Fantasy Baseball: Under the radar NL Central prospects

Everyone knows the high-profile prospects, but sometimes it is the lesser known players that make a significant impact in fantasy baseball.

Continuing the series of articles, we take a look at five unheralded prospects in the NL Central division. Make sure you check out the AL West and NL West prospects that have already been published.

There are some exciting prospects in the Minor League ranks of NL Central teams. The Pirates’ Austin Meadows should have already been promoted to the majors with Starling Marte’s suspension and Gregory Polanco’s injury. Unfortunately, the consensus top-10 prospect is struggling in Triple-A with a .229/.291/.325 slash line over his first 40 games.

Don’t expect to see the Reds’ Nick Senzel in this article. The first-rounder from the 2016 draft is an excellent player, and it’s possible he could debut in the majors this season, but we are looking at prospects with a far less anticipation surrounding their jump to the highest level of the game.

Also, don’t look for Eloy Jimenez of the Cubs. The big-money signee from the Dominican Republic is a potential All-Star, yet he won’t reach the big leagues this season. It is possible that we might not see the outfielder patrolling Wrigley Field until 2019.

Here are five players for your consideration.

under the radar NL central prospects: Brandon Woodruff

Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Brewers: Brandon Woodruff

The 24-year-old is one of the most exciting pitching prospects within the Brewers’ organization. Taken in the 11th round of the 2014 draft, Woodruff made 55 starts in the minors before this season which helped progress him to the No.8 ranked Brewers’ prospect.

The right-hander finished 2016 with a 14-9 win-loss record in 28 starts between High-A and Double-A, with a very impressive 2.68 ERA over 158 innings. He struck out 173 (that’s just under 10.0 SO/9) and exhibited mature control with a 1.02 WHIP.

MLB Pipeline scouting report:

Woodruff’s fastball operates at 93-95 mph with late sinking action that helps him miss barrels and consistently generate ground-ball outs. His slider is the better of his two secondary pitches, receiving above-average grades from scouts, though his changeup has the chance to be at least a Major League-average offering.

Woodruff only pitched one solitary inning in Spring Training and was shipped off to the demanding environment of Colorado Springs. How he survives his first experience of the PCL will determine the speed at which he is promoted to the majors. He has not looked overmatched, with five wins in his first eight starts and an ERA of 3.02. The strikeouts have dipped to 8.50 SO/9 but the control remains with just 15 hits and nine walks over 44⅔ innings.

The Brewers are the surprise of the NL Central, and despite their uninspiring rotation and the two behemoths of the Cubs and Cardinals, they will hope to remain in contention for as long as possible. Junior Guerra remains on the DL and Josh Hader is the most prized prospect close to the majors, but the likelihood is that Woodruff will make his big league debut midseason.

ETA: 2017

Fantasy impact: Woodruff has the opportunity to be a valuable fantasy contributor when he reaches the majors. His last four starts in Triple-A have yielded 25 strikeouts to just three walks. If the Brewers continue with their rampant form, they should provide sufficient run support to secure him a few wins.

Under the radar NL Central prospects: Jose Adolis Garcia

Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Cardinals: Jose Adolis Garcia

The 24-year-old Cuban outfielder signed with the Cardinals in February for $ 2.5 million after being declared a free agent in December.

In 2014, his final year in Cuba, Garcia slashed .322/.366/.485 with 14 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs and 11 stolen bases.

John Mozeliak described Garcia as:

In terms of skillset, I just feel like I would describe him more as a five-tool player, so from a defensive standpoint, above average, from an offensive standpoint, I think there could be some power.

His brother, Adonis Garcia, is the third baseman for the Braves but Adolis (as he is known) is the quicker, the more dynamic and the far younger of the two.

According to Baseball America’s 2015 rankings, Garcia was the 20th best player still in Cuba. Their brief scouting report concluded:

Garcia was one of the most tooled-up players in Cuba, with 60 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale and a plus-plus arm. While he played mostly right field, he has played center field and looked comfortable there, with the tools and athleticism that should allow him to play center field in pro ball. Garcia has quick bat speed but his long swing, free-swinging approach and struggles to recognize offspeed pitches raise concerns about his ability to perform against better pitching.

When he reaches the majors, Garcia could be the fastest Cardinal, offering base-stealing potential for a team not renowned for speed on the base paths.

His plate discipline and pitch recognition need to improve. Baseball America’s Ben Badler sees major red flags, but Garcia is adjusting to Double-A with three home runs, seven doubles, 19 RBI and five stolen bases in his first 33 games.

Garcia is so far under the radar that he does not appear on any prospect lists but if he can continue to display impressive defensive skills and offensive production in Double-A, he could leap the the majors after the All-Star break. Any promotion will obviously be dependent upon the form and fitness of the encumbent outfielders Dexter Fowler, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty.

ETA: 2017

Fantasy impact: Garcia is a high-risk, high-reward prospect. He could become one of the most dynamic outfielders in the NL, or he could swing and miss at everything, failing to get on-base enough for his speed to cause problems.

Under the radar NL Central prospects: Pierce Johnson

Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Cubs: Pierce Johnson

The former first round pick from the 2103 draft, taken two picks after Lance McCullers, Johnson rapidly shot up the prospects lists, topping out at No.83 according to Baseball Prospectus.

The 26-year-old right-handed pitcher dominated Double-A in 2015 with a 2.08 ERA over 16 starts. He threw 95 innings with a mediocre strikeout rate of 6.80 SO/9.

His first experience of Triple-A last year was a disaster, with a 7.75 ERA over 11 starts before the decision was made to pull him from the rotation. The right-hander’s transition to the bullpen was a revelation with a strikeout rate of nearly 14.0 SO/9 over the rest of the season.

