Top 10 NL Central Prospects for 2017

Today, we continue our look at the Top 10 prospects for 2017 in each of the six leagues. The lists have been created by blending potential playing time, MLB-readiness and overall skill to take a stab at predicting the most valuable rookies for the coming season. Recently, we reviewed the NL East and the NL West.

Top 10 Prospects for 2017: NL Central

1. Josh Bell, 1B, Pittsburgh: Bell entered the year as the favorite to play everyday at first base for the Pirates in 2017 but a terrible spring (.409 OPS in 43 at-bats) likely shortened his leash and he’ll need to start hitting to keep his spot given his defensive limitations. Veteran first baseman John Jaso remains on-hand in a part-time role but he could easily move in and take the lion’s share of the playing time. Bell has a chance to produce good power and above-average on-base numbers if he can sort out his swing. He remains one of the favorites for Rookie of the Year in the National League.

2. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pittsburgh: It came down to the wire but Glasnow earned a spot in the Pirates’ opening day rotation. To keep it, though, he’ll have to show somewhat consistent control over his overpowering stuff. If he can’t, Pittsburgh has fairly decent depth in Drew Hutchison and Trevor Williams — so like with Bell above the leash could be short. Glasnow, 23, has No. 1-2 starter potential in his prime and the organization is known for developing strong arms so there is a lot to like here. He could rack up strikeouts in his rookie season — and keep hits to a minimum — but look for higher-than-ideal walk totals. He’ll also likely be limited to 160-170 innings.

3. Amir Garrett, LHP, Cincinnati: It’s going to be a rough year for Reds fans. The club has a lot of talent but it will also trot out a number of young, inexperienced players like Garrett. He’s a very promising arm but he’s still inconsistent and learning to harness his above-average stuff. Still, he has a plus fastball for a lefty and a potentially-plus slider. He also has some deception working in his favor. Once he learns a consistent third pitch, he could be a No. 2 or 3 starter. After sitting around 140 innings each of the past two seasons look for him to be shut down around the 170 inning mark in 2017.

4. Albert Almora, CF, Chicago: Almora may split playing time with the veteran Jon Jay early on in the season but the hope is that he’ll eventually take the everyday center field job and run with it. He’s a gifted defensive player but has offensive limitations based on his lack of power and his limited patience. He’ll likely never produce a lot of free passes so he’ll rely heavily on his ability to hit for average — something he’s done fairly consistently in his career. Just 22, he has a lot of time to grow at the plate but don’t overrate him in 2017 from a fantasy perspective.

5. Luke Weaver, RHP, St. Louis: Weaver won’t break camp with the Cardinals but look for him to have a significant impact in the second half of the year with a number of the big league starters having question marks around their ability to stay healthy. The young right-hander isn’t overpowering but he has a solid fastball and an excellent changeup. The lack of a consistent breaking ball is what’s holding him back from being seen as a potential top-of-the-rotation arm. He currently looks like someone that could settle in to the middle of a rotation as an innings-eater — and there is nothing wrong with that.

6. Jesse Winker, OF, Cincinnati: The Reds will open the year with second-year players at the corner in Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler. If either of those players stumble in their sophomore year, Winker will be waiting in the wings at triple-A. He’s not a typical slugging outfielder — He hit just three home runs in 106 triple-A games in 2016 — but he hits for a high average and gets on base at a high rate (BB-K of 59-59 last year). The 23-year-old has done a decent job as a left-handed hitter against southpaws so there is hope that he’ll be able to avoid a platoon role in the future.

7. Austin Meadows, OF, Pittsburgh: The Pirates’ outfield of Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen should play almost every day so it will probably take a significant injury to provide Meadows with enough playing time to be a relevant fantasy contributor in 2017. He may be big-league ready before the club needs him, though, even after he spent an injury-plagued 2016 split between double-A and triple-A. Another 60-80 games at the senior minor league level will certainly serve him well so the 21-year-old prospect should be able to develop at his own pace. He has 20-20 (HR-SB) potential in The Show.

8. Lewis Brinson, OF, Milwaukee: Brinson has a chance to be an absolute beast for the rebuilding Brewers — but he needs to tone down his aggressive approach. He walked just 19 times in 100 games at the double-A and triple-A level in 2016. Once things click, he’ll be a threat in center field, on the base paths (with 20+ steal potential) and at the plate (a 20+ homer threat). Just 22, this former first round pick of the Rangers may need another half season at the triple-A level before he threatens to steal the center-field gig from Keon Broxton or move him to a corner spot.

9. Alen Hanson, IF/OF, Pittsburgh: The out-of-minor-league-options Hanson faced an uncertain future when the spring began but he showed well as a utility player while stretching his skill set to include outfield play. He also opened eyes by being one of the better hitters in camp. The biggest question, though, is how much he’ll play. The club boasts a pretty strong starting outfield — especially if Andrew McCutchen bounces back — so his best opportunities for playing time may come from second base (Josh Harrison) or third base (David Freese). Keep your eye on Hanson — he might be ready to surprise some people — especially with his speed on the base paths (He could nab 20-30 bases with regular playing time).

10. Ian Happ, 2B/OF, Chicago: Happ had an absolutely eye-opening spring in which he posted an OPS of 1.191 and received the second most at-bats of any hitter on the club. However, the ninth overall selection in the 2015 draft has just 248 at-bats of experience above A-ball so he’ll head down to the minors to try and make a little more consistent contact (He’s struck out 22% of the time or higher in each minor league stop) while awaiting an opening at second base or the corner outfield. If that time comes in 2017, he should display a well-rounded game by hitting for a decent average, with some pop and a few stolen bases tossed in for good measure. His versatility makes him all the more valuable to fantasy managers.

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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It does seem like some combination of Happ and Almora will eventually eat almost all of Jay’s at bats.


“Mmmmmmm… at bats…..”