Toolshed: Reasons for NL fans to give thanks

Dodgers keeping prospects (for now), Padres preparing to pop

Gavin Lux climbed from No. 70 in MLB.com's preseason prospect rankings to his current spot at No. 2. (Jerry Espinoza/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | November 26, 2019 11:00 AM

Enough with the white or dark meat, canned or homemade cranberry sauce. This Thanksgiving, try to gather around the family table and agree on something for once. As ever, start with baseball. With American Thanksgiving coming up Thursday, Toolshed offers reasons for fans of all 30 Major League Baseball farm systems to be thankful. The American League was covered last Friday. This edition moves on to the National League.

NL East

Atlanta Braves: The Pache-Waters partnership -- The Braves have two top-25 overall prospects, and they've gotten to know each other quite well over the past 12 months. Atlanta gave 21-year-old Cristian Pache and soon-to-be-21-year-old (in December) Drew Waters the same assignments in 2019 -- opening at Double-A Mississippi and promoting them both to Triple-A Gwinnett on Aug. 5 -- and saw both blossom. They should both be knocking on the door in 2020, and it'll be interesting to see who can move past Ender Inciarte, Nick Markakis, Austin Riley and Adam Duvall on the Atlanta depth chart first. Pache has the higher ceiling, with elite speed and defense and a serviceable bat, but the switch-hitting Waters was the bigger offensive threat in 2019. The promise of a Pache-Waters-Ronald Acuña Jr. grouping in the outfield should have Braves fans salivating.

Miami Marlins: Serious gains -- This time last year, fans of the Fish were just happy that the club had signed the Mesa brothers. How times have changed. Since then, the Marlins have built one of the stronger systems in the game. Top prospect Sixto Sanchez came over in the J.T. Realmuto trade in February. Miami added Jesus Sanchez and Jazz Chisholm at the deadline and JJ Bleday with the fourth overall pick in the Draft. Among those already in the system, Monte Harrison and Edward Cabrera climbed into the Top-100 ranks, and previous first-rounders Braxton Garrett and Trevor Rogers aren't far behind after solid seasons at Class A Advanced. After entering 2019 with more questions than is typical for a rebuilding system, the Marlins are now tied with the Rays and Padres for the most Top-100 prospects on MLB.com's list with six.

New York Mets: Left side of the infield -- Four of the Mets' top six prospects call either shortstop or third base home right now. Ronny Mauricio and Andres Gimenez both man short while Brett Baty and Mark Vientos play at the hot corner. In a dream world, all four reach their ceilings by 2022, but it's still too early to make that bet. Baty or Vientos could slide across the diamond -- neither receive plus grades for their defense. Gimenez has some experience at second base and is coming off a rough offensive year in his age-20 season at Double-A. Mauricio has the highest ceiling in his all-around game, but he's got a lot of projection as an 18-year-old with only one full season under his belt. All that said, there is hope in New York that the Mets can find their next David Wright-Jose Reyes duo internally.

Philadelphia Phillies: Spencer Howard closing in -- The Phillies were built to compete last season and fell short, finishing fourth in their division with an 81-81 record. One of the problems? Starting pitching. Phillies starters ranked 23rd in the Majors with a collective 7.6 WAR, according to FanGraphs, and Aaron Nola (3.4) was the only one to post more than 1.5. Luckily, help could be on the way. Armed with a plus-plus fastball that can hit the upper-90s and three good offspeed pitches, Howard might be Philly's best pitching prospect since Nola graduated. He was limited to 71 innings during the 2019 regular season with shoulder soreness, but the 23-year-old right-hander finished strong at Double-A Reading (38 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings) and showed more promise with a 2.11 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 27 K's in 21 1/3 frames in the Arizona Fall League. Remaining healthy has been the biggest issue for the 2017 second-rounder as a pro, but if he can do so in 2020, Howard can help the Phillies' pursuit of their first playoff berth since 2011.

Washington Nationals: Carter Kieboom waiting in the wings -- There's a whole lot for Nats to be thankful for, starting with the Commissioner's Trophy, but it's soon time to face what it will take to repeat in 2020. Losing franchise cornerstones Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg will hurt, but it's possible that Kieboom's ascent could help ease the pain. Washington's top prospect got a look at the Majors in 2019, only to struggle both offensively and defensively over 11 games. No matter. He returned to Triple-A Fresno and finished his age-21 season as a Pacific Coast League end-of-season All-Star. His bat is ready for a Major League return, but where to put him? A shortstop throughout his Minor League career, Kieboom does have some experience at second and third, though considerably more at the former. The Nats could have openings at both if Rendon indeed departs along with fellow free agents Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera and Brian Dozier. When you have two potential holes on the infield, it doesn't hurt to have the No. 20 overall prospect in baseball ready to fill in.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs: Hope for Adbert Alzolay and Brailyn Marquez -- The foundation of the Cubs' recent successes has been homegrown talent, particularly position players. Pitchers have been another story. Kyle Hendricks was as close to a homegrown Cubs pitcher to receive regular starts in 2019, and even he was drafted by the Rangers before being dealt to Chicago. Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana, Cole Hamels and Jon Lester were all the results of trades or free agency, but hope may be on the horizon. Alzolay fanned 91 batters in 65 1/3 innings at Triple-A Iowa and made his Major League debut in 2019. While his Major League numbers (7.30 ERA, 1.78 WHIP) were underwhelming, his mid-90s fastball, plus curve and solid changeup still point to a starting role. Marquez might have an even higher ceiling after hitting triple-digits with his heater and posting a 3.13 ERA with 128 K's in 103 2/3 frames between Class A and Class A Advanced. The two are solid options for a club that could use a pitching development win.

