As the non-waiver trade deadline approaches, the Detroit Tigers will again be sellers. The Al Avila led front office will be busy attempting to acquire young position player prospects, just as they did last summer when the Cubs sent Jeimer Candelario and others to Detroit. Candelario was expendable to the Cubs. His road to become an everyday corner infielder was clearly blocked at the major league level by the likes of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. In addition to Candelario’s situation with the Cubs, another example lies with Teoscar Hernandez. Hernandez, who according to some was just outside of the top-100 prospects in baseball, was dealt at the deadline last year for none-other than Francisco Liriano. Hernandez was expendable to the Houston Astros due to the presence of George Springer, Derek Fisher, Josh Reddick, Kyle Tucker, and Yordan Alvarez.
Detroit will not be able to acquire a top-50 prospect, and is very unlikely to acquire a top-100 prospect for their obvious trade chips: Francisco Liriano and Mike Fiers. Most teams will be turned off to Shane Greene and Leonys Martin due to recent injuries, and although possible, a trade involving Michael Fulmer is unlikely and would require an entire post by itself. Therefore, the Tiger organization and the fans should have low expectations for this year’s trade deadline.
The Tigers could again take advantage of the rosters belonging to this year’s contenders/buyers in search of position players. Position players that are not necessarily regarded as sure-fire prospects but appear to be major league ready and also blocked at their perspective position by established big leaguers. When looking around the league, here is where the Tigers could find the next Candelario/Hernandez like acquisition:
Cubs: Mark Zagunis, OF
Chicago’s NL team has a bit of a logjam in their outfield. They also have a right-handed hitting corner outfielder with nothing left to prove in Triple-A but is stuck their due to the presence of Jason Heyward, Albert Almora, Kyle Schwarber, and Ian Happ. Also getting reps in the outfield are Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist. On-base machine, Mark Zagunis, is relegated to Triple-A and could be a trade chip for the north-siders. Zagunis has posted an OBP above .400 and an OPS above .800 in four of his five minor league seasons. Although he is a fringy defender whom will be relegated to a corner outfield position, his on-base ability should make him useful to a major league club.
Indians: Willi Castro and Yu-Cheng Chang, SS
The division rival Indians have one of the best young shortstops in baseball in Francisco Lindor and also have two shortstop prospects that will be ready to break into the major leagues in 2019: Willi Castro and Yu-Cheng Chang. Cleveland’s #6 prospect (according to MLB.com), 21-year-old Castro is currently scuffling a bit at Double-A with a OPS of just .666. However, the switch-hitter fared about 100 points better during his age-20 season at high-A ball. Castro also has the hands, actions, and arm strength to stick at short stop. Chang is 22 years old and playing in Triple-A. He is currently boasting an OPS of .724 in the International League. Chang is Cleveland’s #7 prospect and also possesses the tools to remain at shortstop.
Rockies: Garrett Hampson, SS/2B
If the Rockies decide to become buyers in attempt to make a Wild Card run, the Tigers could be interested. Detroit should be interested in improving their middle infield but won’t be able to acquire Trevor Story, D.J. LeMahieu, or Brendan Rodgers in a Liriano/Fiers deal. The middle infielder of interest is Garrett Hampson. According to MLB.com, Hampson is Colorado’s sixth-best prospect and shows "Gold Glove upside at second base." He currently boasts an .854 OPS over 161 at-bats in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. Assuming the Rockies envision a double-play combo of Story and Rodgers, Hampson could be expendable.
Dodgers: Andrew Toles and Yusniel Diaz, OF
The Dodgers are well overstocked in their outfield. At the major league level, the team has the following players capable of playing in their outfield: Joc Pederson, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Chris Taylor, Kike Hernandez, and Cody Bellinger. They also have Alex Verdugo knocking down the door in Triple-A. These players are all controlled through the 2019 season at minimum. This leaves outfielders Andrew Toles and Yusniel Diaz without openings to get major league reps.
Andrew Toles is the most well know name out of the two. He has proven capable of hitting major league pitching and currently hitting .353 in Triple-A with an OPS of .930. The highly regarded Diaz is less likely to be traded for Fiers or Liriano, as he is the 85th best prospect in the country according to MLB.com. The native of Cuba is enjoying a solid year in Double-A while slashing .292/.410/.432.
