With the American League in the rear view mirror for now, next up is a system which may very well have the best pitching overall, both at the top and in terms of depth. I'm hoping to finish up the last of these posts prior to the end of Spring Training. The goal with each team I look at is to discuss a few players who are likely to have an impact in the Majors in 2012, a few who could be ready by the start of 2014, and a few more who are a long ways away, but could be interesting as well. You can find links to the previous teams below:
NL East: Atlanta (3/23) | Miami (3/28) | New York (3/26) | Philadelphia (3/28) | Washington (3/21)
Prospects Traded Post-Review Of New Team (3/30)
The remaining reports will be coming out on the dates in parenthesis next to their names, so if there are specific prospects that you'd like to hear about from those organizations, please let me know in the comments and I will see what I can find out for you.
CIN: The Reds system looks a lot shallower after having sent 3 of their top prospects to the Padres in exchange for Mat Latos. Despite losing Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso and Brad Boxberger, the team at the Major League level may not miss any of them particularly given the presence of Joey Votto and Devin Mesoraco both in town. In terms of fantasy relevance, there's not a lot here outside of their top 3 prospects.
MIL: The Brewers were clearly the worst system to start out the 2011 season after trading Brett Lawrie to the Blue Jays and sending 4 players to the Royals for Zack Greinke. While it didn't turn out quite the way they had hoped it would at the end of the season, the Brewers would likely do those trades again based on how Shaun Marcum and Greinke performed. The system has improved drastically from last year, mostly due to the pair of high first round picks they had in the draft and the emergence of Wily Peralta.
Ready In 2012
Devin Mesoraco (CIN)
Mesoraco's performance these last couple of seasons really made Grandal available, as Mesoraco raked at all levels over the past two seasons. In 2010, he hit .302 with 26 HR and 75 RBI, and followed that up with a .289/.371/.484 line with 15 HR all at AAA last year. The defense is well thought of as well, which should allow him to stay at the position long-term for the Reds. Kevin Goldstein rated him as a 5 star prospect, and mentioned this on Mesoraco:
Mesoraco has the potential to hit in the middle of the order. He's developed good plate discipline to go with his outstanding hand/eye coordination, and he makes enough contact to hit .280-plus annually with enough strength to hit 20-25 home runs. He moves well behind the plate and is an average receiver with an arm that borders on plus.
Mesoraco has the potential immediately to be a top-10 catcher, but it sounds like the Reds will ease him into a full-time job, as he'll split time this season with Ryan Hanigan for the Reds. Once he's playing full time, I could very easily see a catcher who meet the numbers Goldstein mentioned above. He should be owned in all 2-catcher leagues, as well as all NL-only and deeper league formats this year, and I think he'll be just outside of the top 5 long-term.
Zack Cozart (CIN)
I've made no secret of the fact that I think Zack Cozart can be a very nice sleeper for fantasy owners this year, and here's what I see: A shortstop, who isn't going to hit for a great average (probably closer to the .250-.260 range), but will provide double digit power and double digit stolen bases for his owners. It sounds like he will have very minimal competition at the shortstop position, so he'll likely be given every chance to show he can't hit in the Majors. For me, the player who he reminds me of is Drew Stubbs, but a lite version. I think he'll hit 12-15 HR and steal 15-20 bases this year at a position that is extremely shallow to begin with. He's not likely to build too much on those ranges though, as he will already be 26 years old to start the season. But there are very few shortstops who can give you those category numbers, as well as solid runs and a decent amount of RBIs.
Wily Peralta (MIL)
Peralta emerged as one of the top prospects in the Brewers' system in 2011, and had a solid season between AA and AAA. At the end of the year, he had struck out 157 but walked 59 in 150+ innings across both levels. Here's a bit of what Keith Law of ESPN had to say about Peralta when he ranked him as his #39 overall prospect:
He'll sit 94-97 mph as a starter with an above-average slider and average changeup, with slight sink on the fastball and solid-average control. He's still working on feel and command, but has enough raw stuff to get hitters out as the latter develops. This ability to miss bats makes him much more likely to remain a starter, probably a No. 2 or No. 3 in a good rotation, but with the chance to add value right away because of the velocity.
Clearly, Peralta could be in the bigs pretty quickly given that he already reached AAA and that the Brewers' starting rotation isn't exactly known for its consistently excellent health. He seems to me like he would have the potential to be a deep-league play until we see better command from him. The strikeout potential is there, but the risk to your WHIP would keep him as a streaming only play for me in most leagues if he makes the roster out of Spring Training.
