Reviewing the Top 10 Prospect Lists: NL Central

It’s accountability time. This is part two of a six-part series looking back at the 2011 Top 10 prospect lists. After looking at the National League West last week we’re now analyzing the Central division.

Houston Astros
1. Jordan Lyles, RHP
2. Delino DeShields, 2B
3. Tanner Bushue, RHP
4. Jiovanni Mier, SS
5. Mike Kvasnicka, 3B
6. Mike Foltynewicz, RHP
7. Jay Austin, OF
8. J.D. Martinez, OF
9. Vincent Velasquez, RHP
10. Jonathan Villar, SS

Prior to the 2011 season the Astros’ Top 10 list was all over the map, according to the likes of myself, Baseball America, Keith Law, John Sickels, and Kevin Goldstein. Everyone, though, had Lyles and DeShields 1-2 at the top. Because he had more experience than some of the others on the list, I placed Bushue at No. 3 despite his modest ceiling as a No. 3 or 4 starter. In low-A, his ERA currently sits at 3.48 but his FIP is 5.11 and his strikeout rate sits at just 5.80 K/9. Foltynewicz has had equally ‘meh’ results in low-A so far with a 4.49 FIP and strikeout rate of 5.06 K/9. Feeling a breakout season was in order, I was the only one to rank outfielder Austin in the Top 10 and he’s made me look silly while repeating high-A in an offense-boosting environment; his triple-slash line is just .257/.318/.365 in 315 at-bats. Of the hitters on the list, only Martinez has really stepped up his game this season. He has a triple-slash line of .333/.403/.518 in 255 at-bats and the only real knock on him at this point is the modest power out (.184 ISO) for a corner outfielder.

Chicago Cubs
1. Brett Jackson, OF
2. Trey McNutt, RHP
3. Chris Carpenter, RHP
4. Josh Vitters, 3B
5. Jay Jackson, RHP
6. Rafael Dolis, RHP
7. Hayden Simpson, RHP
8. Robinson Lopez, RHP
9. Reggie Golden, OF
10. Austin Reed, RHP

The Cubs’ Top 10 list has changed a lot because of off-season trades that occurred after many of the Top 10 lists had gone to print (Baseball America, Goldstein, Sickels). It’s not really a strong system, especially after the trade, and I had Jackson at No. 1. If he can curb the K problems (31%) then he should be a solid everyday outfielder, but probably not a star. After a breakout 2010 season, McNutt has had a down year in double-A and has been hampered by injury. Carpenter made his MLB debut in 2010 but he’s had an up-and-down year due to control issues. Jackson is pretty close to hitting rock bottom and his best hope for a MLB career is probably the bullpen. Vitters has yet to learn the value of patience (3.1% walk rate), which is a shame because it really is diminishing his ceiling. Golden is off to a nice start in short-season ball. The remainder of the Top 10 has been pretty disappointing. Like a few others I didn’t rank Matt Szczur on the Top 10 and, honestly, I still don’t know what to make of him.

Milwaukee Brewers
1. Jake Odorizzi, RHP*
2. Mark Rogers, RHP
3. Jeremy Jeffress, RHP*
4. Kyle Heckathorn, RHP
5. Wily Peralta, RHP
6. Cody Scarpetta, RHP
7. Hunter Morris, 1B/OF
8. Jimmy Nelson, RHP
9. Tyler Thornburg, RHP
10. Caleb Gindl, OF

Like the Cubs, the Brewers organization saw a number of changes to its Top 10 list thanks to trades that happened during the off-season. I was able to adjust for the Shaun Marcum trade (loss of Brett Lawrie) but the Zack Greinke deal occurred after I posted my list. Rogers ended up as the No. 1 guy in the organization but his season has been pretty bad. I was pretty much the only writer who wasn’t on the Scooter Gennett bandwagon and I’m actually still pretty happy about that. His season has been decent in high-A ball (.284/.323/.376) but he doesn’t hit for power or rack up the steals, whicj leaves him as an all-batting-average guy. He’s more of a utility player for me. Fellow 2010 draftees Nelson and Thornburg have really started to separate themselves. Nelson hasn’t done much in low-A while Thornburg pitched in the Futures Game. I’ve been a big fan of Morris since his prep days and was the only one to place him on the Brewers’ Top 10 list. He’s been a little too aggressive at the plate for my liking but he has a solid triple-slash line of .294/.320/.538 and has already tasted double-A.

