Prospect Watch: Trade Deadline Stars

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

Joc Pederson, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers (Profile)
Level: Triple-A Age: 22.3   Top-15: 2nd   Top-100: 58th
Line:  381 PA,  28.1 K%, 18.1 BB%, .324/.449/.576 (wRC+ 169)

Despite outlaying the largest payroll in the league, the Dodgers have yet to pull away from the Giants and are once again battling their rivals for the National League West division title. Their problems are numerous, but let us discuss their outfield and Mr. Pederson. 
At season’s end, the Dodgers will have paid three outfielders nearly $58M dollars. Yet to date, these outfielders have performed at roughly replacement level. That is both a problem at present and into the future — the first of the lot will not become a free agent until 2018. These contracts are a sunk cost. In other words, the Dodgers are stuck with Matt Kemp ($21.25M), Carl Crawford ($21.1M) and Andre Ethier ($15.5) because in Major League Baseball contracts are guaranteed. Based on their performance and contracts, these outfielders are difficult to start daily for LA and more difficult to move.
Based his talent and performance, Pederson deserves an opportunity. On defense, he’s a better option than any of the Dodgers’ overpaid, aging outfielders and he is the obvious solution in an outfield that lacks a true center fielder. Pederson’s offense isn’t without flaws — he has struggled against left-handed pitchers and has struck out too frequently. What he does offer is power, patience and speed. It may take time for him to adjust to Major League pitching because his swing is busy and unconventional pre-load and he does swing and miss often, but if Matt Kemp can’t improve Pederson is the second best everyday outfielder the Dodgers have.
Unfortunately, because of the guaranteed contracts, its more likely that the Dodgers’ give Kemp and others more opportunities than calling up Pederson.  The investments are too great to simply jettison Kemp, Ethier and Crawford to the bench or Triple-A where they will never recoup either value or form. It’s possible that the Dodgers could entice another club into a trade by contributing a substantial potion of a remaining contract, but a buyer seems unlikely.
Where does that leave Pederson? As an MLB ready center fielder with plus power and speed, he is a top trade deadline asset. 

Taijuan Walker, SP, Seattle Mariners (Profile)
Level: MLB   Age: 21.11  Top-15: 1st Top-100: 7th
Line: (Triple-A) 40.2 IP, 6.86 K/9, 3.10 BB/9, 1.33 HR/9, 3.76 ERA, 5.38 FIP

Yesterday, Walker returned to Seattle’s rotation after he overcame a right shoulder impingement. With the Mariners’ success and hopeful wild card birth currently dependent on a handful of elite talent, he has been linked with a move away from the club. Most rumors suggest the Mariners could package Walker with Nick Franklin and others to acquire David Price.

The Mariners have exceeded expectations this season on the backs of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Kyle Seager and new addition Robinson Cano but the rest of the team has holes. With General Manager Jack Zduriencik is near the end of his tenure, Seattle’ is willing to move Walker for an immediate upgrade.

Walker’s stock has been on a sharp decline this season. The foremost concern for any suitor is his shoulder injury. While an impingement isn’t a long term concern, the cause of the impingement — the force placed upon his shoulder by his mechanics — should have teams worried. The Mariners have slowed him down out of the windup and he’s lost some of the explosiveness that made him special. After being generally ineffective in his rehab starts, his average fastball velocity was down by 1.5 MPH yesterday and his command was erratic.

Once, Walker was a prospect that would headline a significant return, but 2014 has diminished his value. If Jack Z wants to add an elite talent to push for the Wild Card, he may need to gut the top of his system to so.

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Formerly of Bullpen Banter, JD can be followed on Twitter.

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