Prospect Update: NL Central

We took a look at some key prospects belonging to clubs in the National League West. This week we’ll take a look at top prospects and sleepers for clubs in the National League Central.

Cincinnati Reds

Dave Sappelt continues to make a case for a MLB role. The outfielder has posted some eye-catching numbers including his 2011 triple-A triple-slash line: .356/.405/.603 in 73 at-bats. The club has a lot of offensive depth at triple-A with catcher Devin Mesoraco, first baseman Yonder Alonso, as well as The Man Without a Position Todd Frazier. In double-A, the club has first baseman Neftali Soto, a personal favorite of mine. He has raw power and a quick bat but he needs to have a more patient approach at the plate to realize his potential at upper levels. Reliever Brad Boxberger is throwing well and could see Major League action before the end of the season if he can tighten up his control. After a solid amateur career, it looks like injuries have taken their toll on pitcher Dallas Buck; he’s struggling again at double-A. Reds 2010 first and second round draft picks (Yasmani Grandal and Ryan LaMarre) are both in high-A Bakersfield, where the ball has been scorched. Grandal is hitting well (1.208 OPS) but LaMarre has struggled (.638). Second baseman Henry Rodriguez doesn’t have a huge ceiling but he can definitely hit for average. Big-time Dominican investments Juan Duran and Yorman Rodriguez are off to slow starts in low-A ball but are still young and full of potential. Billy Hamilton continues to run like the devil’s chasing him (14-for-18 in steals in 17 games).

St. Louis Cardinals

Third baseman Matt Carpenter is trying to make believers out of those who doubt his ability to be more than a quad-A hitter. A trio of former top prospects are off to slow starts in triple-A Memphis: catcher Bryan Anderson (.593 OPS), Peter Kozma (.474), and Daryl Jones (.702). Look for right-hander Eduardo Sanchez to eventually make a big impact for the big league club’s bullpen, and he’s currently making good on that potential in the Majors albeit in lower leverage situations. While watching prospects for the Top 10 prospect lists this past winter, he was one of my favorite relievers. Lance Lynn may be ready to help out the back end of the starting rotation if injuries strike later this season. Known for his glove even in college, double-A shortstop Ryan Jackson showed improvements with the bat in 2010 and that continues in ’11. He’s hitting for average but doesn’t offer much in terms of power or stolen base speed. Two-thousand and ten top draft pick Zack Cox is off to a respectable start in high-A ball with a triple-slash line of .289/.325/.316 in 19 games. Former top prep pitcher, who got hurt and went to college, John Gast has a 3.46 FIP in three starts. Staff mate Shelby Miller has a 2.38 in four starts, as well as a strikeout rate of 13.09 K/9. Outfielder Oscar Taveras was off to a great start this season (1.881 OPS in four games) but has been derailed by an injury.

Milwaukee Brewers

The prospect cupboard is bare for Milwaukee thanks to a number of trades over the past year; on the plus side, it’s brought in a number of talented big league players (Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum). Amaury Rivas doesn’t have the highest ceiling but he’s the best prospect in triple-A (not named Mark Rogers) and has the potential to be a No. 3 or 4 starter for the Brewers. Double-A hurler Wily Peralta has a slightly higher potential but he’s going to have to watch his conditioning. He currently has 26 Ks and just six walks in 23.1 innings of work. At high-A, Scooter Gennett is trying to prove that he’s the club’s second baseman of the future and is hitting .306/.383/.375. First baseman Hunter Morris and outfielder Kentrail Davis also deserve some attention. On the mound, Kyle Heckathorn has walked just one batter in 23.2 innings of work but his strikeout rates continue to be low (6.85 K/9). Former Puerto Rican prep signee Efrain Nieves has responded well so far to a move to the bullpen. Two catching prospects – Tyler Roberts (.480 OPS) and Cameron Garfield (.259) – are struggling early on.

