Thursday, July 12, 2012

The cupboard isn't bare for the Nats at the trade deadline

The trade deadline is upon us in a little less than three weeks and while the Nats are currently in first place, they are not without holes in the lineup. The returns of Mike Morse and Jayson Werth in the outfield will keep the Nats from having to play Rick Ankiel and his ghastly 34.5% K% much, but the Nats have no solution in sight to improve on poor performances by Danny Espinosa or Jesus Flores (other than hoping they will improve, at least). A case can be made to add to the starting rotation if the Nats are truly serious about fully shutting down Stephen Strasburg come late August or so when he hits his pitch count.

The Nats theoretically could go after the likes of SP like Zack Greinke or Ryan Dempster, a middle infielder like Marco Scutaro, a catcher like Kurt Suzuki or Kelly Shoppach or even a young outfielder like Justin Upton or Denard Span. Obviously going after Greinke or Upton would cost a huge package of prospects and are unlikely, but no matter what the Nats do (and I'm confident that they'll do something), they'll have to move guys from their minor league system.

By the time the Nats were named the #1 farm system in baseball by Baseball America, they had already dealt four of their top 15 prospects for Gio Gonzalez. Since then, Bryce Harper, Steve Lombardozzi and Tyler Moore have graduated to the big leagues and Anthony Rendon, Matt Purke, Sammy Solis and Chris Marrero have misses essentially all of 2012 due to injury. The fact that they still have a solid minor league system after losing 2/3 of their offseason top 15 prospects is incredible. Next week, Konnor Fulk (@coolnovelbro) and I will both post our midseason top 20 reports, but for now, let's take a look at what the Nats have in the minors that could be in play at the deadline.

High ceiling prospects
Anthony Rendon and Matt Purke are almost certainly out of play, as they are both injured and trading them would be a lose-lose for both teams involved (Nats lose out on high-ceiling guys and trade them when their value is low, other teams take on a high level of risk with two injury-prone players). While technically neither can be traded until August 15 because they were 2011 draftees, they could be dealt as players to be named later (although since both are on the 40 man roster, such a deal could have to wait until after the season is over). I would be very, very surprised if either player was moved this year.

Alex Meyer and Brian Goodwin are another story. Both players were high draft picks in 2011 and have either met or exceeded expectations in their pro careers so far (depending on how high your expectations for them were). Like Rendon and Purke, both would have to be players to be named later; unlike Rendon and Purke, neither are on the 40 man roster, so they could be dealt on August 15 as PTBNL's. Former Nationals GM and columnist Jim Bowden named Meyer as one of 5 futures game participants ($) who could be in play at this year's trade deadline, mentioning that the Nats could try to move him in a deal for Matt Garza, Denard Span or Ben Revere. Both Meyer and Goodwin have boosted their prospect profiles this season and have the right combination of tools and good stats to be great trade bait, but the Nationals would have to get a great player to move either one of these players.

Prospects with intriguing 2012 stats
Matt Skole obviously leads this list, with a .280/.434/.553 triple slash and 21 HR in the first half. He strikes out way too much (94 in 83 games) and his future position is in question (playing 3B for now but profiles best with the glove at 1B or in LF), but if he can keep hitting anywhere close to this level, a team will find a place to put him on the field.

Corey Brown revived himself from being a borderline non-prospect to the guy the Nats were hoping they would get in addition to Henry Rodriguez when they traded Josh Willingham to Oakland. He has destroyed AAA pitching in the first half, hitting .296/.382/.561 with 19 HR and 11 steals, but only got a limited promotion to the big leagues. Brown has 20/20 MLB potential and an above average glove, but his batting average is generally low and he strikes out a lot, so teams could be a little scared off. I think Brown is a better idea to promote to the majors and not trade, but I expect his name to come up a lot in trade rumors with teams who need immediate OF help in the majors.

Toolsy prospects
Jeff Kobernus is hitting as well as he ever has (although that's not saying much - .285/.326/.338 with 34 /44 steals) in his first trip to AA. He doesn't profile as more than a utility infielder, but utility middle infield types who are close-ish to the big leagues are solid deadline pieces (see last year's Zach Walters - Jason Marquis trade)

I am constantly frustrated by Eury Perez in his quest to be the worst leadoff prospect who remains a prospect in the world. At only 22, he's hitting a solid .294 in AA but with only 7 BB and 50 K. Let him be some other team's Inning Endy Chavez while his prospect shine is still at least kind of there.

Despite losing Wilson Ramos to injury and trading Derek Norris, the Nationals still have a plethora of decent catching prospects in Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon and David Freitas. All three have different strengths and weaknesses (Leon is a great defender and a meh hitter, Freitas is a good hitter and a meh defender, Solano is somewhere in between) and could all interest different teams at the deadline.

Wander Ramos was named by Fangraphs/Scouting the Sally's Mike Newman (@scoutingtheSAL) as a guy teams could look at as a PTBNL or throw in for a deadline deal this year. Newman wrote in his First Impressions piece on the New York Penn League, "For Auburn, [Ramos is] the only player on the roster with the present size of a big leaguer and real projection, even though he’s a bit long in the tooth for the league." Ramos hit .313/.401/.653 in 43 games in the GCL last year and is hitting .255/.358/.455 in 18 games at Auburn this year.

August waiver trade prospects
Steven Souza has puttered around in the Nats system since being a 3rd round pick in 2007 and is finally hitting (.284/.346/.556), albeit as a 23 year old spending his 4th season in Hagerstown. He could be dealt in August in a waiver deal for a bench player or average bullpen arm if the Nats have a need.

Cutter Dykstra is a similar story to Souza; the Brewers' 2008 2nd round pick is 23 and playing in Hagerstown and has .299/.378/.413 with 25 steals in 69 games. Neither Souza or Dykstra are prospects anymore, but both show enough potential as AAAA/bench types that they could be moved for Ray King or Jerry Hairston types.

As I said, be sure to catch Konnor and I's mid-season top 20s next week and catch me and the Citizens of Natstown gang (@citsofnatstown) tonight for our 8 pm podcast where I'll discuss Nats prospects and we'll interview Jonah Keri!

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