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“That’s Amore!” Building for the Future: NL Central Draft Breakdown 2017

Last week, we focused on the AL Central draft picks. This week, I want to focus the attention to the NL Central. The NL Central hasn’t been the toughest division in the past 15 seasons, but we have seen the St. Louis Cardinals compete year-in and year-out. The Pirates have showed glimpses of young talent, but the consistency hasn’t been there. The Reds and Brewers have two or three players that earn perennial all-star appearances, but they’ve been nowhere close to competing for a World Series berth. Finally, there are the Chicago Cubs. The organization has been a roller coaster ride. We’ve seen the stellar teams of 1984 and 2003, as well as some pretty horrendous seasons. However, the new owners brought in the Theo regime, and the rest is history after winning their first World Series since 1908. Building a strong foundation from Single-A to the Majors shows how strong of an influence general managers can put on an organization. This season, we’ve seen the Brewers, and their young talent take an early division-lead into the 2017 season. Whether this will last remains to be seen, but after finishing 30.5 games out of first they have made a complete 180. This week, I bring you the final piece in my two-part AL/NL central breakdown in “That’s Amore!” Building for the  Future: NL Central Draft Breakdown 2017.

Cincinnati Reds

The historic franchise has been a let down for quite some time. It’s not for a lack of trying. They’ve developed draft picks such as Joey Votto, signed prized international free agents with the likes of Aroldis Chapman, acquired players in trades by the name of Brandon Phillips, and drafted solid arms with familiar names such as: Homer Bailey, Michael Lorenzen, and Tony Cingrani. Still, the organization finds themselves wondering where they went wrong. Injuries have hurt, and it’s frustrating when a projected starter falters and finds himself coming out of the bullpen.

With the second overall pick the Reds drafted coveted high school pitcher Hunter Greene. Entering the spring Greene, as well as number one overall pick Royce Lewis, projected to be the number one pick. At 6’3″ 195lbs, with a fastball that reaches the high-90s, Greene has the makings of a front-line starter. With many high school pitchers, Greene’s fastball is far ahead of his breaking pitches. At 18, he has all the time in the world to develop his secondary pitches. On the season, Greene went 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA and a 43:4 K:BB. As with numerous players in this draft, Greene is a complete athlete, and showed it with his hitting ability batting .324 six home runs, and 33 hits in 102 at-bats. This will become a common trend as organizations have started going after athletes rather than players destined for one position.

There’s not question the Reds are trying to build up there minor league system. After Greene, the drafted HS shortstop Jeter Downs (pick 32), Wake Forest outfielder Stuart Fairchild, and high school left-handed pitcher Jacob Heatherly. Downs is coming off a senior season in which he hit .412 with 12 HR, 37 RBI, and 31 stolen bases. Downs has a chance to be the best middle-infield prospect in the draft. He brings above-average speed with plus hitting and an above-average arm. The Reds are well on their way to adding to a minor league pipeline that possesses talent at the prime positions.

Milwaukee Brewers

Like their American League-counterpart Minnesota Twins, the Brewers have been one of the most disappointing teams in the National League Central. The last true playoff push of 2008 seems like decades of the past. With mediocre talent in their minor league system, now is the time for the Brewers to completely rebuild their organization. 2016 first and second round picks Corey Ray and Lucas Erceg have already cracked the team’s top-30 prospects sitting at two and seven respectively.

I’m a firm believer in drafting a polished collegiate bats. We’ve seen this numerous times in recent years, and this draft was one of the first that didn’t have a front-runner in terms of top-five pick collegiate bats. However, the Brewers went that direction and selected Cal Irvine infielder Keston Hiura. The infielder, slotted mostly into the designated hitter role due to an elbow issue, slashed .330/.392/.520 with seven home runs and 52 RBI. While the numbers are solid, I don’t know if these numbers are worthy of a first-round selection. Regardless, the Team USA member has the hitting ability to move quickly through the minors, but the power may not be there. I project him more hit than power. While his defensive abilities don’t translate to Major League infielder, Hiura looks destined for left field. With their second pick in the first round (34) the Brewers selected high school outfielder Tristen Lutz. At 6’3″ 210lbs, there’s no question Lutz possesses the size to produce power from the outfield position. While he played center field in high school, he’s projected as a right fielder with an exceptional throwing arm. Don’t let the size fool you either, as he can cover an impressive amount of ground.

