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Toolshed: What deals mean for prospects

How offseason's signings, trades will impact top young talents
Nick Madrigal posted the lowest strikeout rate among Minor League qualifiers at just 3.0 percent in 2019. (Lance Carter/MiLB.com)
January 17, 2020

Every transaction has a ripple effect, and oftentimes, those ripples are felt most at the Minor League levels. As it gets closer to the start of Spring Training, more and more organizations are wrapping up their impactful moves of the 2019-20 offseason. Thankfully -- blissfully -- this does not look like

Every transaction has a ripple effect, and oftentimes, those ripples are felt most at the Minor League levels. 
As it gets closer to the start of Spring Training, more and more organizations are wrapping up their impactful moves of the 2019-20 offseason. Thankfully -- blissfully -- this does not look like last offseason. The biggest free agents (Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon) already have signed, and while there are some others still available (like Nicholas Castellanos) and there is always the potential for a big trade, it's getting easier to see how this offseason's moves will affect prospects all across the Minor League landscape. 
This edition of Toolshed explores how some of the biggest transactions influence the potential futures for Top-100 prospects. Of note, this won't include prospects directly involved in trades or signed to extensions. It's easy to say Matthew Liberatore's future has been altered by his trade to the Cardinals or Luis Robert will be affected by his new contract with the White Sox. This will go one step beyond that.

