Be Advised: Most of the Rest of the NL Central is Strong on the Prospect Front

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Be Advised: Most of the Rest of the NL Central is Strong on the Prospect Front

Chicago Cubs

The prospect ranking season is in full bloom, and already we’ve dissected and discussed various top prospect rankings from Baseball Prospectus, Baseball AmericaFanGraphs, and yesterday we talked about farm system rankings from Keith Law. Despite so many graduations and reduced opportunities to pick up prospects, the Cubs still came in near the middle of the pack – which is good news!

Of course, despite what we may love to think, the Cubs aren’t the only organization in MLB. In fact, they aren’t even the only one in the NL Central!

Which is why Baseball America – like they did for the Cubs – has taken a comprehensive look at the organizational stability and talent within all of the other teams in the NL Central (and the rest of baseball, for that matter). You can find a directory to all of those studies here.

Today, I thought it would be worth taking a quick drive-by on each of the Cubs’ NL Centralmates, and their respective top prospects/systems, so as to keep ourselves informed of any unexpected rises or revolutions.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

Baseball America has provided a ridiculous amount of detailed information on each of the systems in the NL Central, including a ranking of the top ten prospects for every team, an insider article with greater detail on the makeup of the organization, and a long prospect chat led by the Baseball America experts. For quick reference, here are the links to each of those:

And, once again, you can find all of that information about the Cubs (with additional discussion and analysis from me) here.

Okay, let’s start with Pittsburgh.

The Pirates’ organization is typically quite strong (for what it’s worth, Law ranked theirs the fourth best in baseball), because their organization tends to run out much smaller payrolls with a heavy reliance on younger, cost-controlled talent. The current strength of their Minor League system, then, should not be a total surprise.

In 2016, twelve players made their Major League debut with the Pirates, eight of whom were drafted and signed by the organization. Four of those debutants were starting pitchers who ranked among the team’s Top 30 prospects before the season. And two of them, Tyler Glasnow (#15 after 2015) and Jameson Taillon (#29 after 2014) recently ranked among the best prospects in all of baseball. In addition, their current number one prospect, outfielder Austin Meadows is considered one one of the top 25 or so prospects in baseball, and none of this is to even mention 1B power-prospect, Josh Bell.

In a sentence: The Pirates’ system is both strong and well-balanced.

On to the Brewers, the NL Central team crawling with a ton of young, budding talent that no one seems to worry about.

For example, starting pitcher Zach Davies may have technically made his Major League debut in 2015, but before this past season, he didn’t have 35 Major League innings to his name. So what did he do in his rookie season, then? The 23-year-old starter was worth nearly 3.0 WAR in just 28 starts (163.1 IP). His strikeout rate is a bit low at 19.8%, but his walk 5.6% rate is really, really nice.

Of course, that’s just someone who was already in their organization. Last season, if you recall, the Brewers traded Jonathan Lucroy and closer Jeremy Jeffress to the Rangers for Lewis Brinson and Luis Oriz (a couple of first round picks from the 2012 and 2014 draft). And in exchange for reliever Will Smith, the Brewers grabbed another first rounder (2015), Phil Bickford. Their pre-2016 organizational top prospect, Orlando Arcia (recently ranked #8 in baseball), made his debut in August, and they supplemented his graduation with the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft, Corey Ray.

There were also the Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura/Chase Anderson trades in recent years that brought in more youngsters.

In a sentence: A lot still needs to go right for the Brewers, but they certainly have a large nucleus of soon-to-be Major Leaguers.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ system may not feel like it’s as strong as it usually is, but GM John Mozeliak considers it to be the deepest it’s been during his tenure. And, as Baseball America puts it, “with an abundance of draft picks and a cap-busting spending spree on international talents, the Cardinals feel they replenished their farm system.” It’s just that a majority of the “replenishing” is a fair bit away.

Of course, that’s because their top prospect, starting pitcher Alex Reyes, just made his Major League debut and figures to be a mainstay in the Cardinals rotation for years to come (five starts, seven relief appearances, 46.0 IP … and a 1.57 ERA in 2016). And, of course, Stephen Piscotty only just had his first full professional season, one in which he was worth nearly 3.0 WAR. Luke Weaver, the Cardinals #2 prospect to BA, finally made his ML debut in 2016, but it wasn’t very successful (8 starts, 5.70 ERA).

After Reyes and Weaver (both guys who’ve already sniffed the Majors), the Cardinals next top prospect is Delvin Perez. Perez was considered a top ten talent entering the 2016 draft, but reportedly tested positive for PEDs, forcing his draft stock to plummet down to the Cardinals at 23rd overall. He could be a blue-chip, top prospect, or the PEDs could have artificially lifted his career just long enough to get drafted. Either way, he’ll be a name to watch in the system.

In a sentence: The Cardinals have had some recent graduations, keeping the Major League team strong, but their real talent lies in the lower Minors.

And finally, the Reds.

Not unlike the Brewers and White Sox, the Reds rebuild was finally kicked into full-gear over the past year or so. The result (especially due to a series of injuries to Major League players) was a lot of time dedicated to prospects and young players at the Major League level. For example, 22-year-old shortstop Jose Peraza (who technically made his debut with the Dodgers in 2015, albeit for just seven games) slashed an impressive .324/.352/.411 in about 250 plate appearances.

But things could probably be a lot better.

Their trade of Aroldis Chapman netted them not a single prospect that ranks among even the organization’s top 30 prospects, while the Yankees obviously got the Cubs’ best prospect, Gleyber Torres (who was also a top 20 or so prospect in all of baseball at the time) just a few months later. The return for Jay Bruce, J.J. Cooper writes, was modest as well, and they’ve been unable (Brandon Phillips) or unwilling (Joey Votto) to trade some other notable players for anything of merit.

In a sentence: If it weren’t for the second overall pick in the 2016 draft, third basemen Nick Senzel, the Reds farm system would be quite bleak.

So there you go, the Pirates have a strong balanced system, the Brewers look like up and comers, the Cardinals have some young talent in the lower minors, and the Reds are, well, they’re trying their best to deal with a couple of costly mistakes.

But even if none of those systems scare you individually, one thing is clear: there is some serious up and coming talent in the NL Central, and the Cubs do not have a patent on unexpectedly good teams.

So keep an eye out on those farm systems, because sooner or later, someone is going to take a run at the division, a run that may remind you of a certain 2015 Wild Card team.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami