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Toolshed: 2021 NL farm system resolutions

Prospect goals, aspirations for senior-circuit pipelines in new year
The 2021 season could be big for Cincinnati's Hunter Greene and Atlanta's Cristian Pache. (Freek Bouw/Phrake Photography, John Bazemore/AP)
@SamDykstraMiLB
January 8, 2021

Be healthy. That is the biggest resolution for everyone, in and out of Minor League Baseball, as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. But we can't write that 30 times. Instead, Toolshed is taking this first full week of 2021 to lay out New Year's resolutions for all 30 farm systems.

Be healthy. That is the biggest resolution for everyone, in and out of Minor League Baseball, as the coronavirus pandemic rages on. But we can't write that 30 times. Instead, Toolshed is taking this first full week of 2021 to lay out New Year's resolutions for all 30 farm systems. Wednesday's edition covered the American League. This column looks at the National League.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Gain experience -- The D-backs system enjoyed a bit of a breakout 2019 and now sports four Top-100 prospects in Kristian Robinson, Alek Thomas, Geraldo Perdomo and Corbin Carroll. None of them are older than 21 or have played above the Class A Advanced level yet. This is a group who just needs to get back to playing regular baseball. Robinson, in particular, feels like a player robbed of a profile jump without a regular 2020. Arizona's top prospect missed what would have been his age-19 season and his first opportunity to play more than 69 games in a Minor League schedule. He has the power potential to feature in the middle of a Major League lineup some day, but he'll only grow into that potential with in-game reps. Getting those in during a 2021 season will be crucial, and the same could be said for Thomas, Perdomo and Carroll as well, each of whom could climb into MLB.com's top 40 with experience.

Atlanta Braves: Get Cristian Pache and Drew Waters ready for primetime -- We hear what you're saying. Pache already experienced primetime during 12 postseason games in the fall, including all seven contests in Atlanta's National League Championship Series loss to the Dodgers. Those moments in the spotlight were signs the Braves believed enough in their top prospect to give him meaningful playing time with the season on the line. We're asking for that trust to continue. Pache is easily the best defensive outfielder Atlanta has, as he showed while roaming the large center field in Texas during the playoffs, and he didn't look completely at sea offensively either. He'll certainly need some time to adjust at the plate, but given his other assets (including plus-plus speed), he should already be a big part of the Braves' plans. Second-ranked Waters shouldn't be far behind. The expected departures of Marcell Ozuna and Adam Duvall leave some openings in Atlanta's outfield, and Ender Inciarte won't cut it anymore. Waters, a gifted fielder in his own right, is a career .298 hitter in the Minors as a switch-hitter. He could have debuted in a longer Major League season in 2020, and at age 22, should be given the chance in 2021.

Chicago Cubs: Build things out -- The Cubs indicated with the Yu Darvish deal that they were entering a new era, likely one that will require a bulked-up farm system. There is a foundation to getting there. Brailyn Marquez, Brennen Davis, Miguel Amaya and Ed Howard make for a strong top four. There is a dropoff from there, however, and overall depth is an issue at present. The acquisitions of Reginald Preciado, Yeison Santana, Owen Caissie and Ismael Mena from the Padres have helped with that depth somewhat. Pulling off trades involving Kris Bryant and/or Willson Contreras would take things to a next level, but would hurt the Major League product. Whether it's more deals or internal development, the Cubs should be focused on getting the farm system into as well-rounded shape as possible if the organization is truly headed in a new direction.

Cincinnati Reds: Get Hunter Greene healthy, meaningful innings -- July 26, 2018. That's the date of the last Minor League game the Reds' No. 2 prospect appeared in. An elbow strain ended that first full season early, and Tommy John surgery knocked out his entire 2019 as well. He was able to pitch at the alternate site, notably hitting the high-90s again with his fastball. That velocity return is promising, especially for someone whose profile is based largely on the heat, but it'll mean a lot more when Greene can show it off in public. He'll also need to demonstrate how that stuff, including a newfound cutter, can hold up deeper into starts. The good news for now is that Greene is healthy and has put his elbow issues in the past. But the Reds and their fans can feel even more at ease when he's picking up strikeouts in bunches again in games that matter.

