Reviewing the Top Prospects: NL Central

Entering 2010, FanGraphs posted Top 10 prospect lists for all 30 MLB organizations. And it’s been a great year for rookies, which means there are going to be a lot of changes in the Top 10 lists for 2011. Before we tackle that beast after the season, though, we’re taking a look at how each club’s No. 1 prospect has fared in 2010. Today, we’re looking at the National League Central division.

Previously, we looked at:
The American League East
The National League West
The American League Central

The Milwaukee Brewers

Alcides Escobar | Shortstop
2010 Level: MLB
Age: 23

It’s been a disappointing offensive season for Escobar, who currently has a wOBA of just .282. His triple-slash line stands at .247/.298/.344 in 453 at-bats. The shortstop’s offensive game historically centers around hitting for average and stealing bases. Along with the sub-.250 average, Escobar has just 10 steals. Whoops. Because he has little or no power (.097 ISO), the 23-year-old needs to get on-base and use his legs if he’s going to have any offensive value whatsoever. Defensively, Escobar has a reputation for being a very good fielder but his UZR rating has been fairly modest throughout his MLB career so far.

The Cincinnati Reds

Yonder Alonso | First Baseman
2010 Level: Double-A/Triple-A
Age: 23

Alonso started the year in double-A but moved up to triple-A after 31 games. He’s played pretty well at the senior level and posted a triple-slash line of .296/.355/.470 in 406 at-bats. The first baseman had a .175 ISO rate, and that power rating is a tad shy for a prototypical first baseman but it’s along the lines of what we should expect from Alonso. After posting outstanding walk rates for much of his career, this former first round pick’s rate dropped below 10% for the first time in three years. With MLB incumbent first baseman Joey Votto having a MVP-type season, the organization has given Alonso some time in the outfield but it’s a stretch.

The Chicago Cubs

Andrew Cashner | Pitcher
2010 Level: Double-A/Triple-A/MLB
Age: 24

The Cubs organization has made some interesting choices with its pitching prospects this season. Cashner opened the year in the starting rotation and was very good. The club then abruptly switched him to the bullpen (a role he held in college) and called him up to the Majors where he’s posted a 5.52 FIP in 43 relief appearances. Cashner has had a real problem finding the plate while coming out of the bullpen and currently has a walk rate of 5.19 BB/9. He’s also been prone to the home-run ball (1.45 HR/9), which was not an issue in the minors at all. Cashner still holds a lot of promise as his fastball is sitting around 96 mph with good sink. He just needs to command it better.

The Houston Astros

Jason Castro | Catcher
2010 Level: Triple-A/MLB
Age: 23

When it comes to catching prospects, the Astros organization seems snake-bitten when it comes to MLB performances. After J.R. Towles washed out (again), the club turned to former No. 1 pick Castro, but he’s struggled mightily with the bat and currently has a wOBA of just .264. His triple-slash line sits at .209/.291/.294 in 163 at-bats. On the plus side, he’s hit the ball with some authority (22.0 LD%) and he’s taking his fair share of free passes (10.4 BB%). With a .254 BABIP, his luck is sure to turn around to some degree. Behind the dish, he’s helping the pitching staff by gunning down base runners (40.0 CS%).

The Pittsburgh Pirates

Pedro Alvarez | Third Baseman
2010 Level: Triple-A/MLB
Age: 23

It’s been a youthful season in Pittsburgh with the graduations of Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, and Alvarez. The third baseman has shown some warts this season despite providing decent power (.180 ISO). Alvarez currently has a strikeout rate of 36.8 K%, which is not going to get it done at the MLB level. His triple-slash line currently sits at .241/.319/.421 in 266 at-bats. Youth is still on his side, but his value is taking another hit… this time on defense. Alvarez, who has as negative UZR and a poor fielding reputation, will most certainly be moving to first base in the near future.

The St. Louis Cardinals

Lance Lynn | Starting Pitcher
2010 Level: Triple-A
Age: 23

Last year, I avoided including 2009 draft picks on the 2010 Top 10 lists (which is a practice that will be abandoned for 2011). As such, Lynn was at the top of the list rather than Shelby Miller. Lynn went on to have a modest 2010 season by posting a 4.43 FIP in 164.0 triple-A innings. Clearly, he’s durable but Lynn is more of a workhorse No. 3 or 4 starter than an ace. He typically produces a respectable strikeout rate (7.74 K/9 in 2010) along with a good ground-ball rate, although it dipped to 44% this season. Lynn could sneak onto the back-end of the Cardinals’ starting rotation in 2011 and is a good complement to the likes of Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, and Jaime Garcia.

