Prospect Primer: National League Central
Some prospects are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. As the 2023 season approaches, MiLB.com goes through each MLB division to take a look at the most intriguing prospects. Other Prospect Primers:
Some prospects are on the verge of stardom, others are entering a crucial phase of their development and others are getting their first tastes of full-season ball. As the 2023 season approaches, MiLB.com goes through each MLB division to take a look at the most intriguing prospects.
Other Prospect Primers:
AL East | AL Central | AL West | NL East | NL West
Human highlight reel: Elly De La Cruz, SS, Reds
Last season, De La Cruz arguably proved himself to be the breakout star of not just National League Central prospects, but all Minor Leaguers on the back of a 28-homer, 47-steal campaign. The “five-tool talent” tag is not often batted about, especially when referring to players who check in at 6-foot-5 and have just turned 21 years old -- but there’s much about De La Cruz’s game that makes him an anomaly.
Whether it’s the unbridled joy evaluators rave about or the on-field production -- .945 OPS between High-A Dayton and Double-A Chattanooga -- the No. 10 prospect in baseball has quickly become regarded as a must-see talent.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve always just loved playing the game," De La Cruz recently told MLB.com. "Back in the streets [of the Dominican Republic], we would play with little tennis balls and other different kinds of balls. It’s kind of makeshift, like it’s a baseball. Ever since I picked up a ball, I really liked it.
"When I cross the lines out there and get into position, I feel like I am at home."
His primary position, after all, is shortstop. Even with a logjam of talent at the position, the Reds have been insistent about letting De La Cruz man the spot as he moves up the organizational ladder and during his time in the Cactus League. A left hamstring strain will sideline Cincinnati’s No. 1 prospect to begin the year, but he is eventually expected to earn a promotion to Triple-A Louisville, giving him his biggest challenge thus far as a pro.
“This is one of the smartest pure players I’ve been around, period,” Reds vice president of player development Shawn Pender told MiLB.com in November. “His baseball IQ, his desire to learn and achieve is really remarkable.”
Full-season debutant: Cade Horton, RHP, Cubs
Horton’s rise from being a two-sport, two-way player at Oklahoma to being ranked the No. 1 pitching prospect in the Chicago system has been nothing shy of meteoric. After scuffling on the hill during the regular season in his lone year on campus in 2022, Horton’s dominance through the College World Series led to him becoming the seventh overall pick in the Draft and the Cubs opting to prolong his debut until the start of 2023. Armed with a wipeout slider that grades out as his best pitch, Horton’s track record is short but his ceiling is already regarded as one of the highest of any NL Central arm.
No. 4 @Cubs prospect Cade Horton discusses how he found his slider and more: pic.twitter.com/gksA7kcawn— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 14, 2023
2025 Shining star: Termarr Johnson, 2B, Pirates
Heralded as one of the premier prep hitters of the past decade, Johnson has vaulted to the top of the Pirates’ prospect crop on the belief that his top-tier hit tool will play in the Minors from the jump. After enjoying success during his brief pro debut at Single-A Bradenton in 2022, the 5-foot-7 second baseman will be just 18 years old for the first two months of the season, putting him on track to become a burgeoning star prospect in two years’ time.
Loudest tool: Masyn Winn, SS, Cardinals
Equipped with arguably the strongest arm at any defensive position in the Minors, Winn has made a name for himself at short, as he is one of just two prospects to earn a full 80-grade arm per MLB Pipeline. A former high school pitcher who drew Draft interest for his work on the mound, Winn erupted on the national scene after ripping off a 100.5 mph throw during last year’s SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. The 21-year-old, who will begin the year at Triple-A Memphis, delivered an impressive showing during Grapefruit League action that has him on the doorstep of a call to St. Louis.
Welcome to the Masyn Winn defensive highlight reel 😮— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) March 26, 2023
The second-ranked @Cardinals prospect gets a pair of outs in style: pic.twitter.com/Sn5mSaXEzQ
2028 Faces of the Rivalry: Jackson Chourio, OF, Brewers and Noelvi Marte, 3B/SS, Reds
Chourio’s stock has soared over the past year, as he has ascended Milwaukee’s organizational ladder in short order. Even as he enters his second full pro season at just 19 years old, the Venezuela native has already made a sizable impression on Brewers brass during Spring Training. While Marte got a cup of coffee at High-A upon his acquisition by the Reds last year, he was thrown a curveball when asked to learn third base during the Arizona Fall League. Having already been added to the 40-man roster, the Dominican native has considerable power potential (138 wRC+ upon joining Cincinnati), with these two shaping up to be at the heart of their respective clubs’ lineups for years to come.
Jesse Borek is a reporter/coordinator of prospect content at MLB Pipeline and MiLB. Follow him on Twitter @JesseABorek.