Colorado Rockies: Getting the recent picks going -- The Rockies drafted easily their new top prospect by snagging Zac Veen ninth overall in June. The outfielder has plus potential with his hit tool and above-average pop, making it easy for anyone in Colorado to dream of the day he can take his bat to Coors Field. He just needs to get his career started. The same goes for fellow 2020 picks Drew Romo and Chris McMahon and even top 2019 selections Michael Toglia and Aaron Schunk. Those last two still have only combined for 87 games in the Minors, none of which have come for a full-season club. The prospects mentioned here constitute five of the Rockies' top eight prospects in a system heavy on Draft picks and awfully light on international talent. It would be easier to feel good about this group if we had more to go on for some of its biggest names. Those opportunities finally should come in 2021.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Next man up -- What does a World Series-winning organization resolve to do the following year? More of the same, of course. Los Angeles got meaningful innings from rookie pitchers Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May in their run to and through the postseason. And even after both -- along with former top prospect Gavin Lux -- graduated from prospect status, there are still other Minor Leaguers in the pipeline who could help the champs in short order. Josiah Gray is the obvious choice as a 23-year-old right-hander with two above-average pitches in his fastball and slider, a full four-pitch mix and solid control. As a player who finished out 2019 at Double-A, Gray likely would have seen Dodger Stadium in a regular season longer than 60 games. Second-ranked Keibert Ruiz played two games in the Majors and should expect to see more time in 2021 as an option behind Will Smith and Austin Barnes on the catching depth chart. Further down the list, Mitchell White, DJ Peters, Zach McKinstry and even 2020 first-rounder Bobby Miller could aid the big club in the season ahead. This isn't a dried-up system by any means and certainly not one that left player development behind in its pursuit of a title.

Miami Marlins: Find the next wave -- The circumstances of the 2020 season (namely playing in a pandemic that knocked on the club's door in the midst of the campaign) led the Fish to rely more heavily on young talent than they might have anticipated. Sixto Sanchez, Jazz Chisholm, Jesús Sánchez, Braxton Garrett, Lewin Diaz, Trevor Rogers and Monte Harrison made their Major League debuts in 2020, and those are just among the club's top 10 prospects. Those debuts came with varying degrees of success, but it was certainly heartening to see Sixto Sanchez, in particular, establish himself as a potential ace right from the offing. The next question feels obvious. Who's next? JJ Bleday feels like the easy answer. The 2019 first-round pick has the offensive tools to shoot through the system, and for all the young talent Miami has used on the grass, it still doesn't feel like the outfield is a settled situation. Expect Bleday to open in the upper Minors with an eye on a midseason debut. Similarly, 2020 first-rounder Max Meyer hasn't even debuted in the Minors yet since he was taken third overall out of Minnesota, but even on Draft night, analysts agreed his repertoire (including a plus-plus fastball and similar 70-grade slider) is good enough to make him a quick climber. That stuff could play in a Major League bullpen right away, and if Miami continues to find itself in playoff contention late in 2021, it could call on the right-hander to fill that role. In other words, the Marlins aren't done yet with young talent.

Milwaukee Brewers: Get back out there -- Milwaukee opened the 2020 season with the worst farm system in the game in MiLB.com's rankings. Listen, someone has to take that spot, and after years of trades and mid- to late-round Draft picks left the system devoid of top talent, it was the Brewers' spot to claim. That said, the 2020 campaign could have been an opportunity for Milwaukee prospects to improve. Instead, the lack of a Minor League season robbed them of that chance, at least in a front-facing manner. The biggest improvement came when UCLA outfielder and No. 56 overall prospect Garrett Mitchell dropped to the Brew Crew at No. 20 in the Draft. Brice Turang, Aaron Ashby and Ethan Small are candidates to jump into the Top 100 with more Minor League experience. If they can make those leaps, the Brewers will be in a much better place on the farm in 2021 than 2020.

New York Mets: Follow the new guy's instructions -- "Hey, Give the Padres credit. They had a top 5 farm system that gave them flexibility to trade for Snell. Newsflash, the Mets farm system needs to be replenished." That was the tweet of new Mets owner Steve Cohen on Dec. 28. It's notable now for two reasons. One, the Mets acquired Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco in a blockbuster deal one week after the tweet, swapping out two prospects and two young infielders in the process. Two, it still happens to be true. The Mets kept their high-ceiling prospects in Ronny Mauricio, Brett Baty, Francisco Alvarez, Matthew Allan and Pete Crow-Armstrong, but the depth of the system still needs a good amount of work. That could come from internal development, good drafting and a solid international signing period. It's unlikely to come from trades of Major League talent. In any event, the new boss gave the system its orders in December. That is unless another blockbuster comes along.

