Fantasy

MiLB Players Watch-List: NL Central

This is part 2 of the list of MiLB players who should get called up (sooner or later) at some point this season and more importantly, could help your fantasy team out.

 

NL CENTRAL

Chicago Cubs

1. Ian Happ 2B/OF

Not that the Cubs need any help, but if they would, it’s already waiting in line. Two players head the list. The first one is Ian Happ. After hitting .383 with 5 homers during spring training, he has mashed in AAA as well, leading the minors with 6 HR’s. Originally a second baseman, the 22-year old has been playing in the outfield lately in order to try and find a path to the Big Leagues. I’ve had my doubts about Happ and whether his tools will translate to success in the Majors. His steady progress and constant production have me convinced at the moment. He would be an ideal replacement for Ben Zobrist if anything were to happen to the 35-year old veteran. Happ is definitely Zobrist’s heir apparent and probably wouldn’t let go of a roster spot if he would to earn one.

2. Jeimer Candelario 3B/1B
Jeimer Candelario is the second player. The still developing 23-year old has been an RBI machine at the beginning of the season, leading the minors with 18. His minor league career has been a mixed bag, but the switch-hitting third baseman has slowly been putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. There’s a “tiny” problem though – Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant. The World Series winning tandem is not about to give up its positions any time soon. The best case scenario for Candelario would involve a trade, although I have little doubts he’ll be on a Major League roster by the end of the season regardless of where he is.

3. Eddie Butler RHP
As far as starting pitching is concerned, one name currently stands out. That’s Eddie Butler. The Rockies pretty much gave up on him and traded him to the Cubs for scraps. It may turn out to be another master move by Theo Epstein, who can’t seem to go wrong no matter what he does recently. Butler had a surprisingly good spring, good enough for the Cubs to consider him as the 5th starter. He was sent to AAA instead, and has been very effective in 3 starts, holding a 1.45 ERA with a .206 avg against. The 26-year old was one of the most highly touted pitching prospects in the game not too long time ago. Chicago has transformed Arrieta and Hendricks into stars. Who’s to say Butler is not the next one. Odds are not in his favor, but at the very least he’s not a worse option than Brett Anderson. I don’t think he’ll be rushed, but a call-up is not too distant on the horizon.

 

Cincinnati Reds

1. Jesse Winker OF

Winker is one of the better outfielders in the minors. A career .295 hitter, he has walked almost as much as he has struck out (344K/299BB). That says the lefty is patient and chooses his pitches wisely. He does, however, have hot and cold tendencies, reminding me a lot of Jay Bruce in that regard. He also has untapped power potential, which the Reds ballpark may unveil. Adam Duvall has a firm hold on the LF spot, yet Winker did get a short call-up and made the most of it with a pinch-hit RBI double. He fully fits the classic Reds low profile OF mold. If not for the emergence of Duvall he would’ve already been a starter for Cincinnati. As it stands now, either he or Duvall will have to move to RF in order for Jesse to become a regular. Sooner or later, he’ll force the Reds’ hands and they’ll have to find a roster spot for him.

2. Sebastian Elizalde OF
A much lesser known prospect, Sebastian Elizalde has been batting the ball very well to start the season, holding a .377 average. A further examination of his minor league numbers reveals a solid contact hitter, who looks more like a fourth outfielder than a starter. However, being that Elizalde is 25 and an RF, it is entirely feasible he takes over Scott Schebler’s starter role if he scuffles.
Phillip Ervin is seen as the left fielder with more upside. Maybe, but personally, I would take my chances with Elizalde. Ervin too should get promoted at some point this season.

Update: Ervin was promoted just hours after I finished writing this.

