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April 5, 2011

Future Shock

Prospect Preview: NL Central

by Kevin Goldstein

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Chicago Cubs
How'd I do in 2010?: Of the five players given odds, three were not eligible for the this year's list; shortstop Starlin Castro (4-1) and right-hander Andrew Cashner (15-1) both saw their big-league timetables accelerated, while shortstop Hak-Ju Lee (10-1) went to the Rays in the Matt Garza deal. The eventual top prospect, outfielder Brett Jackson, got decent odds at (6-1), but the player with the best odds, third baseman Josh Vitters (3-1), saw his stock dip significantly.

The Incumbent: Jackson starts the year at Triple-A Iowa, and if he simply performs up to expectations, chances are good that he'll get enough big-league at-bats to lose prospect status.

Other Possibilities: After Jackson, plenty of the Cubs' best prospects are now Rays property, so the race to be next year's top prospect could be wide open if Jackson graduates. Surprising 2010 first-round pick Hayden Simpson will make his pro debut in the Low-A Peoria rotation, and speaking of the draft, the Cubs pick ninth in June. Of top prospects likely to still be available, power right Trey McNutt is suddenly the best bet.

Trade Bait: The Cubs are unlikely to compete in the Central and are loaded with overpaid veterans they'd love to dump to a desperate team in July. Getting rid of third baseman Aramis Ramirez, right-hander Carlos Zambrano (who is signed through 2012), and outfielder Kosuke Fukudome will be top priorities.

Best Chance to Move into the Top 101: Vitters fell out this year, but it's still hard to hate him based solely on the bat speed. If he can curb his habit of swinging at any pitch in the same county as he is, there is still a chance he could rebound.

The Extreme Long Shot: Picked up from Atlanta for Derrek Lee, right-hander Robinson Lopez could out-pitch Simpson at Peoria thanks to well above-average velocity and developing secondary pitches.

Odds to be No. 1 on the Next Top 11:
Ninth overall pick in June: 4-1
Brett Jackson: 4-1
Trey McNutt: 4-1
Josh Vitters: 12-1
Hayden Simpson: 15-1
Robinson Lopez: 30-1

Cincinnati Reds
How'd I do in 2010?: The top two odds went to lefty Aroldis Chapman (3-1) and righty Mike Leake (4-1), and when Leake shocked many by making the big-league squad out of spring training, Chapman became the overwhelming favorite. As it turned out, the odds came with very good reason.

The Incumbent: Chapman's arguably historic velocity landed him in the majors for the stretch run and the playoffs, and unless he needs a rehab outing, he'll likely never see the minors again.

Other Possibilities: The Reds' second- and third-best prospects, catcher Devin Mesoraco and second baseman Billy Hamilton, didn't even have odds entering the season. It's hard to project Mesoraco in 2011, as Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan are a good major-league combo, and one is left wondering what will happen if Mesaraco is slugging .575 at Triple-A in June.

Trade Bait: The Reds are going to be in the playoff hunt, and depth at catcher always makes for an attractive trade partner. There are also plenty of other blocked prospects that are nearly major league-ready, like first baseman Yonder Alonso and corner infielder Juan Francisco.

Best Chance to Move into the Top 101: Rodriguez is still just 18 years old, is absolutely loaded with tools, and makes his full-season debut at Low-A Dayton this year.

The Extreme Long Shot: Teenage infielder Ronald Torreyes has an outstanding bat, but he's still probably a year away from playing in a full-season league, which hurts his chances.

Odds to be No. 1 on the Next Top 11:
Billy Hamilton: 5-2
Devin Mesoraco: 4-1
Yasmani Grandal: 8-1
Yorman Rodriguez: 15-1

Houston Astros
How'd I do in 2010?: Not so well, as right-hander Jordan Lyles, who reached Triple-A at 19 and was an easy choice for first overall, actually entered the year with the fourth-best odds (6-1). The eventual eighth overall pick, Delino DeShields, was given top chances at 3-1, while shortstop Jio Mier (4-1) collapsed offensively.

The Incumbent: Lyles returns to Triple-A to begin the year, but a rebuilding Astros squad should get him 50 major-league innings this year. It's hard to see a ceiling higher than a third starter in him, but at the same time, a fourth starter is the floor.

Other Possibilities: DeShields' 2011 season got off to a shaky start with a DUI arrest, but that shouldn't effect his full-season debut. If you can find another player with even a shot at becoming a traditional top prospect, you need therapy. The 11th overall pick should be a good player, but the Astros rarely take advantage of players that drop due to bonus demands.

Trade Bait: The Astros got rid of most of their costly veterans last year; it's doubtful they can find somebody desperate enough to take on Carlos Lee and his $18.5 million salary in 2012.

Best Chance to Move into the Top 101: Mike Foltynewicz, a 2010 first-round pick, has size and power stuff coming from the right side. He also has plenty of projectability, so there's a non-zero chance for a breakout.

