MLB Prospects to Watch 2020: National League Central

National League Central
CHICAGO - MAY 28: The L flag flies above the scoreboard at Wrigley Field, signifing a Chicago Cubs loss, after the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs on May 28, 2010 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cardinals defeated the Cubs 7-1. (Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

National League Central Prospects to Watch

MLB Prospects are an important and heavily valued part of today’s game. All thirty teams across baseball are focused on building up prospect depth throughout their organization. Furthermore, teams are focused on relying and giving opportunities to many of those prospects as well.

Given the role that prospects play in the game today, it’s important to understand which ones to keep an eye on. As a result, the fourth part of the series, “MLB Prospects to Watch 2020”, this installment will feature one prospect to watch for each team. Today’s focus is centered around the National League Central.

The National League Central is a division that is in a state of transition. Transition starting with the changing landscape of the division and the overall state of each team’s farm system.

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs have had a very frustrating offseason this winter. Frustrating from the standpoint that the team has done very little to augment the core of the team. Furthermore, another frustration has been around Kris Bryant. However, as the team is currently constructed, the Cubs could be a successful team this year.

Starting this season, the team will be under the direction of rookie manager, David Ross. Ross doesn’t have managerial experience, but he does have strong relationships with the aforementioned, Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Both Bryant and Rizzo built those strong ties during the Cubs run in 2016 that resulted in a World Series Championship.

SS Nico Hoerner

The Cubs number one overall prospect, shortstop Nico Hoerner is going to be one to watch. Hoerner is a highly-touted prospect and the Cubs have a need for someone like him on their roster. As it stands right now, Hoerner is slated to be the Cubs Opening Day second baseman. That would result in Javier Baez occupying shortstop which is likely the better defensive alignment overall.

The biggest quality about Hoerner is his great bat-to-ball skills. Hoerner is very skilled at putting the ball in play and over time, those skills should only grow with more experience at the big league level. Many scouts believe that with those skills, Hoerner could be an under-the-radar type of power bat.

Additionally, scouts note that at the ripe young age of 22, Hoerner has been able to handle a multitude of challenges coming up through the ranks. Projecting to the future, scouts believe second base or even the outfield could be the best spot for Hoerner. Over time, they believe he will be comparable to that of the now retired, Ian Kinsler.

Cincinnati Reds

When you look back at all of the activity that has happened this offseason, the Cincinnati Reds stand out. Cincinnati was very aggressive this offseason complimenting their roster through free agency and spending a record amount of money. As it stands right now, the Reds Opening Day 26-man payroll is projected to be a record $140.1 million dollars.

For Cincinnati, that means that they see a clear opportunity to seize control of the National League Central. Whether or not that aggressiveness and spending turns them into a contending team, remains to be seen.

C Tyler Stephenson

At the top of the Cincinnati Reds Top 30 Prospects list, many of the names are a year or two from the big league level. However, still within the Top 10 is catcher, Tyler Stephenson. Stephenson is going to be a name to watch for Cincinnati this coming season.

As it stands right now, the Reds have some uncertainty behind the plate with Tucker Barnhart the team’s primary catcher. At the moment, Curt Casali would be the backup option for the Reds, but his skill set doesn’t compare to that of Stephenson. Defense is the number one thing that stands out about Stephenson. Over the past few seasons, Stephenson has been working on strengthening his arm which has a score of 60 on the scouting scale.

Eventually, Stephenson is projected to be an everyday catcher and that would be a huge jolt for Cincinnati. It might not happen during the first part of this coming season, but very well could during the second half especially if the Reds are fighting for a postseason spot.

Milwaukee Brewers

To kick off the offseason, the Milwaukee Brewers started by clearing over $60 million dollars in payroll obligations for this year. Milwaukee stated that they wanted to create more flexibility with their payroll for the future. As a result, many of the moves the team has made this offseason, have involved secondary players.

Every season, it seems like the Brewers are always underrated on a national scale and have no expectations tied to them. However, Craig Counsell and Company always find a way to shock everyone and make it into the postseason.

