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October 5, 2010

Future Shock

Top 11 Review: NL Central

by Kevin Goldstein

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Chicago Cubs
No. 1 Prospect: Josh Vitters, 3B (31st overall)
What Was Said: “...will be a bigger, stronger version of Howie Kendrick.”
Analysis: While his season was cut short by a broken finger, Vitters hurt his prospect status before the injury by struggling mightily at Double-A due to an inability to hone his approach. He has all the skills to be a star-level hitter, but if he keeps swinging at awful pitches and making weak contact on them, it's not going to matter.
Two Through Eleven: Just six slots below Vitters on the Top 101, shortstop Starlin Castro (second) clearly should have been at the top. He might not be a shortstop long-term, but he's going to compete for batting titles, and there's more power coming. Righty Andrew Cashner (fifth) took a huge step forward and landed in the big leagues, but one hopes that all the work the organization did to make him a starter isn't for naught after a second half spent back in relief. Shortstop Hak-Ju Lee (third) and outfielder Brett Jackson (fourth) both held serve with solid campaigns. Right-hander Chris Archer (eighth) took the biggest step forward by gaining velocity, finding more consistency with his secondary offerings and domination all the way up to Double-A while drawing glowing reports from scouts. Biggest bust? Outfielder Kyler Burke (ninth).
Sleeper: Dominican righty Rafael Dolis was brilliant at times, but on many nights he's reduced to being a one-pitch type, and many project a bullpen conversion down the road.

Cincinnati Reds
No. 1 Prospect: Aroldis Chapman, LHP (10th overall)
What Was Said: “...became the best left-handed prospect in the game the second he signed.”
Analysis: The idea of 105 mph sounded apocryphal until big-league scouts holding radar guns started reporting the same. It's the best fastball I've ever seen, now let's hope he goes back to starting.
Two Through ElevenMike Leake (second) shockingly made the big-league rotation out of spring training despite having never pitched professionally after being the Reds' first-round draft pick in 2009 and performed well before running out of gas. Todd Frazier (third) struggled at Triple-A, and while first baseman Yonder Alonso (fourth) performed well there, questions remain as to his ability to hit enough for the position. Southpaw Travis Wood (fifth) and outfielder Chris Heisey (sixth) made big-league contributions, while infielder Billy Hamilton (10th) was spectacular in the Pioneer League. This is one of the lists I'm happiest with, as I even nailed the sleeper...
Sleeper: ...Called a 'power-armed lefty... who could move quickly,' Donnie Joseph did just that, reaching Double-A while striking out 103 over just 65 innings.

Houston Astros
No. 1 Prospect: Jio Mier, SS (97th overall)
What Was Said: “...Mier's glove that got him drafted in the first round, his bat has been more than a pleasant surprise.”
Analysis: More like a fluky surprise. Mier needed a strong final month just to finish at .235/.323/.314, but yes, he's still very good defensively. Playing in Lancaster next year could do wonders for his confidence, or lead to bad habits.
Two Through Eleven: While catcher Jason Castro (second) reached the majors, he was described as “not a star” and that still applies. Right-hander Jordan Lyles (third) handled the upper levels as a teenager, and is a great bet for a long big-league career, but like Castro, he lacks a high ceiling. Tanner Bushue (fourth) did well in his full-season debut after being a second-round draft pick in 2009. Shortstop Tommy Manzella (seventh) could be the everyday shortstop next year in the model of what Mier might become. Ranked ninth, 10th and 11th, T.J. Steele, Jon Gaston, and Koby Clemens all proved to be Cal League mirages.
Sleeper: Acquired from Texas in the Pudge Rodriguez deal, hard-throwing righty Matt Nevarez missed plenty of bats at Double-A, but also came down with a case of the yips, walking 46 in 38 1/3 innings.

Milwaukee Brewers
No. 1 Prospect: Alcides Escobar, SS (19th overall)
What Was Said: “...a plus-plus defender ...who hits .280-.300.”
Analysis: Or hits .235 without power or walks while no longer stealing bases. Not sure where to go from here other than say he should be better than this, although everyone was expecting in-season adjustments that just never came.
Two Through Eleven: Second baseman Brett Lawrie (second) performed well at Double-A, but he's still a poor second baseman, and got bad grades for his effort and body language. Mat Gamel (third) is still a good-not-great hitter without a position. Power right-handers Wily Peralta (fourth) and Cody Scarpetta (fifth) both showed glimpses in 2010, but not enough to push their stock up significantly. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy (sixth) moved quickly to the big leagues, but failed to prove he's the long-term answer there. Eric Arnett (seventh), the 2009 first-round pick, was a mechanical wreck, but supplemental selection Kyle Heckathorn (eighth) looked like a future big-league innings eater. Catcher Angel Salome (10th) had a bizarre year, leaving baseball for a bit and then saying he wants to be an outfielder; not the ideal spot for a 5-foot-7, 200-pound bowling ball of a human.
Sleeper: Strike-throwing Evan Anundson made a grand total of one appearance while dealing with shoulder problems.

Pittsburgh Pirates
No. 1 Prospect: Pedro Alvarez, 3B (sixth overall)
What Was Said: “...a classic .300/.400/.500 slugger.”
Analysis: While his big-league debut was filled with streaks and slumps, the .311/.363/.573 hitter in September is the real deal, and Alvarez could be poised for a massive 2011.
Two Through Eleven: Expected to move quickly, catcher Tony Sanchez (second) was on his way to doing just that before taking a pitch in the face in June. Outfielder Jose Tabata (third) hit .299 in 102 games in his major league debut, but without much in the way of secondary skills, he needs to keep the batting average high. Toolsier Starling Marte (fourth) hit for average at High-A Bradenton, but a hand injury prevented him from driving anything. Former first-rounder Brad Lincoln (sixth) reached the big leagues, but did little to ensure he'll stay there. Young arms like Colton Cain (eighth) and Zack Von Rosenberg (10th) were solid in their pro debuts, but didn't exactly have breakthroughs.
Sleeper: Massive strike-thrower Brett Lorin struggled through an injury-plagued 2011.

St. Louis Cardinals
No. 1 Prospect: Shelby Miller, RHP (38th overall)
What Was Said: “...will be a frontline big-league starter.”
Analysis: While kept on strict pitch and innings limits, Miller looked like just that with 140 strikeouts and just 33 walks at Low-A Quad Cities, saving his best for last with a 13-strikeout performance in the playoffs.
Two Through Eleven: Ground-ball expert Jaime Garcia (second) was one of the best rookie pitchers in the game, giving the Cardinals a deep rotation. David Freese (third) couldn't stay healthy enough to claim the third-base job, though he played well when healthy. Outfielder Daryl Jones (fourth) pancaked a bit at Double-A, while righty Lance Lynn (sixth) had a strong second half and a 17-whiff game in the playoffs to move into contention for a rotation job next spring. The same could be said for second baseman Daniel Descalso (ninth), who would be an upgrade over incumbent Skip Schumaker. Completely off the Top 15 entering the season, omitting third baseman Matt Carpenter was a flat-out mistake.
Sleeper: While it might not be fair to classify a former first-round pick as a sleeper, infielder Tyler Greene stalled at Triple-A, and did little in another big-league shot.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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