Cincinnati Reds
1. Aroldis Chapman, LHP
2. Devin Mesoraco, C
3. Billy Hamilton, SS
4. Yasmani Grandal, C
5. Yonder Alonso, 1B/OF
6. Yorman Rodriguez, OF
7. Kyle Lotzkar, RHP
8. Zack Cosart, SS
9. Juan Francisco, 3B
10. Drew Cisco, RHP

The Reds organization is one of my favorites in terms of overall prospect depth. The catching depth is outstanding with both Mesoraco and Grandal; neither prospect has seen his value diminish in 2011. Mesoraco could probably be catching for a lot of big league teams right now and Grandal’s not far behind him. Alonso is another player that’s stuck in the minors due to the Major League depth. Hamilton continues to run wild in the minors (64 steals) but his offensive approach at the plate has taken a step back this season. Rodriguez is another player who’s struggled in full-season ball but he’s just 18. My “gut-feel” guy, Cisco, has been knocked out by Tommy John surgery.

Pittsburgh Pirates
1. Jameson Taillon, RHP
2. Tony Sanchez, C
3. Stetson Allie, RHP
4. Luis Heredia, RHP
5. Rudy Owens, LHP
6. Jeff Locke, LHP
7. Starling Marte, OF
8. Bryan Morris, RHP
9. Zack Von Rosenberg, RHP
10. Colton Cain, RHP

Taillon has had an impressive season so far in low-A ball. Along with a 3.32 FIP, he’s posted an outstanding walk rate of just 1.39 BB/9, displaying outstanding control for his age. He could zoom through the minors once he learns to consistently command his secondary pitches. Allie, pitching one level below Taillon in short-season ball, has a strikeout rate of 11.08 K/9, but he’s struggled with his control (6.23 BB/9). Big-time international signee Heredia has pitched just 9.0 innings in rookie ball and he’s walked nine batters. Sanchez is having an off year in double-A with just 10 extra base hits in 249 at-bats, and he’s not hitting for average for the first time in his career (.241). Owens, Locke, Morris, Von Rosenberg, and Cain are all having respectable seasons but none of them have taken huge steps forward in 2011. Marte has 102 hits in just 79 double-A games thanks to a .314 batting average but he’s walked just 13 times. He might end up as an offensive-minded fourth outfielder.

St. Louis Cardinals
1. Shelby Miller, RHP
2. Zack Cox, 3B
3. Joe Kelly, RHP
4. Carlos Martinez, RHP
5. Tyrell Jenkins, RHP
6. Seth Blair,, RHP
7. Lance Lynn, RHP
8. Eduardo Sanchez, RHP
9. Oscar Taveras, OF
10. Jordan Swagerty, RHP

Miller is now one of the top pitching prospects in the minors. Just 20, he’s already in double-A. Martinez, 19, blew away hitters in low-A with tons of Ks and ground balls and he’s now in high-A ball. I ranked Kelly much more aggressively than any other prospect watcher because of his ability to induce a crazy number of ground ball outs. His ground-ball rate and strikeouts are down a bit this year but he was recently promoted to double-A. Sanchez has been a valuable addition to the big league rotation in 2011. Jenkins has just six pro starts under his belt, but keep an eye on him; he could really move up the prospect chart between now and this winter when I start writing the 2012 Top 10 lists. On offense, Taveras was another “gut-feel”guy for me based on his swing. He struggled with injury earlier in the year, but he’s hitting .352/.391/.488 in 125 at-bats. This is a much improved system over the past few years.

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

18 Responses to “Reviewing the Top 10 Prospect Lists: NL Central”

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  1. Prospect Guy says:

    Gennett no more than a utility guy? Given the state of the Brewers’ current minor league system, that would look pretty good right now. Any big league talent in that system is Top 10 worthy.

    Not to mention scouts love Gennett’s hit tool and ability to consistently square up the baseball, even if it does not translate into huge power due to his small stature.

