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The Most Valuable Prospects in Baseball

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National prospect experts weigh in on the players–or trade chips–of tomorrow

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

As I sat down to write about a certain infielder from the orange-and-black-colored avian squadron found near the Chesapeake Bay, I very quickly encountered a problem. In trying to analyze a potential Cardinals trade for one Manny Machado, I had no tangible way to quantify prospect value.

I am not a betting man, but even after Paul DeJong’s injury I would still wager my money against the Cardinals landing Machado. I just don’t see Baltimore’s asking price ever dipping to where St. Louis would part with what likely amounts to a half-season rental in return, especially if the Orioles can initiate a bidding war among buyers. But that’s beside the point. Be it Machado or Josh Donaldson or whichever middle reliever the Cardinals ultimately acquire, it would be beneficial to determine the worth of each proverbial chess piece with a little more precision.

From what I can gather as an outsider, at least some MLB front offices now utilize in-house computer simulations to enhance their decision-making process. A team might run, say, 10 million simulations in which they trade Player X for Player Y and 10 million in which they don’t, then compare the projected outcomes. My laptop couldn’t handle the programming behind a homemade simulation–sure, we’ll go with that as the chief reason I’m not a computer savant who has perfected his own player projection model–so we’ll have to settle for a less sophisticated concept that teams use to quantify assets: surplus value, a term that readers well-acquainted with the baseball blogosphere have probably heard before. Surplus value is essentially the difference between a player’s contributions to their team and the salary they cost the team. A player whose salary equals the expected production for that cost would have zero surplus value while a positive surplus value reflects a player paid below his market value. In other words, the greater the surplus value, the greater the bargain a contract is for the team. Calculating the surplus value of established big leaguers is a lot simpler than it sounds, but crunching the numbers for prospects adds its own wrinkles to the equation.

Fortunately, people much smarter than I have already done the mathematical heavy lifting. If this style of prospect valuation seems familiar to you, that’s because I modeled my methodology off what Ben Markham did at this very website last year. Combining rankings from MLB Pipeline, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Prospect 361, FanGraphs, and Minor League Ball, I compiled an aggregate list of the 202 most valuable prospects in the game. For the first four lists I mentioned that use a traditional top 100–or 101 in the case of Baseball Prospectus–rankings system, I deferred to an updated study by the Point of Pittsburgh on the surplus value of prospects as it relates to their ranking.

Surplus Value by Prospect Ranking

Tier Surplus Value
Tier Surplus Value
Hitters #1-10 81.4
Hitters #11-25 65.6
Hitters #26-50 37.6
Hitters #51-75 24.1
Hitters #76-100 20.2
Pitchers #1-10 73.4
Pitchers #11-25 45.9
Pitchers #26-50 32.2
Pitchers #51-75 19.7
Pitchers #76-100 15.1

Rather than solely evaluate prospects relative to their current peers, Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen include 20-80 scouting grades in addition to ranking them at FanGraphs. Here are Dave Cameron’s findings when correlating FanGraphs grades with surplus value.

Surplus Value by Prospect Scouting Grade

Grade Hitters Pitchers
Grade Hitters Pitchers
75 175 83
70 107 62
65 70 62
60 60 34
55 38 22
50 20 14
45 11 13

John Sickels of Minor League Ball attaches letter grades to each prospect, which Ben translated to the following values.

Surplus Value by Prospect Letter Grade

Grade Hitters Pitchers
Grade Hitters Pitchers
A+ 153.5 83.2
A 118 67.3
A/A- 90.7 54.5
A- 69.8 44.1
A-/B+ 53.6 35.6
B+/A- 41.2 28.8
B+ 31.7 23.3
B+/B 24.4 18.9
B/B+ 18.7 15.3
B 14.4 12.3
B/B- 11.1 10
B-/B 8.5 8.1
B- 6.5 6.5
B-/C+ 5 5.3

From here, I could convert a prospect’s industry-consensus pedigree into his quantifiable value. I provide the disclaimer that these numbers should be viewed as general estimates more than definitive conclusions, but here is a sortable table containing the 202 prospects with the highest aggregate surplus value.

But first…a few technical notes:

  • Regarding Shohei Ohtani, I made the executive decision to omit him from this list for the same reasons Baseball Prospectus excluded him from their rankings.

