Minor League Roundtable Part 1: The Top 4 Prospects/Trading Assets/Playing SS

This is the first of a many-part roundtable between sitrick, dmick, and myself. We touch on many minor league topics (so many, in fact, that we still haven't finished the roundtable!), the first of which is presented today.

Myles: I'm here. What would you like to discuss first?

dmick: Our Top 4s? Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and either Albert Almora or Pierce Johnson. If Almora can't stay healthy as Sitrick talked about in his review, or if he has lost a step, it's easily Pierce Johnson. Even if healthy I don't think Almora is that far ahead of Johnson. I also think there's two drop offs in talent in that top 5. There's a drop after Baez and Bryant and even larger drop off after Soler. Obviously I'm not as high on Almora as a few people are. If he can't stick in CF, I don't think much of the guy and I'm always skeptical of young center fielders being able to stick at the position (same as shortstop). Maybe it's just me.

Myles: My order for the Top 4 is Baez, Bryant, Soler, and Almora. 

Out of the 4, I still think Baez has the greatest chance to completely bomb out, but it's hard to deny how he performed this year. It was impressive for two reasons; first, he took a step back at the beginning of the year, and it's to his credit that he stepped up and didn't let his poor start affect him too much. Then, he was promoted to AA and actually improved his peripherals. That's a great sign.



Bryant was awesome in his debut, but honestly I put him ahead of Soler and Almora just because he has a clean bill of health. I'm not sure if Soler or Almora are huge injury risks, but they seem like a higher risk than Bryant. At their top ends, I think Soler is probably still the best of the remaining 3, but I'm scared both of his injury and the fact that he spent a lot of his career in Cuba. Almora is the top prospect on many, many teams, and I love him as a prospect, but I'm also not sure his ceiling is more than a few all-star appearances.

Sitrick: Just as a starting point for the discussion, my first sort of gut reaction is to say Baez, Bryant, Almora, Soler. But I wonder if that's not underrating Soler. Almora missed just as much time as Soler this season, and as far as offensive impact potential, Soler seems pretty clearly ahead of Almora as a middle-of-the-order threat. I know Almora's going to at least start as a defensive whiz, but doing the research for his profile is at least raising the question for me about whether or not he can stick there.
Myles: That's a good point, guys. If Almora can't play CF, he loses a HUGE deal of his value. 
dmick: And sticking in CF is really the key for Almora because, as Parks said, he does not profile well as a corner. I think Johnson emerged this year and has caught Almora, but again, that's just me. 
Myles: I'm afraid of Johnson the same way I'm afraid of Almora; he's a pitcher that's had his share of injuries. 
Sitrick: If we're going top 5, I still have Alcantara over Johnson. If Johnson had more TOR potential I could see him passing Alcantara, but Arismendy's so close to the majors, and I think they both top out about Role-55 players. Johnson's still way more challenges to get through than Alcantara does. 
dmick: Shit, I forgot Alcantara. He's in my top 4. Almora/Johnson are 5 or 6. Fuck. We talked about top 4 and I did top 6. Oh well. Who said I followed rules?
Myles: Ha. I could actually see Alcantara over Almora, but then I'm worrying about being overly concerned about not seeing Almora lately. 
Sitrick: With Soler, I think there's reasonable concern about how infrequently he's actually played baseball over the past few years. This season is going to be huge for him. He needs to stay on the field and prove he can be healthy and productive.



I think I'm probably highest on Baez out of all three of us, and it's because he made the midyear adjustment. That's obviously huge. I know he's got the highest bust potential of the four, but man, you mix in the talent with the intensity, work ethic, and drive, and I just can't help fully buying in. This isn't Brett Jackson bringing great makeup to a Role-5 toolset. Yes the game is too fast for him, but I think that will slow down as he matures. And a guy with that much talent that works that hard…I'm going to be really surprised if he doesn't work out to at least a first division starter.
Myles: Baez is a nasty man, but I'd be really interested to see how he fared against other prospects this year. He seems like a guy that destroys mistakes, and, well, there aren't that many of those in the majors (unless you're facing Jeff Samardzija). I know that Soler and Almora really need the AFL to make up for lost time, but I was most interested in seeing Baez.


dmick: I've still got questions about Baez. It was terrific to see the walk rate improve at A+ and then at AA, but his strikeout rate is frighteningly high. We're going to see whether he can survive with that rate when he gets to AAA. I'm not fully buying in because of that rate. He can still have a successful career even if he strikes out a lot, but if it gets into Mike Olt and Brett Jackson territory, forget about it.

