Analyzing the Prospect Player Pool: NL Central by Eric Longenhagen July 9, 2020 Below is my latest in a series discussing each team’s 60-man player pool with a focus on prospects. Previous installments of these rundowns, including potentially relevant context for discussion, can be found here: AL East and Intro NL East AL Central Chicago Cubs Prospect List / Depth Chart It’s likely top prospect Nico Hoerner sees a lot of time at second base and center field. The prospects ranked two through five in the system are all on the 60-man player pool. Of those, right-hander Adbert Alzolay and, to a lesser extent, catcher Miguel Amaya (who is now on the 40-man) are the two most likely to see some big league time this year. Were Willson Contreras to get hurt, I’m not sure if the club would let iffy defender Victor Caratini play every day, add veteran NRI Josh Phegley to the 40-man to share duties, or if they’d simply promote 21-year-old Amaya, who has been lauded for his maturity and advanced defense since he was 18. I also think there’s a chance the Cubs are in the thick of it come September, consider 21-year-old lefty flamethrower Brailyn Marquez one of the org’s best dozen pitchers, and decide to bring him up as a late-inning relief piece. He’s going to be added to the 40-man this offseason regardless. The other very young guys in the player pool are Christopher Morel and Brennen Davis, two big-framed, tooled-up developmental projects. It’s interesting that the Cubs added Morel ahead of Cole Roederer or any of their 2019 and 2020 college draftees, but the club is only at about 50 of their 60 allotted players and they clearly need more hitters in the offsite camp, so I expect several notable names to be part of the group in South Bend soon. Cincinnati Reds Prospect List / Depth Chart Like the Cubs with Amaya, the Reds are in a position where long-term catching prospect Tyler Stephenson is on the 40-man and they may have to decide whether to press him into duty or leapfrog him with veteran multi-positional catcher Kyle Farmer. The difference here is that Stephenson is nearly 24. Middle relief fit Joel Kuhnel is the lone prospect projected to make the Opening Day roster, while several other pitchers are on the 40-man and will probably play some role on the pitching staff during the upcoming 10-week sprint. Kitchen sink righty Tejay Antone and former second round pick Tony Santillan both have long-term fourth/fifth starter projection, while oft-injured former top 100 guy Jose De Leon is also in the mix. It’s highly unlikely current top 100 prospects Jose Garcia and Nick Lodolo see big league time. The same goes for recent early-first rounder Jonathan India and role-playing outfield prospect Stuart Fairchild, two lower-ceiling potential regulars, especially Fairchild, who is blocked by Phillip Ervin, Aristides Aquino, and perhaps Rule 5 pick Mark Payton should he stick. The format of this year’s developmental environment hurts the Reds’ recent high school hitter draftees more than most teams because they were all about 19 on draft day (old compared to most high schoolers) and now aren’t playing. I think it’s more important, both for their development and industry stock, for the older high schoolers to perform and be promoted. It’s imperative Rece Hinds, Tyler Callihan, Michael Siani, and Austin Hendrick get at-bats in whatever developmental league(s) MLB sets up for the fall/winter (when we’ll all surely still be here and there definitely won’t have been a cataclysmic global event that ends our collective suffering) or else they’ll go into 2021 well behind the developmental curve; for example, Callihan turns 21 next year and will enter the spring having never hit above rookie ball. The club has used 57 of the 60 spots in their player pool, so it’d take some releases to clear space for these guys to take campsite cuts later in the summer. Milwaukee Brewers Prospect List / Depth Chart The Brewers currently have very few prospects in their player pool, in part because their farm system isn’t great, and also because they’re clearly in win-now mode and development is a secondary consideration; they also only have about 45 of their 60 player pool spots occupied at the moment. The only prospects in the pool are guys in their mid-20s who, except for backend starter prospect Dylan File, have middle relief projection. Devin Williams is a near lock to pitch with the big club this