We discuss this in the Angels list, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t consider Ohtani a prospect. The league he’s been in for multiple season’s main purpose is not development, and he’s not going to spend time in the minors unless he’s rehabbing an injury. These are, of course, arbitrary factors, as is a player with 131 at-bats not being a prospect while a player with 129 at-bats is a prospect. You draw the line somewhere, and we drew it here.

  • Speaking of two-way players, one who did appear on this list was Brendan McKay. He would have cracked the top 202 either way, but I decided to classify him as a position player for the sake of calculating his surplus value. I have heard arguments from scouts on both sides as to whether McKay is a better hitter or pitcher, but I didn’t want to penalize him for his utility by categorizing him as a pitcher. (As the above tables illustrate, pitching prospects are valued less than their position player counterparts.) Besides, it appears the Rays are going to give him the opportunity to receive at least semi-regular at-bats anyways.
  • Because MLB Pipeline has updated their rankings since the season began, 10 players (one being Carson Kelly) were removed from the top 100 after exhausting their prospect eligibility. I resolved this by simply inserting their preseason rank into their aggregate value.
  • The majority of the 202 players were not included on all six prospect lists. I (somewhat arbitrarily) substituted any non-rankings with the equivalent of a B-/C+ grade from Minor League Ball, which is $5 million for hitters and $5.3 million for pitchers. For example, here is the aggregate surplus value calculation for Tyler O’Neill, who was not ranked by Baseball Prospectus or Prospect 361.

Tyler O’Neill Aggregate Surplus Value

Prospect List Rank/Grade Value
Prospect List Rank/Grade Value
MLB Pipeline 78 20.2
Baseball America 86 20.2
Baseball Prospectus Not Ranked 5
Prospect 361 Not Ranked 5
FanGraphs 50 20
Minor League Ball Grade B/B+ 18.7
Aggregate Surplus Value N/A 14.9

And now for all 202 prospects.

