The best prospect to be traded this year will be ...

March 7th, 2019

Spring Training statistics don't mean much, but it's still fun to look at some actual big league numbers as opposed to looking out my window and seeing snow on the ground. One thing that caught my eye is that several spring batting leaders are former big-name prospects.

Ryan McMahon (Rockies) has the highest batting average at .476 and Lewis Brinson (Marlins) ranks first with five home runs, showcasing each of their best tools. Outfield prospect Bubba Starling (Royals) never has gotten his bat going after signing for $7.5 million as the No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 Draft, but he tops everyone in on-base percentage (.591), slugging (.941) and OPS (1.532).

The most obvious candidate is Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo, who ranks No. 35 among MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects. He's one of the best pure hitters on the list and has batted .321/.389/.452 the last two seasons in Triple-A as one of the youngest regulars in the Pacific Coast League.

But even after trading Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp to the Reds, Los Angeles still has a crowded outfield with Joc Pederson, A.J. Pollock and Cody Bellinger projecting as the starters; Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez expected to bounce between the infield and outfield; and Andrew Toles also pushing for playing time. It's hard to envision how Verdugo will get regular at-bats with the Dodgers and he has nothing left to prove in Triple-A, so a trade could make sense.

Two other possibilities are Braves right-hander Ian Anderson (No. 32) and Reds third baseman Jonathan India (No. 53). Coming off a division title and expecting to contend again, Atlanta has more pitching prospects than any organization except for the Padres and perhaps could be tempted to part with one of them in the right deal. Anderson has a high ceiling but also isn't as close to ready as the other top-tier arms in the Braves system.

India's name came up when Cincinnati made a run at acquiring J.T. Realmuto this offseason. The Reds don't seem willing to part with their top three prospects -- third baseman Nick Senzel, outfielder Taylor Trammell, right-hander Hunter Greene -- but maybe they'd give up India if it could plug a hole on a big league club hoping for a dramatic improvement this season.

For more on this question, including the identity of the highest-ranked prospect on the 2018 preseason Top 100 who got traded during the season, check out the video at the top of this Inbox.

Is a promotion to Double-A realistic for Rays third baseman Wander Franco? Is a big league promotion possible in 2019 or 2020?

-- Jeff H., Costa Mesa, Calif.

I gave Franco the nickname "Vladimir Guerrero III" in a Pipeline Inbox last month and I'm determined to make that stick. So I'll point out here that I expect Franco to follow the same path through the Minors.

Franco dominated the Rookie-level Appalachian League at age 17 last summer to an even greater extent than Guerrero did in 2016. I expect him to open his first full pro season in low Class A, push for a promotion to high Class A before it's over and be on the brink of the big leagues and rank as baseball's No. 1 prospect at the end of his second full season -- just like Guerrero did. He's ridiculously talented but I don't see him reaching Tampa Bay at age 18 this season and service-time considerations likely would torpedo any shot of him doing so at age 19 next year.

Of all the pitching prospects bouncing back from Tommy John surgery, who do you see as the top candidate to still become a top 20 pitcher in the Majors?

-- Jeff M., Melrose, Mass.

Four members of our Top 100 Prospects list are in various stages of comebacks from Tommy John surgery -- right-handers Michael Kopech (White Sox, No. 18), Brent Honeywell (Rays, No. 28) and Alex Reyes (Cardinals, No. 33) plus left-hander A.J. Puk (Athletics, No. 42) -- as are former Top 100 guys such as lefty Jay Groome (Red Sox) and righty Anderson Espinoza (Padres). For inspiration, they can look at Top 100 success stories such as lefty Jesus Luzardo (A's, No. 12) and righties Dylan Cease (White Sox, No. 21), Chris Paddack (Padres, No. 34), Jonathan Loaisiga (Yankees, No. 66) and Brusdar Graterol (Twins, No. 68), all of whom have returned to prominence after having their elbows reconstructed.

Former No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken (Indians) notwithstanding, the track record of pitchers working through the grueling rehab process and thriving after Tommy John surgery is encouraging. I'd be tempted to answer this question by choosing Reyes, but the fact that he tore a tendon in his right lat just five starts after returning to the mound scares me. So I'll go with Kopech, who had unhittable stuff before blowing out and has the work ethic necessary to get it back.

The Brewers will have several infield decisions to make in the near future. First baseman Jesus Aguilar was an All-Star last year, third baseman Travis Shaw hit 30 homers for the second straight season and shortstop Orlando Arcia ranked as the organization's top prospect three years ago and is just 24. Second baseman Keston Hiura, shortstop Brice Turang, middle infielder Mauricio Dubon and third baseman Lucas Erceg all rate among the system's eight best prospects on our Brewers Top 30.

Hiura was the best pure hitter in the 2017 Draft and has underrated power as well, but I don't see him moving to first base. Three years from now, my best guess is that Milwaukee will start Shaw at first base, Hiura at second, Erceg at third and Turang at shortstop. Dubon will fill a utility role and Aguilar will move to DH, which will be part of National League baseball by that point.