Draft Grades: NL Central

After taking a two post break from draft grading, it’s time to grade the next division in terms of the draft picks. Remember, the top pick will be highlighted, along with four other intriguing prospects. Let’s get going.

Chicago Cubs: 

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First Pick: Kris Bryant, 3B, San Diego (2)

Other Notable Picks:

Rob Zastryzny, Pitcher, Missouri (41)

Jacob Hennemann, OF, Brigham Young (75)

Tyler Skulina, Pitcher, Kent State (108)

Jeremy Martinez, Catcher, Mater Dei High School, California (1098)

_________

Chicago surprised a lot of people when they bypassed possibly the best college pitcher in an age in favor of the top hitter, Kris Bryant. Bryant, who led several NCAA hitting categories, helped transform the Toreros from an also-known, to a powerhouse. Bryant profiles as a corner infielder, and given the hitters that the Cubs have taken recently, like Javier Baez and Albert Almora, we could be seeing a bright future for the Cubs, at least offensively.

The Cubs nabbed two potential rotation pieces in Rob Zastryzny and Tyler SkulinaZastryzny is the latest in a long line of Missouri pitchers who have starting potential, while Skulina, who was instrumental in bringing Kent State to the College World Series, has ace or at least second starter potential. Skulina is actually the second Kent State ace to be drafted in three years, following the example of Andrew Chafin, who was chosen by Arizona in the 2011 draft.

You’ve heard of draft eligible sophomores? Say hello to one of the rare draft eligible freshmen. Jacob Hennemann is a Brigham Young outfielder who spent two years on a LDS mission. Henneman is an athlete, having also played on the Cougar football team. He’ll be an interesting project prospect if he signs, and could find himself as a solid fourth outfielder at the very least.

Jeremy Martinez  was an original first round (Or Competitive Balance) pick for me, but he dropped all the way to Day 3. Nonetheless, Martinez, who models his game after Albert Pujols, may be a tough sign, as he has a strong commitment to USC. If he is somehow convinced, Martinez could become one of the better hitting catchers that baseball has to offer, but if he commits, expect him to be a first rounder by 2016.

Chicago’s draft was interesting in the fact that not only did they grab the best college bat, but they picked up some solid pitching help. If the Cubs are planning on building from the ground, up, their past three drafts have shown that there is potential for this team to break the Curse.

Grade: A

Cincinnati Reds

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First Pick: Phillip Ervin, OF, Samford (27)

Other Notable Picks

Michael Lorenzen, OF/P, Cal State Fullerton (38)

Mark Armstrong, Pitcher, Clarence High School, New York (104)

Cory Thompson, SS/P, Mauldin High School, South Carolina (165)

Willie Abreu, OF, Mater Academy, Florida (435)

___________

Cincinnati must be planning on going back to playing old-school baseball, because Phil Ervin’s greatest asset, like top prospect Billy Hamilton, is his speed. Ervin profiles as a corner guy, but is a legitimate base stealing threat, and a potential complement to Hamilton in a still potent Reds lineup. The only question mark with Ervin is his size, as he’s smaller than the average outfielder.

Though he was announced as a pitcher, Cal State Fullerton’s Michael Lorenzen is more of an outfielder. He has the speed and the range to play center field, and has drawn comparisons to one Ryan Braun. Lorenzen can pitch, but as a reliever, as he served as the closer for the Titans. With Aroldis Chapman staying as the closer and Jonathan Broxton setting him up, it’s highly likely that Lorenzen will be joining Ervin and Hamilton in the outfield.

Stigmas in the MLB draft are common, in fact, one of the bigger ones is against baseball players from the Northeast. Cincy must have deliberately chosen to buck that trend, as their choice of Buffalo prep pitcher Mark Armstrong  hints at a potential bright spot. Thompson, who is an impressive athlete, has a basic array of pitches which he crafts to his advantage. Playing in the frigid Buffalo Climate may also give him an advantage especially in the earlier months.