Aggregate Top 202 Prospects

Rank Surplus Value Name Team Position MLB Pipeline Baseball America Baseball Prospectus Prospect 361 FanGraphs Minor League Ball
Rank Surplus Value Name Team Position MLB Pipeline Baseball America Baseball Prospectus Prospect 361 FanGraphs Minor League Ball
1 85.6 Ronald Acuna ATL OF 1 1 1 1 65 Grade A
2 85.6 Vlad Guerrero Jr. TOR 3B 2 3 4 3 65 Grade A
3 85.6 Fernando Tatis Jr. SD SS 7 9 9 7 65 Grade A
4 79.4 Gleyber Torres NYY SS 4 6 3 4 60 Grade A/A-
5 79.4 Nick Senzel CIN 3B 6 7 7 10 60 Grade A/A-
6 79.3 Eloy Jimenez CWS OF 3 4 6 6 65 Grade A-/A
7 79.3 Victor Robles WSH OF 5 5 2 2 65 Grade A-/A
8 76.0 Bo Bichette TOR SS 11 8 19 21 60 Grade A
9 68.0 Brendan Rodgers COL SS 12 22 12 9 60 Grade A-
10 67.1 Kyle Tucker HOU OF 16 15 20 19 60 Grade A-/A
11 65.3 Francisco Mejia CLE C 13 20 5 13 60 Grade A-/B+
12 59.1 Forrest Whitley HOU RHP 8 10 10 22 60 Grade A/A-
13 59.0 Lewis Brinson MIA OF 13* 18 18 14 60 Grade B+
14 55.9 Willy Adames TB SS 22 19 15 38 60 Grade B+/A-
15 54.3 Royce Lewis MIN SS 20 24 27 17 55 Grade A-/B+
16 52.8 Michael Kopech CWS RHP 9 11 17 15 60 Grade A-
17 50.8 Walker Buehler LAD RHP 10 13 21 8 55 Grade A-
18 49.7 Brendan McKay TB LHP/1B 24 39 23 40 60 Grade B+
19 46.8 Alex Reyes STL RHP 17 17 8 12 60 Grade A-/B+
20 43.8 J.P. Crawford PHI SS 54* 16 14 28 55 Grade B+
21 43.6 Mitch Keller PIT RHP 14 12 16 11 60 Grade A-
22 40.8 Juan Soto WSH OF 15 56 22 46 50 Grade B+
23 40.5 Luis Robert CWS OF 26 58 55 16 60 Grade B+
24 40.5 Franklin Barreto OAK SS 60 43 63 24 55 Grade A-/B+
25 40.3 Scott Kingery PHI 2B 50* 31 31 31 55 Grade A-/B+
26 39.9 Sixto Sanchez PHI RHP 25 25 13 41 60 Grade A-/B+
27 37.9 Brent Honeywell TB RHP 18 14 11 26 60 Grade B+
28 37.1 Alex Verdugo LAD OF 30 37 25 35 50 Grade B+/B
29 37.1 Austin Meadows PIT OF 42 44 34 20 50 Grade B+/B
30 37.1 MacKenzie Gore SD LHP 19 26 29 23 55 Grade A-
31 37.1 Hunter Greene CIN RHP 21 29 39 18 55 Grade A-
32 36.9 Anthony Alford TOR OF 43 60 58 25 55 Grade B+
33 36.1 Austin Hays BAL OF 35 21 72 42 50 Grade B+
34 35.3 Willie Calhoun TEX DH 49 36 43 32 50 Grade B+/A-
35 33.8 Keston Hiura MIL 2B 52 47 32 71 55 Grade B+/A-
36 33.7 Estevan Florial NYY OF 41 38 26 36 50 Grade B+
37 33.6 Luiz Gohara ATL LHP 45 23 62 33 55 Grade A-/A
38 32.0 Triston McKenzie CLE RHP 23 33 37 50 50 Grade A-/B+
39 31.5 Luis Urias SD MI 32 32 74 97 55 Grade B+
40 31.4 Leody Taveras TEX OF 31 51 28 27 50 Grade B+
41 31.4 Jo Adell LAA OF 57 46 38 49 50 Grade B+
42 30.1 Ryan McMahon COL INF 38 63 99 34 50 Grade B+/A-
43 29.9 Kyle Wright ATL RHP 27 34 42 29 55 Grade B+/A-
44 29.2 Taylor Trammell CIN OF 40 48 59 57 50 Grade B+
45 29.0 A.J. Puk OAK LHP 29 30 30 51 55 Grade A-/B+
46 28.0 Carson Kelly STL C 32* 55 44 60 50 Grade B+/B
47 27.9 Nick Gordon MIN SS 76 93 35 37 50 Grade B+
48 27.1 Mike Soroka ATL RHP 28 27 33 92 55 Grade B+/A-
49 26.9 Jesus Sanchez TB OF 53 49 60 75 50 Grade B+
50 26.3 Miguel Andujar NYY 3B 92* 59 X 59 60 Grade B+/B
51 26.1 Michel Baez SD RHP 39 28 52 99 55 Grade A-/B+
52 25.6 Franklin Perez DET RHP 36 35 53 39 50 Grade B+
53 24.9 Justus Sheffield NYY LHP 44 41 57 61 55 Grade B+
54 24.8 Keibert Ruiz LAD C 48 40 54 79 X Grade B+/B
55 23.4 Jorge Mateo OAK 2B/SS/OF 67 64 79 98 50 Grade B+
56 22.8 Cal Quantrill SD RHP 37 52 48 30 X Grade B/B+
57 22.8 Ian Anderson ATL RHP 47 42 66 87 50 Grade B+
58 22.3 Kolby Allard ATL LHP 54 65 24 73 X Grade B+
59 22.1 Adrian Morejon SD LHP 46 66 50 65 X Grade B+