3. Nick Senzel 3B
I wrote a whole article on Senzel, so similar to what I did with Joe Jimenez, I’ll simply give you an update. He hasn’t had the start I expected, especially since he’s not in Double-A, hitting .262 for the Class A Advanced Daytona Tortugas. I’m not one to be overly concerned with early season numbers, but I do pay attention. In order for him to fulfill the projection I made (that he’s going to be the Reds third baseman by the end of the year), he’ll have to do better. Eugenio Suarez has been raking, probably feeling the pressure of a short leash, so Senzel is still ways away. Worst case scenario, you can scoop him up from free agency towards the end of this season in keeper leagues and you will have yourself a young, talented 3B for the next one.

4. Jimmy Herget RP
A 6th round pick in 2015, Jimmy Herget is anything but a known commodity in fantasy circles. What he has been thus far, is a reliable reliever. Like I mentioned in my analysis of Trevor Hildenberger, a reliever needs to be nearly perfect (or extremely talented) to make this list. Herget has appeared in a total of 80 games since being drafted and has a 2.03 ERA with 123K, 35BB, .195 avg against and 1.08 WHIP. He led the Class A Advanced league in saves in 2016. On top of that, he’s 6/6 in save opportunities this season, having allowed only 2 hits in 7 innings to go along with 14 strikeouts and 2 walks. The Reds do not have a closer. Herget could become that. I’m eagerly awaiting the 23-year old’s promotion.

5. Luis Castillo RHP and Tyler Mahle RHP
The Reds starting rotation is a mess. Amir Garrett has been great, Scott Feldman decent and the rest of the crew has been bad. Arroyo shouldn’t be anything more than a spot starter at this point, Brandon Finnegan started well, but is on the DL again, DeSclafani and Bailey are on the 60-day DL and who knows whether they’ll be any good when they come back. Then we have Rookie Davis, Tim Adleman, Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson and most recently Sal Romano. What this all means is that the Reds are searching and waiting to see who’ll grab hold of those available rotation spots. There are 2 pitchers in AA who might do so.
– Cincinnati has tried Luis Castillo as both a starter and a reliever. After registering a 2.07 ERA in 21 starts in A Advanced last season, they finally made a decision. In three starts this season he has a 1.96 ERA with 17 strikeouts and 3 walks. Needless to say that if the 24-year old keeps it up, he’ll be in a Reds uniform before long.
– Tyler Mahle is arguably the one with more upside of the two. He pitched 150 innings in each of the past 2 seasons and has a career minors ERA of 3.05. He has been hitable with a .245 avg against, but the sample size also indicates he knows how to keep base runners off the score sheet. The right-hander has gone 3-0 with a 1.02 ERA and 19 K’s in his 3 starts thus far. Not bad. I’m not sure about Castillo, but I do think Mahle will be a member of the Reds rotation come July.

Milwaukee Brewers

1. Lewis Brinson OF
The Brewers have one of the prospects I’m most excited about and one of the main reasons why I wanted to write these articles – Lewis Brinson. The guy can hit. In 5 minor league seasons his average is .347. He did struggle in AA in 2016, but hit .381 after being promoted to AAA and has continued the trend with a .355 avg this season. There’s no question the 22-year old CF acquired in the deal that sent Lucroy to Texas is ready. Keon Broxton is slumping, Domingo Santana is not doing any better. Brinson’s call-up should come very soon, within a week or two, three maximum. Get him on your watch-list pronto, or maybe even on your roster if you’re in a league deep in bench spots, especially if you need OF help.

2. Brandon Woodruff RHP
Woodruff was one of the surprises of last season. He started 28 games, most of them in AA, and held his own with a 2.68 overall ERA, 173K/40BB, .209 avg against and 1.02 WHIP. That made him the Brewers Minor League pitcher of the year. Now in AAA, he’s 3-0 with 2.20 ERA. Realistically, he doesn’t have much upside and finding success at the top level will be very difficult for a pitcher like him, a pitcher who doesn’t miss many bats. That does not mean Woodruff doesn’t have a chance though. Becoming a durable, inning eating #4 or #5 is a possibility. Milwaukee’s rotation is weak so he will be called up at some point this season.