Sitrick: What are the odds Bryant ends up as the top ranked prospect by some of the rankers this season? I would bet the house that Law ranks him above Baez. And I know it's a pretty common sentiment that Bryant's just a tick below Baez as far as offensive potential goes, with a higher floor thanks to his maturity and approach. Hard to imagine Baez not being the top prospect in the system after the season he had, but I think he'll still get some 2-votes from skeptics.



Myles: I'd be surprised if someone (Law) didn't have Bryant higher than Baez. There's a lot to love about Bryant, but I think most people will just look at Baez' bat speed and #rig and give him the nod.

dmick: Baez is the most tradeable prospect, and even as pessimistic as I can be about prospects, I can't imagine anyone ranking Bryant over him. The truth is the two are pretty close, but I think Baez has done it at a younger age and established himself as clearly the best in the system. 

sitrick: So sounds like as a group we're pretty happy with the Baez/Bryant/Soler/Almora ranking?

Myles: Agreed on Baez/Bryant/Soler/Almora. I could even be talked into Alcantara at #4, but that's nitpicking.

dmick: I'd put it more as Baez/Bryant/Soler, Almora/Alcantara/Johnson, but I can live with what you have.

On Tradeable Prospects (and Giancarlo Stanton)

Myles: That folds nicely into the most tradeable prospect this season. I still think it's Baez; he's got a ton of value right now (and is a great example of why you play a prospect at a position until it's obvious he can't play it). I know that Cubs fans would revolt if that happened, but if you could trade Baez and Johnson and another piece for Giancarlo Stanton, you'd have to really think hard about it.

sitrick: I'm honestly not sure I'd move Baez in a Stanton deal. In four seasons, Stanton has played more than 120 games once. And players with health concerns don't tend to suddenly get more healthy. I'm not totally against moving Baez if the deal is right, but I want to make sure the guy we're getting in return is going to be on the field and amazing. I'm not sure Stanton's the guy.

Myles: I can buy the argument against Stanton, but part of me still thinks that he's the elite talent that you're hoping one of your top prospects turns into. What's Soler's ceiling? It's Giancarlo Stanton, so why not cut out the middleman?

dmick: Yeah, I'd make the trade, but I think there are some reasons not to as Sitrick pointed out. At the end of the day you've got make a yes or no decision if the option is on the table. I'd check yes.

sitrick: Oh I'd definitely move Soler in a Stanton deal. Just not sure if I'd sent Baez. I think Baez is the sort of prospect you just hang onto, and cross your fingers that it works out, especially with the success he had at a high level in the minors. How often do prospects like that get traded, realistically?

Myles: Well, it happened to Wil Myers and Trevor Bauer just last year, but I see what you're saying. 

dmick: How often do players like Giancarlo Stanton get traded when they're this young? I could take it either way, but there's a lot of truth in saying that we'd all be thrilled if Baez turned into Stanton. We would be. If this option is available to turn him into Stanton, guaranteed, I take it. 

sitrick: I think my expectations have gotten so high for Baez that if his hit tool plays at a Stanton level (.260-.270 AVGs) I'm going to be a bit disappointed. But I'm not rational about this.

On Baez vs. Castro at SS

dmick: Another topic: Can Baez stick at short and what happens with Castro?

Myles: I'm not sure Baez sticks at short, but it's hard for me to say because I only saw him on milb.tv and not in person. Some scouts believe that he's going to play there long-term, but I think people really understate how difficult it is to play there. He doesn't need to play SS to be really valuable, so even if he ends up at 2B or 3B I don't really care. He could be a 3B right now and I'd still have him above Bryant.

I think Castro is going to stick at SS, and if Baez gets to the majors, he'll play 3B. He's got the arm for it. If that moves Bryant to RF, so be it (in this scenario, I imagine Alcantara is at 2B). 

dmick: I'm 50/50 on his ability to stick at short, but it's based entirely on what I've read from scouts. I dismiss what the Cubs front office says regarding this because, what else are they going to say? It comes down to who the Cubs believe is the better defensive shortstop? The Cubs have tried to say good things about Castro's defense, but at the same time they haven't been as positive as you'd like. Clearly they're not as happy as they could be so if Baez is better, he goes there and then what with Castro? I have no idea. Look for the Cubs to trade Arismendy Alcantara this offseason. If they don't, I'd put money on Castro staying at short.