60 21.5 Heliot Ramos SF OF 58 79 61 63 X Grade B+
61 21.4 Jack Flaherty STL RHP 33 53 67 53 50 Grade B+
62 21.1 Alec Hansen CWS RHP 50 57 40 X 50 Grade B+
63 20.9 Monte Harrison MIA OF 66 75 49 X 50 Grade B
64 20.9 Yordan Alvarez HOU 1B 79 62 X 54 50 Grade B+
65 20.7 Carter Kieboom WSH SS 84 X 71 X 55 Grade B+
66 20.6 Jahmai Jones LAA OF 87 89 64 90 50 Grade B/B+
67 19.9 Corbin Burnes MIL RHP 63 74 80 66 55 Grade B+
68 19.9 Dustin Fowler OAK OF 95 88 98 85 50 Grade B/B+
69 18.4 Jake Bauers TB 1B 59 45 X X 50 Grade B/B+
70 18.4 Kyle Lewis SEA OF 65 67 X 44 X Grade B
71 18.3 Alex Faedo DET RHP 55 50 X 45 X Grade B/B+
72 18.1 Riley Pint COL RHP X 99 77 82 50 X
73 18.0 Michael Chavis BOS 3B 75 85 X 64 50 Grade B
74 17.8 Jon Duplantier ARI RHP 68 73 83 81 50 Grade B+
75 17.7 Chance Sisco BAL C 45* 68 X 91 X Grade B
76 17.3 Jay Groome BOS LHP 85 83 78 47 50 Grade B
77 17.0 Jesse Winker CIN OF 100* 98 91 X X Grade B+
78 16.8 Adonis Medina PHI RHP 81 84 46 X 50 Grade B+/B
79 16.5 Austin Riley ATL 3B 77 54 X X 50 Grade B+/B
80 16.4 Chance Adams NYY RHP 71 81 51 76 X Grade B+
81 16.2 Ryan Mountcastle BAL 3B 89 71 65 X X Grade B/B+
82 16.1 Jorge Alfaro PHI C 62* X 36 100 X X
83 15.2 Dylan Cease CWS RHP 56 X 47 X X Grade B+
84 15.0 Mitchell White LAD RHP 92 69 86 55 X Grade B/B+
85 14.9 Tyler O'Neill STL OF 78 86 X X 50 Grade B/B+
86 14.8 Wander Javier MIN SS 93 95 X 70 X Grade B
87 14.8 Yadier Alvarez LAD RHP X X 41 68 50 Grade B
88 14.7 J.B. Bukauskas HOU RHP 72 76 X 72 X Grade B+
89 14.6 Cristian Pache ATL OF X X X 95 55 Grade B
90 14.5 Pavin Smith ARI 1B 86 X X 43 X Grade B
91 14.3 Yusniel Diaz LAD OF 94 X 73 86 X Grade B/B-
92 14.1 Albert Abreu NYY RHP 69 77 100 X 50 Grade B/B+
93 14.0 Jesus Luzardo OAK LHP 34 X 88 X 50 Grade B
94 14.0 Matt Manning DET RHP 51 78 X 83 X Grade B+
95 14.0 Dane Dunning CWS RHP 70 82 89 X X Grade B+
96 13.8 Max Fried ATL LHP 80 72 X X 50 Grade B+
97 13.5 Joey Wentz ATL LHP X X 45 X 50 Grade B+/B
98 13.2 Tyler Mahle CIN RHP 78* 90 X 94 X Grade B+
99 12.9 Brandon Woodruff MIL RHP 81* 61 X 56 X Grade B
100 12.5 Sandy Alcantara MIA RHP 100 70 70 X X Grade B/B-
101 12.4 Andres Gimenez NYM SS X 94 82 X X Grade B/B+
102 12.3 Beau Burrows DET RHP 73 X 93 X X Grade B+
103 12.1 Fernando Romero MIN RHP 62 X 97 84 X Grade B
104 12.0 Nick Pratto KC 1B X X X 48 X Grade B
105 11.7 Brian Anderson MIA INF X X X 62 50 Grade B/B-
106 11.7 Nate Pearson TOR RHP 91 91 X X 50 Grade B/B+
107 11.6 Adam Haseley PHI OF 88 100 X X X Grade B
108 11.6 Isan Diaz MIA 2B X X 85 X 50 Grade B
109 11.6 Colin Moran PIT 3B/1B/OF X X X 96 50 Grade B
110 11.1 Brett Phillips MIL OF X 80 81 X X Grade B/B-
111 11.0 Stephen Gonsalves MIN LHP 74 97 X X X Grade B/B+
112 10.7 Kevin Maitan LAA SS 82 X X 69 X X
113 10.7 Jose Siri CIN OF X X X 74 50 X
114 10.5 Julio Pablo Martinez TEX OF 64 X X X X Grade B/B+
115 10.1 Blake Rutherford CWS OF 90 X 90 X X X
116 10.1 Jorge Guzman MIA RHP X 87 X X 50 Grade B/B+
117 10.0 Sean Murphy OAK C 97 X X X 50 X
118 10.0 Brandon Marsh LAA OF 98 X X X 50 X
119 10.0 Ke’Bryan Hayes PIT 3B X X X 77 50 X
120 9.8 Brent Rooker MIN OF X 92 X X X Grade B/B+
121 9.8 Evan White SEA 1B X X X 52 X Grade B
122 9.7 Adbert Alzolay CHC RHP X X 95 78 X Grade B
123 9.3 Shane Baz PIT RHP 61 X 96 X X X
124 9.2 Chris Shaw SF 1B/OF X X X 58 X Grade B/B-
125 9.2 Anderson Espinosa SD RHP 83 X X X 50 Grade B/B-
126 9.2 Cole Ragans TEX LHP X X X 67 50 X
127 9.1 Colton Welker COL 3B 96 X X X X Grade B
128 9.1 Arquimedes Gamboa PHI SS X X 92 X X Grade B
