Top 10 Prospects with a Fantasy Twist: The NL Central

We continue our six-part look at the Top 10 prospects (by division) with the National League Central.

Previous Reviews:
AL West Top 10s
NL West Top 10s
AL Central Top 10s

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates feature an organization that has nice balance, although the majority of its top prospects are nearing the MLB.

2018 Arrivals:
1. Mitch Keller | SP | 2018 Level: AA
2. Colin Moran | 3B | 2018 Level: AAA
4. Austin Meadows | CF | 2018 Level: AAA
8. Kevin Newman | IF | 2018 Level: AAA

2019 Arrivals:
3. Ke’Bryan Hayes | 3B | 2018 Level: AA
5. Cole Tucker | SS | 2018 Level: AA
10. Taylor Hearn | SP | 2018 Level: AA

2020 and Beyond:
6. Shane Baz | SP | 2018 Level: A-
7. Luis Escobar | SP | 2018 Level: A+
9. Lolo Sanchez | OF | 2018 Level: A-

Other Names to Know:
Sleeper: Calvin Mitchell, OF
Beyond the Top 10 Help in 2018: Nick Kingham, SP

Mitch Keller is one of the better pitching prospects that no one talks about. He has a strong repertoire that suggests No. 2 pitcher potential, if he realizes his full potential. He also induces a significant number of ground-ball outs and has outstanding command/control for his age/experience. I wasn’t a huge fan of Colin Moran as a first round pick (Miami Marlins) but I’ve become more bullish on him in the last year or so. He’s doing a better job of driving the ball more consistently and I can now see an average or better third baseman. On the flip side, Austin Meadows’ potential has dimmed somewhat, due to his inability to stay healthy (which has caused him to lose valuable development time). The organization is in a good place at the hot corner. I’ve been a huge supporter of Ke’Bryan Hayes since his draft year and he has a higher ceiling than Moran (however, the floor on his potential is lower). The move up to double-A as a 21-year-old will be a big test but Hayes has the potential to be an all-star with excellent skills on both sides of the ball. If 18-year-old Lolo Sanchez wins an opening day assignment to low-A ball, he could be one of the most exciting Pirates prospects to watch this spring. Luis Escobar has 3/4 starter potential as an innings-eater.

Milwaukee Brewers

With the Brewers, almost all of their top-level talent is found at the double-A or triple-A level. Add in the fact that the club brought in a number of legit big leaguers during the off-season and you have a club with some serious backlog (and great depth). That strong depth makes the club all that more dangerous this year (since we all know injuries are unavoidable).

2018 Arrivals:
1. Corbin Burnes | SP | 2018 Level: AA
3. Brandon Woodruff | SP | 2018 Level: AAA
6. Brett Phillips | RF | 2018 Level: AAA
10. Mauricio Dubon | IF | 2018 Level: AAA

2019 Arrivals:
2. Keston Hiura | 2B | 2018 Level: A+
5. Freddy Peralta | SP | 2018 Level: AA
7. Lucas Erceg | 3B | 2018 Level: AA
9. Luis Ortiz | SP | 2018 Level: AAA

2020 and Beyond:
4. Corey Ray | RF | 2018 Level: A+
8. Tristen Lutz | OF | 2018 Level: A

Other Names to Know:
Sleeper: Jean Carmona, SS
Beyond the Top 10 Help in 2018: Taylor Williams, RP

Like Mitch Keller above, Corbin Burnes is another pitching prospect that more people should be talking about. He has a deep repertoire, excellent control and a solid build. He also keeps the ball in the park and produces good ground-ball numbers — a skill that cannot be discounted in this era of juiced balls. He could be a No. 2 starter in the making. Brandon Woodruff doesn’t have as high of a ceiling but he has a solid chance of developing into an innings-eating, mid-rotation starter. Former first round pick Corey Ray has seen his star diminish due to contract issues and he needs a strong 2018 season to continue to be discussed as a potential impact player. Keston Hiura is a little bit like the Rangers’ Willie Calhoun — a gifted hitter who doesn’t really have a defensive home. The Brewers’ prospect may be headed to left field or first base, although the latter position is not a clean fit due to the modest power potential and his lack of height.

St. Louis Cardinals

Like the Brewers, the Cardinals feature a very top-heavy system with most of the top prospects in double-A or higher. I give the system edge to the Cardinals, though, as they have more prospects that look like average-or-better big leaguers and there were probably another four or five players I considered for the Top 10 list.

