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Top Fantasy Baseball Prospects - NL Central


The next stop in our journey through the top prospects in the league is the National League Central. The NL Central is home to some of the top pitching and outfield prospects in the National League, if not all of baseball.

The Reds have one of the top 10 farm systems in baseball — as evidenced by four of their prospects making it on this list — while the Cardinals have two of the best pitching prospects in the division. A year ago Chicago would've had several players on this list, but after trading away Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease and with Ian Happ losing prospect status, the Cubs' minor league system is rather depleted.

Many of the guys on this list are ready for Major League action and all they need is the opportunity to show what they've got. Let's take a look now at who is ready to be the next impact fantasy player in the NL Central.

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Top 10 Prospects - NL Central

10. RHP Shane Baz — Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates' first round pick in last year's draft, Baz had a middling pro-ball debut over 10 starts in the Gulf Coast League. Baz compiled an 0-3 record with a 3.80 ERA and 1.690 WHIP over 23.2 innings while averaging 5.3 BB/9 and 7.2 K/9. On top of that, his 4.82 FIP and 4.12 xFIP show that he was actually pitching slightly worse than his numbers show. That being said, there's still a lot of growing for Baz to do before he can reach his potential. He will likely start his age 19 season with the Bristol Pirates in the Appalachian League, and with another season under his belt we should begin to get a better picture of what kind of future is in store for Baz.

9. OF Austin Meadows — Pittsburgh Pirates

Injuries have caused many delays in Meadows' journey to the majors, but they haven't stopped him yet. Last year was the fourth time in his five-year career he appeared in less than 90 games, but he was still able to slug five home runs with a .261 average and 11 stolen bases. When he's healthy, Meadows has show that he has 10-15 HR and 15-20 steal potential, but he'll need to prove he can consistently play a full season before he gets a shot at the majors. It seemed that with the trade of Andrew McCutchen a spot was opened up for Meadows to have a shot at cracking the roster, but the trade to acquire Corey Dickerson quickly closed that opportunity. Barring an injury, Meadows will likely spend 2018 in the minors once again. He has a lot of potential that he brings to the plate, but he needs to stay healthy and time might be running out for his chances of making it to the major leagues.

8. OF Jesse Winker — Cincinnati Reds

After making his major league debut in 2017, Winker is in line for increased playing time in 2018 as Cincinnati plans on rotating him into their outfield on a regular basis. Winker combined to hit .310 with 29 doubles and 9 HR over 132 games between Triple-A and the majors last year, and was on pace to hit 25 HR over a full season in Cincinnati. He also showed impressive plate discipline between Cincinnati and Louisville, posting a combined 15.4 percent strikeout rate and 11 percent walk rate. Out of the many outfield prospects that could have an impact in fantasy this year, Winker may not have the highest ceiling but he has the highest floor, and owners should not pass up on him in 2018.

7. 2B Keston Hiura — Milwaukee Brewers

The second of three 2017 draft picks to appear on this list and the best middle infield prospect in the NL Central, Hiura performed well in his first season between the Arizona and Midwest Leagues. Over 42 games, he hit .371 with a 1.033 OPS and 25 extra base hits, including 4 HR. This performance was good enough for Hiura to earn an invitation to Spring Training, where over 19 games he hit .419 with a double, a home run and a .986 OPS. There really isn't much standing between Hiura and the major leagues other than time. Hiura should spend 2018 in the minors, and barring any trades or signings he could end up the starting second baseman out of Spring Training next year.

6. OF Taylor Trammell — Cincinnati Reds

Two seasons into his professional career, Trammell is already showing future star potential. As a 19-year-old in the Midwest League last year, Trammell tied for ninth place in the league with a .281 average and finished eighth with a .819 OPS. He also hit 13 HR, 10 triples (third-most in the league) and had 41 stolen bases (second-most in the league). There really isn't much downside to Trammell at all, as his 21.5 percent strikeout rate last season is perfectly fine and his 12.4 percent walk rate was sixth-best in the Midwest League. Trammell is one of the more exciting prospects out there right now, and he is being overshadowed by other top prospects in the Reds organization like Hunter Greene and Nick Senzel. Now is the time to add Trammell while he is still somewhat "unknown," because he could be the next big star in the Cincinnati outfield.