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  2. Sean O'Neill says:

    I’m still shocked that someone could rank Juan Francisco ahead of Todd Frazier. Nowadays, he’d probably go to #4 on that list (behind Chapman, Mesoraco, and Grandal…he gets the nod over Alonso for positional value).

    Dare I say…Free Todd Frazier!

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  3. Telo says:

    “Delino DeShields, 2B”

    My brain just did three circles around itself. Hadn’t heard that awesome name in so long.

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  4. The Reds do have a dearth of talent in the farm system thanks mostly to Wayne Krivskey an underated and unappreciated GM. Of course, Walt Jocketty is a master trader and if he gets the right deal, then we could bolster our anemic and ineffective pitching staff. Of course, gaping holes in left field and shortstop have short circuited the Reds from day one and their 45-47 records is reflective of that. Can’t blame it all on Dusty, his players love and respect him however he can’t seem to pull the trigger and make the moves necessary to be a winning team. If the Reds fail to make the playoffs and chances are mighty good at that, will Dusty survive another year? Makes you wonder.

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  5. nathan says:

    I understand that this is a look back on the top prospect list, not a reranking, but I wonder if Altuve will actually be playing for the Astros before he makes it on any list.

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  6. Jim H. says:

    I’m mailing pictures of Daniel Corcino to milk carton manufacturers post-haste.

    84 IP, 72 H, 3 HR, 96/17 K/BB, 3.12 ERA, 2.20 FIP, FB touching 97.

    I’m just sayin’, if the pre-season unlisted Szcsxusrsrur get mention, Cueto Jr. deserves the same.

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    • Oasis says:

      Nice breakout season far but already past his IP high. If he does it again next year and at a higher level, I’m all in.

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  7. Michael F says:

    So basically, what we’ve learned is that you tend to be wrong when you go out on a limb?

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  8. Mike says:

    I think you’re selling Starling Marte short by saying “He might end up as an offensive-minded fourth outfielder.”

    By all accounts, his Defense is Exceptional. Talk that he will eventually move Cutch to LF is not hard to find. Of course there is a chance that he ends up as a 4th Outfielder, but I think it’s a pretty small one. Strong fielding CFers that have the ability to hit for average with speed can find starting jobs in the majors. His K rate has come down a bit this year. As stated though, his plate discipline must improve.

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    • epoc says:

      Even if he ends up as a fourth outfielder, it seems very unlikely that he’ll be an “offensive-minded” one. His D is far less of a question than his bat.

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      • therealscottym says:

        That’s just a case of a guy having no clue about a player and guessing off his stats. These articles are kind of sad, really.

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  9. Chris says:

    Cardinals minor league depth has gone from the garbage of the Walt Jocketty era, to pretty good in a matter of a couple years. Can’t give Mozeliak and Luhnow enough credit.

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    • Bad Bill says:

      Minor nit: Eduardo Sanchez hasn’t become a “valuable addition to the big league rotation” this year, but rather a valuable addition to the bullpen, at least before his injury. It remains to be seen how valuable he will be as he comes back, but there are reasons for optimism.

      Agreed, kudos to Mozeliak and Luhnow, but I wonder: is this system really “much improved,” or is it a matter of the evaluations of it for the last couple of years having been unnecessarily negative? Most of these guys were in the system, or at least in the pipeline, a year ago or more. Furthermore, they’ve generally had performances consistent with past years and/or expectations, rather than “where did that come from?” kinds of breakouts. Next year’s list may be a different story — there are guys in the Cardinals’ farm system (Matt Adams, John Gast, Trevor Rosenthal, to name a few) who are doing very well this year and really have come out of nowhere. But with this list, I think the relevant question is “why weren’t they rated more highly than they were?”

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  10. Cecil Cooper's Twin says:

    Watch out for Denis Phipps in the Reds’ system. Saw him play last weekend. Looked like a line drive machine.

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  11. WoobyWoobyLubLub says:

    What of this DJ LeMahieu fellow in the Cubs system?

    6’4 200 pound college SS who can play good D at 2B, 3B, and even handle a little SS in a pinch. He’s hit .324/.352/.424/.775 on the year including a AA slash line of .358/.386/.492/.878 in 202 PA.

    The big issue is power, and will it come. Also, can/will he take more walks?

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