Brewers: Brett Phillips, Keon Broxton, Domingo Santana, Corey Ray
The Milwaukee outfield looks to be in gridlock for years to come. Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Ryan Braun are all under team control through the 2021 season. Additionally, both Eric Thames (controlled through 2021) and old friend Hernan Perez (controlled through 2020) are getting starts in the outfield. This leaves the four players listed above without a place to play with the parent club.
Brett Phillips is the most highly regarded prospect of the bunch. Before the 2018 season began, he was listed as the 80th prospect nationally by Baseball America. Over 68 games with Milwaukee’s Triple-A affiliate, Phillips has slashed .241/.331/.392 with 11 steals. He does offer above-average defense in center field that includes an elite throwing arm.
Broxton is a guy who has yet to put all his tools together to be a consistent major leaguer. He made his debut in 2015 but has not been able to stick at the highest level. The logjammed Brewer outfield has not helped. Broxton’s speed allows him to play plus defense in center (13 DRS over 1,622 major-league innings). Although he slugged 20 home runs in 2017 and posted an OPS of .784 in 2016 for the Brewers, he owns a career major league slash line of only .224/.315/.421.
Santana does not possess the same defensive ability as Broxton but has proven the ability to hit major league pitching. He posted an OPS of .875 with 30 long-balls in 2017. Over 211 plate appearances this season, he has not fared quite as well (.667 OPS). He is also relegated to a corner outfield spot and plays below average defense there.
Lastly, former overall top-30 prospect and fifth overall draft selection, Corey Ray is not far way. The 23-year-old Ray has battled injures during his minor league career that has slowed his progression. He tore knee cartilage in the fall of 2016. That major injury could be to blame for a disappointing 2017 in High-A ball which dropped him out of the top-100 prospect list. Thus far in 2018, he has somewhat rebounded to a .781 OPS in Double-A (from .679 in 2017 in High-A) with 12 round-trippers and 21 stolen bases. However, over his 83 games in Double-A so far, he has struck out 102 times. The tools that allow him to play center field and the potential in his left-handed swing are intriguing.
Cardinals: Oscar Mercado and Randy Arozarena, OF
The Cardinals are another team that have outfielders whom deserve an opportunity at the show but established players are holding the spots on the 25-man roster. Marcell Ozuna is under team control via arbitration through the 2018 season. Dexter Fowler signed a big free agent contract that keeps him with the team through the 2021 season. Tommy Pham hits arbitration for the first time next season and is under team control through the 2021 season. In addition to the current regulars, two top-100 prospects are currently breaking into the bigs: Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill. These five will keep Mercado and Arozarena relegated to the Memphis Redbirds.
Mercado, a second round selection in 2013, has spent all of 2018 in Triple-A. The plus runner has hit .293/.365/.426, seven home runs, and 22 stolen bases. Currently listed as the Cards' number-eight prospect, Mercado has a chance to be an everyday center fielder.
Arozarena is a Cuban defector who signed with the Cardinals organization in 2016. He is now 23 years old and was promoted to Triple-A earlier this year. The right-hand hitting outfielder dominated Double-A pitching to a tune of a 1.072 OPS over 52 at-bats, but has scuffled a bit since his promotion to Triple-A (.236/.329/.346). He is a plus runner and can play all three outfield positions.
Washington Nationals: Daniel Johnson, OF
Although it's very possible that Bryce Harper leaves this coming offseason, the Nationals have a top-tier prospect, Victor Robles, ready to step in and play in the outfield right away. The others seeing time in the Nats' outfield are Adam Eaton (under team control through 2021), Michael Taylor (2020), Brian Goodwin (2022), and youngster Juan Soto. The Nats will also get two others back in the mix in 2019 when they recover from injuries: Howie Kendrick and Rafael Bautista. This leaves Daniel Johnson looking for space in a very crowded outfield. The lefty-swinging outfielder is currently boasting a .286/.354/.408 slash line in Double-A. Johnson, 22-years-old, is said to have a solid big league floor who has the ability to play all around the outfield but may eventually end up in right field on account of his cannon arm.