We are onto the last look of the MLB National League draft, and that brings us to the National League Central. The past two weeks I broke down the NL West and the NL East. As of now, the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs have two of the best minor league organizations in Major League Baseball. The Pirates are leading the arms race, while the Cubs have been stocking bats. Of course, the Cardinals are an organization you can never count out as they seem to always have gems waiting in their minor league system. Milwaukee and Cincinnati are two organizations that needed to hit on some young talent to help replenish minor league pipelines that haven’t produced any relevant players in some time. With that being said, let’s take a look how each NL Central team fared in the 2015 draft.
It will only be a few years before the likes of Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun are at the end of their professional careers. It remains to be seen if either will finish with Milwaukee or with other organizations. Needing to get a head start on replacing a once productive outfield, the Brewers wasted no time. With the 15th pick in the first round the Brewers selected outfield high school star Trent Clark. With Clark, Milwaukee gets an outfielder with excellent speed. He may never reach the power marks, but possesses the hitting tools to have a great career as a number two hitter. The speed will always be there and it’s not a long shot to see a perennial 20-30 stolen bases.
The Texan didn’t disappoint in his senior season hitting .518 with 29 hits in 56 at-bats. Of his 29 hits 10 went for extra bases. He only managed one home run, but was able to do damage with seven doubles, two triples, and scoring 25 runs. This is the exact production you want from a guy destined for the top of the order. One of Clark’s most impressive stats was his ability to draw walks. He reached base via base-on-balls 30 times and only accumulated three strikeouts. His keen eye for the strike zone lead to a slash line of .518/.697/.767. If he blossoms into a star, the Brewers finally got it right with Clark.
After Clark, the Brewers went for pitching drafting seven in the first ten rounds. Most notably, Nathan Kirby was taken with the 40th overall pick. As with many players, Kirby’s draft stock plummeted due to injury. Kirby falls into a bargain pick with the likes of Mike Matuella. The left-handed University of Virginia product featured in 12 games and posted decent numbers as a starter. He was 5-3 with a 2.53 ERA. He had an [81:32] K:BB, control is an issue as he walked 4.5 batters per nine innings. Regardless, Kirby possesses a ceiling of a middle-to-end of the rotation starter. With many teams down on his value, Kirby gains a chip on his shoulder to prove his naysayers wrong.
I like what the Brewers got in Clark. They need help in the outfield and they found a young player who can develop into a top of the order hitters. You can’t teach speed and the outfielder possesses mass amounts. If you’re looking for a speedster down the road, Trent Clark is a player that needs to be on your radar within the next three-to-four seasons.
When I think of premier catchers and the Cincinnati Reds, Johnny Bench immediately comes to mind. The Reds haven’t had a superior catcher in many decades. Devin Mesoraco was on his way to being a top-10 catcher before his season ended abruptly due to season-ending hip surgery. Maybe it’s me, but this cannot be good for a player that makes a living in a crouched position. With Mesoraco’s future up in the air, the Reds wasted no time in selecting high school catcher Tyler Stephenson. During a radio show, I mentioned Stephenson as the biggest reach in the draft. I would be weary drafting a high school catcher not named Bryce Harper or Joe Mauer.
Stephenson is a monster standing 6’4″ 215lbs. He possesses raw power and the best catching arm in the nation. As a senior, Stephenson hit .425 with 9 HR and 26 RBI. One of his nine home runs was a grand slam. If the home runs weren’t mind boggling, his slash line consisted of a fascinating .425/.567/.904. Only 18, Stephenson has all the time necessary to develop at the minor league level. His arm strength has never been a question, but he is more power than hit. This is something that he’ll learn as he makes his way through professional baseball. Is it me, or is it something in the Georgia water table that leads to extraordinary catchers? Maybe, you’ve heard of the other Georgia born talent, Buster Posey?
With a big question mark being answered at catcher, the Reds shifted focus sixty feet, six inches away from the plate. The health of Homer Bailey has always been a red flag, and Johnny Cueto is a good bet to be dealt by the trade deadline or lost to free agency. With their second pick (49th overall) the Reds selected high school standout Antonio Santillan. Out of all the high school pitcher, Santillan has one of the best arms. He was clocked at 99 MPH, but command is a big issue. As with most flamethrowers, control can be a factor. It was no different with Santillan as he had trouble throwing strikes. Just like Stephenson, Santillan is 18 and will be in the minors for four-to-five years before he gets a call. He’ll have a great supporting cast to work on his control issues and become a dominant pitcher. He has all the makings to become a frontline starter.
While answering questions at catcher and starting pitcher, the Reds followed suit and took a closer with the 71st overall pick. It’s no secret that Aroldis Chapman is another Reds pitcher who will be sought after come July 31. West Alabama closer Tanner Rainey was a top college senior that brings a plus fastball and above average slurve. Michael Lorenzen is another college reliever that the Reds were able to turn into a starter. Lorenzen has had great success as a rookie and Rainey being groomed as a starter is not out of the question.
I like what the Reds did in the draft. They drafted upon need and were able to fill in the holes they have a catcher and on the pitching mound. After Cubs catching prospect Kyle Schwarber, the Reds could have the next top prospect behind the dish in Tyler Stephenson.
