Some time in the next three weeks, the Orioles will trade Manny Machado and hopefully alter the future of the franchise for the better. It may be that they should have traded Machado over the offseason. There is nothing to be done about that now. The O’s just have to get the best package that they can for their star infielder.
Where Machado gets traded is still a mystery. Teams racing to capture their National League divisions seem to be popular picks as favorites, though, because those are the teams where getting an impact shortstop (or perhaps more likely, third baseman) could make a big difference in getting them into the playoffs without having to win a coin flip wild card game to advance farther.
The Brewers were rumored to be in the Machado trade picture last week, with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reporting on Sunday that the Brewers, along with the Dodgers, were the “most serious” up to that point. Wherever he gets traded, the O’s are probably going to get some guys who most O’s fans have never heard of and most likely have never seen play professional baseball.
In an effort to avoid a, “Who the heck are these guys?” reaction to a trade, I’ve been surveying the farm systems of the Machado suitors. So far, that survey has gone through Arizona and Los Angeles. Now it’s the Brewers turn.
The prospects are listed below according to their MLB Pipeline ranking for the system. Additional information is drawn from Keith Law’s preseason prospect rankings as well as from Fangraphs.
The Brewers had four of Law’s preseason top 100 prospects and currently have two of Pipeline’s top 100 prospects in the game.
#1 - 2B Keston Hiura
2018 stats, High-A/Double-A: .312/.371/.505 in 77 G, 9 HR, 65 K, 19 BB, 10 SB
Hiura, the ninth overall pick in last year’s draft, earned the midseason promotion to Double-A after 50 games in his first full professional season. The righty infielder turns 22 next month. Law rated him as the #35 prospect in the game prior to the season, noting that many scouts felt Hiura was the best hitter available in the 2017 draft.
Concerns about his elbow had limited him in the field as a college player. He seems to have settled that without needing surgery. Not yet answered is whether he will stick in the infield or if he will have to go to left field. The Fangraphs duo sees a potential All-Star if he stays at second base.
#2 - RHP Corbin Burnes
2018 stats, Triple-A: 19 G, 13 GS, 78.2 IP, 5.15 ERA, 81 K, 31 BB
Burnes, who was Law’s #24 prospect in the game before the season, was just this week called up to MLB for the first time. Don’t be discouraged by that Triple-A ERA because the Pacific Coast League is hard on pitchers in some parks, including the Brewers affiliate in Colorado Springs: Burnes has a much better 3.69 road ERA.
He has climbed his way to Triple-A after being picked in the fourth round in 2016. The Fangraphs capsule notes that improved command led to a 2017 breakout. It hasn’t carried over completely to 2018, but he’s striking out enough batters to make it work. MLB Pipeline sees a solid four-pitch mix. The Orioles, obviously, need to get some pitchers so they don’t have to keep signing guys like Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb.
#3 - 3B Lucas Erceg
2018 stats, Double-A: .245/.307/.369 in 80 G, 7 HR, 54 K, 26 BB
The lefty-batting Erceg, 23, was a second round pick in 2016. wasn’t great at the High-A level last season and still isn’t great at the Double-A level this season. Law, who rated him 66th before the season, was a believer in an improved second half last year at the plate and sees a plus defender at third base.
Erceg has improved his walk rate slightly, which was something the evaluators wanted to see from him. One rule of prospects is “you can’t scout the box score” because you never know totally what’s going on from there. Perhaps he’s on the verge of a breakout. But perhaps he’s on the verge of having his star fall; a Machado trade will feel much more exciting if the O’s find a couple of guys on the rise, rather than bet on a couple of guys to turn things around.
#4 - RHP Luis Ortiz
2018 stats, Double-A: 12 G, 7 GS, 4.41 ERA, 49 IP, 51 K, 16 BB
Ortiz, 22, was a top 100 prospect in baseball prior to the 2016 and 2017 seasons. He, too, is headed the wrong way after he was once a heralded trade piece in the Rangers-Brewers Jonathan Lucroy trade. It is his third season spending time in Double-A. He has floated in and out of the rotation this season and hasn’t pitched more than four innings in a game since April 17.
Law’s quick summary of his problems: “He can’t stay healthy and still needs to lose weight.” Ortiz has topped out at 94.2 innings in a season last year. This would again be betting on a fallen star in hopes that it will rise.
#5 - OF Brett Phillips
2018 stats, Triple-A: .241/.331/.392 in 68 G, 4 HR, 90 K, 34 BB, 11 SB
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported on Monday that Phillips could be a piece in a Machado trade. The Brewers, who traded for Christian Yelich and signed Lorenzo Cain through 2022, have the luxury to deal an outfielder. Phillips had a nice total 37 games at the MLB level last season, batting .276/.351/.448. There may have been some luck here, as he had a .408 BABIP.
A definite strength is his outfield arm, which was apparently clocked by Statcast at 104mph last season, and Law sees him as at least a fourth outfielder due to that arm and the speed to play center. Can he hit enough to bring his strength to bear in hitting home runs? The Fangraphs duo is not so sure.
