As the talks for ending the lockout continue to progress, there's new found hope for this season as we continue with the top prospects for each division. The NL Central is another division that's loaded with talent, and even though they don't possess any names in the top five in the rankings, it's one that deeper than most. This week we take a look at names like Brennen Davis and Henry Davis and why they should be on your radar moving forward. If you haven't checked out the podcast yet, be sure to check it out and follow along as we finish out our top 100 rankings. Swing by the forum and sign up for the DLR fantasy baseball league and ask any questions that are on your mind.
AL Central | NL Central
AL West | NL West
Brennen Davis (OF-CHC)
Davis was one of those players for a long time that I saw as a risky pick because of his tool set and how truly raw he was as a multisport high school athlete. The Cubs have done wonders with him to work on his swing though, and we've seen a truly transformed hitter who shredded at three levels of minor league ball last year. His .260 average last year on the whole isn't something to get overly excited about, but adapting from A ball to AAA in one season is something I'll take stock in along with his eye at the plate. I'd like to see his strike out rate improve - 30% is alarming, but his approach at the plate lets him hit to all fields with ease, and his natural power drives the ball over the fence in the gaps. With continued adjustments at the plate, he should have the opportunity to earn a call up this year.
Henry Davis (C-PIT)
One of my favorite prospects to talk about this season, Davis was the unquestioned top draft pick from Louisville last year. With a .370 average with 15 HR and 10 SBs in his Junior campaign, his elite pitch recognition and plate discipline are what separate him from many other prospects at the position and the top 100 overall. With a solid defensive background at the position, he's a lock to stay there long term where his speed reminds me of JT Realmuto, but with a stronger power profile. He should start the year at A+ or AA where his strong background could help him rise quickly.
Jordan Walker (3B-STL)
A bit of a surprise that he fell down the draft boards in 2020, he showcases elite power upside with a frame that isn't done filling out yet and could be a game breaker. It will be most interesting to see where he finds a home on the diamond - he plays a fine third base for someone of his size, but with a huge arm could ultimately find a home in RF. With the type of power he provides, the biggest question on his offensive profile is whether he'll be a Joey Gallo type player or one that consistently hits for average like we saw in A ball this year. This question should determine whether he's an all-star caliber player or an MVP type player down the road. He should start the year in AA - if he can continue to hit at a high level we could see him ascend rapidly, especially with the addition of the DH freeing up another spot in a potent Cardinals lineup.
Nick Gonzales (SS-PIT)
As a hitter that posted video game numbers in a hitter friendly Western Athletic Conference in college, it was fair to question what the true upside of Gonzales' bat was in a neutral environment. He answered the bell last year with a .303 clip and 18 dongs in A-ball, but his swing and miss tendencies were exposed a bit with a 16% swinging strike rate. He does, however, have a compact swing and shorter levers that should help him avoid a similar fate that has haunted Carter Kieboom and Keston Huira. His hit tool is legitimate, and even if his power ends up as fringy he should hit enough to play at the top of the Pittsburgh lineup. He'll end up at the keystone long term, but his bat does enough to warrant a ranking this high.
Hedbert Perez (OF-MIL)
In terms of prospects, this might be the highest variance prospect this high in the rankings because of his age and the unknowns at this point. However, the skill set that he has in his compact left-handed swing that has natural lift and plenty of juice give us plenty to believe in. Despite his unsavory numbers last year upon promotion, as a younger prospect there's reason to believe he can adapt at the plate with his good pitch recognition to make the adjustments at A ball this year. The young Brewers prospect doesn't turn 19 until next month, and it could be a longer wait than many on the list with the seasoning still needed along with filling out his frame. The upside here is immense though, and definitely a young player worth monitoring this season to see if he can continue to grow as a hitter.
Oneil Cruz (SS-PIT)
It's been somewhat surprising that Cruz has been able to stick at the SS position for someone of his size, but the tools here are undeniable with incredible raw power and wheels to boot. There are still a fair number of question marks in his profile for someone who could be a 20/20+ threat - he's incredibly aggressive at the plate with a contact rate under 70% and expands the strike zone more than he should for a player that isn't as sound with the hit tool. However, he has more upside than some players ranked above him on the list with top of the scale power abilities, even with some of those pitches outside the zone. A true high ceiling and low floor player, Cruz should be the opening day SS for the Pirates in 2022.
Nolan Gorman (2B-STL)
Burst on to the scene following his selection in the 2018 draft with 17 HRs in 63 games and has cemented his prospect status from that point on. Has been aggressively promoted, and played his age 19 season in high-A - though there have been some growing pains along the way, Gorman has consistently adjusted to better pitching at each stop along the way lending to the credence that he's a very mature hitter at the plate. The trade for Nolan Arrenado necessitated a move to 2B (pre NL-DH era), and he's made that adjustment well with a .980 fielding percentage at the position. Expect to see him start the season at AAA, and he could easily break into the Cardinals lineup at some point this season as a 22 year old.