Philadelphia Phillies: Get pitching settled at both ends -- It's far from Dickensian, but this resolution is a tale of two pitchers. On one end, top prospect Spencer Howard made his Major League debut this past season, albeit with plenty of bumps in the road. The right-hander finished with a 5.92 ERA over six starts and was limited by shoulder stiffness at times. He still shows a plus fastball with three solid off-speed offerings and will fit comfortably back in the Phillies rotation in 2021, just hopefully with more health and effectiveness this time around. At the other end, the Phils did well to snag Mick Abel with the 15th overall pick in June. The 6-foot-5 right-hander displayed three above-average pitches coming out of an Oregon high school, and his control is better than most hurlers' coming out of the prep ranks. Abel starts his career as the No. 84 overall prospect but could easily become the Phils' top prospect once he establishes himself and Howard graduates. In other words, 2021 is setting up to be a case of out with one top pitching prospect and in with another.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Don't mess this up -- No pressure with that headline. The Bucs are coming off an abysmal 19-41 season and have made it clear they're entering rebuild mode. (The Josh Bell trade to Washington is one such indication.) Ke'Bryan Hayes is a Major Leaguer now and will graduate from prospectdom in short order this season -- a great sign for the Major League club, but a hit to the farm system's depth. (The former is obviously more important.) The next generation will be led by 2020 top pick Nick Gonzales and other low-level talents such as Brennan Malone, Quinn Priester and Liover Peguero. But for Pittsburgh to truly take the next jump, it will have to do well in the First-Year Player Draft, where it owns the first overall pick. Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker is the early favorite to go one-one, and he would become the Pirates' top pitching prospect instantly with a plus-plus fastball and plus slider. If this is going to be a true rebuild, Pittsburgh also will need to hit on its later picks in an attempt to build out the depth of the system. With Bell gone, there aren't many clear trades the Bucs can make to add talent from outside the organization in the coming months. Those supplements in all likelihood will need to come from the Draft and internal breakouts.

San Diego Padres: Keep a good thing going -- This isn't the same Padres system of a year ago, when the group was right behind the Rays' farm for best in the game. Trading for Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, Mike Clevinger, Austin Nola, Austin Adams and others will deplete the depth of any system. It's a testament to the ceiling and depth of the group that San Diego could pull off so many deals like those and still have top prospects such as MacKenzie Gore, CJ Abrams, Luis Campusano, Robert Hassell and Ryan Weathers in the pipeline. The Padres have more options ahead, and they're all good ones. They could keep that prospect core in place, knowing that Gore, Campusano and Weathers should be able to help the big club in 2021. Or they could dip into that prospect depth again and pull off another blockbuster that would get them all the closer to toppling the Dodgers dynasty in the NL West. Either road -- while different on their faces -- would be continuations of San Diego's recent plans when it comes to prospects.

San Francisco Giants: Get Marco Luciano his full-season debut -- If there was a prospect who looked like he could have been the 2020 version of Wander Franco before the Minor League season was canceled, it was Luciano. The No. 29 overall prospect hit .302/.417/.564 with 10 homers over 47 games between the Arizona and Northwest Leagues at age 17 in 2019. The shortstop likely would have moved to full-season ball, and anything matching those numbers -- something not outside the realm of possibility given his plus pop and above-average hit tool from the right side -- easily would have made him a top-15 overall prospect. Instead, he had to take his talents to the Giants' alternate site in Sacramento, where reports were positive about his ability to hang with older players. Getting a chance to dominate more age-appropriate competition will be a welcome sight for Luciano and anyone who enjoys seeing prospects make jumps on their way to potential stardom.

St. Louis Cardinals: Let Matthew Liberatore prove his case -- The world was introduced to Randy Arozarena during his dominant run through the postseason for the Rays, and that led to questions from fans about why the Cardinals traded him away in the first place. Those who know preached patience that Liberatore -- St. Louis' acquisition in the swap -- could make the deal smart a lot less in time. That was harder to prove when the No. 52 overall prospect was pitching behind closed doors at the Cards' alternate site in Springfield. The 2021 season will offer him a chance to show off the plus heater, plus curve and above-average change that could help him lead the St. Louis rotation some day. It won't be enough to get anyone in the Show-Me State saying "Randy who?" anytime soon, but Liberatore displaying his potential could put a lot of minds at ease.

Washington Nationals: Protect Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli -- It's no secret the Nationals system is at a low point, and that's mostly for good reasons. Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia graduated in 2020, and this is a team that hasn't shied away from trading other prospects to improve the big club. (The recent Bell trade signifies that.) Of those who are left, Rutledge and Cavalli -- the organization's two most recent first-round picks -- are the runaway top prospects in the system, and Washington knows that, going as far as to reportedly tell other teams they don't want to part with either in deals for third basemen Bryant or Eugenio Suárez. Both right-handers, who come out central casting for tall hurlers, have the stuff to feature in a future D.C. rotation, but also come with injury histories. (The hip for Rutledge and the back for Cavalli.) Healthy and productive seasons for both would help prove the loyalty the Nats have for both was worth it in the long run.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.