Cory Thompson draws comparisons to Casey Kelly and 2013 draftee Trey Ball because of the unique situation that he’s in. He has no set position, yet he is equally strong as a pitcher and a shortstop. Given the Reds depth at the middle infield, Thompson may have his choice cut out for him as a pitcher.

One of the late round prospects that intrigues me the most is Mater Academy outfielder Willie Abreu. A former teammate of 2012 first round pick Albert Almora, Abreu has Almora’s power hitting capability. Abreu may be one of those late round gems who defies the odds and makes the majors, but if he does, considering the state of the Reds’ outfield, now and in the future, he may have to star on another team.

Overall, Cincinnati upgraded areas that they didn’t really need to upgrade, but the people they chose certainly have big name potential. It will be interesting to see how the team handles Lorenzen, and it will also be interesting to see how they adjust their lineup with two speedsters coming in the future.

Grade: B-

Milwaukee Brewers: 

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First Pick: Devin Williams: Pitcher, Hazelwood West High School, Missouri (54)

Other Notable Picks:

Tucker Neuhaus, Shortstop, Wharton High School, Florida (72)

Taylor Williams, Pitcher, Kent State (122)

Josh Uhen, Pitcher, Wisconsin-Milwaukee (152)

David Denson. 1B, South Hills High School, California (452)

__________

The Brewers used their first pick on prep pitcher Devin WilliamsWilliams, a pitcher from Hazelwood West High School, Williams used his upside to merit being taken in the second round, and outside of good speed on a fastball, he is a developmental pitcher at best right now. Williams has a toolbox, but the tools in it need fine tuning if he wants to be a potential Brewers starter. Expect him to be in the minors a good long time before he is ready.

Tucker Neuhaus had a rough year, with a burst eardrum, and a death in the family, but apparently that didn’t pull him down too far, as he managed to get plenty of attention. Neuhaus is a toolsy hitter with a good amount of contact and power. Though he is a shortstop now, expect him to move to third as he should fit better at that position. Neuhaus could be another well-developed starter who could impress a good amount of people.

The Brewers managed to get a good handful of high ceiling college relievers in the early portion of the draft, but none stand out like Kent State’s Taylor Williams and Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Josh Uhen. Williams, who like Tyler Skulina pitched for the 2012 College World Series team, may not be cut out to be a starter considering the fact that he’s less than six feet. Williams has a delivery that could serve him well coming out of a bullpen. Uhen, on the other hand, came off of Tommy John surgery and showed no signs of adaptational struggling. Uhen can throw in the high 90’s, and could be a future closer for the Brewers if he impresses in the minors.

Prince Fielder may be long gone, but the Brewers may just have the cheap(er) replacement they need for him a fear years down the road. David Denson has the power to be a cleanup hitter, after all, he did hit a 500 foot home run in Miami in a power showcase, so one can possibly guess that Denson may find himself at the heart of any lineup in the future. I say that it may be cheaper to sign Denson, but he may still require a decent sum of money for him to avoid going to the University of Hawaii.

Normally, if a team does not have a first round pick, you can’t find a lot of good reasons to praise their draft, but the Brewers did manage to pull together a string of decent picks. Nonetheless, losing your first round pick to sign Kyle Lohse is inexcusable, and drops the Brewers a few points.

Grade: C+

Pittsburgh Pirates:

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First Picks: Austin Meadows, OF, Grayson High School, Georgia, and Reese McGuire, Catcher, Kentwood High School (9, 13)

Other Notable Picks:

Blake Taylor, Pitcher, Dana Hills High School, California (51)

JaCoby Jones, OF, LSU (87)

Buddy Borden, Pitcher, UNLV (209)

_______

The Pirates are no stranger to picking big names in the draft. While history has shown that they favor collegians, the occasional big name high schooler can be too important to pass up, and in this case, the Pirates snatched two of the biggest names. Austin Meadows was considered the first of the two big Georgia prep stars, along with close friend Clint Frazier. He’s a high ceiling outfielder with raw country power, and he is a rare high school 5 tool guy. Meadows may be one of the best prep outfielders in any draft class, and in such a weak draft like this one, it wouldn’t be impossible for him to be considered the best bat this draft. As for Reese McGuire, he came from what was considered a deep catching class which included the likes of Nick Ciuffo, Victor Caratini, and Andrew Knapp. McGuire gained a lot of national exposure playing for Team USA’s U18 squad. McGuire has decent hitting ability, but it his defense that had scouts crooning for him. McGuire is a special catcher who could be the long term answer a few years down the road.

