Prospect Checkup: National League Central

A look at the NL Central's top prospects.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be checking in on how the top five prospects from each team are doing so far in 2021. The lists are based on our preseason rankings, which can be found by clicking on each team. Some prospects may still be looking to take the field for the first time, while others may be on the verge of losing their prospect status.

With this article, we’ll take a look at the top prospects from each team in the National League Central.

Stats are of June 14.

 

Chicago Cubs

 

1. Brailyn Márquez, P, N/A – Marquez tested positive for COVID-19 prior to spring training. As a result, he hasn’t seen any game action and is reportedly building up arm strength. He has one of the best heaters in all of the minors and possesses front of the rotation potential, but comes with some relief risk.

2. Brennen Davis, OF, Double-A/High-A – Davis’ stock has been on the rise. The 21-year-old started 2021 in High-A and earned a promotion to Double-A after posting a 171 wRC+ in eight games. It’s been only 10 games at Double-A for Davis and he’s still finding his footing, hitting just .182. He possesses one of the best power/speed combinations in the minors.

3. Adbert Alzolay, P, MLB – Alzolay has now exceeded prospect eligibility. He’s been a solid addition to the Cubs rotation, posting a 4.06 ERA and 26.7% strikeout rate in 57.2 innings. He looks to be a fixture for the Cubs moving forward.

4. Miguel Amaya, CDouble-A – Amaya is hitting just .215 in Double-A, but he’s walking close to 20% of the time. The power hasn’t shown up yet this year but he has more game power than his .089 ISO would indicate.

5. Ed Howard, SS, Low-A – Howard hasn’t appeared in a game since May 21, but it had been a struggle to start the season for the 2020 first-round pick. The shortstop was striking out 40% of the time and hitting .222 in his first 14 games. It’s a small sample and Howard was seen as a defense-first player, but if the strikeout numbers don’t come down there will be some concern.

 

Cincinnati Reds

 

1. Jose Barrero, SS, Double-A – Barrero changed his last name from Garcia in late May. The shortstop got some run at the MLB level in 2020, but couldn’t get anything going at the plate. He’s faring much better at Double-A in 2021, triple slashing .327/.390/.545 in his first 28 games. He’s still only 23 and shouldn’t be overlooked for a poor MLB showing in 2020 after jumping multiple levels.

2. Nick Lodolo, P, Double-A – It’s tough to be much better than Lodolo has been to start the year. Through six starts and 30 innings, the lefty has a 0.90 ERA and a 38.8% strikeout rate. A promotion to Triple-A shouldn’t be too far away.

3. Tyler Stephenson, C/1B, MLB – Stephenson has exceeded prospect eligibility. The 24-year-old has had a solid bat for the Reds this year, with a 118 wRC in 49 games. He’s been able to fill in at first base with Joey Votto hurt, but now that Votto is back it could be difficult for Stephenson to be an everyday player. The bat plays, given the opportunity.

4. Hunter Greene, P, Triple-A/Double-A –  Greene recently earned a promotion to Triple-A, though he is yet to make his debut there. The 21-year-old absolutely dominated Double-A with a 1.98 ERA and 37% strikeout rate in 41 innings. Prior to injuries, Greene was considered one of the top pitching prospects in the game. He’s showing why.

5. Austin Hendrick, OF, Low-A – Hendrick has massive power but is still searching for his first professional home run. He’s hitting .222, but he’s walking a ridiculous 27% of the time. He’s striking out 36% of the time too, so Hendrick may need to become a little more aggressive at the plate.

 

Milwaukee Brewers

 

1. Garrett Mitchell, OF, High-A – Mitchell missed most of May with an injury, but it feels like it’s just a matter of time before he earns a promotion to Double-A. Through his first 13 professional games, Mitchell has a 195 wRC+ and is walking more than he is striking out.

2. Brice Turang, SS, Double-A – Turang has long been viewed as a glove-first prospect with a good approach at the plate. He’s hitting .295 in Double-A, though, with a career-high .116 ISO. This could be the beginning of an offensive breakout for the 21-year-old.