129 9.1 Zack Collins CWS C X X X X 50 Grade B
130 9.1 Danny Jansen TOR C X X X X 50 Grade B
131 9.1 Bobby Bradley CLE 1B X X X X 50 Grade B
132 8.6 Eric Fedde WSH RHP X X 87 X X Grade B/B+
133 8.2 Magneuris Sierra MIA OF X X 56 X X X
134 8.2 Seuly Matias KC OF X X 75 X X X
135 8.1 Peter Lambert COL RHP 99 X X X X Grade B
136 8.1 Seth Romero WSH LHP X X 76 X X Grade B
137 8.1 David Paulino HOU RHP X X X 80 X Grade B
138 8.1 JoJo Romero PHI LHP X X X 88 X Grade B
139 7.9 Touki Toussaint ATL RHP X X X X 50 Grade B
140 7.7 Franklyn Kilome PHI RHP X X 68 X X X
141 7.7 Dustin May LAD RHP X X 69 X X X
142 7.6 Bryse Wilson ATL RHP X X X X X Grade B+/B
143 7.5 Jake Burger CWS 3B X X 84 X X X
144 7.5 Ronald Guzman TEX 1B X X 94 X X X
145 7.5 Mickey Moniak PHI OF X X X 93 X X
146 7.5 Wander Franco TB SS X 96 X X X X
147 7.5 Yu-Cheng Chang CLE SS X X X X 50 X
148 7.5 Cole Tucker PIT SS X X X X 50 X
149 7.5 Tristen Lutz MIL OF X X X X 50 X
150 7.5 Alex Kirilloff MIN OF X X X X 50 X
151 7.5 Will Smith LAD C X X X X 50 X
152 7.3 Willi Castro CLE SS X X X X X Grade B/B+
153 7.3 Harrison Bader STL OF X X X X X Grade B/B+
154 7.3 Adolis Garcia STL OF X X X X X Grade B/B+
155 7.3 Yairo Munoz STL INF X X X X X Grade B/B+
156 7.3 Christian Arroyo TB INF X X X X X Grade B/B+
157 7.3 Andrew Knizner STL C X X X X X Grade B/B+
158 7.0 Shane Bieber CLE RHP X X X X X Grade B/B+
159 7.0 Freicer Perez NYY RHP X X X X X Grade B/B+
160 7.0 Domingo Acevedo NYY RHP X X X X X Grade B/B+
161 7.0 Dakota Hudson STL RHP X X X X X Grade B/B+
162 7.0 David Peterson NYM LHP X X X X X Grade B/B+
163 7.0 Ryan Borucki TOR LHP X X X X X Grade B/B+
164 6.9 Mike Matuella TEX RHP X X 101 X X X
165 6.9 D.L Hall BAL LHP X X X 89 X X
166 6.8 Zack Burdi CWS RHP X X X X 50 X
167 6.8 Braxton Garrett MIA LHP X X X X 50 X
168 6.6 Aramis Ademan CHC SS X X X X X Grade B
169 6.6 Ryan Vilade COL SS X X X X X Grade B
170 6.6 Logan Warmoth TOR SS X X X X X Grade B
171 6.6 Austin Beck OAK OF X X X X X Grade B
172 6.6 Jhailyn Ortiz PHI OF X X X X X Grade B
173 6.6 Randy Arozarena STL OF X X X X X Grade B
174 6.6 Isaac Paredes DET INF X X X X X Grade B
175 6.6 Thairo Estrada NYY INF X X X X X Grade B
176 6.6 Victor Caratini CHC C/1B X X X X X Grade B
177 6.6 Jake Rogers DET C X X X X X Grade B
178 6.6 Ronaldo Hernandez TB C X X X X X Grade B
179 6.6 Riley Adams TOR C X X X X X Grade B
180 6.6 Sheldon Neuse OAK 3B/SS X X X X X Grade B
181 6.6 J.D. Davis HOU 3B X X X X X Grade B
182 6.6 Nick Solak TB 2B X X X X X Grade B
183 6.5 Taylor Clarke ARI RHP X X X X X Grade B
184 6.5 Bryan Mata BOS RHP X X X X X Grade B
185 6.5 Tanner Houck BOS RHP X X X X X Grade B
186 6.5 Jose Albertos CHC RHP X X X X X Grade B
187 6.5 Alex Lange CHC RHP X X X X X Grade B
188 6.5 Kyle Funkhouser DET RHP X X X X X Grade B
189 6.5 Rogelio Armenteros HOU RHP X X X X X Grade B
190 6.5 Freddy Peralta MIL RHP X X X X X Grade B
191 6.5 Luis Ortiz MIL RHP X X X X X Grade B
192 6.5 Jordan Hicks STL RHP X X X X X Grade B
193 6.5 Ryan Helsley STL RHP X X X X X Grade B
194 6.5 T.J. Zeuch TOR RHP X X X X X Grade B
195 6.5 Sean Reid-Foley TOR RHP X X X X X Grade B
196 6.5 Cionel Perez HOU LHP X X X X X Grade B
197 6.5 Eric Lauer SD LHP X X X X X Grade B
198 6.5 Joey Lucchesi SD LHP X X X X X Grade B
199 6.5 Logan Allen SD LHP X X X X X Grade B
200 6.5 Yohander Mendez TEX LHP X X X X X Grade B
201 6.1 Kyle Cody TEX RHP X X X X X Grade B/B-
202 6.0 Garrett Hampson COL INF X X X X X Grade B/B-