Nick Madrigal, second baseman, White Sox: Speaking of Robert, Chicago has been one of the offseason's most aggressive teams. It added Yasmani Grandal, Edwin Encarnación, Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez in free agency. The White Sox traded for Nomar Mazara. They got José Abreu to accept a qualifying offer and then inked him to a three-year deal. They signed Robert, basically ensuring he will be their center fielder right away. These are all moves that will make Chicago a contender in the American League Central right away. What else could improve its chances? Getting aggressive with Madrigal. The 2018 first-rounder sped his way up the Sox chain in his first full season and finished with a .311 average, .792 OPS, 35 stolen bases and only 16 total strikeouts in 120 games across three levels, topping out at Triple-A Charlotte. His plus hit tool and elite bat-to-ball skills are already capable of working at the top level, and his speed and defensive work at the keystone would be assets too. Last year's edition of the White Sox could have afforded to keep Madrigal in Triple-A for a good chunk of the first half with a focus on adding more power. This edition needs all the talent it can get for as long as it can get it, and Madrigal would seemingly be a solid upgrade over Leury García at second. He should be in consideration for a debut in April or potentially even earlier if the Sox go the route of Pete Alonso, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack.
Carter Kieboom, infielder, Nationals: This was covered more extensively in Tuesday's Toolshed, so we'll keep this briefer. The Nationals lost Rendon to the Angels in free agency, leaving a major opening at third base. Instead of signing another big fish like Donaldson at the hot corner, the Nats have seemingly gone more piecemeal on their infield by bringing back veterans Howie Kendrick and Asdrúbal Cabrera and signing Starlin Castro and Eric Thames. None of that group is an out-and-out third baseman. Kendrick, Cabrera and Castro have some experience, but they could also help at first or second. Kieboom isn't a pure third baseman either. He was drafted as a shortstop and saw plenty of action at second with Triple-A Fresno in 2019. That said, he has the plus arm and a good enough one to make it work since Trea Turner seems to have short on lock. What's most important is the Nats have a lane to get Kieboom's impressive bat -- he hit .303 with 16 homers and a .902 OPS at Triple-A at age 21 -- into the Major League lineup, and that could make the loss of Rendon hurt less.
Royce Lewis, infielder/Alex Kirilloff, outfielder/first baseman, Twins: Sticking at third base, the Twins made the biggest player-related move of the week by signing Josh Donaldson to a four-year, $92 million contract. Coming off a record season for power, Minnesota added some more with the former AL MVP as it attempts to hold off Chicago and Cleveland in the AL Central. So how does this bring in Lewis and Kirilloff? Lewis, another typical shortstop, actually played third base the most during his resurgent spin through the Arizona Fall League. Donaldson's long-term deal could send him back to shortstop for a longer look or get him more looks at second or center field, where he also saw time in the autumn. As for Kirilloff, the No. 15 overall prospect's stock dipped slightly in a season partly marred by injuries, but 2019 was also notable for providing his first experience at first base. (He split time between first and the corner outfield spots with Double-A Pensacola.) Donaldson's addition forces Miguel Sano over to first with Nelson Cruz still holding down designated-hitter duties. It's not impossible for a player with Kirilloff's ceiling to knock off Sano, who has been inconsistent but is coming off a 34-homer season, but left field might be the clearer route these days.
Deivi Garcia, right-handed pitcher, Yankees: This was the biggie. Seeking rotation help, the Yankees only went and signed the best free agent on the market in Cole for nine years, $324 million. That is a quick way to get better and puts a big, expensive Band-Aid on a sore spot in the Bronx. It also pushes the club's top prospect further down the pitching depth chart, though no one should be complaining. It was always likely that Garcia was going to open 2020 back at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, especially since the Yanks chose not to bring him up when rosters expanded in September. With five of his 11 Triple-A appearances coming out of the bullpen, he will rejoin the RailRiders trying to extend his outings against bats at the Minors' top level and serve as starting depth until he's deemed fully ready. If anything, the major change here is Cole's presence should quiet calls for Garcia to join Cole, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino in the rotation this spring. Now those might come a little later. Say around May or so.
Kyle Wright/Ian Anderson, right-handed pitchers, Braves: For years during their rebuilding efforts, the Braves have looked like they would be rich in pitching by the time they were contending, and it's true they have success stories in Mike Soroka and Max Fried. But with Keuchel exiting the rotation via free agency this offseason, the defending NL East leaders didn't look internally for an option. They instead brought in another veteran southpaw in Cole Hamels. As a result, there is really only one rotation opening this spring to be fought for by Wright, Bryse Wilson, Sean Newcomb, Touki Toussaint and others. If Wright can't win it out of camp, it might be time to think about how he could fit in the back end of the Atlanta bullpen. (Then again, the club did make some additions there as well in Will Smith this offseason and Mark Melancon and Shane Greene at last year's deadline.) The 2017 first-rounder could thrive in shorter spurts with his fastball-curve-slider mix. A little lower, Anderson is in that next group of Braves pitchers to be affected by rotation additions. With three above-average pitches, the 21-year-old right-hander has surpassed Wright in most rankings and looks like the more likely of the two to stick as a starter. He was always ticketed to open at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he made five starts in 2019, but the addition of Hamels and the resulting backup only heighten the hurdle Anderson will need to overtake to claim a spot among the Atlanta starters.

Wander Franco/Vidal Brujan/Greg Jones, infielders, Rays: This one's last even though it involves the game's top overall prospect because it doesn't have direct Major League connections just yet. It can also be filed under "a good problem to have." The Rays dealt Tommy Pham to the Padres and in the return picked up No. 72 overall prospect Xavier Edwards. That could look like a deep farm system getting even deeper, but it actually just added to the Minor League logjam in the middle of the infield. Brujan, who has played shortstop and second base, has climbed the highest having reached Double-A. Franco and Edwards both split time between Class A and Class A Advanced, with the former playing shortstop exclusively and the latter seeing time at second and short. Jones just entered the discussion as a 2019 first-rounder, but he could be a fast climber coming out of UNC Wilmington. Brujan, Edwards and Jones are all 70-to-80-grade runners, and that speed could be put to use on the grass at some point. Franco has always been in the discussion as someone who could move to second or third, but the Rays would love to see his advanced bat stick at short. All of this from an organization that already has a decent double-play duo in Willy Adames and Brandon Lowe. It's a puzzle Tampa Bay will have to sort out with team and position assignments this spring, and Edwards' arrival only complicates any potential solutions. But if any club likes moving around puzzle pieces, it's the Rays.