October 3, 2012; St. Louis, MO. USA; St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Shelby Miller (40) throws to a Cincinnati Reds batter during the second inning of his first Major League start at Busch Stadium. (Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)

Top 10 NL Central Prospects: Cards, Cubs, Pirates Look Bright

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With all of the season previews published on Blog Red Machine, prospect rankings may have the smallest amount of relevance to the 2013 season. To minor league aficionados, naturally, they hold great meaning as the players develop and advance through the farm system. However, very few of these players will take a primary role with their parent team this year other than a September call-up. Consider this a 2015 or 2016 preview of sorts as we look ahead at the best young players in the National League Central.

Where does Billy Hamilton rank in the NL Central prospect rankings? (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

Let me start here: my biggest pet peeve is that the newest players in the system automatically earn high rankings. Consider the Reds’ first-round draft pick Nick Travieso. Drafted last season with the fourteenth pick, he started eight games with the Arizona League squad and accrued a 0-2 record with a 4.71 ERA. Despite these statistics, I’m not criticizing Travieso; making a transition from high school to the minor leagues is difficult, and scouts feel very highly of his future abilities. I just don’t feel he should be ranked fifth among all Reds prospects until he earns some experience.

With that said, I took some measures in evaluating which prospects have the biggest chance of impacting their major league teams in 2013. Without further ado, here they are:

1. Oscar Taveras, OF (STL)

The twenty-year-old St. Louis phenom has seen his stock value skyrocket after two impressive seasons in Single-A Quad City (2011) and Springfield (2012), earning All-Star accolades from Baseball America, Topps, and MiLB.com. The top-rated Cardinals prospect and 2012 Futures Game selection reached 100 hits on both occasions and posted a commendable .321/.380/.572 line in the Texas League en route to being named their Player of the Year.

2. Billy Hamilton, OF (CIN)

We all know Hamilton is fast, and without a doubt the fastest player in baseball today, but we can’t just give him the top spot. After a long-anticipated move to the outfield, Hamilton is still adjusting to his new digs but holds a secure future in the Reds organization. As you’ve read on this site, manager Dusty Baker is impressed with what he’s seen so far, and the Cincinnati brass sees no reason to change. As for critics who note that “you can’t steal first”, Hamilton improved both his on-base percentage and slugging percentage dramatically from 2011 to 2012. Now with Triple-A Louisville left to go Hamilton will try to silence them once and for all.

3. Gerrit Cole, RHP (PIT)

The UCLA graduate and first overall pick of the 2011 draft notched a 9-7 record with a 2.80 ERA over three levels in 2012, his first full season. With a blazing fastball and elusive slider, Cole is developing his curveball and changeup into more effective pitches. Expected to start in Triple-A Indianapolis, Pittsburgh could see Cole in September.

4. Javier Baez, SS (CHI)

The twenty-year-old shortstop often draws comparison to Francisco Lindor since their eight-nine selection in the first round on the 2011 draft, but in Single-A Peoria Baez slashed a jaw-dropping .333/.383/.596 line in fifty-seven games. Joining High-A Daytona near the season’s end, his performance has slowed, MLB.com analyst Jonathan Mayo sees amazing potential in store for Baez heading into 2013.

5. Jameson Taillon, RHP (PIT)

The second pick of 2010 dominates with his fastball but lacks in secondary pitches. Standing at 6’6″, Taillon’s presence was certainly felt in a strong 3-0 finish in Double-A Altoona. Holding batters to a stingy .225 average with 116 strikeouts, the Cole-Taillon rotation may come sooner than later.

6. Shelby Miller, RHP (STL)

The Cardinals have been developing Miller since his signing in 2009, and that investment is paying dividends as he coasted into Triple-A Memphis. Despite a difficult first half, Miller earned a promotion to St. Louis after an 11-10 performance in 2012. Starting twenty-seven games in Memphis, he served as a reliever for all but one game as a Cardinal, and that transition sets Miller back in the back half of our rankings.

7. Carlos Martinez, RHP (STL)

Don’t let his frame fool you. At 6’0″ and 165 lbs, it’s easy to overlook the twenty-one-year pitcher, but that hasn’t stopped him. Often compared to Pedro Martinez (no relation), “Little Pedro” relies on a plus fastball and a strong curveball. Despite shoulder tendinitis in 2012, Martinez finished the season with nearly identical lines across High-A Palm Beach (3.00 ERA, .236 AVG, 1.18 WHIP) and Double-A Springfield (2.90 ERA, .237 AVG, 1.18 WHIP), and may catch up with plenty of rest in 2013.

8. Jorge Soler, OF (CHI)

This is my exception that proves the “no rookies” rule. The Cuban outfielder signed with the Cubs in June and quickly moved up the system, finishing the season in Single-A Peoria and posting a .299/.369/.463 line between two teams. Striking out only nineteen times in 134 at-bats, the discipline he shows at the plate translates into base hits down the road. But with his arm and range in the outfield, and it’s not impossible that 2013 can be a breakout season.

9. Trevor Rosenthal, RHP (STL)

Coming from the unlikeliest of circumstances, the twenty-first round selection reached the big leagues last season and made the postseason roster: two solid accomplishments. Making a quick jump from Springfield to Memphis, Rosenthal transitioned from the starting role to throw nearly nine scoreless innings in the playoffs while striking out fifteen. The Cardinals have a viable future in Rosenthal in either position, as his fastball and curveball have proven to be effective at a major league level. As the season draws near, his future in St. Louis is a question of “when”, not “if”.

10. Wily Peralta, RHP (MIL)

The final prospect may be a surprise to some, considering his recent past. Once a household name in these lists, Peralta fell off the prospect cliff after late-season struggles in 2012, finishing with a disappointing 7-11 record and 4.66 ERA in Triple-A Nashville. A deceptive fastball and devastating breaking pitch gives him the potential to move to the top of Milwaukee’s depth charts in the near future, but he needs to improve his control in order to start 2013 strong.

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