After seeing minor league rankings, the Cubs took the top honors. It’s safe to suggest that the Pirates aren’t too far behind. They have drafted pitching and Gerrit Cole is transforming into one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball. The Pirates still have a plethora of pitching talent in Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham, and Tyler Glasnow. They are set with a few outfielders and Josh Bell. Now, they are trying to fill a void at shortstop. Jody Mercer is Jody Mercer and hasn’t been productive. He’s shown flashes of being above-average, but they were short-lived. They signed Jung Ho Kang as a free agent out of Korea, but the 28-year-old isn’t the answer for the next decade. The Pirates filled the void by drafting University of Arizona shortstop Kevin Newman.
Newman was ranked high on many pre-draft rankings. I saw him higher than Dansby Swanson on a few of them. Like Swanson, Newman has the feel for hitting, but won’t bring a lot of power. I contribute this to his wide stance with no stride. This can be something to tweak with time in the minors that could lead to double-digit home runs. This past season Newman hit .370/.426/.489. He produced 2 HR, 19 2B, 1 3B, and was 22/25 in SB. Where he falls short in power he makes up in speed. He has the potential to swipe 20+ bases a season.
With their second first round draft pick (32) they drafted third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of former Major League third baseman Charlie Hayes. Hayes was another value pick who can also play shortstop. He has the same build with a thick lower half as his father, so he’s probably destined to play third. He has shown signs of having an idea in the batter’s box, projecting as an above-average hitter.
The Pirates filled needs from position players drafting shortstop Kevin Newman, third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, and shortstop Kevin Kramer (pick 62). Kramer projects to play second base in pro ball and had a stellar year at UCA hitting .323/.423/.476 with 7 HR, 34 RBI, and 55 R. With a minor league organization that has depth in the outfield and on the mound, the Pirates were able to draft needs for years to come around the infield.
St. Louis Cardinals
You will hear me say this time after time, but the St. Louis Cardinals know how to run an organization. When one player goes down, the next is ready to get the call and make an impact. It amazes me what they’ve been able to do and they continually put a competitive team on the field. The depth in their minor league organization shows why it’s so hard to crack the big league roster, and why many of their rookies are already 25 or 26 years old. With that being said, the Cardinals wasted no time in drafting high ceiling players in the 2015 draft.
With the 23rd pick, in the first round, the Cardinals selected high school outfielder Nick Plummer. He possesses a nice easy swing that produces a lot of contact and power. As a senior, Plummer played in 42 games and hit an astonishing .500. To go along with the phenomenal average, he hit six home runs, drove in 23 base runners, scored 68 runs, and was a perfect 32/32 in stolen base attempts. Regardless of the talent he faced his senior year, Plummer possesses the tools to be an impact player at the Major League level. His arm is above-average, and he has the makings to be a five-tool player.
With their second pick (39 overall) the Cardinals drafted right-handed starting pitcher Jacob Woodford. Woodford was a high school teammate of outfielder Kyle Tucker who went number five overall to the Houston Astros. It’s safe to say Woodford was seen by every scout while they were watching Tucker. Woodford brings a fastball that can reach up to 94 MPH with two great secondary pitches in a sinker and slider. At 6’4″ 210lbs Woodford possesses great size for a starter and will easily gain more velocity on his fastball as he progresses through the minor leagues.
The Cardinals had a very good draft. They took two high school players with their first two picks that possess great abilities to turn into top prospects. Their organization knows how to draft and develop players, and I don’t see this draft as anything different.
The Cubs have been and are continuing to load up on hitting talent. I understand pitching wins games, but at the same time there needs to be players that can overcome pitching. We’ve seen the Cubs succeed with Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Addisson Russell via trade, a glimpse of glory with Kyle Schwarber, and the potential that Javier Baez has. The Cubs wasted no time adding another piece by drafting switch-hitting outfielder Ian Happ.
The University of Cincinnati standout destroyed pitching this past season with a slash line of .369/.492/.672 with 14 HR, 44 RBI, and 47 R. He also stole 12 bases which adds to his many talents. His 49 strikeouts in 198 at-bats are of concern, but he managed to draw 49 walks as well. With the potential to play shortstop, second, or the outfield, he can be a more powerful version of Ben Zobrist at both the minor and Major League level. I see Happ having an immediate impact in the minor leagues. He’s currently hitting .278 with three home runs and five RBI in ten games at the A- level. It’s easy to see why the Cubs were high on the switch-hitting outfielder.
With their second round pick (47) the Cubs drafted outfielder Donnie Dewees. The University of North Florida star had an impressive season of his own, slashing .422/.483/.749 with 18 HR and 68 RBI. He had only 16 strikeouts in 251 at-bats making him the toughest D-1 hitter to strikeout. The power may not translate to professional ball, but with his smooth swing and above-average speed he could finally be the leadoff hitter the Cubs have searched for since Juan Pierre.
The Cubs finally drafted a pitcher in the third round, selecting lefty Bryan Hudson. Hudson is 6’8″ 220lbs with a moderate fastball and a plus curveball. Hudson has the desirable size for a pitcher, and will have the time to develop into a starter. If he never gains velocity on his fastball, I see him as a back-of-the-rotation starter or dominant reliever. The potential is there and the Cubs like what they saw in the big righty.
The Cubs stuck to the rebuilding plan and went with hitters in the first two rounds. They were able to land two dynamite bats that demolished collegiate pitching. Their minor league system holds the bats necessary to make them an offensive force. They will be in the market for pitching as the years progress, but they have the ability to not only acquire pitching via trades, but sign free agents that are destined to get mass amounts of run support.