You will find 12 Cardinals prospects named in the top 202, ranging from Alex Reyes at 19th to Ryan Helsley at 193rd.

Cardinals Prospects in the Aggregate Top 202

Overall Rank Name Position Surplus Value
Overall Rank Name Position Surplus Value
19 Alex Reyes RHP 46.8
46 Carson Kelly C 28
61 Jack Flaherty RHP 21.4
85 Tyler O'Neill OF 14.9
153 Harrison Bader OF 7.3
154 Adolis Garcia OF 7.3
155 Yairo Munoz INF 7.3
157 Andrew Knizner C 7.3
161 Dakota Hudson RHP 7
173 Randy Arozarena OF 6.6
192 Jordan Hicks RHP 6.5
193 Ryan Helsley RHP 6.5

This table confirms what we already knew about St. Louis’ farm system: its greatest strength is its depth and plethora of C+ to fringe B+ prospects. I wouldn’t get caught up on the specific rankings so much as the actual dollar amounts behind those rankings, especially as you move further down the list when the order becomes even more fickle. The linearity, or lack thereof, of surplus value by prospect rank points towards the elite prospects being disproportionately valuable for their rank. In layman’s terms, the gap between numbers 1 and 10 on the list is far greater than the gap between 191 and 200.

This basic logarithmic regression shows a 97% correlation, which helps to explain how the Cardinals can tie the Braves for the most prospects in the top 202 yet rank just 11th in total surplus value.

Needless to say, these 202 players are not the only prospects in baseball that have value to their respective organizations. Case in point: Austin Gomber (B/B-), Max Schrock (B/B-), and Oscar Mercado (B-) alone have a combined surplus value of $27.6 million according to John Sickels’ grades. A club like the Cardinals would presumably stand to gain from a more comprehensive look into the deeper fathoms of each team’s farm system, but that would be a much more time-consuming task for another day.

I will be the first to admit that there was a lot of educated guesswork that went into these rankings. But if nothing else, I hope these prospect valuations can serve as a reliable tool to take stock in the near future as we approach an intriguing summer of trade talks.