The MLB Winter Meetings are upon us and one things is certain: General managers will spend a great deal of time discussing potential trades. Below are six names that won’t be the centrepiece of any deals as B/C grade prospects but they still have value to big league organizations. They don’t belong in the same sentence as other top prospects that could be had in the right deal – like Royals outfielder Wil Myers or Diamondbacks pitcher Trevor Bauer – but they could end up being useful future big league contributors.
The Dec. 9, 2011 trade between the Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics is a perfect example of the value that “add-on” trade pieces can have. The key players in the trade were pitchers Trevor Cahill (going to Arizona) and Jarrod Parker (going to Oakland). However, Craig Breslow also went to Arizona and had a solid year in the bullpen before being dealt away in another trade to Boston, and Ryan Cook – the third best prospect that went to Oakland – ended up pitching in the all-star game and had 37 shutdowns.
The majority of impressive prospects in the Los Angeles Dodgers system are pitchers but I stumbled across an interesting hitting prospect while scouting one of those young hurlers. Coyle, 23, was a high school teammate of former first round draft picks Mike Moustakas (Kansas City) and Matt Dominguez (Miami, now Houston) at a California high school notorious for producing professional baseball players – including former Red Sox great Dwight Evans.
Coyle took a different route than his high-profile teammates and spent three years in college, playing for both the University of Arizona and Fresno State before turning pro as a 10th round draft pick in 2010. He’s produced solid pro numbes and reached double-A in his second full pro season in 2012. The big knock on Coyle is his limited defensive value as a left fielder with average defensive skills. His power, which is best described as gap power, is a tad shy in terms of what most teams would look for from an everyday corner outfielder.
The left-handed hitter is aggressive at the plate and walked just 14 times in 69 games during an injury-interrupted 2012 season. However, he has a knack for making solid contact and he struck out just 27 times. Coyle has a sturdy frame and long legs and flashes opposite-field power. He generates much of his pop with quick hips and strong forearms/wrists, and doesn’t use his legs much in his swing.
I saw him hit a home run over the left field fence against Cubs pitching prospect Dae-Eun Rhee; Coyle utilized a shortened swing on an 0-2 pitch to muscle the ball out. In the same game, he took a bases-loaded 0-2 pitch over the wall in right field but the right fielder leaned over the wall to bring it back for an out.
He doesn’t have to take a big swing to tap into his raw power and he actually looks better when he’s facing a deficit in the count because he shortens his stroke. Coyle doesn’t make an ideal fourth outfielder because he cannot play center field but he could carve out a big league career as a platoon left fielder or pinch hitter. He’ll likely open 2013 back in double-A but he could be ready for a cup of coffee in the majors by the end of the year or at some point in 2014.
Garcia, who was a teammate of fellow Cardinals prospect Kolten Wong at the University of Hawaii, is a left-handed hitter with the ability to play both second base and shortstop. His arm is strong enough for third base so he should be able to handle the position on a part-time basis. The same can be said for shortstop at the big league level, thanks to modest range. The 23-year-old hits for a solid average and he also walked 80 times in 124 games at the double-A level.
I was impressed with Garcia’s offensive approach when I watched him play. The ball jumped off his bat more than I expected given his offensive numbers; he hit a lot of line drives that end up in opponents’ gloves. With that said, I would like to see him use the whole field more.
Garcia will likely open 2013 in triple-A and is nearly ready for the major leagues. His versatility and left-handed bat should make him an attractive utility player. He could even play a year or two as a regular second baseman.
Colorado’s system features some impressive infield talent with the likes of Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado but there is another intriguing young player on the left side of the infield. Mende spent the entire season playing in the South Atlantic League (A-ball) where he posted a 120 wRC+. At 22, the third baseman was not exactly young for the league and his aggressive nature at the plate (29 walks in 112 games) takes a bite out of his potential at the plate but he’s interesting nonetheless.
On the plus side, he showed nice gap power with 53 extra base hits and even stole 23 bases in 31 attempts thanks to average speed and above-average instincts. I was quite taken with his short, level swing and saw him hit a home run off of Boston Red Sox Top 15 prospect Henry Owens on a fringe fastball up and over the heart of the plate. Where Mende really shines, though, is the field. I watched him make at least three impressive plays at third base, including a strong throw on the run while fielding a bunt. He also showed good range to his left by making a sliding stop on a ground ball – with a runner cutting in front of him – and then got up and made a strong, accurate throw to nab the base runner.