Up Next: The American League West




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


24 Responses to “Reviewing the Top Prospects: NL Central”

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  1. Doogolas says:

    I could have sworn Castro was the Cubs #1 spec universally going into the season.

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  2. Marc Hulet says:

    Nope, I was the guy who went against the grain and had Castro rated second: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/chicago-cubs-top-10-prospects/

    Cashner was making me look good until he moved to the ‘pen in the Majors.

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    • Doogolas says:

      Ahhh, OK. Well, I actually would have agreed with you. I mean, obviously Castro is the better prospect now, what with the whole hitting .320 thing. But preseason I think it was definitely Cashner. And I think next year he’ll be fine if they just leave him alone and let him start.

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  3. chris says:

    What do you think Alvarez’s upside is statistics wise? Does he have the bat to stay at 1st base?

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  4. Marc says:

    Right now, I’m feeling Jackson, Archer, then McNutt.

    Alvarez has good power potential for first… he just needs to improve his contact rates and pitch recognition. He likely just needs more experience against good pitching.

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  5. T-Bob says:

    What’s up with the tampon ads? Isn’t the audience here overwhelmingly male?

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  6. Ted says:

    74 games worth of UZR data and we’re writing off Alvarez at third?

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  7. matt w says:

    Oh, tiny nitpick — Andrew McCutchen graduated last year. You could sub in Neil Walker as one of this year’s graduates (and incidentally as another potential reason to move Alvarez; Walker had been playing third basically until callup and his range at 2B apparently has been limited [UZR agrees], though that might argue for giving him more time to learn second before moving him back to third).

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  8. E-Dub says:

    I don’t think it’s wise to make pronouncements about Alonso’s power potential. Not to sing the *hamate injury* refrain again, but it is a mitigating factor.

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  9. Marc says:

    With both Alvarez and Alonso the historical scouting reports point to the issues as reoccurring issues (defense, power).

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    • blackout says:

      Hmmm. I’ve read plenty of scouting reports on Alonso, and actually talked to a couple of scouts myself, and while he’s not expected to put up Ryan Howard numbers they felt he’d hit for decent power. Some have opined that his swing is too flat and line drive-oriented to produce power, while others have said they’ve seen him generate loft when appropriate. Even if he doesn’t stay in CIN, and avail himself of GABP half the year, he should hit for reasonable power. Power issues would be Rico Brogna, and I don’t believe Alonso is that guy.

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  10. Jordan says:

    I still have hope for Escobar, personally. He’s got a .275 BABIP right now, and he’s the type of guy who could easily maintain a .330 or so BABIP. He’s also been hitting in the 8 hole, with a manager who doesn’t even like to run in the first place. Hopefully Macha will be gone after this year, and we get a guy who knows how to utilize Escobar’s abilities.
    Also, I would hope that his UZR/DRS/TZ numbers would go up at some point. He makes his fair share of errors, but he also has spectacular range.

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  11. Rick says:

    Yet another article about Alonso’s lack of power which completely ignores the fact that he was recovering from a broken hamate bone, which usually results in less power for at least a year afterwards.

    No, he’s Mike Stanton, but this needs to be part of the analysis.

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    • this guy says:

      The point of this site is not to tell the truth. They have a point of view they want to sell, and they sell it. Lets just be happy they have the players’ handedness correct.

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      • TCQ says:

        They want to sell what, exactly? This ain’t exactly BPro (in terms of monetary commitment, I mean).

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      • blackout says:

        It doesn’t make much sense to question Marc’s, or Fangraphs’, motives. I assume Marc is well aware of the hamate issue and still believes Alonso will hit for less power than many expect. I think the hamate issue and the scouting reports I’ve encountered cast some doubt. There are perfectly good reasons to assert that Alonso or Alonso will not develop solid power. Neither position is outrageous or clearly incorrect.

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      • RMR says:

        To be clear, I agree with Blackout’s position. I don’t believe Fangraphs nor Hulet are pressing an agenda. Rather, I think it’s sloppy work to do an article which focuses on just a few players and to omit a significant factor in a player’s performance that directly impacts the primary observation being made, namely his mediocre power output.

        That’s not to say I think he’s a 40 HR guy either, but to base a projection on how a player performed while recovering from injury is just poor analysis.

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  12. scarlisle17 says:

    Why did the Reds draft Yonder Alonso in the first round knowing he could only play first base? Questionable decision on a number of levels.

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