3. Josh Hader LHP
Hader is in a way the opposite of Woodruff. The stuff is elite, the command – a different story. There are times when he’s virtually unhittable, however, the command issues make him very susceptible to bad innings and high ERA. Case and point – last season. He had a 0.95 ERA in 11 starts in Double-A and 5.22 ERA in 14 starts in Triple-A after that, going from overmatching to overmatched. This season’s start suggests he still hasn’t made the necessary adjustments in his delivery to be able to control his stuff. 11 strikeouts vs. 11 walks, .159 Avg against vs. 2.57 ERA as a result, Hader has work to do. Whenever he’s ready, a spot in the Brewers rotation is waiting for him. Conclusion: the skilled southpaw is either going to be a #1/#2 starter, or descend to a bullpen arm. I’d bet on the first option.

 

Pittsburgh Pirates

1. Austin Meadows OF

For me, Meadows is the hitter’s version of Tyler Glasnow. Very young and destined for success, everyone yearns to see him in the majors faster, yet logic begs to differ. A case can be made that Glasnow was rushed last season based solely on potential, and the results were less than satisfactory. The same questions surround Meadows now, especially after Marte’s suspension. Already in Triple-A at 21, the left-hander is not a complete package and obviously not prepared to be a Pirate yet. Yes, he should get an opportunity, but it’s too early now. Although Adam Frazier is not great, he gets the job done, and for now, that’s more than enough. Patience is a virtue. We’ll see whether the Pirates have learned their lesson.

2. Kevin Newman SS
I’d make the case that Newman is more Major League ready than Meadows despite playing in Double-A. He’s 23, has excellent glove work, can average .280 to .300 at the highest level because of an advanced plate approach (73K/67BB in his minor league career), and a superior talent compared to Jordy Mercer. I would’ve made him Pittsburgh’s starter from the get go and let him grow with experience. Be on the lookout for his MLB promotion. He’ll be a worthy member of your fantasy starting lineup whenever it happens.
Kevin Kramer is Newman’s partner in the infield in AA, and the second baseman could also be ready for the majors by the end of this season. I expect those two to be the starting duo for the Pirates in 2018.

3. Dovydas Neverauskas RP
You will hardly find a more interesting prospect than Neverauskas. Thought to be a starting pitcher coming out of Lithuania, he has been converted to a reliever and excelled in the role. He had a 3.10 ERA overall through 2 levels last season with a .229 Avg against and has had a very good start to this season as well with no earned runs in 4 appearances. Those are hardly eye-popping stats, but he’s still adjusting to pitching in shorter stints. It might not be too long before Dovydas becomes the first Lithuanian to play Major League baseball. The 24-year old could start piling up holds fairly quickly when that takes place.

 

St. Louis Cardinals

1. Daniel Poncedeleon RHP
Call me crazy, but yes, Daniel Poncedeleon is the player I think has the best odds of all Cardinals prospects to have a fantasy impact this season. Luke Weaver would be the obvious choice here, but he’s on the disabled list right now, and his fragile body frame suggests it might not be the last time. Poncedeleon is not even a top 30 prospect on MLB.com, so what I’m writing here is pre-determined to be a long shot. Nevertheless, his minor league numbers have been ignored largely because nothing in his repertoire causes excitement. He’s a boring pitcher, but not one to be overlooked I don’t think. He holds a 2.80 ERA in his MiLB career with a .228 average against and has had 2 decent starts to begin the season. We’ll see how it goes. Just realize that in general, this is the boldest prediction I’m making in these 6-part series.

2. Jack Flaherty RHP
Jack Flaherty would be the one I’d write about above, but I have my doubts he’ll reach the Majors in 2017. He’s had a very promising start to this season having pitched 21 innings in 3 starts with 1 earned run, 19 strikeouts, 2 walks and a 0.42 ERA. He also hasn’t allowed more than 4 hits in any of them. Flaherty is far more talented than Poncedeleon but is only 21 and in Double-A. The Cardinals rotation is pretty much set in stone, so they’ll probably take the safe route and won’t rush him.

 

And that concludes the NL Central. The AL West is up next.

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