Cincinnati Reds: Hunter Greene is on the mend -- Greene, who regularly touches triple digits and has an above-average slider, was one of the most promising talents to ever enter the Cincinnati system when the Reds took him second overall in 2017. After missing all of 2019 following Tommy John surgery in April, the phenom is ready to return. The 20-year-old right-hander tweeted in September that he was throwing again and provided another update on Nov. 15 that he was done rehabbing in Arizona until January. All of that is promising news for a return to a Minor League mound in 2020.

Milwaukee Brewers: Corey Ray's sticking around -- It is not the brightest of times in the Brewers system, though Milwaukee has enjoyed two straight postseason appearances -- the first time that's happened since 1981-82. Brewers fans got good news last week when the organization announced it was adding Ray to the 40-man roster, thus protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft. Ray has struggled to consistently meet expectations since being selected fifth overall in 2016, though a right-hand fracture played a significant role in his issues at Triple-A in 2019. Ray is just a year removed from being named the 2018 Southern League MVP, and when things are clicking, he's capable of showing plus speed, a solid glove in center and above-average power.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Ke'Bryan Hayes, Oneil Cruz closing in -- The Bucs made a pair of big 40-man roster additions in No. 36 overall prospect Hayes and No. 57 Cruz. Both were easy selections. Hayes is already knocking on the door after spending most of 2019 with Triple-A Indianapolis. The 22-year-old's glovework at third base is Major League-ready, and his bat should be good enough to supplant Colin Moran before long. Cruz will be a more interesting case. The 21-year-old's power is his biggest offensive strength, and he has above-average speed as well. Finding a defensive home could be another issue -- Cruz is listed at 6-foot-7, which is generally considered too large for a shortstop. And yet, that's the only position he has played the last two seasons. He might have to move to the corner outfield spots, but the offensive potential is there to make it work.

St. Louis Cardinals: The Dylan Carlson bandwagon -- Carlson was the MiLB.com staff pick for the Breakout Prospect MiLBY award as the 21-year-old outfielder became MLB.com's No. 24 overall prospect after hitting .292/.372/.542 with 26 homers and 20 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A. That breakout coincides with an opportunity in St. Louis. Marcell Ozuna is a free agent, and if he doesn't re-sign, that leaves with the Cardinals looking at Tyler O'Neill, Harrison Bader, Lane Thomas, Randy Arozarena and Carlson as potential fill-ins. That list might seem long, but none of the others can match Carlson's potential combination of power, speed and defensive capabilities. The switch-hitter will head to spring attempting to win a Major League spot, and even if he doesn't get it coming out of Palm Beach, he will get his chance before long.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks: D-backs in the outfield -- Pick your favorite type of outfield prospect, and chances are the D-backs system has one. The fast, hit tool-first types who can cover lots of ground defensively? Alek Thomas and Corbin Carroll fit that bill. The slugger kind? Hello, Seth Beer (who still counts even if his future is at first base). The all-around potential superstar? Kristian Robinson would like to introduce himself. For now, the list doesn't even include current catcher and No. 100 overall prospect Daulton Varsho, who many believe has the athleticism to handle a move to the outfield. The D-backs system has experienced a resurgence in the last 12 months, and these outfielders have been the driving forces behind it.

Colorado Rockies: Sam Hilliard's emergence -- Hilliard opened 2019 as the Rockies' No. 10 prospect and he still stands at No. 9, but his overall outlook has improved dramatically. The 25-year-old outfielder enjoyed a standout season at Triple-A Albuquerque, finishing fourth in the PCL with 35 homers and hitting .262/.335/.558 in 126 games. He parlayed that into a late-August promotion to the Majors and never looked back, hitting .273/.356/.649 with seven homers in 27 games with the big club. Even by Colorado standards, that resulted in a 138 wRC+. Barring other moves, he likely will head to spring as the presumed Opening Day center fielder in Denver. That's a developmental win for a club that took Hilliard in the 15th round out of Wichita State in 2015.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Prospects are still around ... for now -- The Dodgers will consistently feature in trade rumors this offseason -- most notably those involving Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor. Gavin Lux would become the top prospect for any organization outside of Tampa Bay. Dustin May would be the most-prized arm for most other systems, as he is for Los Angeles. Those are just the youngsters who have reached the Majors. Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray and Jeter Downs -- sorry about those last two, Reds fans -- would be solid headliners in potential deals as talented prospects who have seen at least Double-A. No trades have been made yet, however. It's still possible that the next World Series champion in Tinseltown boasts Lux on its infield and May in its rotation. 

Offseason MiLB include

San Diego Padres: It's about to be go time -- For years now, the Padres have built up one of the game's most talented farm systems. That's still the case -- they are tied with the Marlins and Rays for most Top-100 prospects in baseball with six. But San Diego finally seems on the cusp of building a Major League winner from that foundation. The arrivals of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Chris Paddack fostered excitement in 2019, and with the way MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patiño are closing in, San Diego should be preparing to compete soon. Could the Padres be the next Cubs or Astros -- a team built to succeed through player development?

San Francisco Giants: The Marco Luciano emergence -- The search for The Next Big Prospect is forever afoot, and Luciano showed potential this summer. After signing for $2.6 million in July 2018, Luciano jumped stateside right away and promptly hit .322/.438/.616 with 10 homers and eight steals in 38 games in the complex-level Arizona League. His 177 wRC+ placed eighth among batters to receive 150 plate appearances at the Rookie level, and he was the only 17-year-old to place among the top 15. Luciano still has a way to go before he leapfrogs Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos as the most promising prospect in the San Francisco pipeline, but the potential is there.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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