5. RHP Hunter Greene — Cincinnati Reds

The second pick in last year's draft, Greene had a lot of buzz around him heading into his pro-ball debut, but the results were not quite as stellar as many hoped to see — albeit they came in a very small body of work. Over three starts Greene pitched 4.1 innings, allowing seven runs — six earned — on eight hits and a walk while striking out six. At the plate he didn't fare much better, going 7-30 (.233) with two doubles and a triple, no walks and eight strikeouts. While his numbers weren't astounding, there shouldn't be any concerns yet about his abilities. Greene will be 18 this year and should spend the whole season back in Rookie-level Billings where he'll be able to continue to grow into his potential. It will be a while before we can get figure out what kind of player Greene will be, but fantasy owners should have a better idea by the end of this year.

4. RHP Mitch Keller — Pittsburgh Pirates

At this point for Keller there isn't much left for him to do before he hits the majors. Splitting time last season between Low-A, High-A and Double-A, Keller had an 8-5 record with a 3.03 ERA and 1.000 WHIP over 23 starts. He also posted a 25 percent strikeout rate and 6.9 percent walk rate over 116 innings of work. Both of those marks line up almost perfectly with his career 25.9 percent strikeout rate and 6.7 percent walk rate. What's impressive is that Keller is already showing an ability to perform consistently at a high level, and he will be just 22 this year. Keller will start the year in either Double- or Triple-A, but if he continues to pitch well he could easily end up playing in Pittsburgh sometime this season.

3. RHP Jack Flaherty — St. Louis Cardinals

While he struggled in his first taste of the big leagues, Flaherty has plenty of potential to become a high-end starting pitcher in fantasy. Flaherty appeared in six games with St. Louis, making five starts and compiling an 0-2 record with a 6.33 ERA and 1.547 WHIP. His numbers in the minors were significantly better, as he went 14-4 with a 2.18 ERA and 1.043 WHIP over 25 starts between Double- and Triple-A. Flaherty doesn't have the high strikeout potential like his fellow Cardinals prospect Alex Reyes, but his career 8.9 K/9 is more than enough to make him a good fantasy starter once he is in the majors for good.

2. RHP Alex Reyes — St. Louis Cardinals

Reyes had already made his major league debut and was set to spend most — if not all — of 2017 in St. Louis before he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery last February. Before missing last season, Reyes pitched 111.1 innings between Triple-A and St. Louis in 2016, compiling a 6-4 record with a 3.56 ERA and 11.7 K/9. Over his four year career, Reyes has a mark of 12.1 K/9 and his lowest season total was 10.5 K/9 in his first season. When he gets back up to 100 percent, Reyes will be a dominant strikeout machine and he could end up being almost on par with guys like Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer. This year will be all about easing him back into a full workload, as he is expected to pitch about 90-100 innings to prepare him for a full-time position in the rotation next season. So while he won't provide a ton of value this season, he could be a fantasy stud in 2019.

1. 3B Nick Senzel — Cincinnati Reds

One of the best, if not the best, third base prospects in baseball, Senzel has double-digit power and steal potential with a high average. Splitting time between High-A and Double-A last year, Senzel hit 40 doubles and 14 HR with a .321 average while stealing 14 bases. Senzel has also displayed good plate discipline with an 18.9 percent strikeout rate and 10.9 percent walk rate over his two-year career. The Reds currently have Eugenio Suarez as their third baseman, but if he is injured or traded we will likely see Senzel in the majors this season. When he does arrive, he should be considered as a top-20 third baseman almost instantly.

 

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