‘Tis the season of wheeling, dealing and spieling.
Baseball’s Hot Stove season gets all sorts of coverage. Among the general questions that can be applied to just about any scenario are: Which big name is rumored to be signing here? What trade chip would be a perfect match there? And does Buster Olney ever actually sleep?
While the transactions of note generally involve big leaguers signing with or being traded to new teams, one angle that often gets overshadowed is how those moves effect prospects. Sometimes, an inking or a deal by the parent club can be good news for minor leaguers, but many times, that’s not the case. What looked only yesterday to be a clear path to playing time for a prospect ready to contribute, instead has suddenly become a circuitous detour along a bumpy road with indecipherable signage, more than a few potholes and the ultimate destination — the majors — nowhere in sight.
With that in mind, buckle your seat belts as we take a look at a pair of young players whose 2012 stocks have been impacted head-on by some recent moves.
Matt Dominguez, Marlins 3B
Entering 2011, Dominguez was the org’s No. 1 prospect and in the Top 100 overall (No. 81), according to Baseball America, primarily because he was expected to be nearly big-league ready and a great defensive third baseman who could hit a bit in the majors. A candidate to make the team out of camp, he was ultimately sent to Triple-A. After his season got off to a late start because he suffered a fractured elbow after being hit by a pitch, he finished with a slash line of .258/.312/.431 and 12 HRs and 55 RBIs in 87 games at New Orleans — respectable production, but nothing to get overly excited about. Still, he made his debut in September (11-for-45 in 17 games) and was in position to be the 2012 Opening Day starter for the Fish at the hot corner.
Then Miami went and gave Jose Reyes $106 mill over six years. Obviously, Reyes becomes the team’s shortstop as it moves into its new stadium, and that means erstwhile SS Hanley Ramirez shuffles over one spot to man third base. So where, exactly, does that leave Dominguez? To put it bluntly, things just got a whole lot more obstacle-y for the 22-year-old. While it’s possible the Marlins could keep Dominguez with the big league squad as a bench bat who sees a start a week at third, that really wouldn’t be getting much value out of him, especially since he’s already an elite defender at third — something Hanley Ramirez most likely won’t be.
Considering that the left side of the Marlins’ infield is set for the foreseeable future, the best scenario for both team and player is to see what kind of value Dominguez has on the trade market. There doesn’t need to be any rush to trade him; in fact, if he plays well at Triple-A to start the season, his value would only get a bump. But I would think between now and the July deadline, some team will come calling about a Gold Glove caliber third baseman who has the stick to hit .250-plus with 18-22 HRs in the long-term (think: Joe Crede). As for 2012? It’s a shame that a solid prospect (now No. 4 in Miami, per BA) who had plenty of opportunity and a chance to be better than, say, Brent Morel was in his rookie season last year just got blocked. Dominguez would have been a use-able corner option in 12-team NL-only leagues, and he would have ranked fairly high among my upcoming list of 2012 Impact Rookies, simply because of that now-defunct opportunity. After this, though, he’ll drop quite a bit, and his value in anything other than a keeper league is just about shot.
Hank Conger, Angels C
Man, Conger can’t catch a break. (Get it? I’ll wait.) First, the 23-year-old backstop was forced to take a backseat to the likes of Jeff Mathis for a year, then the Angels decide to trade for another catcher, former Rockie Chris Iannetta, when it seemed that Conger would finally be getting his shot. Conger isn’t technically a prospect anymore after compiling 206 ABs the past two seasons, but he was No. 4 in the Angels system at the start of 2011 and a former Top 100er, according to BA, so I’m going to do him some justice here.
Although Conger has shown he can hit with a composite .298/.361/.466 line in the minors, his glove has always been the question, which makes him a poor fit for a Mike Scioscia-managed team. Still, before Iannetta came aboard, it seemed likely that Conger would have a chance to put his switch-hitting to use enough to get at least double the 177 ABs he managed in 2011, because, really, Mathis’ time was up. Over 400 or so plate appearances, Conger would have made for a fine second catcher in mixed leagues, with the ability to reach double-digits in homers and perhaps show some real upside in keeper formats.
But with Iannetta now in the picture — oddly, the two have similar profiles as offense-first catchers — the best Conger can hope for is probably a platoon situation. Iannetta isn’t inept versus righties (.744 career OPS), but he’s much better against southpaws (.911), so perhaps Conger will get some run when Iannetta struggles through one or two of his massive slumps. All in all, Conger still should have value as a No. 2 catcher, but the focus shifts from mixed leagues to AL-only now, as his chance at topping last year’s production (.638 OPS, 6 HRs and 19 RBIs over 59 games) just took a big hit.
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