Prospect Watch: NL Central Prospects

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. This particular Prospect Watch feature will focus on prospect notes from around the minors — focusing on both top prospects and sleepers.

National League Central

Chicago Cubs

  • The 2014 amateur draft is less than two weeks away but the Cubs are reaping the benefits from their second overall selection in the ’13 draft. Third baseman Kris Bryant is mashing at the Double-A level. The University of San Diego alum is both getting on base (.474 OBP) and hitting for power (.299 ISO). Current Cubs rookie third baseman Mike Olt — along with his 82 wRC+ and 32.3 K% — certainly doesn’t appear to be the answer, so there is a clear path to the future hot corner gig (Luis Valbuena is hitting OK but he’s not the long-term guy). The big question for Chicago, though, is how soon do they want Bryant’s arbitration clock to start ticking when the big league team is so far away from being competitive?
  • Selected 41st overall in the 2013 draft, Rob Zastryzny has been roughed up in High-A ball this season. The Canadian southpaw, who was selected out of the University of Missouri, has allowed 48 hits in 32.0 innings. Chicago’s weak spot in its development program over the past few years has been its inability to develop high-ceiling pitching talent so this slow start hasn’t done the organization any favors. On the plus side, Zastryzny may be pulling out of his funk; he hasn’t allowed a run in his last two appearances (totalling 5.0 innings).

  • After a slow start to his career, a young hurler from the 2012 amateur draft is starting to see some results. Paul Blackburn — selected 56th overall out of a California HS — has walked just eight batters in 49.1 innings of work and has been inducing ground-ball outs at a high rate. He struggled with his control in 2013 in the Northwest League, a short-season league, with 29 free passes in 46.0 innings. With his new-found ability to pound the strike zone, the right-hander could develop into an innings-eating, middle-of-the-rotation starter.

    Cincinnati Reds

  • Selected in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, Ben Lively is turning out to be quite the steal for the Reds. The right-hander — who was ranked at FanGraphs as the 11th best prospect in the system prior to the ’14 season — has produced video game numbers since turning pro despite solid-but-unspectacular stuff. The right-hander has struck out 73 batters (with nine walks) with just 36 hits allowed in 61.0 innings of work — thanks to his ability to command a four-pitch repertoire.
  • I’ve been a fan of Seth Mejias-Brean‘s for a while now and he’s having another solid season in the minors. Currently playing in the California League (High-A), he’s taken advantage of his potent surroundings and slugged eight home runs — including five in his last 10 contests. Last season, he went deep just 11 times in 130 games. More impressively, he has an on-base percentage of .383 and a BB/K rate of 32/35. In a small-sample size, the right-handed hitter is killing southpaw hurlers to the tune of a 1.055 OPS (in 35 at-bats).
  • Formerly one of the Reds’ best pitching prospects, Daniel Corcino‘s decline continues… The right-hander posted an ERA near 6.00 in 2013 at the Triple-A level. As a result, he was demoted to Double-A to begin the 2014 season. His ERA currently sits at 3.91 but it’s deceiving and his FIP is 5.65. His walk rate has been identical over the past two years at 5.09 BB/9 and his strikeout rate has dwindled over the past three seasons from 10.08 to 7.91 to 6.28 to 5.94 K/9.

    Milwaukee Brewers

  • Despite their success at the big league level in 2014, the Brewers have one of the weakest minor league systems in the game. As a result, the system’s top prospect entering the season — outfielder Tyrone Taylor — was not exactly the most well known player. Currently in High-A ball, the 20-year-old California native isn’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball (.762 OPS, .255 average) but 25 of his 47 hits have gone for extra bases — including 20 doubles — and hint at his developing power potential.
  • The 27th overall selection in the 2012 draft, Clint Coulter hit well in his debut season at the Rookie ball level but his offence dried up in ’13 and he produced an OPS below .650 in both the Midwest League (A-ball) and, after a demotion, the Pioneer League (Advanced Rookie ball). This season, though, the young catcher has a .988 OPS with nine home runs in 44 games back in the Midwest League. He’s also shown more patience with 28 walks (versus 32 Ks) after taking just 20 free passes in 70 games last year.

    Pittsburgh Pirates

  • Selected in the second round of the 2012 amateur draft, Wyatt Mathisen was expected to develop into the Pirates’ catcher of the future. However, his inexperience showed behind the plate early in his career (He was mainly a pitcher and shortstop in high school) and the addition of ’13 first round pick Reese McGuire, also a backstop, sealed the former’s fate behind the dish. Mathisen, now a third baseman, has struggled with the transition both at the plate (.666 OPS) and in the field (.887 fielding percentage). McGuire, meanwhile, has flourished in the field with a 50% caught-stealing rate and he’s holding his own as a teenager in Low-A ball (.358 OBP, 15 Ks in 122 ABs).
  • The organization has dealt with a significant amount of bad luck in early going of 2014 with its young pitching. Jameson Taillon — whom I ranked as the club’s second-best prospect in the system prior to the start of the year — has been lost to Tommy John surgery. And Tyler Glasnow — a young hurler who slotted in right behind Taillon in the third hole — opened the year on the disabled list. Now healthy, the right-hander has pitched OK but his control has been noticeably off. He’s walked 20 batters in 27.0 innings. When he finds the plate, though, he’s been tough to hit with just 18 base knocks and 25 strikeouts.

    St. Louis Cardinals

  • Selected 19th overall in the 2013 draft, Marco Gonzales was expected to be a fast-moving college product with a modest ceiling (read: No. 3/4 starter). The lefty hurler needed just six starts in High-A ball this year to earn a promotion to Double-A. Since the promotion the southpaw has allowed just one earned run through his first two starts. Gonzales, 22, could have a similar rise to the Majors as former No. 1 pick Michael Wacha, although the right-hander has a lot more giddy-up on his heater.
  • Carson Kelly has gone in the opposite direction of the Pirates’ Wyatt Mathisen. Also a second round pick from 2012, the Cardinals prospect opened his career at the hot corner before moving behind the plate on a full-time basis in 2014. He’s struggled with the bat so far but the 19-year-old is making strides behind the dish with a caught-stealing rate of 44%. Unfortunately, he’s also allowed six passed balls in 29 games.

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    Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

    7 Responses to “Prospect Watch: NL Central Prospects”

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    1. Reese says:

      Marc – Can you give your thoughts on Buddy Borden at Low A West Virginia (Pirates)? He’s off to a great start and seems like a good promotion candidate soon.

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    2. BassmanUW says:

      I actually expect the Cubs to move Bryant to an OF corner upon his promotion to Iowa, as his defense at the hot corner in Tennessee has been the one negative piece of news regarding his performance. I’m also concerned about his ability to stay healthy long term at 3B at his size. I doubt we see Bryant with the Cubs this season, though, considering the issues you referenced (the Cubs aren’t competitive and his service time, especially considering he’s a Boras client). My guess is that he’ll be up with the Cubs sometime between late April 2015 and mid-June 2015, depending on if they’re trying to avoid Super 2 status or not.

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      • Steve says:

        I think in the Cubs perfect world, in 2 years their team is
        1B Rizzo
        2B Alcantara
        SS Castro
        3B Baez
        LF Bryant
        CF Almora
        RF Soler

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    3. Lanidrac says:

      You didn’t mention a single one of the Cardinals’ AAA outfielders?!

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    4. Grant says:

      If Baez starts next year in the bigs and stays there all year, will he break the single season strikeout record?

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