Toolshed: The state of buyers' farm systems

Looking at the prospects who were spared at the trade deadline

Alex Verdugo's .306 career average in the Minor Leagues is a testament to his plus hit tool. (Bobby Stevens/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | August 4, 2017 1:30 PM ET

Willie Calhoun told an interesting story on this week's Minor League Baseball podcast.

The new Rangers No. 2 prospect explained how he and his Triple-A Oklahoma City teammates were sure that either he or No. 2 Dodgers prospect Alex Verdugo were going to be traded as part of a rumored swap involving Yu Darvish. When the deadline passed at 4 p.m. ET without news of a move, Calhoun and his teammates breathed a sigh of relief and headed out to stretch. Then, at precisely 4:12 p.m., Ken Rosenthal sent out a tweet heard 'round the world. "Source: Darvish TRADED."

Calhoun soon learned he was the one on the move and before long was off to Triple-A Round Rock in a new system, and analysts quickly chimed in on what was next for the slugging infielder.

Not surprisingly, these reports tend to be the focus on the last day of July and the week the follows -- who got moved, what it means for the new organization, what role will they take on, etc. But what about those who stayed and the state of the sellers' farm systems? For every Calhoun, there's a Verdugo -- a prospect who was rumored to be headed elsewhere but ended up in the exact same spot. This edition of Toolshed examines five organizations who were sellers at the deadline and what's in store for the big-name prospects who ultimately stayed put.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Notable prospects traded: 2B/OF Willie Calhoun (No. 68 overall), RHP A.J. Alexy, SS Brendon Davis, SS Oneil Cruz

Notable prospects kept: RHP Walker Buehler (No. 13), OF Alex Verdugo (No. 28), RHP Yadier Alvarez (No. 51), OF Yusniel Diaz (No. 87)

With the Majors' best club looking to add a big-time arm to its already formidable rotation, it was widely believed that the Dodgers would have to package at least one of their top four prospects -- Buehler, Verdugo, Alvarez, Calhoun. In the end, it took Calhoun along with Class A prospects Alexy and Davis to bring the All-Star right-hander to Los Angeles. That's notable for a few reasons. First, Calhoun was the lowest ranked of that foursome, meaning a solid system still has strength at the top. Second, Calhoun didn't have a clear future with the Dodgers as a bat-first player without an obvious position, making him perfect for an American League team, given the designated hitter rule.

Buehler and Verdugo, in particular, are big-time keeps because they could help the big club down the stretch. Verdugo is hitting .321/.390/.436 at Triple-A Oklahoma City and capable of playing all three outfield spots. He'd make sense in left field, had Chris Taylor not been enjoying a breakout season at the position. He could still prove to be a versatile fourth outfielder and a left-handed bat off the bench come the playoffs. Buehler, on the other hand, has been surging up the ladder in his first healthy season following Tommy John surgery in August 2015, climbing from Class A Advanced Racho Cucamonga to OKC while striking out 106 batters in 75 1/3 innings. He'll be under an innings limit, but the Dodgers could hold that down and get the most out of his electric stuff with a spot in the Major League bullpen.

Houston Astros

Notable prospects traded: OF Teoscar Hernandez

Notable prospects kept: OF Kyle Tucker (No. 10 overall), RHP Forrest Whitley (No. 40), RHP Franklin Perez (No. 46), OF Derek Fisher (No. 54), OF/1B Yordan Alvarez

You've probably heard the story by now. Starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel told reporters in reference to the lack of Astros' deadline moves: "I mean, I'm not going to lie, disappointment is a little bit of an understatement." Owner Jim Crane elaborated that the club had agreed to deals before they fell apart on the other side. Ken Rosenthal added that they were looking to get Zach Britton and one other reliever in deals that never came to fruition. Instead, they got Francisco Liriano for Hernandez, their No. 9 prospect, and Major League outfielder Norichika Aoki. 

It's understandable to be underwhelmed from a fan's perspective. At 69-39, the Astros have been the runaway best team in the American League, but that doesn't guarantee a ticket to the World Series. With the depth of their system, they had the chips to bring in a big name to add to the bullpen. Fisher seemed like someone who could've been moved as a Major League-ready outfielder without an obvious spot in Houston once George Springer returns. However, this goes to show how much the Astros value their prospects, and that makes sense, given the way their Major League roster is constructed.

Unlike the Dodgers, there isn't as much Major League-ready big-name prospects who could help, outside Fisher. (Francis Martes could've been considered here, but he recently graduated due to time spent in the Majors.) As talented as Kyle Tucker is, he's still a 20-year-old with 45 games of Double-A experience. Perez has also just barely arrived in the Texas League at 19 years old. Whitley may have climbed quickly to Class A Advanced Buies Creek but is still only one year removed from being drafted in the first round out of high school. These are all quality names who can still help Houston a great deal down the line, but not at the Major League level in 2017. The Astros are still playing the long game, but the opportunity in front of them makes this feel like an opportunity lost.