The Extreme Long Shot: Last year's top prospect prospect, Jio Mier, hit just .235/.323/.314 in 2010 but finished the year strong and remains a very good defensive prospect with tools.

Odds to be No. 1 on the Next Top 11:
Delino DeShields: 3-1
Jordan Lyles: 3-1
11th overall pick in June: 5-1
Mike Foltynewicz: 16-1

Milwaukee Brewers
How'd I do in 2010?: Horrible, but how could I predict that the team would sell the farm for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum after failing to sign their first-round pick? Brett Lawrie entered the year with the best odds at 5-2, and he would have been their best prospect by a country mile without the trade.

The Incumbent: Mark Rogers, a 2004 first-round pick, will likely lose prospect eligibility by the end of the year. As it has been throughout his career, if he's healthy, he should be good, but there is still plenty of debate about his arm's ability to hold up as a starter.

Other Possibilities: The Brewers are the only team without a Top 101 prospect, so nearly any current player in the system is a long shot. Right-hander Cody Scarpetta was impressive this spring, and the team has the 12th and 15th picks in the first round of the draft.

Trade Bait: The Brewers have already made their moves. If they need to shore up the major-league roster for a playoff run, they just don't have the chips to do anything dramatic.

Best Chance to Move into the Top 101: Scarpetta could improve his stock with a good showing at the upper levels, and it will be interesting to see what scouts make of diminutive infielder Scooter Gennett if he hits in the Florida State League.

The Extreme Long Shot: A 10th-round pick in 2009, catcher Tyler Roberts has big-time raw power and a good arm, which at times can be enough to be a good catching prospect.

Odds to be No. 1 on the Next Top 11:
12th overall pick in June: 5-2
15th overall pick in June: 3-1
Cody Scarpetta: 6-1
Scooter Gennett: 15-1
Kentrail Davis: 40-1

Pittsburgh Pirates
How'd I do in 2010?: Nailed it, but it was pretty easy. The second overall pick, which turned into Jameson Taillon, was given 3-2 odds, and he easily became the team's top prospect the moment he signed. Catcher Tony Sanchez (8-1) was given the second-best chance, and despite an injury-plagued 2010 season, he remains their top position prospect.

The Incumbent: Taillon will begin the year in extended spring training, but will get inserted to the rotation at Low-A West Virginia once the weather warms up. He's arguably the best high school right-hander since Josh Beckett (1999), and expectations are through the roof.

Other Possibilities: Normally, it would be difficult to see anyone passing up Taillon, but in one of the best drafts in recent memory, the Pirates have the first pick, and they're willing to spend.

Trade Bait: The club is still trying to trade Ryan Doumit, and the team is hoping that a strong first half from one-year first-base fix Lyle Overbay could net some prospects come July.

Best Chance to Move into the Top 101: Former Dodgers first-round pick Bryan Morris had a bounce-back year in 2010, and a second year of touching 96 mph to go with quality breaking balls could do wonders for his stuff.

The Extreme Long Shot: Left-hander Colton Cain has a power build, power stuff, and will finally make his full-season debut at Low-A West Virginia after signing for more than $1 million as an eighth-round pick in 2009

Odds to be No. 1 on the Next Top 11:
Jameson Taillon: 2-1
First overall pick in the draft: 2-1
The field: 100,000-1

St. Louis Cardinals
How'd I do in 2010?: Right-hander Shelby Miller entered the year as the overwhelming favorite (6-5). He was the best pitcher in the Midwest Legaue and easily maintained the top spot. The 25th pick in the draft was given 40-1 odds, and the Cardinals got better than that slot with third baseman Zack Cox, but he's not in Miller's stratosphere.

The Incumbent: While there was some talk of Miller moving to Double-A to start the year, he's at High-A Palm Beach for now. The combination of Miller's stuff and a very friendly place to pitch could result in impressive numbers, which could get him to the Texas League by the break.

Other Possibilities: While there is a lot of hype around Dominican fireballer Carlos Martinez, he's still nowhere close to Miller, and will begin the year in extended spring training. Barring an unforeseen injury or surprising rise to the big leagues, nobody is going to touch Miller here.

Trade Bait: The Cardinals have some power bullpen arms like Eduardo Sanchez and Adam Reifer to interest teams in July, and the progress of Cox could put third baseman Matt Carpenter on the block as one of those prospects in the middle.

Best Chance to Move into the Top 101: Martinez has upper-90s heat, and he could move up following his stateside debut.

The Extreme Long Shot: Outfielder Oscar Taveres has hitting ability to go with plus power and will begin the year at Low-A Quad Cities despite not turning 19 until June.

Odds to be No. 1 on the Next Top 11:
Shelby Miller: 6-5
Carlos Martinez: 12-1

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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