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April 2, 2012

Future Shock

NL Central Prospect Preview

by Kevin Goldstein

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Chicago Cubs

Affiliate to Watch: The immediate future will be at Triple-A, specifically in the form of outfielder Brett Jackson and first baseman Anthony Rizzo; third baseman Josh Vitters is always worth watching as well. While the roster for Low-A Peoria isn't set, Top 2011 picks Javier Baez, Dan Vogelbach and Dillon Maples could all see time there, as well as toolsy but unrefined Reggie Golden.

Trade Bait: As a rebuilding club, the question is more what kind of prospect they can get for Marlon Byrd or, if they want to get aggressive, Matt Garza.

Breakout Candidate: Baez was arguably the best pure hitter in last year's draft among high school talent, and could gain significant prospect traction in his first full season.

Don't Be Surprised If He Gets to The Big Leagues: While he did not crack the big league roster this spring, Welington Castillo remains the Cubs’ catcher of the future, and a trade of Geovany Soto could make the future come quick.

Fans Are Too Excited About: Outfielder Matt Szczur is fast, but not a burner, has some power, but is not a slugger, has questionable on-base skills, and turns 23 in July. That's not the combination of a future star.

Odds to Be 2013 No. 1 Prospect:
Javier Baez: 2-1
No. 6 pick in 2012 draft: 5-2
Dillon Maples: 25-1

Cincinnati Reds

Affiliate to Watch: Billy Hamilton will be running wild in the high-octane environment of High-A Bakersfield, which will provide a strong test for righthander Daniel Corcino. Double-A Pensacola should feature a middle infield of Didi Gregorius and Henry Rodriguez, with J.C. Sulbaran fronting the rotation.

Trade Bait: Corcino is the kind of young power arm teams could look for come July, while Gregorius' defense and overall tools generated buzz among scouts this spring.

Breakout Candidate: Finally healhy, Sulbaran began to harness his impressive arsenal last year and could end the season as the best pitching prospect in the system.

Don't Be Surprised If He Gets to The Big Leagues: Despite an ERA of nearly seven last year, left-handed reliever Donnie Joseph has bat-missing stuff and could get there if he throws more strikes.

Fans Are Too Excited About: While Corcino had 156 strikeouts in 139.1 innings at Low-A Dayton last year, his small frame and effort-filled delivery could lead to a future in the bullpen.

Odds to Be 2013 No. 1 Prospect:
Billy Hamilton: 4-3
J.C. Sulbaran: 15-1
Robert Stephenson: 25-1
Didi Gregorius: 30-1
Daniel Corcino: 35-1

Houston Astros

Affiliate to Watch: Two four-star prospects received from the Phillies in return for Hunter Pence, right-hander Jarred Cosart and first baseman Jonathan Singleton, will team up to head the Double-A Corpus Christi roster. 2011 first-round pick George Springer could put up some monster numbers at High-A Lancaster, and the Astros hope the environment will help get 2010 top pick Delino Deshields going.

Trade Bait: The Astros aren't going anywhere, and they're running out of rebuilding pieces. A Wandy Rodriguez deal could help build some depth, but not bring top prospects in return.

Breakout Candidate: Cosart always fits this category until he harnesses what is truly some of the best stuff in the game. That's not to guarantee it will happen this year.

Don't Be Surprised If He Gets to The Big Leagues: The least of the prospects acquired from Atlanta in the Michael Bourn deal, right-hander Juan Abreu's power arm should end up in the bullpen at some point.

Fans Are Too Excited About: While outfielder Domingo Santana hit .382/.447/.662 as an Astro last year, that's 17 games from a 253 game career that has featured a disturbing amount of swing and miss.

Odds to Be 2013 No. 1 Prospect:
No. 1 pick in 2012 draft: 8-7
Jarred Cosart: 40-1
George Springer: 50-1
Jonathan Singleton: 60-1

Milwaukee Brewers

Affiliate to Watch: While it's still a poor system, the Brewers should offer a little bit at each level; the rotation at High-A Brevard County will be the one to watch, though, featuring Milwaukee's two 2011 first round picks in Taylor Jungman and Jed Bradley, as well as beefy 2010 pick Jimmy Nelson, who made big strides in the second half last year.

