Things are looking bright for the future in the National League Central Division. The Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates are all looking to make the playoffs this year, and all should barring a major collapse. The Brewers had a very disappointing season according to the standings, but were able to develop young players like Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez. And the Cubs are finishing the season in typical Cubbie fashion, throwing out lineups that feature Dioner Navarro batting cleanup. So what does the future have in store for the teams of the NL Central?
The Cubs 2013 MVP should be…Travis Wood…good season, but no…Starlin Castro…no way….how about Theo Epstein??? Yes, and here is why – No one Cub player could have done for the franchise what Theo has done for the future. Mr. Epstein has stockpiled minor league talent that will be pouring into Wrigley Field in the near future. The Cubs now have one of the top minor league systems in all of baseball. The Cubs have a few lineup pieces to build around that are already in the bigs with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. But could soon add Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, and the list goes on. Kris Bryant was the 2nd overall pick in the 2013 MLB player draft, and the best pick the Cubs could have made in my opinion. The rest of the Cubs core group of prospects besides Bryant are already in AA or AAA, but Bryant, 22, is one of the elders of this group. This system does lack top end pitching talent to rival the prospects on the offensive side, but C.J. Edwards (acquired in the Matt Garza deal) has had an incredible season and his prospect stock has risen significantly. The one problem Theo might have in the near future, is figuring out where to place all of these young hitters on the field when they arrive. But that should be a good problem to have as we get introduced to these prospects in the near future.
What a disappointing season for the Milwaukee Brewers. Playing without Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, and a healthy Aramis Ramirez and Rickie Weeks for most for the year has buried this team in the NL Central. And the Brewers have one of the worst minor league systems right now in terms of high-end prospect talent. Whomever you consider the Brewers top minor league prospect, (Jimmy Nelson maybe?) would have a hard time cracking many teams top 5 prospects. That being said, there is reason to be optimistic in Milwaukee. They have developed Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez into All-Star caliber talents. Since his call-up, Scooter Gennett has helped Brewer fans forget about Rickie Weeks, and will give management a tough decision to make about their starting 2B come opening day 2014. They will have Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, and Aramis Ramirez as the heart of the order in 2014, as they intended this year. Jonathon LuCroy has developed into a top offensive catcher and clubhouse leader for this team. But as with the Cubs, the lack of pitching could be this clubs downfall in the future. Overall, the Brewers don’t have the minor league talent to make impact trades or call-ups in the near future, but the outlook for 2014 should be much better for the Brew Crew.
The Pittsburg Pirates are in the midst of their best season in a few decades. They have been stockpiling the farm system for years. Don’t look now, but the Pirates are quickly becoming a powerhouse. Quality major leaguers up and down the lineup. A deep pitching staff that will likely see All-Star Jeff Locke moved to the bullpen during the playoffs. Gerritt Cole has quickly become one of the top arms on this staff, and Fransisco Liriano has resurrected his career and become the staff ace. And the farm system is loaded with talent. Jameson Taillon should join the pitching staff sometime in 2014. Tyler Glasnow might have raised his prospect stock more than anyone this year, recording a ridiculous strikeout rate of 13.3 k’s per 9 innings this year for the West Virginia Power. And on offensive, Gregory Polanco, Alen Hanson, and Austin Meadows could all develop into impact position players in the near future. The decades of losing baseball in Pittsburg have come to an end ladies and gentlemen. The Pirates are now a force to be reckoned with, probably for the next 5 to 10 years.
The Cincinnati Reds don’t have quite the depth of talent in the minors as the Cubs or Pirates, but they have two top blue chip prospects in Billy Hamilton and Robert Stephenson. Hamilton is already in the show and stealing bases like no one should. You know it’s coming, try to stop it. Robert Stephenson turned in an absolutely dominant performance between A/AA. I am looking forward to seeing what Tony Cingrani can bring to this rotation over a full, healthy season in 2014. The pitching staff is already loaded with Matt Latos and Johnny Cueto leading the way. The bullpen is tough, and no one wants to face Aroldis Chapman in the 9th inning. Amazing Stat Alert: There have been less than 500 pitches throw in the bigs this year that have topped 100mph, about 200 of them belong to Chapman. And the lineup the Reds throw out there everyday is loaded with talent. Joey Votto is one of the top 1B in baseball. Brandon Phillips is one of the top 2B in baseball. The rest of the lineup is filled with excellent role players like Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart. When you talk about what a team has going for it, and you haven’t even mentioned Jay Bruce or Shin-Soo Choo, you know the depth is there. The Reds should be constant contenders over the next few years.
And finally we come to the St. Louis Cardinals. Being a lifetime Cub fan, this is going to hurt. I do not enjoy speaking so highly of a team I root against with a passion, but this organization deserves it. They have constantly been contenders while amassing a stocked farm system. The Cardinals acquire new pitchers and resurrect their careers on a yearly basis. But this year, they have looked to their farm system for pitching help. The Cardinals have promoted Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha to help the pitching staff, and they have. I expect each of those young arms to make significant impacts for this organization in the future. And their top prospect, Oscar Tavarez, should be contributing by early next year. Tavarez might already be the best outfielder on the Cardinal’s roster. That’s right, he might already be better than Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday. We will find out shortly. Add all of that to Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Allen Craig and you have the makings of a juggernaut. Plus once in the playoffs, all they need is David Freese, right?
Overall, the National League Central should be very competitive for the foreseeable future. I believe the Brewers could see a nice improvement next year over what they accomplished this year, but have easily the worst farm system in the division. While the other clubs in the division will have plenty of help on the way from their minor league clubs when the big league clubs are in need, the Brewers won’t have that crutch to fall back on. The Pirates and Cardinals are already stocked with talent at the big league level, and have two of the best farm systems in baseball. The Cubs might not be ready to compete in the next year or two, but could have the best wave of prospect talent out of anyone in baseball and could be a force in the 3 to 5 year range. And the Reds should be competitive for the next few seasons with their major league roster and a few exciting youngsters on the way. This division should be one of the best in baseball over the next decade. This might be the first year there have ever been 3 teams from the same division make the playoffs, but with the way the National League Central is shaping up, don’t count on it being the last.