Mende really needs to jump start his development in 2013 with a quick trip through high-A ball on his way to spending much of the year in the more age-appropriate double-A. A more patient approach is certainly needed to succeed at higher levels. It’s not a sexy projection but I could see Mende developing into a slightly better version of former Houston Astro Chris Johnson. A shortstop in college, I could see him returning to that position on a part-time basis while also providing plus defense at third base and possibly dabbling on the right side of the field at second base as a big league utility player.
If you look solely at Rhee’s professional statistics you’d probably think me mad for including him on this report. But after watching him pitch on a number of occasions, he continues to fascinate me as a prospect that should be much more successful than he’s been – and I can’t help but think that there’s a pitching coach out there that could help unlock his potential. Rhee, 23, is tall and lanky. He shows good balance over the rubber and has a high 3/4 arm slot with smooth mechanics. He also works quickly – perhaps too quickly at times.
The downfall for the pitcher, though, is his lack of command. When I watched him pitch he was struggling to command both his fastball and his curveball, which was slow and loopy. He had good movement on his fastball, which can touch 93 mph, and it was cutting down and in on right-handed hitters. His best pitch was a tumbling splitter that helps him induce an above-average number of ground balls. He lacks swing-and-miss stuff and gets into a lot of trouble when he elevates the ball due to inconsistent mechanics.
While watching him, I was confused by the pitch sequences being used. He utilized the below-average curveball a lot and I hope it was by design in an effort to help him improve the pitch. In a perfect world, Rhee would have established – and pitched off of – his fastball. I would also like to see him use his splitter more, but it’s difficult when he’s not getting into a favorable count to use it. I’m definitely conflicted on Rhee. I can’t help but think that there is a ton of potential locked inside him but the results have been disappointing, pretty much for his entire career – including his trip to the Arizona Fall League after the 2012 season.
If you’ve been reading my writing for while you probably know that I like pitchers with high ground-ball tendencies. And Walden is one of those pitchers. The right-hander has consistently produced above-average ground-ball rates throughout his pro career – both before and after 2009 Tommy John surgery. His lack of height – he’s listed at 6’0” – could turn some scouts off but he goes a good job of keeping on top of his pitches and creating a downward plane.
Walden’s fastball velocity has bounced back from the injury and he can touch the mid-90s with his heater. I’ve been told his sinker, to no surprise, is the best in the Jays system and he could by the rare pitcher that could dominate out of the bullpen with one pitch; it’s almost impossible to lift the pitch into the air when he’s commanding it. Walden’s other offering is a slider that has average potential but lacks the depth necessary to develop into a plus pitch. It simply acts as a way to upset hitters’ timings. The California native will never post high strikeout rates, despite his solid velocity, because he’s geared to put balls in play on the ground and let his infielders do the grunt work.
Mainly a starter in the minors, Walden was a closer in the junior college ranks prior to being selected in the ninth round of the 2007 amateur draft and his lack of secondary stuff will certainly keep him from starting (successfully) in the upper levels of pro ball. But his stuff is a perfect fit for a seventh- or eighth-inning reliever. He won’t be a closer as long as he lacks an out pitch. Walden, 24, will be available in the Rule 5 draft but he has yet to pitch above A-ball and double-A will be a stiff test for him in 2013 so he’s not an ideal selection. With that said, he’s worth a flyer as a prospect used to round out a trade with Toronto because he still has all three of his minor league options remaining, which will buy him time further develop his slider and sharpen the command on his sinker.
Whiting, 23, has performed a number of roles in the minors but his future gig in the big leagues should come out of the bullpen. His fastball is fringe average in the 87-91 mph range and he backs it up with a slider and changeup.
When I watched him pitch I was actually more impressed with the changeup than the breaking ball, which goes against what I had heard about him. His changeup was thrown with the same arm action that he used on his fastball and the pitch had arm side fade down and away from left-handed hitters. Whiting’s command was OK and he was mostly around the strike zone but he struggled to command the fastball at times. He got into trouble when the fastball was up over the plate.
With improved command, Whiting could be a solid arm out of a big league rotation with the ability to provide multiple innings. He made just nine regular season appearances (six starts) due to injury but came back and made seven starts in the Arizona Fall League with 33 strikeouts – but 30 hits allowed – in 25.1 innings of work. After making two starts at the double-A level in 2012, he should return to that level in 2013. He could be ready for the majors in 2014.
Right-handed pitcher Graham Stoneburner (NYY Yankees), shortstop Odubel Herrera (Texas), and outfielder Kenny Wilson (Toronto) are three other players that should be target by teams in trade talks but I looked at the three of them as potential Rule 5 picks in the upcoming draft at the conclusion of the 2012 MLB Winter Meetings on Dec. 6. Click on their names to read more in-depth information, including first-hand analysis, on them.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.