Trade Bait: Reliever Santo Manzanillo can touch triple digits with his fastball and is nearly big league ready, which could make him a much-asked about commodity come June.

Breakout Candidate: While he might not pitch until the short-season leagues begin, 2011 second-round pick Jorge Lopez created some big buzz in camp; while still risky, he arguably offers as much ceiling as anyone in the system.

Don't Be Surprised If He Gets to The Big Leagues: While the Brewers rotation is firmly set, it's nearly impossible to get through a season without needing more than a quintet of starters, and Wily Peralta could play a big role for the big league club in 2012.

Fans Are Too Excited About: While Tyler Thornburg had a breakout year in 2011 that included an appearance in the Futures Game, scouts are still mixed as to whether his future is in the bullpen or the rotation; if it's the latter, he's likely only a No. 4 starter.

Odds to Be 2013 No. 1 Prospect:
Jed Bradley: 3-1
Taylor Jungmann: 7-2
Wily Peralta: 4-1
Jorge Lopez: 15-1
Jimmy Nelson: 30-1

Pittsburgh Pirates

Affiliate to Watch: The Pirates’ system is all about potential monsters among their pitching staff, and the High-A Bradenton rotation should feature Jameson Tallion, the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, and Gerrit Cole, last year's No. 1 overall pick, as well as No. 9 prospect lefty Colton Cain.

Trade Bait: The Pirates are still rebuilding, and they don't have a ton of trade chips. There's some chance they find some lightning in a bottle with Erik Bedard.

Breakout Candidate: After being limited in terms of both his pitch count and the ability to fully utilize his arsenal in 2010, the training wheels come off on Taillon, who could be in line for a huge season in the Florida State League.

Don't Be Surprised If He Gets to The Big Leagues: While Starling Marte was the big story in camp among prospects, don't count out Gorkys Hernandez. He's one of the best defensive outfielders in the minor leagues, and just a small step forward with the bat makes him a bench outfielder.

Fans Are Too Excited About: Yes, Robbie Grossman walks a ton, and yes, walks are good, but as a corner outfielder, he might not have enough average or power to profile as more than a second division starter.

Odds to Be 2013 No. 1 Prospect:
Gerrit Cole: 5-2
Jameson Taillon: 5-2
Josh Bell: 12-1
Luis Heredia: 25-1
No. 8 pick in 2012 draft: 50-1

St. Louis Cardinals

Affiliate to Watch: The Cardinals made their roster at Double-A Springfield interesting enough when they decided to put 19-year-old outfielder Oscar Taveras there, but now they are skipping two levels for a pair of other players who starred at Low-A Quad Cities last year: second baseman Kolten Wong and righty Trevor Rosenthal.

Trade Bait: The Cardinals have one of the better systems in baseball, but also a few blocked prospects, which could make deadline deals difficult. Maikel Cleto's velocity alone could make him a target, but it will take a bigger arm like Tyrell Jenkins or Carlos Martinez to get a blockbuster done.

Breakout Candidate: The system had so many breakouts in 2011, that it's hard to find a fresh face. Jenkins' full-season debut is highly anticipated, but scouting reports from this spring indicated that he might not be ready for a big step forward. 2011 draftee C.J. McElroy has the tools for a breakout in the short-season leagues.

Don't Be Surprised If He Gets to The Big Leagues: Rafael Furcal has averaged 92 games over the last four seasons, so Ryan Jackson should get an opportunity at some point.

Fans Are Too Excited About: Carlos Martinez hit 100 mph on several occasions last year and pitched in the Futures Game, but the 20-year-old righty is undersized, inefficient and doesn't make it look easy, which could point to a future as a closer.

Odds to Be 2013 No. 1 Prospect:
Oscar Taveras: 5-2
Shelby Miller: 5-2
Matt Adams: 12-1
Carlos Martinez: 20-1

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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