With their second-round pick (46th overall) the Brewers stuck with the high school prospects selecting right-handed pitcher Caden Lemons. Entering his senior year Lemons was projected as a middle-to-late pick while ending up playing college baseball. His fastball velocity reached 97 MPH and the 6’6″ righty blossomed into a high pick. At 175lbs he’ll need to grow into his frame. Already throwing a high-90s fastball, the velocity will be there. I love his three quarters delivery giving deception on his break pitch. He’ll need to develop his secondary pitches in the minors, but Lemons gives the Brewers a solid young arm to develop. While I’m not sold on their number one pick, I love the fact that the Brewers used more than half of their picks on pitchers.

Pittsburgh Pirates

There’s no questioning the young talent Pirates currently have at the Majors and minors. They’ve produced arms as well as outfielders. We’ve seen glimpses from Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Tyler Glasnow are making names for themselves. The latter are still works in progress. Josh Bell hit the scene last season, and their minor league system features Austin Meadows, Nick Kingham, and Ke’Bryan Hayes. That being said, the Pirates went heavy high school talent selecting four with their first picks in the 2017 draft.

With the 12th pick in the first round, the Pirates selected high school standout Shane Baz. Playing both third base and pitching at Tomball High School in Texas, Baz was one of the many true athletes available in the draft. On the mound, his fastball hit the mid-90s topping out at 98. His high-80s cutter was one of his main out-pitches paired with a dynamite slider and solid curve. Due to high swing-and-miss ability and athleticism scouts were high on Baz. Following suit, the Pirates used their second-round pick on high school righty Steve Jennings. His senior season saw him emerge as the top prospect in Tennessee with a solid 95 MPH fastball and hard slider. Both Baz and Jennings give the Pirates two solid pitching prospects to develop in the minor leagues. After grabbing two pitchers, the Pirates followed by selecting to high school outfielders (Cal Mitchell & Conner Uselton). Both players stand above 6′ tall and weight in at 190 lbs. Both players bring solid bat-speed. Mitchell projects as a centerfielder and Uselton as a right fielder.

The Pirates went young with their first four picks, but followed by selecting polished collegiate players with their next four of six picks. With a draft full of pitching potential, the Pirates grabbed two of the best available pitchers immediately. Playing in a division that has tremendous power bats, it’ll be interesting to see if the Pirates can counteract the power with the arms developing in the minors.

St. Louis Cardinals

When I think of an organization that competes each season, the Cardinals are the first team to come to mind. They develop players better than most organizations, and they do so often. While Cardinals prospects may be slightly older than numerous teams, I assure you they are more than ready when they get the call. The Cardinals have done a solid job developing pitching, and there’s no question they find solid international signings that aren’t the sexy big-name players. While they didn’t select a pitcher until round eight of this year’s draft, they went for need selecting outfielders, infielders, and catchers with their first seven picks.

Forfeiting their first, and second, round picks after signing Dexter Fowler and the Houston Astros hacking scandal the Cardinals wasted no time in selecting Cal State Fullerton center fielder Scott Hurst. As a junior, Hurst started in all 61 games hitting .328 with 12 HR, 40 RBI, 56 runs scored, and seven stolen bases. The center fielder plays a solid position and possesses the necessary speed to cover ground and has an above-average throwing arm. Lacking a dynamite center fielder in the minors, Hurst gives them an immediate boost as the position. He has the tools to be a solid leadoff man or two-hole batter. His skills could pay off seeing get the call within the next two seasons.