New York Yankees

Notable prospects traded: OF Blake Rutherford (No. 45 overall), OF Dustin Fowler (No. 76), RHP James Kaprielian, SS/2B/OF Jorge Mateo, LHP Ian Clarkin, RHP Zack Littell

Notable prospects kept: SS Gleyber Torres (No. 3 overall), OF Clint Frazier (No. 27), RHP Chance Adams (No. 61), OF Estevan Florial (No. 89), LHP Justus Sheffield (No. 92)

From both a prospect and Major League perspective, the Yankees were the busiest organization at this year's deadline -- a fun twist on last year's theme when they were among the game's most profitable sellers. They dealt 2016 first-rounder Rutherford and Clarkin as part of the package that returned Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox, and then had one of the biggest deals of deadline day, bringing in Sonny Gray from the A's for a high-ceiling package of Fowler, Kaprielian and Mateo.

For those keeping score at home, that's three former All-Stars coming in and only two top-100 prospects going out. That's pretty good work by Brian Cashman, who brought in Torres, Frazier and Sheffield at last year's deadline alone. But make no mistake, the Yankees' system did take a hit. Fowler could be Oakland's starting center fielder next year once he recovers from a season-ending knee injury, and Kaprielian and Mateo have some highly graded tools that point to a promising future. What's more, Rutherford has the building blocks for a solid-hitting outfielder that could be a big part of the rebuild on the South Side of Chicago.

But Torres remains, and even after his Tommy John surgery, he's still one of the most promising prospects in the game. For those still on the field, Frazier, who joined New York with Sheffield last season from the Indians for Andrew Miller, will continue to produce with the big club instead of being moved to his third organization in two seasons. Florial saw a breakout season at Class A Charleston, in which he hit .297 with 11 homers and 17 steals in 91 games, get rewarded with a promotion to Class A Advanced Tampa, rather than a move to a new organization as the headliner in a deal for Major Leaguer. Adams and Sheffield remain the two most promising arms in the system, and with the pair at Triple-A and Double-A, they could be quality, controllable arms at the top level by next summer.

If anyone needs convincing that this year's deadline was a buyer's market, point to the Yankees. A deep farm stayed relatively deep while the Major League roster significantly improved.

Washington Nationals

Notable prospects traded: LHP Jesus Luzardo, 3B/SS Sheldon Neuse, LHP McKenzie Mills, LHP Tyler Watson

Notable prospects kept: OF Victor Robles (No. 5 overall), OF Juan Soto (No. 42), RHP Erick Fedde, SS Carter Kieboom

It was no secret that the NL East leaders were looking for bullpen help in July, and they got it in the form of Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson from the A's and All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler from the Twins. They also added to their bench with outfielder/infielder Howie Kendrick from the Phillies. Those are all solid moves, but none of them were blockbusters, which they potentially could have made with the controllable Britton and Brad Hand rumored to be on the market. 

From a system perspective, it's good that there's still potential star power in Robles and Soto after Washington paid a big price in that department by trading Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez in last offseason's Adam Eaton deal. Robles, in particular, looks like a potential five-tool center fielder, and with the 20-year-old already at Double-A, he could be ready for the Majors as early as next year. Soto -- the Nats' only other top-100 prospect -- is still far behind at Class A and has missed most of the season with an ankle injury, but his bat leaves plenty to dream on. Instead, the prospect most likely to come back and haunt the Nationals is Luzardo, who has become the No. 7 prospect in an improved A's system. The 2016 third-rounder has shown promise in his first year back from Tommy John surgery, striking out 25 while walking one in 22 1/3 innings at the complex level, but he's so far away it'll be years before his true value is known.

For now, the Nats made small but noticeable improvements to their big-league roster while keeping their top talent together on the farm, and that was likely the ideal scenario for general manager Mike Rizzo.

Boston Red Sox

Notable prospects traded: RHP Shaun Anderson, RHP Jamie Callahan, RHP Stephen Nogosek, RHP Gerson Bautista

Notable prospects kept: 3B Rafael Devers (No. 4 overall), LHP Jay Groome (No. 48), 3B Michael Chavis

It's notable when Dave Dombrowski doesn't make a huge deal involving prospects -- or at least it feels that way.

Instead, the Red Sox made minor tweaks, picking up utilityman Eduardo Nunez from the Giants and reliever Addison Reed from the Mets and trading away some non-ranked pitching, mostly relievers. After the deadline, Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal reported that Boston's ownership "ordered Dombrowski to keep top prospects out of deadline deals." The Red Sox president of baseball operations denied that claim on WEEI soon after.

True or not, it's noteworthy that the Red Sox -- an organization that's made big swaps for Craig Kimbrel and Chris Sale under Dombrowski's leadership -- didn't take another big bite out of an already shallow system. Devers was unlikely going anywhere, and he's proven why as his bat has transitioned seamlessly to the Majors. Groome could have been a candidate, but an oblique injury and inconsistency in his first full season have caused his stock to drop. On the other side of the coin, Chavis has seen his stock take such a jump that he seemed like a possible headliner in any big swaps, but instead, he'll continue to chase the Minor League home run lead from Double-A Portland.

Any type of blockbuster deal would've truly had to be a difference-maker if the Red Sox were going to give up more potential future assets. Instead, Anderson, now No. 17 in the Giants' system, might have been the biggest prospect moved.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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