RHP Zack Brown

Coming in third on the Milwaukee Brewers Top 30 Prospects list is right-hander, Zack Brown. Brown had a rough season last year in Triple-A San Antonio posting a 5.79 ERA over 116 innings of work. However, the baseball used in Triple-A was the same one used in the big leagues last season. Therefore, it’s understandable why his ERA was so high.

One thing that many scouts note about Brown is his ability to through a nasty, mid-90’s fastball and keep velocity on his pitches late into the game. More often than not, his four-seamer results in some serious swing-and-miss action by the opposing team’s hitters. Additionally, if he puts some sink on that pitch, it results in more ground ball action. Despite that though, his curveball rates the highest on the scouting scale, with an overall grade of 60.

Looking ahead to the future, the Brewers ultimately view Brown as a future starting pitcher. The organization loves his overall competitive nature on the mound and how he continually devises his game plan the later into a game he goes. If Brown is not able to remain as a starting pitcher, then the Brewers believe he could be a valuable late-inning weapon.

Pittsburgh Pirates

At the start of this offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates made some significant changes in their front office structure. The team brought in a new President in Trevor Williams and hired Ben Cherington to be the teams General Manager. Additionally, the organization snagged Derek Shelton from the Minnesota Twins to be the team’s new skipper. All of those changes were needed as was a completely different set of organizational philosophies.

Now that Cherington is at the helm, the Pirates will turn the page to a new chapter. Cherington is an executive that likes to build up the farm system and that is likely what he will focus on during his tenure in the Steel City.

3B Ke’Bryan Hayes

Among the most exciting prospects in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization is third baseman, Ke’Bryan Hayes. Hayes currently ranks as the second-best prospect on the team’s Top 30 Prospect list and is someone who will be a vital part of the next great Pirates team.

Last year, Hayes saw an uptick in his overall walk rate which indicates that he is becoming a much more disciplined hitter. It was the third season that his walk rate has increased. Furthermore, a lot of Hayes’s power is beginning to take shape. Overall on the scouting scale, Hayes received a grade of 60 from a hitting standpoint and a grade of 50 in the power department.

Scouts absolutely rave about Hayes superb fielding and defensive skills. They believe that those skills alone will make Hayes an elite third baseman moving forward into the future. For the Pirates, that would be significant as the team has struggled defensively for the past few years.

St. Louis Cardinals

Despite all of the noise surrounding the St. Louis Cardinals offense, the team has yet to do anything significant to address their lack of a cleanup hitter. With Marcell Ozuna signing with the Atlanta Braves, it took away a vital part of the Cardinals offense from last season. Despite that though, the Cardinals feel internally that they have the pieces to replace that everyday production.

Going into this coming season, the Cardinals will attempt to win the National League Central for the second consecutive year. St. Louis is certainly going to be challenged with the landscape of the rest of the division though.

OF Dylan Carlson

Number one overall prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system is outfielder, Dylan Carlson. Carlson is going to be the guy to watch this season because internally the Cardinals feel as though he is capable of being that big bat in the team’s lineup. The Cardinals are definitely taking a big gamble with that method of thinking, but Carlson is certainly capable of meeting those high expectations.

The most fascinating quality about Carlson is his ability to hit from both sides of the plate. Scouts note that there is some serious power from both sides and his left side really became more advanced this past season. Furthermore, scouts note that Carlson has a strong ability to recognize the strike zone and to know when to swing or lay off certain pitches.

As a result of that power and above league average offensive skills, Carlson will be an everyday outfielder. Scouts expect him to be an integral part of the Cardinals offense for the foreseeable future. Also, Carlson is quite a defender as illustrated by his score of 55 in that department on the scouting scale.

Final Thoughts

In the end, the National League Central could very well be the best division in all of baseball this coming season. There is a chance that four of the five teams in the division could fight for the division crown or one of the National League Wild Card spots. Of course, everything will need to work out as it looks on paper currently, but there’s a very good chance that it does. Furthermore, the division is in a time of transition and that’s only going to add to the excitement that the division race will feature this coming season.

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