Wednesday July 20th, 2011

With less than two weeks left until the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, the rumor mill is all atwitter about what major league stars might soon be dealt. Often left unaddressed in those rumors, however, is that to pry those stars loose from their current teams, contending teams may need to part with some of the game's top prospects. Here, then, is a look at 10 of the best prospects who just might find themselves with a different organization come August.

Jesus Montero, C, Yankees

The Yankees had a deal in place last July that would have sent Montero to the Mariners in a package for Cliff Lee, but Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik backed out at the last minute when the Rangers offered a package built around their top hitting prospect, first baseman Justin Smoak. The best hitting prospect in the game prior to Bryce Harper's arrival, Montero projects as a monster bat, but he has yet to convince anyone he'll remain a catcher, which makes him a poor fit for a Yankees team that has Mark Teixeira signed to play first base through 2016 and may ultimately need to turn the increasingly fragile Alex Rodriguez, signed through 2017, into a designated hitter. Though Montero's bat seemed ready late last year, the Yankees have kept the 21-year-old in Triple-A this season to work on his defense, only to see his hitting stagnate, perhaps out of frustration. Montero is now hitting .282/.340/.412 with eight home runs after batting .289/.353/.517 last year with 21 homers but with the Yankees again needing rotation help, Montero is once again both the best prospect on the trading block and the one most likely to be dealt.

Zack Wheeler, RHP, Giants

The Giants are desperate for offense, having scored just 3.67 runs per game this season, but are they desperate enough to trade their top pitching prospect? The 21-year-old Wheeler, who was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2009 draft, gets his fastball into the mid to upper 90s and has struck out 10.3 men per nine innings in 15 starts for High-A San Jose this season. However, he has also walked five men per nine frames and was plagued by blisters in his professional debut last season. San Francisco just traded two lesser pitching prospects (Henry Sosa and Jason Stoffel) to the Astros for offense-first second baseman Jeff Keppinger, and have recalled top hitting prospect Brandon Belt, who has hit .324/.462/.549 for Triple-A Fresno, but general manager Brian Sabean may just be getting warmed up. Last year, he completely revamped his lineup during the season, and two years ago he traded pitching prospects Tim Alderson and Scott Barnes at the deadline. Yes, he held on to Madison Bumgarner, his top minor league arm that season, but with Bumgarner now established in the major league rotation beside Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Jonathan Sanchez, the oldest of whom is 28, Wheeler may be easier to part with.

Randall Delgado, RHP, Braves

The Braves could use a boost at the plate as well, but they're not as desperate as the Giants. As a result, they aren't about to trade top pitching prospects Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, or Arodys Vizcaino. However, with those three as well as the surprising Brandon Beachy above him, Delgado, the fourth young arm in the organization to make the pre-season top-100 prospects lists of both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein, could be the chip Atlanta GM Frank Wren cashes in. The 21-year-old Delgado made his major league debut with a spot start earlier this season, but otherwise has been doing solid work at Double-A with his mid-90s fastball and strong curve and changeup.

Ryan Kalish, CF, Red Sox

Kalish isn't technically a prospect any more, having lost his rookie status as an injury replacement with the major league club last year, but the 23-year-old hasn't returned to the majors this year, in part due to a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder. Meanwhile, fellow outfield prospect Josh Reddick has been raking in the majors in place of the injured leftfielder Carl Crawford. With the just-activated Crawford signed through 2017, Jacoby Ellsbury enjoying his best season in center, and Reddick setting himself up as J.D. Drew's replacement in right, Kalish, who has the potential to be a star in center with 20 home runs and 20 steals annually, might be best used as a chit to help fortify the major league rotation for the stretch run.

