Here's the thing about prospects: Nobody really knows. It's risky to project any prospect as a future superstar. Except all superstars were once prospects. Teams are reluctant to trade their best prospects because nothing is more valuable than a young star who isn't yet making big money. You also don't want to be the general manager who trades away Jake Arrieta or Kyle Hendricks and sees them develop into a Cy Young winner or contender.
On the other hand, you can hold on to a prospect too long. What if the Diamondbacks had traded Archie Bradley when he was a top-10 overall prospect? Joey Gallo’s value now is a lot less than it was a year ago after a bad year at Triple-A. What if the Mariners had traded Dustin Ackley when he was the No. 12 prospect in the game? You can go on and on playing this game. You can dig up numerous trades where an established player was traded away for a prospect or multiple prospects who never developed (sticking with the Mariners, we bring you Jesus Montero).
This gets us to Chris Sale. The Chicago White Sox want to trade him. Everybody wants him. He's going to cost a lot to acquire. It all comes down to prospect evaluation. As good as Sale is, no team wants to trade away two or three future stars to get him. The White Sox want to get future stars in return. Place your bets and hope you make the right decision.
Here are a few prospects with star potential. They could be used in a Sale trade or for some other established player.
The profile: The 16th overall pick in 2012, Giolito slid only because of a sprained UCL that led to Tommy John surgery after getting drafted. He became perhaps the top pitching prospect in the minors after dominating Class A Hagerstown in 2014 with a Grade 80 fastball and hammer curveball. At 6-foot-6, he has a starter's build.
The concerns: He hasn't dominated in the upper levels of the minors, including a 4.69 ERA at Double-A in 2016. He was roughed up in 21 innings in the majors, allowing 26 hits and seven home runs with more walks (12) than strikeouts (11). His fastball averaged 93.3 mph, verifying what scouts are seeing, that his stuff has backed up a bit. The command of both the fastball and curveball need improvement.
Victor Robles, CF, Nationals
The profile: The 19-year-old Dominican followed up a terrific U.S. debut in 2015 with a strong season split between two levels at Class A. He has five-tool potential and plays with a lot of energy. He seems to have surpassed Giolito as the Nationals' top prospect. Think Andrew McCutchen-like upside if the power and plate discipline develop, or at least something like Lorenzo Cain.
The concerns: Class A is a long way from the majors and he hit just .262/.354/.387 in 41 games at high-A ball, so he could return to Potomac to start 2017, putting his big league arrival in 2019. He hit just nine home runs in 421 at-bats, so we're still waiting for the power to develop.
Comment: The hot rumor is Sale for Giolito and Robles. If I'm the Nationals, I do this. Their time is now with Max Scherzer at his peak and Bryce Harper guaranteed to remain in Washington only two more seasons. A Scherzer-Sale-Stephen Strasburg rotation would be incredibly fun to watch and potentially incredibly dominant. Giolito's luster has faded a bit and Robles is at least a couple years away. If you can get Sale, go for it.
The profile: A 24th-round pick out of Southern University in 2013, De Leon exploded into prospect status after improving his stuff and getting in better shape, striking out 163 in 114.1 innings in 2015. He commands a low 90s fastball with a good changeup, his primary offspeed offering, and mixes in a curveball and slider. He had great numbers at Triple-A in 2016, with a 111-20 strikeout/walk ratio in 86.1 innings with just 61 hits allowed.
The concerns: Home runs. He gave up nine in Oklahoma City and five in just 17 innings with the Dodgers. His fastball with the Dodgers averaged just 91.6 mph, so not everyone is convinced his stuff will play up at the major league level. He hasn't pitched more than 114 innings in a season as a pro, so durability is an unknown factor.
Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, Dodgers
The profile: A fourth-round pick out of an Arizona high school in 2013, Bellinger has moved quickly based on his power and plate discipline. The lefty swinger mashed 30 home runs in 2015 and 26 at Double-A/Triple-A in 2016. The son of former major leaguer Clay Bellinger, he has a high baseball IQ and runs well enough to play a corner outfield position.
The concerns: Though he cut his strikeouts way down in 2016, from 150 to 94, he hit just .271. Does the hit tool match up with the power potential? The prospect landscape is littered in recent years with corpses of first-base prospects who haven't hit enough at the major league level.
Comment: The signing of Rich Hill probably pushes the Dodgers out of a potential Sale trade -- you have Clayton Kershaw, Hill, Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias, Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy all under contract as starters -- but they need a second baseman and Brian Dozier would be a great fit. If De Leon is a No. 4 starter, you probably deal six years of him for two years of Dozier. If De Leon is a future All-Star, that's a lot to give up. Bellinger could be a possible replacement for Joe Mauer, who has two years left on his contract.
Sean Newcomb, LHP, Atlanta Braves
The profile: Huge lefty out of the University of Hartford who came over from the Angels in the Andrelton Simmons trade. He sits 95 with the fastball, touches the upper 90s, and mixes in a plus curveball. Because he didn't pitch much until college, his arm doesn't have the same mileage as other pitchers his age. He fanned 152 batters in 140 innings at Double-A and allowed just four home runs. If it all comes together, there's ace potential.
The concerns: Control. He also walked 71 batters in those 140 innings, in part because he has difficulty repeating his mechanics. He doesn't have a clear third pitch at this point, and he'll have to watch his weight as he gets older.
Comment: The Braves could be a sleeper team to get Sale because of their prospect depth. Besides Newcomb, shortstop Ozzie Albies is another high-upside, high-risk talent who could go to the White Sox. He's blocked by Dansby Swanson, but can slide over to second base.
Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox
The profile: He hit .282 with 51 extra-base hits and 18 steals at high-A ball. The bat could be special -- he hits left-handed -- with bat speed, balance and raw power. He didn't strike out much for a 19-year-old in high A (94 times in 546 PAs) and has the hands and arm strength to stay at third base.
The concerns: Despite the steals, he's a below-average runner and his listed weight of 195 is a little generous, so he could outgrow the position and have to move to first base. He didn't walk much (40 times), so pitchers might be able to exploit his aggressiveness at higher levels. There's a big difference in value between a good-hitting third baseman and average-ish hitting first baseman.
Comment: Devers slots in behind Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada on the prospect list for the Red Sox. With Devers' positional uncertainty and Moncada possibly slotting in as the third baseman of the future, that could make Devers the centerpiece of a trade -- maybe not for Sale, but for bullpen or other pitching help.
Bradley Zimmer, OF, Cleveland Indians
The profile: A plus defender in center field with some pop at the plate, Zimmer was a consensus top-30 prospect entering 2016. The Indians traded fellow outfield prospect Clint Frazier in the Andrew Miller deal, keeping Zimmer instead. He hit .250 in the high minors in 2016, but with 77 walks, 15 home runs and 38 steals. If he can replicate that in the majors, that's an underrated all-around package.
The concerns: He struck out 171 times and in 37 games at Triple-A, hit just one home run with 56 strikeouts. There simply might be too much swing-and-miss in his game to be anything more than a fourth outfielder or starter on a second-division team. He just turned 24, so he's not young for an elite prospect.
Comment: The Indians aren't going after Sale, but they need a better defensive center fielder than Tyler Naquin and they need to find a replacement for Mike Napoli. If they think Zimmer is the answer in center, they keep him. If not, he's still valuable trade bait at the moment.