Included in the wrap up is the ranking of the top 25 prospects in the division, I also rank the six organization’s top 15 lists, and reveal my first, and second all-prospects team. The “Team Rankings” are based on the top 15 prospect list of each team only; it is not an assessment of the entire minor league system, or the major league club.
NL Central Top 15 Prospects Wrap Up
Top 15 Prospects: NL Central Team Rankings
The percentage is how many points the team scored on my ranking matrix, divided by the total possible number of points (180).
6. Chicago Cubs – 36%
As you can see the Cubs are far behind the other teams. They were not helped by a recent trade that sent Jose Ceda – who I had ranked as their second best prospect – to the Marlins. That being said, the Cubs still have six really good prospects in Vitters, Colvin, Samardzija, Veal, Cashner, and Flaherty. This season could easily improve if Vitters, and Colvin produce in 2009, and Samardzija can prove he can start in the big leagues.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates – 51%
It is really disappointing to see the Pirates’ top 15 prospects ranked so low in the division, since they are always drafting oh, so high. McCutchen is going to be a star, and will graduate to the majors in 2009, and Alvarez is a nice big step in the right direction, I also really like the addition of Jose Tabata, but guys like Neil Walker, and Moskos have been disappointing, and there are not many big names other than those, expect Brad Lincoln – how’s that for a run-on sentence?
4. Houston Astros – 55%
Fourth in the division is a nice improvement since being named the worst farm system by Baseball America last year/six months ago-ish. I really want to make you believe this is not just the Astros – my favorite team if you did not know – bias too. The Astros had one of the best drafts of any team back in June, and many of those players – five – made my top 15 list. Breakthrough years from Drew Sutton, Brian Bogusevic, and Chris Johnson also helped Houston climb the list.
3. Cincinnati Reds – 63%
The top three teams in the NL Central – when it comes to prospects – have really separated themselves from the other three. The Reds have good depth, and a lot of interesting prospects, especially in the infield, with Alonso, Frazier, Valaika, Neftali Soto, and Juan Fransisco all residing in the Reds’ top 10. I still feel as though Homer Bailey can be a front of the rotation starter, but there is a lot of doubt surrounding him.
2. St. Louis Cardinals – 68%
The Cardinals have a ton of depth, with at least seven pitchers in their top 15 list that I believe could become members of a major league rotation. They also have a number of great hitter prospects with Peter Kozma, Byran Anderson, Wallace, and possibly the best prospect in the NL Central, Colby Rasmus.
1. Milwaukee Brewers – 75%
The Brewers are the clear cut winners here. They have talent, depth, and versatility throughout their top 15 list – and it is the top 15 lists that I am ranking these teams on, remember. Mat Gamel is a terrific bat that will excel in the majors no matter where he plays on defense. Salome is one of the best young catchers in the minors, and Jeffress is one of the few prospects with true ace potential, and Brett Lawrie is a versatile prospect with plus power potential. It also helps that the Brewers are likely to receive four high draft picks – possibly all four in the first round of the 2009 draft – as compensation for losing C.C., and Ben Sheets.
Top 25 Prospects of the NL Central
25. Jaime Garcia LHSP StL
Garcia is going to miss all of 2009 recovering from Tommy John surgery, but has the stuff – with two plus pitches, a sinking fastball, and curveball – to be a middle-front of the rotation pitcher. He is also major league ready when he returns in 2010.
24. Felipe Paulino RHRP/RHSP Hou
Paulino throws his fastball in the high 90s, touching 100, and also throws a plus curveball, but struggles with his command. Houston is still trying to make a starter out of him, but I see Paulino as the second best closer on this list. A trade of Jose Valverde may force Paulino to the back-end of the bullpen this offseason.
23. Drew Sutton 2B Hou
Sutton may only become an above-average utility guy, but he has hit so well, this year in AA and in the AFL, that I think he can be an everyday second basemen. I probably have him too high.
22. Jeff Samardzija RHSP/RHRP Chc
In the same boat as Paulino, Samardzija was a great addition to the Cubs’ bullpen, which is relieving Kerry Wood of his closers’ duty this offseason. He also has excellent stuff. I rank him ahead of Paulino, because I believe he has a better chance of making it as a starter.
21. Todd Frazier 3B/SS Cin
He is not going to play shortstop at the big league level; he is likely to stick at third base. I am not overly high on Frazier, but he finds himself just outside the top 20 because of his likelihood to become an above-average third basemen.
20. Chris Perez RHRP StL
Perez is the best closer in the division, and the Cardinals are likely to go to him in the ninth in 2009. He throws his fastball in the mid 90s with sink, and also a plus slider in the mid-high 90s.
19. Bryan Anderson C StL
He can be an above-average catcher, with a solid batting average, and on base percentage to go with solid defense, but I do not think he will supplant Yadier Molina as the Cardinals catcher, unless they are looking for an extremely affordable option.
18. Chris Valaika SS/2B Cin
Valaika is not a shortstop, he is a second, or third basemen, or a corner outfielder. But, after one of the best offensive years in the minors I feel obligated to put Valaika in the top 20. Valaika does not have as good of tools as everyone else on this list, but plays hard, and produces, you have to like that.
17. Tyler Colvin OF Chc
Once, not to long ago, Colvin was one of the top 50 prospects in baseball. Now, I still think he is one of the top 20 in the NL Central, and on the fringe of the top 100 overall, but if Colvin repeats his 2008 performance in 2009, start considering him a bust. He still has great potential.