Could Be Ready in 2014
Billy Hamilton (CIN)
Another personal favorite of mine, Billy Hamilton has the potential, if he can hit enough, to single handedly win the stolen base category for his owner in a way no player has in a long time. He spent all of last season at Low-A Dayton, and hit .278 while stealing 103 bases in 123 attempts. Yes, you read that correctly - 103 stolen bases. He played shortstop primarily last year, but it remains to be seen whether or not he can stick at the position long-term. From Marc Hulet of Fangraphs:
He'll need to make more contact, though, after posting a strikeout rate of 21.8 K%, up almost five percent over his '10 season. Hamilton also does not currently possess much power (.082 isolated power rate) and does not project to add much pop. In the field the shortstop shows outstanding range thanks to his speed but he lacks premium arm strength and doesn't have smooth actions. He could eventually be ticketed for center field, or possibly second base.
Even if he ends up in another position long-term (which seems to be a reasonable possibility), his value if he can show that he can make even decent contact could be immense. His speed should continue to play regardless of what position he plays and what level he plays it at, and could be a top 5 provider at either 2B or SS if he can stay at either position. He's likely going to the California League this season, and could potentially show some eye-popping numbers yet again. I think he'll likely continue at a level per year, and will likely not be moved from shortstop until it becomes too much of a concern.
Top Draft Picks
Jed Bradley (MIL) - A lefty drafted from Georgia Tech, Bradley did not debut until the Arizona Fall League, but won't really be able to show us a lot until he debuts this season. Apparently he struggles somewhat with not trying to just blow hitters away, which the Brewers will need to fix in order to continue his path as a starting pitcher. That said, it sounds like his upside is substantially higher than Jungmann's.
Taylor Jungmann (MIL) - A college righty drafted from the University of Texas, Jungmann had one of the best seasons in college baseball last year with a 13-3 record and a 1.60 ERA, but he has not pitched professionally as of yet. You can read a pretty good profile of him from Baseball Instinct here. It sounds like his floor might be higher than Bradley's, but that he won't have the ceiling he does. I think honestly that both Jungmann and Bradley will start at the same level (Low-A?) and that both could possibly move quickly.
Robert Stephenson (CIN) - Stephenson was drafted out of a California high school in last year's draft by the Reds, but did not sign early enough to get into any games as of yet. I'll be interested to see what he can do this year, and if the Reds will move him quickly to a full-season league or if he will stay in extended spring training. Marc Hulet noted that he "has the makings of a No. 2 or 3 starter if he continues to develop as projected."
Others to Watch:
Tyler Thornburg (MIL) - Thornburg finished the season at High-A and with over 10.5 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. However, he also finished with almost 4 walks per 9 innings as well, and the general consensus seems to be that he'll be a #3 or #4 starter if he makes it to the bigs as a starting pitcher. Seems to me like someone who could end up more useful to a real-life team than your fantasy one as of now, but that could change if he can lower the walk rate a bit.
Scooter Gennett (MIL) - The reports seem to agree on one thing with Gennett - he can hit pretty well. He's a 2B only prospect who will have to continue to hit at every level, as there seems to be some general issues with Gennett based on the fact that he is only 5'9". If he can continue to hit this year at AA, he could be viewed as a solid prospect who could replace Rickie Weeks down the line. Until this year is complete though, I will withhold my judgment on Gennett, and hope for the best.
Taylor Green (MIL) - Green received a September call-up from the Brewers after completely destroying in the PCL to the tune of a .336/.413/.583 line with 22 home runs and 88 RBI. Green played both 3B and 2B in the minors, but I am a bit concerned about where he will likely play for the Brewers in the short-term. He really doesn't need any more time back in AAA, and he could conceivably unseat Mat Gamel at 1B if Gamel struggles. Otherwise, he's likely to be a utility player unless Rickie Weeks or Aramis Ramirez get hurt during the season.
Daniel Corcino (CIN) - Corcino repeated the Midwest League in 2011, but with a much better set of results. He finished with a 156 K/34 BB rate in 139+ innings pitched, good for a 10+ K/9 and a 2.1 BB/9. Keith Law speculated that Corcino could be moved up to AA rather than going to the California League, which makes a lot of sense given that the Cal League is so brutal on pitchers, especially in their affiliate's home of Bakersfield.