3. Ethan Small, P, Double-A – Small’s 41.4% strikeout rate is one of the best in all of the minors. He does also have a walk rate north of 14%, but Small’s ability to strike out hitters showcases his upside. The walks are definitely a concern, but given what Milwaukee has been able to do with starting pitchers recently, Small’s stock is on the rise.

4. Antoine Kelly, P, N/A – A shoulder injury has prevented Kelly from seeing any game action so far in 2021. It’s unclear when we will see him on the rubber. Kelly features a high-90s heater.

5. Hedbert Perez, OF, N/A – Perez’s prospect stock has skyrocketed the last 18 months, despite the fact that the 18-year-old is still yet to make his professional debut. That should change once Rookie ball opens at the end of the month. Perez has a high-upside profile, with the potential of a plus bat, speed and power.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

 

1. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, MLB – An early-season injury has limited Hayes to just 11 games at the MLB level in 2021. In those 11 games, Hayes is triple slashing .302/.362/.605 with three home runs. Hayes already looks like one of the best hitters in the majors and has his whole career in front of him.

2. Nick Gonzales, 2B/SS, High-A – Gonzales was seen as one of the best bats in the 2020 draft when the Pirates selected him seventh overall. Gonzales was showing off his offensive abilities to the the tune of a 154 wRC+ in 13 games, but he has been sidelined since May 19.

3. Travis Swaggerty, OF, Triple-A – Swaggerty underwent season-ending shoulder surgery, which is an obvious disappointment but even more so considering he held his own in Triple-A, triple slashing .220/.333/.439. You’d like to see the average tick up higher, but he improved on his strikeout and walk rates from his 2019 High-A campaign.

4. Liover Peguero, SS, High-A – Peguero came out of the gates on fire to start the season, hitting .389 with two home runs and four steals in his first five games before an injury sidelined him for about a month. He’s cooled off since returning, and his triple slash on the season sits at .263/.337/.375. Peguero hits the ball hard, so there is some reason to believe a power outbreak could come at some point.

5. Quinn Priester, P, High-A – Priester skyrocketed up lists this offseason with reports of increased velocity. He’s been more good than great in 2021, with a 3.86 ERA and a 19.1% strikeout rate in 25.2 innings. He’s only 20 years old and holding his own in High-A, though, so his numbers should improve throughout the season.

 

St. Louis Cardinals

 

1. Dylan Carlson, OF, MLB – There were some concerns about Carlson after a rough 2020 campaign at the MLB level, but he’s looked much better in 2021. On the season, he’s triple slashing .260/.341/.410 with six home runs. That’s good enough for a 110 wRC+, which is pretty impressive for a 22-year-old. He has now exceeded prospect eligibility and appears to be an everyday outfielder for the Cardinals for the foreseeable future.

2. Matthew Liberatore, P, Triple-A – Liberatore had never pitched above Single-A but he’s holding his own as a 21-year-old in Triple-A. The ERA is high at 4.73, but his 4.12 FIP and 14.9% K-BB rate show that Liberatore has been a bit better than his results. Although he’s in Triple-A, it would be moderately surprising to see him with big league club in 2021 unless the Cardinals make a big second-half push.

3. Iván Herrera, C, Double-A – It’s pretty rare to see a 21-year-old catcher in Double-A, so it’s clear St. Louis thinks highly of Herrera. Through 30 games he’s posted a 118 wRC+, though his strikeout rate is at a career-high 26%.

4. Kwang-Hyun Kim, P, MLB – Kim has now exceeded prospect eligibility. The lefty has been a steady contributor for the Cardinals in 2021, tossing 40 innings in nine starts and recording a 4.05 ERA and 20.3% strikeout rate. He’s a back-end rotation arm, though, and he doesn’t pitch deep into games.

5. Johan Oviedo, P, MLB/Triple-A – Oviedo has been used several times as a spot starter for the Cardinals in 2021. The results haven’t been pretty, with Oviedo recording a 5.72 ERA and 5.5% K-BB rate in 28.1 innings.

 

Photos by Icon Sportswire (Cliff Welch), USA Today (Joe Camporeale) | Adapted by Aaron Polcare

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