Chicago Cubs

There is some potential bullpen depth at triple-A for the Cubs. John Gaub has a 4.66 ERA but his FIP sits at 2.66. He needs to sharpen his control, but he has 19 Ks in 9.2 innings and looks like a solid future LOOGY. Chris Carpenter is enjoying his move to the ‘pen and has 12 Ks in 9.1 innings. At double-A, outfielder Brett Jackson is hitting .350/.467/.633, as well as 13 walks and six steals, in 17 games. Infielder Ryan Flaherty’s star has dimmed but he’s looking good and could still have a future as a big league bench player. Second baseman D.J. LeMathieu is hitting .297 and has struck out just six times in 18 games. Former first rounder Josh Vitters continues to fade from the prospect picture. Hard-thrower Rafael Dolis is breezing through double-A lineups and combines his fastball velo with solid ground-ball numbers. Jae-Hoon Ha has moved from behind the dish to the outfield and has responded with a .977 OPS, but he has yet to walk this season in 17 games. Infielder Junior Lake also hasn’t taken a free pass as of yet. One of my favorite sleepers, catcher Micah Gibbs, is hitting .361/.489/.417 in 36 at-bats. Arms to keep an eye on in low-A ball include Hayden Simpson, Robinson Lopez, and Austin Kirk.

Houston Astros

Koby Clemens doesn’t get much love from scouts but he just keeps hitting (albeit in good hitter’s leagues). He’s currently at .293/.388/.517 and could find himself in the Majors before too long thanks in part to the organization’s lack of depth. Pitcher Jordan Lyles doesn’t have the best numbers in triple-A but he’s holding his own as a 20 year old. Outfielder J.D. Martinez is hitting well with an OPS of .989 in 17 games and he’s also taken 10 walks with 12 Ks. Former key draftee Ross Seaton continues to struggle with a 7.71 ERA in three starts. The Houston organization doesn’t seem to put too much stock in minor league development so perhaps it’s not the worst thing that it’s stuck with Lancaster as a high-A affiliate. Second baseman Jose Altuve is certainly enjoying his time there. The diminutive infielder has an OPS of 1.168 in 18 games. He has recorded 32 hits and has nine walks compared to eight Ks. Outfielder Jay Austin is hitting .342 and has stolen nine bases but has also been caught four times. The organization’s best prospects are in low-A ball. Michael Kvasnicka (.870 OPS) and Jiovanni Mier (.865) are off to nice starts but Delino DeShields Jr. (.588, four steals in seven tries) is struggling. Mike Foltynewicz (4.65 FIP) and Tanner Bushue (4.89) have the most potential on the mound in Lexington.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Infielder Chase d’Arnaud is working hard to beat his young brother Travis d’Arnaud (double-A catching prospect with the Jays) to the Majors. The elder d’Arnaud may end up as more of a bench or platoon player in the Majors. I’m not ready to give up on former top prospect (with the Dodgers) Andrew Lambo but he’s hitting just .197 in 17 games. There is some pitching depth at triple-A with southpaws Rudy Owens and Justin Wilson. At double-A, Starling Marte continues to hit for a high average but his ceiling is lowered by his lack of power and minimal patience. Catcher Tony Sanchez is looking to rebound from an injury suffered in 2010 but his bat has been fairly quiet and he’s struggled a bit with the glove. Pitcher Jeff Locke, formerly of the Braves, has put up some big K numbers with 26 whiffs in 20.2 innings. Keep an eye on pitchers Bryan Morris and Aaron Thompson. Jarek Cunningham, 21, is flashing some serious power in high-A ball (.349 ISO) but he’s not making consistent contact. Outfielder Robbie Grossman, also 21, has been a walk (20) and run (20) machine in 19 games. Mel Rojas Jr. has 14 strikeouts and just one walk in 16 low-A games. Young arms to watch in low-A include Zack Dodson, Zack Von Rosenberg, Colton Cain, Trent Stevenson, and Brooks Pounders. All five were snagged in a profitable 2009 draft.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Jack Hardy does not exist in the St. Louis Cardinals organization


Brian Anderson changed his name in a transparent attempt to fool the Cardinals’ 66 year old skipper who hates catchers that can hit.