Jarred Cosart, RHP, Phillies

The Phillies have the best record in baseball, but they also have a win-now mandate and a well-stocked rotation that has Roy Halladay signed through 2014, Cliff Lee signed through 2015, and Cole Hamels still in his team-controlled years. The 21-year-old Cosart has too much potential to be wasted in a deal for bullpen help, but if the Phillies can acquire a meaningful upgrade in an outfield corner, they may be convinced to part with the lanky Texan, who despite a solid repertoire (mid-90s fastball, wicked curve, good changeup), has had underwhelming results for High-A Clearwater this season, going 7-8 with a 4.12 ERA.

Robbie Erlin, LHP, Rangers

Like the Braves, the Rangers seem unlikely to deal their best pitching prospect, 20-year-old lefty Martin Perez, who was just promoted to Triple-A, but their next-best arm could be available. Erlin is another 20-year-old lefty, though one who just made the jump to Double-A. He was the team's third-round pick in 2009 and has shown astonishing control in his young professional career, walking just 29 men in 228 innings against 249 strikeouts, good for a Halladay-like 8.59 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Despite those numbers, Erlin doesn't have great stuff -- his fastball, curve and changeup are all roughly average -- but he clearly knows how to use his pitches, and the numbers he has put up, combined with the impressive speed at which he is moving up the ladder, could actually make him more valuable as a trade chip than as a future mid-rotation starter.

Yasmani Grandal, C, Reds

Again, Grandal is actually the Reds second-best catching prospect, behind Triple-A stud Devin Mesoraco who is less than five months older. That makes Grandal expendable but no less valuable on the market. The 12th-overall pick in last year's draft, the 22-year-old switch-hitter hit .296/.410/.510 for High-A Bakersfield earlier this year, earning a promotion to Double-A in just his first full professional season, and has thrown out 36 percent of attempting basestealers across both levels. The Reds are just five games out of first place in the NL Central and have plenty of areas of need on the big league roster, so the only question is whether or not GM Walt Jocketty can find a match that will allow his club to clamber over the three-team scrum that currently sits atop the division.

Carlos Martinez, RHP, Cardinals

A small, Dominican righty, Martinez won't turn 20 until September, but he's already excelling at High-A, having made the jump there at the end of June after a solid States-side debut in the Midwest League. Still, while he's a very exciting prospect, with a mid- to upper-90s fastball, a sharp curve and a good groundball rate, he's raw and difficult to project, in part because of his size and mechanics, which could bounce him to the bullpen before he reaches the majors. The Cardinals have a better, more-advanced pitching prospect in 20-year-old Shelby Miller, and if GM John Mozeliak becomes convinced that his team won't be able to re-sign Albert Pujols this winter, he may be compelled to echo the division rival Brewers by going all-in for a deep playoff run this year.

Manny Banuelos, LHP, Yankees

The Yankees are the team to watch heading into this deadline. Though they got good results from it in the first half, their rotation behind CC Sabathia could collapse at any moment. Meanwhile, the organization boasts three prospects in the top half of Kevin Goldstein's mid-season update of his top 50 list for Baseball Prospectus, none of whom is considered untouchable. Banuelos is a tiny, 20-year-old, Mexican lefty who mixes mid-90s heat and a devastating changeup and has been praised for his poise on the mound. He has been a bit wild at Double-A this year, but he's still striking out more than a man per inning and has ace potential, making him a fitting return for a major league addition to the front of the Yankees' rotation.

Dellin Betances, RHP, Yankees

Betances has similar stuff and potential to Banuelos, but in radically different packaging. A solidly-built, six-foot-eight righty from Brooklyn, the 23-year-old Betances also brings mid- to upper-90s heat, swapping Banuelos' changeup for a nasty curve ball (both pitchers throw changes and curves, but the third is merely average for each). The Yankees got him in the eighth round in 2006 because he was considered a project and an injury risk, but since returning from elbow ligament reinforcement surgery last year, he has begun to live up to his potential. Like Banuelos, he has been wild with Double-A Trenton this year, but he has struck out 10.5 men per nine innings both this season and over the course of his career. Again like Banuelos, in two years he could very well be the pitcher the Yankees need today, but for them, winning now is the most important thing.

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