The big stage hasn't bothered Pirates prospect Austin Meadows. Nor have the bright lights. And take it from Pittsburgh's rookie center fielder: Compared to Triple-A, they really do shine in the big leagues."The lights are brighter," Meadows said Tuesday after hitting his second homer in his fourth Major League game.
The big stage hasn't bothered Pirates prospect Austin Meadows. Nor have the bright lights. And take it from Pittsburgh's rookie center fielder: Compared to Triple-A, they really do shine in the big leagues.
"The lights are brighter," Meadows said Tuesday after hitting his second homer in his fourth Major League game. "You can see the ball a lot better."
Meadows was being sincere. Called up on Friday, the Pirates' No. 2 prospect said part of his production was due to the brighter lights in big league ballparks allowing him to better see pitches. Whatever the reason, Meadows' early success has helped the Bucs withstand Starling Marte's oblique strain.
Pitching prospect Nick Kingham also made an immediate impact for Pittsburgh, and Freddy Peralta did the same for the Brewers. There's help down on the farm in the National League Central, though clubs can only hope for debuts as electrifying as those put together by Meadows, Kingham and Peralta.
Here are five NL Central prospects to watch, one from each team. Like Meadows, they could soon find themselves playing under the bright lights of the big leagues.
Prospect: Adbert Alzolay, RHP
MLB Pipeline rank:No. 1 (Cubs)
Why you should keep an eye on him: The Cubs have had success developing position players, but not pitchers. Alzolay could change that. The right-hander isn't far away, either, as he was considered to start in a doubleheader against the Reds on Saturday. Alzolay has had two dominating starts this season, including his Triple-A Iowa debut on April 20, when he held Nashville to two hits over six innings and struck out six. On April 30, Alzolay limited Omaha to one hit over seven scoreless innings, again striking out six. He's still working on his changeup, but he has the makeup that the Cubs love.
ETA: September, if not sooner
Prospect: Nick Senzel, INF
MLB Pipeline rank: No. 1 (Reds), No. 6 (MLB)
Why you should keep an eye on him: The second overall pick in the 2016 Draft will be knocking on the door when he gets back on the field. Senzel began the season with Triple-A Louisville, posting a .271/.351/.459 slash line with three home runs in 22 games before he was placed on the disabled list due to vertigo. Senzel is currently taking batting practice and fielding grounders in Arizona, hoping to return to game action soon in extended spring camp. But there should be room for Senzel in Cincinnati's infield by the end of the year, as the 22-year-old can play either second or third base.
ETA: Later this season
Prospect: Corbin Burnes, RHP
MLB Pipeline rank:No. 2 (Brewers), No. 63 (MLB)
Why you should keep an eye on him: The Brewers already showed a willingness to call upon a prospect in a time of need when they promoted Peralta, their No. 9 prospect, for a pair of starts this month. Peralta happened to be on schedule when the big club needed an arm, but it could have just as easily been Burnes, the 23-year-old former fourth-round Draft pick who commands four pitches. He finished second in all of Minor League Baseball last season and led the Brewers' system with a 1.67 ERA at Double-A Biloxi, and while his Triple-A numbers in 2018 (1-2, 4.82 ERA in nine starts) don't jump off the page, one has to look past the thin air of Colorado Springs. In his first five road starts this season, Burnes had a 2.70 ERA and 37 strikeouts versus eight walks in 30 innings. "I want to know why this guy is not in the big leagues," one rival team's radio announcer said during a Burnes gem earlier this year.
ETA: Sometime this season
Prospect: Mitch Keller, RHP
MLB Pipeline rank:No. 1 (Pirates), No. 14 (MLB)
Why you should keep an eye on him: Last year, Keller surpassed Meadows as the top-rated prospect in Pittsburgh's system -- and for good reason. Keller is one of baseball's most advanced pitching prospects, even if he's not yet a finished product. The 22-year-old right-hander, who was a second-round Draft pick in 2014, is 5-2 with a 3.02 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 47 2/3 innings over eight starts for Double-A Altoona. Keller's smooth, easy delivery pumps out fastballs that can touch 97-98 mph. His curveball is a plus pitch, and his changeup has improved over the past year. With a little more development time to sharpen his command and offspeed stuff, Keller has a chance to follow Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon on the road from top pitching prospect to top-of-the-rotation starter for the Bucs.
ETA: Possibly September, but more likely 2019
Prospect:Alex Reyes, RHP
MLB Pipeline rank:No. 1 (Cardinals), No. 17 (MLB)
Why you should keep an eye on him: Reyes is set to join the Cardinals on Monday, and he could start as soon as the next day against the Brewers. By then, Reyes will be more than 15 months removed from the Tommy John surgery that stalled his ascent. But the 23-year-old has flashed the same electrifying stuff in three rehab starts, mostly recently striking out 12 over 7 2/3 innings for Double-A Springfield. The Cards just revealed that Reyes would return as a starter. The challenge facing the Cardinals, however, is managing Reyes' innings. They want him to work more than his previous career high of 110 so that he's prepared for next season, but the club can't risk further injury by pushing him too far. If the Cards want to restrict his workload, they could use his triple-digit fastball, swing-and-miss curveball and plus changeup in a relief role.
ETA: Next week
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.