By the way, the Crasnick tweet praised “lots of energy” ... which, OK, but I’d like something nicer to be able to be said about what the O’s get back for Machado. Joey Rickard has energy too. It doesn’t matter if you have energy if you just aren’t good enough.
#6 - OF Corey Ray
2018 stats, Double-A: .240/.337/.444 in 83 G, 12 HR, 102 K, 44 BB, 21 SB
The Brewers took Ray fifth overall in 2016, from Louisville. A guy who is 23 and in Double-A isn’t the most exciting, even if he steals a lot of bases. This year is an improvement compared to what he did in High-A last year, so perhaps he’s going in the right direction, but that’s still a lot of strikeouts - even if he does walk. Bats left-handed, and therefore is the perfect Colby Rasmus replacement.
#7 - OF Trent Grisham
2018 stats, Double-A: .212/.340/.276 in 55 G, 2 HR, 45 K, 32 BB
Grisham was the Brewers first round pick a year before Ray in 2015, but he was taken out of high school ranks so he’s still two years younger. He has had an OBP higher than his slugging percentage in each of the past three seasons. Let’s hope the O’s move on from anyone slugging under .300 for any reason.
#8 - OF Tristan Lutz
2018 stats, Low-A: .245/.317/.428 in 74 G, 8 HR, 85 K, 27 BB, 4 SB
So many outfielders! Lutz was a competitive balance pick for the Brewers last season who will be turning 20 next month. MLB Pipeline sees the potential for “five average-or-better tools” - which is great, but players don’t always hit potential. The folks at Fangraphs view him as having average hit and power, which would make him a perfectly cromulent right fielder when paired with his arm strength.
#9 - RHP Freddy Peralta
2018 stats, Triple-A: 12 GS, 59 IP, 2.75 ERA, 84 K, 27 BB
A bevy of starter injuries saw the Brewers give Peralta two MLB starts in May and he’s been back for good since mid-June. With 46 strikeouts in 33.2 big league innings over six starts, a 2.14 ERA and a 0.891 WHIP, let’s go ahead and guess he’s untouchable in this trade, alas.
#10 - SS/2B Mauricio Dubon
2018 stats, Triple-A: .343/.348/.574 in 27 G, 4 HR, 19 K, 2 BB, 6 SB
Tore his ACL in May, so it doesn’t matter how good he is or isn’t. Law thinks Dubon, born in Honduras, will make the majors and become the first MLBer from that country.
#11 - RHP Marcos Diplan
2018 stats, High-A/Double-A: 16 GS, 77.2 IP, 3.01 ERA, 80 K, 44 BB
Once traded for Yovani Gallardo, so he has that in common with Seth Smith. Diplan walked 5.1 batters per nine innings last season in High-A and he has that exact same walk rate this season. The promise is obvious there for the 21-year-old righty and so is the challenge. You know how I feel about the O’s chances of improving a wild pitcher’s command.
#12 - RHP Adrian Houser
2018 stats, Double-A/Triple-A: 13 GS, 41.1 IP, 4.35 ERA, 42 K, 11 BB
After a two-game MLB debut in 2015, Houser’s 2016 was cut short and his 2017 start was delayed due to Tommy John surgery. This is his first full season on the mound since 2015, which likely explains the light inning counts. Houser has appeared in five games in relief for the Brewers as well, and it seems that may be where his big league future lies.
If the third-best guy the O’s get in a Machado trade is a 25-year-old reliever, I can probably live with that.
#13 - RHP Cody Ponce
2018 stats, Double-A: 15 G, 9 GS, 63.1 IP, 4.97 ERA, 48 K, 21 BB
Ponce is listed at 6’6” and 240 pounds, but this doesn’t make him automatically a hard thrower. Law sees a future reliever for lack of a breaking ball, though Fangraphs and Pipeline were still believing in a potential four-pitch mix as a starter before the season. They might sing a different tune now after these Double-A results that saw Ponce get bounced to the bullpen in early June.
#14 - C Mario Feliciano
2018 stats, High-A: .167/.239/.286 in 13 G, 1 HR, 15 K, 4 BB
Just 19 at High-A is pretty good. Playing only 13 games all year with the last one being June 21 is not so good. He’s on the DL, perhaps connected to arm soreness from spring training throwing drills. Again, we must think of the Orioles doctors.
#15 - SS Jean Carmona
2018 stats, Rookie: .265/.315/.458 in 22 G, 4 HR, 22 K, 6 BB
Carmona, signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Brewers two years ago, is just 18 years old, so of course he’s got a long way to go. The Fangraphs duo thinks that a high school shortstop with his talent would have easily been a top two rounds pick last month. MLB Pipeline notes that scouts think he’ll add power as he fills out, which could possibly push the switch-hitter off shortstop.
The guy who has played the most at shortstop for the Brewers, Orlando Arcia, batted .197/.231/.251 before being demoted to the minors after playing in 66 games. The Brewers filled the hole in the short term with Brad Miller, but come on. Get Machado and win the Central, dudes. Pay the price. Flags fly forever! And division banners are a lot more fun than playing in the wild card game.