all hit better than Stamets as a minor leaguer. He’ll play in the big leagues, but most likely as a utilityman. – KANSAS CITY ROYALS: The Royals boldly moved five pitching prospects to massively upgrade their big-league club for a deep postseason run. Johnny Cueto is a true #1, and Ben Zobrist is a Swiss Army Knife who’ll fit in left field now, and at second base later. Only two of the five pitchers moved qualified for my midseason list, but as with the pitchers acquired by the Rockies from the Jays, they are all legit prospects. Righty Aaron Brooks ranked #50, and lefty Cody Reed checked in at #119. Brooks also made my list in 2013 at #105. He’s an extreme command type who has been hit quite hard in an extremely small major-league sample. Rankings-wise, he’s a dead ringer for Braves’ lefty Alex Wood, at #115 and #41 in his two qualifying seasons. Brooks isn’t Wood; he’s actually older than him, and his lack of swing-and-miss stuff is a limiting factor as well. He does have a chance of starting in the big leagues. Reed has made great strides this season after posting a low strikeout rate in Low-A ball last season, but it should be mentioned that he pitched his home games at High-A Wilmington this season, in a very pitcher-friendly park. Like Tinoco, his most comparable current MLB starter rankings-wise is Hammel along with Kyle Lohse, who ranked #142 in 1998. Finnegan didn’t meet the innings pitched criteria for my list, but he is obviously “a guy.” Manaea also hadn’t pitched enough to qualify when my list created about a month ago, but did rank #82 in 2014. I’ve been a bit disappointed by his performance as a pro; he could turn out to be the classic hurler who peaked around age 20, in his sophomore year of college. He’s had some nagging injuries since, and hasn’t yet imposed his will as a pro. Still, a lefty with such upside is not to be taken lightly. John Lamb, who just turned 25 this month, isn’t what he used to be, but is still quite interesting. He narrowly missed my list at midseason, but has qualified four times in the past, peaking at #5 in 2010. Since then, however, he hasn’t cracked the Top 100. It’s a similar pattern to that of Ryan Vogelsong, who peaked at #44 in 1999 in his first year of qualification. He qualified four times afterward, never above #87, and didn’t break out until his thirties. Lamb also evokes Mike Montgomery, a former colleague of his with the Royals, who regressed before surfacing with the Mariners this summer. Obviously, the Royals have thinned their minor-league pitching ranks considerably, but for very, very good reason. AL WEST – HOUSTON ASTROS: Catcher Shawn Nottingham was the key piece dealt to Oakland for Scott Kazmir. He ranked #22 on my midseason position-player list, which is way, way up there for a catcher. Sure, he did most of his damage in Low-A ball, and it remains to be seen whether he can withstand the defensive rigors of his position at the major-league level. Still, only three current major-league catching regulars ever ranked that high on one of my lists; Buster Posey (#17), Derek Norris (#20) and Tyler Flowers (#21). RHP Daniel Mengden was also sent to the A’s; while he just missed my midseason list, he has a solid shot of qualifying at year’s end. With the #2 ranked system by this method, the Astros retain tons of bullets to go after big game at the deadline. – LOS ANGELES ANGELS: Despite possessing the game’s worst system using this method, the Angels have moved aggressively to patch holes prior to the deadline. They snagged Conor Gillaspie off of waivers to keep third base warm until David Freese returns, and acquired a trio of veteran outfielders – Shane Victorino, David Murphy and David DeJesus — for the cumulative cost of their salaries, Lopez, Stamets and vagabond 2B Josh Rutledge. Well executed bargain shopping by the Angels. – OAKLAND A’S: In addition to Nottingham, Mengden, Manaea and Brooks (already discussed), the A’s also acquired RHP Casey Meisner, ranked #80 on my midseason list, from the Mets. Meisner, like Tinoco and Reed, compares most directly to Hammel among current MLB starters in terms of prospect status at a similar stage in development. The A’s have improved their minor-league system more than any other club at the deadline to this point, doubling their number of T100/T50 prospects, and moving quantity-wise from the back to the middle of the pack. That’s a must when you move the likes of Kazmir, Zobrist and Tyler Clippard. NL EAST – ATANTA BRAVES: The Braves acquired RHPs John Gant and Rob Whalen from the Mets in the Juan Uribe/Kelly Johnson deal. Gant has never qualified for my list, and while Whalen didn’t at midseason, he ranked #180 in 2014. The Braves subtracted some salary and added middle-tier pitching inventory in this deal. – MIAMI MARLINS: The Marlins shed a ton of salary in the process of moving Steve Cishek to the Cards and Mat Latos and Michael Morse to the Dodgers, receiving little in way of prospect value in return. Reliever Kyle Barraclough was the return for Cishek; he’s had significant command issues throughout his career, and projects as a fringe big leaguer. – NEW YORK METS: No big moves yet, just some hole-filling at the expense of their second-tier pitching inventory (Meisner, Gant, Whelan, discussed above). Uribe and Johnson are reliable non-impact guys, and Clippard essentially replaces the suspended Jenrry Mejia. – PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: Closer Jonathan Papelbon was finally moved, to the Nationals for RHP Nick Pivetta. Pivetta has never qualified for my list, though he does hold some promise of being a late bloomer. The deal is more about getting off of the hook for Papelbon’s 2016 vesting option, so mission accomplished in that sense. – WASHINGTON NATIONALS: This one could be fun to watch; can’t say I remember a comparable situation, where a closing job was actually promised to an incoming player by a club who already possessed a younger, arguably better one as a condition of the trade being accepted. Stay tuned. NL CENTRAL: – CINCINNATI REDS: The Reds add three legit pitching prospects in exchange for a couple months of Johnny Cueto. Tough pill to swallow, but necessary. See Royals’ section for details. – MILWAUKEE BREWERS/PITTSBURGH PIRATES: 3B Aramis Ramirez moves to Pittsburgh to temporarily plug a hole, Brewers get cash savings and RHP Yhonathan Barrios, 23, a nondescript Double-A reliever. – ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: Cards take a flyer on Cishek, who is well paid but has two years of control remaining should be regain his form down the stretch. It costs them only money, and Barraclough. NL WEST: – COLORADO ROCKIES: The Rockies save about $50 million in guaranteed money switching from Tulowitzki to Jose Reyes, while significantly adding to their pitching inventory with the arrival of Hoffman, Castro and Tinoco. No sure things in the group, but tons of upside. Their handling of Castro will be key; there is still plenty of time to see if he can start, even if he needs to slide back a level in the short term. A team that has not made a move as of yet, but has the deepest arsenal with which to make a splash, is the Texas Rangers. They hover on the fringes of the AL wild-card race, but could easily land Cole Hamels through at least 2018 without severely damaging their arsenal. On the other side, you have non-participants to date like the Tigers and Mariners, who in their heart of hearts would love to buy, but in reality, need to take a step back, heed reality and take advantage of their opportunity to kick start the rebuilding of their minor league systems with some deadline selling. In any event, this should be fun. Strap in kids, and enjoy the ride.