MLB Pipeline scouting report:

The Cubs moved Johnson to the bullpen last July and may make the move permanent after he recorded a 3.22 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings. Working in relief allowed him to concentrate on his two best pitches, a 92-94 mph fastball that can reach 96 and a curveball that can be a true hammer but also gets slurvy. As a starter, he’d mix in a decent changeup and a mid-80s cutter.

The strikeouts were there in Spring Training (10 over 6⅔ innings), but he failed to command his pitches sufficiently to give the Cubs confidence in a jump to the majors. Johnson left Spring Training with the tarnished reputation of a post-hype prospect and an 8.10 ERA over his eight appearances.

He started 2017 in the PCL with the Iowa Cubs, striking out 21 batters over 14 innings before the promotion to make his Major League debut on May 19.

ETA: 2017

Fantasy impact: Having spent most of his career as a starter, Johnson is still transitioning to life in the bullpen. He has elite strikeout potential but at the moment, fails to command his pitches, resulting in too many walks and too much contact. He converted four out of four save opportunities in Triple-A before the jump to the big leagues, so could be a future closer if injuries/form affect Wade Davis and the more established bullpen arms of the Cubs.

under the radar NL Central prospects: Steven Brault

Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Pirates: Steven Brault

The 25-year-old was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 11th round of the 2013 draft. He was the “player to be named later” in the deal that sent Travis Snider from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

In five seasons in the minor leagues, Brault has a 2.76 ERA over 88 starts with a strikeout rate of 8.0 SO/9. He reached the big leagues in 2016, but the seven starts resulted in a 0-3 win-loss record and a 4.86 ERA. The 33⅓ Major League innings were not a true reflection of Brault’s talents, but they were sufficient to cause him to enter the 2017 season as an under the radar pitching prospect.

MLB Pipeline scouting report:

His time at the highest level didn’t go so well, but not because he lacks the weapons to succeed. Rather, he fell into a pattern of not trusting his stuff or his gameplan. The athletic lefty doesn’t have plus stuff, so if he doesn’t buy into mixing his pitches and his sequencing, as he did in the Minors, he’s going to get hit. He can pitch off of his average fastball because he typically commands it well down in the zone with sink, creating weak contact on the ground. He now features just one breaking ball, a slider that continues to improve and flashes plus on occasion. His changeup has become a better weapon against right-handed hitters.

The Pirates had a good look at the left-hander in Spring Training, with Brault racking up the fourth most innings with a 3.45 ERA. Bizarrely his strikeout pitches deserted him, with only eight strikeouts in 15⅔ innings.

In his first eight starts back in Triple-A for the Indianapolis Indians, Brault is back to nearly a strikeout per inning with a 2.95 ERA.

The Pirates’ rotation suffered a big loss with the news of Jameson Taillon undergoing surgery for suspected testicular cancer. Chad Kuhl has a 6.69 ERA this season, and Trevor Williams has a career 6.65 ERA, which helps Brault’s case for a return to the majors.

ETA: 2017

Fantasy impact: Brault is a far better pitcher than suggested by the results of eight Major League starts last season. Whether he can translate his Triple-A form to the big leagues is debatable but it is likely that he will get another chance soon and it would not be surprising if he established himself as a solid backend starter.

under the radar NL Central prospects: Phil Ervin

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Reds: Phil Ervin

The 24-year-old was a first round pick from the 2013 draft and quickly became a top-100 prospect after slashing .331/.425/.564 with nine home runs and 14 stolen bases in just 46 games.

Unfortunately, the infielder-turned-outfielder failed to build on the illustrious start to his career, and excitement about this potential faded.

Ervin, the Reds’ No.19 prospect, spent all of 2016 in Double-A, getting on-base at an impressive rate of .362 OBP, aided by 65 walks to 88 strikeouts. The Reds ranked in the bottom three of the NL with .316 OBP last season, so it looked like 2017 would be Ervin’s opportunity to live up to the post-hype sleeper tag as he reached the big leagues.

MLB Pipeline scouting report:

Ervin has never hit for a high average in high ball, largely because he doesn’t cover the outer third of the plate particularly well. He tries to generage power too much and pulls off the ball instead of just letting his natural bat speed and strength work for him. If he can make that adjustment and start driving pitches out there to right-center, he’ll be a much better all-around hitter. Ervin still did get on base at a nice clip, as he draws a good amount of walks, and he’s a good baserunner who led the system in stolen bases a year ago. He’s capable of playing good outfield defense, especially in left.

The former first round pick made his MLB debut for the Reds in April 2017 but had only accumulated three big league plate appearances by the end of the month.

He is enduring a difficult stretch in Triple-A, slashing .200/.259/.360 in his first 30 games with an uncharacteristically high strikeout to walk rate.

While Billy Hamilton, Scott Schebler and Adam Duvall continue to produce for the overperforming Reds, there is no room in the outfield for the light-hitting Ervin. Unless he can transform his dismal start to Triple-A, he will need injuries to open the door for a recall to the big leagues.

ETA: 2017

Fantasy impact: Ervin has stolen at least 30 bases for three straight years and his on-base skills will make him a threat towards the top of the lineup. The Reds’ rank second with 40 stolen bases in 2017, led by Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza, so you can expect Ervin to continue to run when gets his shot at the big leagues. Even as a bench player, he has the potential to provide fantasy value in the stolen base and runs categories.

Under the radar NL central prospects: Steven Brault

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Wrap

With the Cubs and the Cardinals, the NL Central will always be a competitive division, but the Reds and Brewers are making it a more exciting contest.

Fantasy leagues are won and lost by waiver wire claims. All five of the players featured in this article are expected to make a contribution to their team this season, so ensure you keep them on your radar. Hopefully, the information in this article will mean that you don’t have to wait until they have several good outings in the majors to bring them to your attention.