After Hurst, the Cardinals selected LSU shortstop Kramer Robertson and St. Mary’s second baseman Zach Kirtley. Robertson is primed to play second base at the next level and was a top hitter for the College World Series final LSU Tigers. Robertson is slashing .310/.408/.480 with eight home runs and 43 RBI. Junior Zach Kirtley slashed .292/.433/.439 with five home runs and 42 RBI. Needing help at the second base position, Robertson and Kirtly immediately start a position battle for the race to the Cardinals second base job at the Major League level. Grabbing two collegiate players give the Cardinals the necessary depth to quickly develop both hitters. If I were to bet, I’d project Robertson to get the first shot as he possesses more pop and could hit either at the top or bottom of the order. The Cardinals did a solid job addressing needs, and selected our three collegiate bats that can develop quickly and reach the Majors within the next two season. After, St. Louis drafted numerous projects to add depth, and youth, to their minor league organization. It’s only a matter of time before the next St. Louis Cardinals homegrown talent make their impact at the Major League level. Even if they had to forfeit their first two picks, the Cardinals are one of the best in the business and draft, and developing, young talent.

Chicago Cubs

In October of 2011 the Cubs hired Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations. He immediately brought in Jed Hoyer to be the team’s general manager and hired Jason McLeod as vice president of scouting/player development. Fast forward to 2016 and the trio brought the cubs their first World Series in 108 years. The Theo regime did so draft, and developing, a plethora of talent through the draft as well as signing international players and making the necessary trades. The likes of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, and Willson Contreras were all due to this regime. No, Javier Baez isn’t in this list as he was a first-round pick of former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry. Fast forward to 2017, and 2015 first-round pick Ian Happ is quickly making waves for the Cubs. This list of players shows how vital the draft plays. Now, the Cubs focus their attention on pitching and they made that seen with their first five picks.

The Cubs wasted no time in selecting pitchers. They selected five-straight collegiate arms in Brendon Little (State College of Florida Manatee – Sarasota), Alex Lange (LSU), Cory Abbott (Loyola Marymount University), Keegan Thompson (Auburn), and Erich Uelmen (Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo). After pitching four innings at North Carolina, Little transferred to be eligible in the 2017 draft. At 19, Little has time to develop his 97 MPH fastball and true over-the-top curveball. The lefty has a developing changeup, and was one of the top left-handed collegiate arms available. The stuff is there to be a starter, but he’ll need to better-develop his secondary pitches. After Little, the Cubs drafted 6’4″ 200lbs righty Alex Lange out of LSU. After going 12-0 as a freshman, Lange went 8-4 as a sophomore and is currently 10-5, in his junior season, with a 2.97 ERA and 1[25:49] K:BB. He’s finished top-10 in strikeouts in each of the past two seasons, with a mid-to-high 90s fastball and the best curveball on the US National team. Scouts project him a high-end middle rotation starter. Regardless, the LSU product has the track record to be successful at the next level. With their second round pick (67th overall) the Cubs selected right-handed pitcher Cory Abbott. His mid-90s fastball is accompanied by both a slider and curveball. This past season, Abbott went 11-2 with a 1.74 ERA to go along with 130 strikeouts and only 28 walks through 98.1 innings of work. Abbott is an absolute value pick, and could end up being the best pitcher of the crop selected. There’s no question the Cubs have hit on numerous position players, but pitching is a dire need for the organization. The Cubs started their search selecting 25 pitchers with their 41 draft picks.

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(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join guest host Andrea LaMont, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday July 2nd, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #92 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.

The Legend Lenny Melnick is our guest this week. Check out his work at lennymelnickfantasysports.com, his podcasts every morning on his site, and his Sirius Sattellite radio with Craig Mish every Sunday from 7-10am. 

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I'm a former collegiate and semi-pro baseball player. Chicago sports are the love of my life [Cubs, Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls] as well as European football. I promise Cubs fans that if Theo can't bring a World Series, I will knock down all doors until I work my way up to GM and bring home a World Series to the Northside of Chicago!

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