Garrett Mitchell (OF-MIL)
Mitchell is one of the prospects that was toughest to rank in the top 100 - he has the tool set to be a nice role player with a somewhat refined hit tool that has a nice blend of speed. Mitchell's numbers last year in High A were inflated by an insane .620 BABIP that saw him hit .186 upon his promotion to AA that showed his swing hadn't changed much at all. As an extreme ground ball hitter, this can play to his strengths as a runner, but his approach doesn't let him drive balls to the opposite field. He has a strong feel for the strike zone that enables a nice BB to K ratio, but this could be a make or break season for him to refine his swing and become more than a player that contributes to only a few categories.
Hunter Greene (P-CIN)
Arguably no prospect has missed more time since 2017 and retained their prospect status than Hunter Greene who has lost a season to Tommy John and all of 2020 due to COVID. His lively triple digit heater has been talked about for years - he pairs it with a cutter-slider hybrid and a slurvy type of breaking ball. Both of his breaking balls have gained some movement with his new slot angle, but his fastball now has tail instead of carry which means fewer missed bats. Despite his long layover, he pitched well in AA last year but got hit around a bit more at AAA where he was a bit homer prone. He ended up tossing over 100 innings last year which answered some of my questions about his relief risk - he should probably head back to AAA to start the season, but I anticipate a debut this season for the Reds.
Nick Lodolo (P-CIN)
We don't see a ton of sinker/slider types in the top 100, but Lodolo's impressive command and swing a miss stuff is ranked this low if only for the durability issues that we saw limit him to 50 innings last season. His sinker sits in the mid to upper 90s that has impressive horizontal movement that he pairs with an impressive sweeping breaking ball. His best pitch is a changeup that he tunnels well with his sinker and has similar movement with sharp downward break. With the command that he features, Lodolo has a safe floor as a middle rotation starter, but the strikeout upside (13 k/9) gives him a much higher floor that originally thought.
Sal Frelick (OF-MIL)
A stand out collegiate player at Boston College, Frelick makes his debut in the top 100 as a player that pairs a strong hit tool with the plate discipline to draw as many walks as strikeouts with the speed to swipe 20+ bags. Another raw player that was a multisport athlete in high school, several of his tools are still raw. This includes the lack of power that he's displayed so far - as he continues to grow into his frame and tweak his approach this is something that could easily evolve over time, espeically with lost development time due to an injury in college and the lost 2020 season. He had a nice debut in A ball last year showcasing some of the talents that made him a top selection in the draft - while he's a solid player at present with his ability to hit at the top of a lineup, if he can develop even 15 HR power his stock will rise quickly.
Cristian Hernandez (SS-CHC)
An impressive SS prospect that signed out of the Dominican in 2021, Hernandez has the current raw power with projectible frame and sound defensive mechanics that could make for a super star middle infielder. He's got a nice swing that showcases impressive barrel control and the ability to get inside quickly on velocity. As he continues to improve his swing, he should be able to add some launch angle to his swing to improve the ground ball rates he produced last year and drive the ball to gaps with ease. He has good speed that helps his profile as well - he should come stateside this season to start his play in rookie ball where we can have a better on him as he continues to develop.
Reginald Preciado (3B-CHC)
The center piece to the Yu Darvish trade, Preciado is a massive switch-hitting third base prospect that has huge potential in both his hit and power tools. We saw a first taste of him last year in rookie ball where he hit over .300 with 16 XBH in 34 games. Despite his size, he's athletic enough and has enough speed to stay in the infield long term, likely at the hot corner. Preciado is still the most raw prospect in this list, and he's been tweaking with his swing over each of the last three seasons to refine his approach at the plate. Pitch recognition has been a concern to this point, but for someone of his age that is already making adjustments to hit at a higher level I see promise here that this will continue to develop. There is a lot of variance in this range of prospects, but ultimately a player I see with star caliber upside if he stays on this trajectory.
Joey Wiemer (OF-MIL)
Another Brewers outfield prospect, Weimer has seen his stock rise dramatically over the last year due to the changes he's made in his swing that have tapped into his power potential. With a noticeably different swing that he showed in 2021 in comparison to his college career at Cincinnati, it changed his NCAA leading exit velocity ratings from line drives into round trippers. He did all of this without sacrificing his contact rates or plate discipline with a .290 average and an OBP over .400 last season. Paired with the speed that he already had, Joey was able to flirt with a 30/30 campaign last year which gives him excellent upside. I'll be interested to see how he can adjust to AA ball next season - the biggest difference between Wiemer and other prospects like Volpe who had a similar jump is the age difference. Wiemer made this adjustment at age 22 instead of age 19 - while this isn't a knock as far as upside, being able to make these adjustments against older pitchers is a differentiating factor.
Pete Crow-Armstrong (OF-CHC)
The center piece in the Javier Baez trade to the Mets, PCA has missed the last two seasons due to pandemic and a labrum injury that ended his season in 2021 almost as quickly as it began. With an already questionable hit tool, having two full seasons of missed development time lends to the risk that's inherent here. With a swing that's geared for low ball contact, there are questions about how he will be able to adapt to velocity in the top of the strike zone as he progresses. With good pitch recognition and some power in his profile, he has the upside to be a nice talent in CF for the Cubs, and his floor at this point is Jackie Bradley Jr. If he can make strides this year in his first full season, the twenty year old still has the ability to vault his name up this list next season.