summer. Zack Brown and Drew Rasmussen aren’t yet on the 40-man but until/unless more pitchers are added to the pool I consider them likely to appear because of injury/disease-related attrition ahead of them. Pittsburgh Pirates Prospect List / Depth Chart It’ll be interesting to see which of the many controllable, mid-to-late-20s Pirates pitchers perform well enough to create trade value. Clay Holmes and Dovydas Neverauskas are pre-arb but out of options, 30-year-old Richard Rodriguez has all three options left, Kyle Crick has an option left and is approaching his arb years, etc. The point is, the Pirates have a bunch of these guys who, because of their age/contract timeline, aren’t likely to be part of the next competitive group. But a few of them might be quite good and have trade value that helps the team add to its prospect group. Of these, Nick Burdi, JT Brubaker, Nick Mears, and Blake Cederlind are all still prospect list-eligible. Among the long-term pieces likely to see time in the big leagues this year, top 50 global prospect Mitch Keller is a virtual lock. In a vacuum, Ke’Bryan Hayes likely debuts this year, but it might take a Colin Moran trade (or a Guillermo Heredia/Jarrod Dyson deal that pushes Moran to an outfield corner) for that to happen. The relative lack of outfielders on the team’s projected offsite roster might mean Oneil Cruz starts to see reps out there, especially now that Socrates Brito has tested positive for COVID-19. Cruz is on the 40-man but I doubt we see him in the bigs this summer. Travis Swaggerty, Cody Bolton and Jared Oliva could conceivably be ready from a baseball standpoint, but none of them has to be added to the 40-man yet (Swaggerty not until after the 2021 season) and therefore are unlikely to debut. Young infiedlers Rodolfo Castro, Ji-Hwan Bae, and Mason Martin are all in the pool for developmental purposes. It’ll be interesting to see how the Pirates divvy up middle infield reps. Cole Tucker should play as much as possible since he’s a potential foundational piece, but Erik González and JT Riddle are out of options and Pittsburgh may want to see what they have there, and Adam Frazier and Kevin Newman are coming off solid offensive seasons. St. Louis Cardinals Prospect List / Depth Chart It’s possible top 50 prospect Dylan Carlson breaks camp with the big club. He’ll need to be added to the 40-man but the Cardinals currently have two open spots. The new NL DH spot takes some pressure off the Cardinals upper-level corner outfield clog and should allow Lane Thomas, Tyler O’Neill, Matt Carpenter, and maybe even Justin Williams to all get their share of at-bats. St. Louis has one of the better catching contingents in the majors, as Yadier Molina and Matt Wieters are reinforced by Andrew Knizner on the 40-man, then contact-oriented Jose Godoy behind him, then advanced 20-year-old Ivan Herrera if things get really bad. I think Edmundo Sosa is the best defensive infielder in the Cardinals player pool and deserves a bench spot, but I’ve been saying that for nearly two years. Elehuris Montero was recently added to the player pool but I don’t think his approach is remotely ready for prime time and I think it’s unlikely he debuts this year even though he’s on the 40-man. The same is true for the youth contingent that was added to the player pool last night: top prospect Nolan Gorman, top 100 lefty Matthew Liberatore, Trejyn Fletcher, Malcom Nunez, and recent draftees Masyn Winn and Jordan Walker are all between 18 and 20 years old and being thrown in the deep end of the pool. Those young hitters will face a large contingent of big league-ready arms, most of them relievers. It’s likely arm strength/changeup monster Junior Fernandez breaks camp in the bullpen, and that Génesis Cabrera plays a pivotal role on the staff assuming he recovers from COVID-19. Until he does, Jake Woodford and Austin Gomber are the most likely spot starters at the campsite. The other offsite prospect arms — Johan Oviedo, Seth Elledge, Roel Ramirez, Zack Thompson, and Kodi Whitley — are all NRI’s. The org hasn’t been bashful about pushing their pitching prospects. Elledge, Ramirez, and Whitley have middle relief projection, but if Whitley shows stuff like he did last summer (94-97) rather than last fall (92-94), he might be more and demand a big league look. Thompson and Oviedo are starter prospects whose long term development considerations loom larger.