2018 Arrivals:
1. Alex Reyes | SP | 2018 Level: AA
2. Jack Flaherty | SP | 2018 Level: AAA
3. Carson Kelly | C | 2018 Level: AAA
4. Dakota Hudson | SP | 2018 Level: AAA
6. Yairo Munoz | IF | 2018 Level: AAA
7. Tyler O’Neill | LF | 2018 Level: AAA
9. Harrison Bader | OF | 2018 Level: AAA

2019 Arrivals:
5. Randy Arozarena | RF | 2018 Level: AA
10. Andrew Knizner | C | 2018 Level: AA

2020 and Beyond:
8. Jordan Hicks | SP | 2018 Level: A+

Other Names to Know:
Sleeper: Wadye Ynfante, OF
Beyond the Top 10 Help in 2018: Austin Gomber, SP

The Cardinals aren’t flashy when it comes to their draft (or international talent acquisition) philosophy but they have an eye for talent and an impressive system in place to help those players develop. As a result, the system has five or six players that could probably be in the majors with most clubs but will instead head to triple-A and await an injury or other event to free them. Jack Flaherty has the potential to develop into a solid mid-rotation starter. Once healthy, Alex Reyes has that enviable No. 1/2 starter potential. And for me, Dakota Hudson has an immense potential as a high-leverage reliever. He doesn’t miss a ton of bats as a starter but he has a great fastball-slider combo and outstanding ground-ball numbers. Jordan Hicks is a similar pitcher. Both Randy Arozarena and Yairo Munoz are underrated players and could develop into impact players for the Cardinals. The development of Andrew Knizner gives the Cardinals another young catcher to potentially pair with Carson Kelly when Yadier Molina retires in the next few years. He’s not on the Top 10, but don’t count out Max Schrock having value to the Cardinals.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are in a very different situation that the Brewers and Cardinals. Chicago doesn’t have much left in the upper levels of the system at all and lacks impact talent through much of the full-season teams. However, the club has invested heavily in the international market in recent years (ie. 16 and 17 year olds) so they will start to bubble up into full-season ball soon at which time we’ll have a better idea of how well that investment will pan out.

2018 Arrivals:
6. Dillon Maples | RP | 2018 Level: AAA
8. Victor Caratini | C/1B | 2018 Level: AAA

2019 Arrivals:
4. Adbert Alzolay | SP | 2018 Level: AA
5. Thomas Hatch | SP | 2018 Level: AA
9. Oscar de la Cruz | SP | 2018 Level: A+
10. Justin Steele | SP | 2018 Level: AA

2020 and Beyond:
1. Alex Lange | SP | 2018 Level: A+
2. Aramis Ademan | SS | 2018 Level: A
3. Jose Albertos | SP | 2018 Level: A
7. Brendon Little | SP | 2018 Level: A

Other Names to Know:
Sleeper: Erling Moreno,
Beyond the Top 10 Help in 2018: Mark Zagunis, OF

I’m a big fan of Dillon Maples. He has excellent stuff and great make-up but he needs better command/control to realize his full potential. I see a little bit of Jays closer Roberto Osuna in Jose Albertos. He’s not a huge pitcher and he doesn’t have much physical projection left despite being just 19. But he has some zip to his heater and an excellent changeup. The development of his breaking ball will go a long way to determining his future role and ceiling. Aramis Ademan still has a long way to go in his development but he’s intriguing. He has more pop than one might expected given his frame and he just might be capable of 15-20 homers one day if he makes some changes to his approach and pulls the ball a little more. He should be fun to watch in 2018 as he enjoys his first full year of full-season ball. Thomas Hatch doesn’t have a high ceiling but he could be a solid innings-eater as a No. 4 starter. Adbert Alzolay is an interesting arm. He has a great one-two punch with his fastball and curveball but lacks depth to his repertoire. Add in limited size and he just might be best-suited to relieving. However, he reportedly has great make-up so don’t count out him making enough improvements to stick as a starter.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds don’t possess the deepest system — or pitchers with huge ceilings (aside from last year’s No. 1 draft pick) but they have some excellent hitting prospects that you should get excited about.

2018 Arrivals:
1. Nick Senzel | SS/3B | 2018 Level: AAA
5. Tyler Mahle | SP | 2018 Level: AAA
6. Jesse Winker | LF | 2018 Level: AAA

2019 Arrivals:
2. Taylor Trammell | CF | 2018 Level: A+
10. Shed Long | 2B | 2018 Level: AA

2020 and Beyond:
3. Hunter Greene | SP | 2018 Level: A-
4. Jeter Downs | SS | 2018 Level: A
7. Jose Siri | CF | 2018 Level: A+
8. Tyler Stephenson | C | 2018 Level: A+
9. Tony Santillan | SP | 2018 Level: A+

Other Names to Know:
Sleeper: Stuart Fairchild, OF
Beyond the Top 10 Help in 2018: Alex Blandino, SS

I might be the biggest Taylor Trammell fan around and have been writing very nice things about him since he entered pro ball. I love his power-speed combo and he could easily become a 20-20 guy in the majors. His willingness to take a walk makes him even more valuable and offsets his swing-and-miss tendencies. Nick Senzel could pair with Trammell to form a very exciting nucleus for the Reds. Senzel is a gifted hitter and should produce excellent batting averages, above-average on-base rates and excellent power. His defensive home is a bit of a question mark but his bat will play anywhere. I’m not convinced Jesse Winker will hit with enough authority to be a star but he, like Senzel, is a gifted hitter and should produce a strong average and get on base a lot. Jose Siri will miss part of the year with an injury but he’s worth keeping an eye on when he returns. There is swing-and-miss to his game but the power-speed combo is intriguing. Hunter Greene is one of the most gifted pitchers in the minors but he has a long way to go to realize his potential. I keep going back and forth on Tyler Mahle’s ultimate potential. He has good stuff but there’s just something about his delivery that makes me question his ultimate ceiling.

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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