The Pirates didn’t waste time in getting a solid prep arm in the second round. Blake Taylor, a California lefty, had generated some interest. Armed with a low 90’s fastball that can hit a mid 90’s tick at times, as well as a basic curve, Taylor could be a good developmental prospect. The only knock on him is the fact that his tertiary pitch, a change up, has barely been used and is underdeveloped. Taylor will be a developmental prospect, who, in all likelihood, could find himself at the back end of the Pirates rotation by 2018.

In a draft class that was generally weak in terms of middle infield talent, the Pirates may have pulled off a steal in taking LSU’s JaCoby Jones. Jones, who also is an outfielder, is a jack-of-all-trades type player. He flashes some speed a certain degree of hitting ability, and has no real position. In some ways, he could be considered another Jack Wilson, a lunch pail infielder who held the fort down at Pittsburgh for many years. Jones could find himself doing this if a position, any position at all, opens up.

Arizona Diamondbacks first rounder Braden Shipley may have gotten all the attention this collegiate season, but thanks to an equally impressive performance by rival Buddy Borden, he had to share the Mountain West Pitcher of the Year award. Borden may have not gotten the same degree of recognition, but the fact that he played his home games in Las Vegas, which is a deathbed for pitchers, shows that he could have some flashes of greatness. He has a low to mid 90’s fastball, as well as solid curveball-changeup combo. Borden may be the first Pirates draftee from the 2013 class to make the majors, and if he does, he’ll be a solid long reliever/spot starter.

I liked what the Pirates did in the first half of the draft. They took high profile names, and drafted solid filler talent. This could be one of Pittsburgh’s better drafts, and Neal Huntington clearly deserves a round of applause.

Grade: A

St. Louis Cardinals:

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First Picks: Marco Gonzales, Pitcher, Gonzaga, and Rob Kaminsky, Pitcher, St, Joseph Regional High School, New Jersey (19, 28)

Other Notable Picks:

Oscar Mercado, Shortstop, Vivian Gaither High School, Florida (57)

Mason Katz, 2B, LSU (125)

Chris Rivera, Shortstop, El Dorado High School, California (215)

_______

The Cardinals continued their draft strategy of taking college pitchers, only this time, they went with southpaws. Gonzaga’s Marco Gonzales is a nasty lefthander from a mid major conference. Armed with a four pitch repertoire, as well as a solid bat, Gonzales has the ability to pitch deep into games, and if the game is going tough, win them by himself. As for Rob Kaminsky, he certainly can pitch, as his stuff is well developed for high school, and his command is there, but it’s durability that serves as the big question mark. If Kaminsky can develop the ability to stay late into games, the Cardinals might have another Shelby Miller-type prep star on their hands.

The Cardinals concluded their notable picks with three middle infielders: Oscar Mercado, who has almost no hitting ability but can play shortstop like Omar Vizquel in his prime, Mason Katz, who can hit, but has been moved around the diamond a lot, and really has no true position, and Chris Rivera, who garnered national attention as a tween baseball player, and is known best for his power. Given that the Cardinals middle infield is set for the duration, if anyone were to really make a difference in fighting for a Cardinals roster spot, it probably would be Mercado, who some thought was a first round talent. Katz probably is your typical utility bench bat, someone who can score late in the game, and if Rivera is going anywhere, it’s probably college, so that he can improve his draft stock three years down the line.

I liked the Cardinals picks in the first round, and the middle infielders that they chose had been whispered, but all in all, it really wasn’t one of the best drafts for the team. Gonzales will likely be one of the earliest first rounders to reach the majors, but other than that, this class has a long way to go before it can be considered a true success or failure.

Grade: C

Next up, the NL West.

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