16. Jonathan Lucroy C Mil
There are quite a few good catchers in this division. Lucroy does not have the same potential has Salome, but could make things interesting for the Brewers at the position pretty soon.
15. Jose Tabata OF Pit
I still really like him. He can field, hit, and run. So, that once was expected is not there, who cares? He is still a really good prospect, who, despite his young age, could help the Pirates very soon.
14. Jordan Lyles RHSP Hou
Could it be Lyles is only the first prospect on this list from the 2008 draft, four more will follow. Upside gets him here. Lyles was taken in the first sandwich round of the 2008 draft. He only throws his fastball in the 88-92 range right now, but should add some velocity as he grows. I think Lyles can be a number two pitcher in the future, and I cannot say the same for many in this division.
13. Jeremy Jeffress RHSP Mil
The last pitcher in the top 25, Jeffress is the only pitcher with true “ace” potential. He has command, and off the field issues. But, his potential is too high to deny him of much, for now.
12. Angel Salome C Mil
Salome has faced a 50-game suspension in the past for performance enhancers. But, he hit .360 this past season in AA, off the “juice”. A bit below-average defensively, Salome should compete for a major league spot at catcher soon.
11. Alcides Escobar SS Mil
Escobar is a great defender, with good speed, and the ability to hit the ball for a good average. I compared him to Jason Bartlett when doing the Brewers’ top 15, and I am sticking with that assessment, I think he will plays the same way as Bartlett, but Escobar is a little better at every facet of the game.
10. Brian Bogusevic OF Hou
Just added to Houston’s 40-man roster, Bogusevic, a pitcher just a few months ago, could compete with Michael Bourn for the centerfield job in Houston during Spring Training. Bogusevic should be average, at least defensively, with a strong arm. He will also hit for a good average, and doubles power, he possesses a good batter’s eye.
9. Drew Stubbs OF Cin
Great defender in centerfield, with a plus arm, and plus speed. Stubbs has a lot of upside offensively, but he may, or may not reach it. I have him as a better defender than Bogusevic, but Bogey probably edges him out on offense.
8. Jason Castro C Hou
A little high, maybe, but because of my system of ranking it would have been almost impossible for someone ranked first on his team to slip further. Castro was the tenth pick in the 2008 draft. Castro should be an all-star catcher. He prides himself on his defense, although his arm is only average, and has good power potential, with good plate patience.
7. Josh Vitters 3B Chc
Like Colvin Vitters has slipped. But, I still think he can be a complete hitter and above-average defensively.
6. Yonder Alonso 1B Cin
Alsonso is going to have an impact bat, with plus power, hitting ability, and plate patience. Despite being drafted in June, Alonso should play for Cincinnati soon.
5. Brett Wallace 3B/1B StL
Yes, I like him over Alonso. Wallace was drafted seven spots – I believe – after Alonso, but Wallace made it all the way to AA in his first taste of pro baseball, and excelled in his experience. He also has a chance to play third, but realistically not well.
4. Pedro Alvarez 3B Pit
The third 2008 draft pick, and last, Alvarez had the best bat in the draft, with the ability to hit for a high average, and possessing plus power, I also believe Alvarez has the best chance to stay at third base.
3. Mat Gamel 3B/1B Mil
Has a great bat, which is major league ready, and is very athletic. However, Gamel piles up a lot of errors, and may/probably will have to switch positions before becoming a full time player in Milwaukee. He is one of the top prospects in baseball if he can stay at third, or as I suggest make a move to right field, due to his strong arm, and athleticism.
2. Andrew McCutchen OF Pit
McCutchen is terrific defensively, above-average offensively, great speed, all he is lacking is above-average power, but that may come. McCutchen will be the first all-star from this list.
1. Colby Rasmus OF StL
Rasmus should make for an above-average centerfielder defensively, and an all-star offensively. Rasmus is going to be a 25-20/20-25 (HR-SB) guy every year. He is still a year away from starting in St. Louis, though.
NL Central First Team All-Prospects
SP – Jeremy Jeffress
SP – Jordan Lyles
SP – Jeff Samardzija
SP – Homer Bailey RHSP Cin
SP – Jaime Garcia
CL – Chris Perez
C – Angel Salome
1B – Brett Wallace
2B – Chris Valaika
SS - Alcides Escobar
3B – Mat Gamel
OF – Colby Rasmus
OF – Andrew McCutchen
OF – Drew Stubbs
Honorable Mention – Josh Vitters
Other than second base, this team features some of the best position players in the minors. The pitchers on the other hand are very mediocre, as Jeffress is the only ace among them.
NL Central Second Team All-Prospects
SP – Donald Veal LHSP Chc
SP – Darryl Thompson RHSP Cin
SP – Jake Odorizzi RHSP Mil
SP – Brad Lincoln RHSP Pit
SP – Lance (Michael) Lynn RHSP StL
CL – Felipe Paulino
C – Jason Castro
1B – Yonder Alonso
2B – Drew Sutton
SS – Pete Kozma SS StL
3B – Pedro Alvarez
OF – Brian Bogusevic
OF – Jose Tabata
OF – Tyler Colvin
Honorable Mention – Todd Frazier
Once again great position players, except for maybe the middle infield. But, I really had to dig deep to pick out those starting pitchers.