With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, prospects are vulnerable as attachments to big league deals.

While the loss of prospects is somewhat inevitable, some should remain immune, kept within the organization due to superior value and potential.

Introduction

At the trade deadline, contenders aim to put themselves over the top. Teams look for that missing puzzle piece, that edge. If a trade goes as planned, it can truly transform a team’s complexion, perhaps even leading to a World Series.

On the flip side, “pretenders,” or teams that are completely out of the hunt, aim to retool. They aim to re-stock their prospect pool, therefore increasing the likelihood of a bright future.

These ideas are simple in principle. Their execution, however, is very, very difficult. There is a difficult line to cross, a balance between winning now while maintaining the future of the franchise. Should this line blur, negative implications can last a long time. Needless to say, it is a delicate time for every franchise.

Due to the inherent risk of the situation, it seems like the wise move to create some “ground rules” as a franchise. That is to say, create a list of certain players you are absolutely unwilling to trade. For the Cardinals (a contender) this list should contain several top prospects, the perceived cornerstones of the team’s future. Such a strategy provides an insurance policy, a pool of talent to fall back on should a deadline move not pan out as planned. Put simply, stashing certain players keeps risk at a calculated, healthy level. It preserves the longevity of the franchise.

For the Cardinals specifically, I put together a list of 5 “untouchable” players. Before advancing, it is worth stating that that players make this list for reasons beyond sheer talent. Factors include age, position, and development trends. With so many good players, this list could perhaps become longer. It all depends upon the aggression with which the front office chooses to operate. With a more conservative mindset, they protect more players, and vice versa.

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Cardinals Prospects

Alex Reyes

Although he debuted for a decent portion of the 2016 season, I still consider Reyes a prospect within the Cardinals organization. Obviously, he has crazy talent, and seems to be the ace of the future in St. Louis. This inclusion probably goes without saying, but he definitely is not going anywhere. It may be a while before we see him, but when we do, he will definitely be a Cardinal.

Carson Kelly

Anytime you aim to replace a hall of fame catcher, their apparent heir becomes a coveted player. Kelly is no exception. He beautifully switched positions early in his minor league career, and has blossomed into the catcher of the future. Although Yadi’s 3 year extension complicates his developmental timeline, he remains a player of extreme value, one the Cardinals simply cannot afford to lose at this moment.

Catching talent does not come around often, and when it does, organizations will almost almost hold on. This is no exception.

Delvin Perez

Although Perez is enduring a slightly disappointing 2017 campaign, his raw talent/potential is simply too much to give up. While the jury is obviously out, especially offensively, the best case scenario with Perez could be a dynamic franchise shortstop. In baseball, where you “pay up the middle,” the possibility of such a shortstop does not come around often.

While it is possible that Perez won’t pan out, the implications of him fulfilling his potential are simply too great. With size, speed, and the potential for pop, he could be a game changing presence. With that being said, he is here to stay.

On a related note, Perez, still just 18 years of age, has played well after his demotion. He has 6 hits in 5 games for the GCL Cardinals, including 1 double and 2 triples. An encouraging sight, such a stat line flashes the talent that Perez possesses. These are the flashes that make him “untouchable” in my mind.

Jack Flaherty 

A big, sturdy, polished right-hander, Flaherty is perhaps the second-best pitching prospect in the system. While Luke Weaver may be better right now, Flaherty has better upside, more potential to perform at high levels consistently in the MLB. Throughout his developments, Flaherty has, for the most part, smoothly improved and grown into his potential.

Putting it all together, Flaherty dominated during his time in AA this season posting a 7-2 record accompanied by a stifling 1.42 ERA. A first round pick back in 2014, Flaherty is executing the organization’s plan very well up until this point. As he inches closer to his big league debut, he is untouchable at the deadline, perhaps a franchise cornerstone in the years to come.

Harrison Bader 

My personal favorite player on this list, Bader has proven his ability to make adjustments this year in AAA. After demonstrating his dazzling athleticism and talent earlier in his career, this put things over the edge for me in my evaluations. He struggled to begin the season, however has put his head down, worked, and improved.

As it stands currently, Bader is slashing .299/.356/.524, a solid line in his only full season in the AAA ranks. Not to mention, he has hit 18 home runs, along with 45 RBIs. To me, Bader represents a possible spark for the Cardinals in the second half. He plays with tremendous effort and energy, hitting for power, stealing bases, and patrolling the outfield.

For a team that will be forced to scrap their way through a tight National League playoff battle, Bader needs to be there. As such, I believe he should stay a Cardinal, no matter the offers that come their direction.

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Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports