Every team would love to have the next Randy Arozarena, who parlayed a second-half stint with the Rays in 2020 into postseason stardom.
Which National League Central prospects have the best chance to seize their own opportunities as the ’21 campaign grinds on? Here’s a look at some of the candidates:
BREWERS: RHP Aaron Ashby (No. 7 prospect)
Catcher Mario Feliciano, No. 5 on MLB Pipeline’s list of Milwaukee’s top prospects, already made an emergency appearance in the Majors for a Brewers team suffering an injury barrage. So, he’s knocked off this list in favor of Ashby, the bespectacled right-hander who opened eyes in his first big league camp by striking out the first six hitters he faced in the Cactus League while flashing a fantastic slider.
The Brewers have a history of promoting starting pitching prospects to the bullpen to begin their Major League careers. Think Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes, who cut their teeth in big spots during the 2018 postseason before eventually working their way into Milwaukee’s starting rotation. Ashby could do the same, since he certainly has the arsenal to be an effective starting pitcher in the big leagues once he completes his development. With such an emphasis on protecting pitchers this season, however, it makes a lot of sense to bring him up later this year to help cover innings in the ‘pen, perhaps as a multi-inning pitcher in the second half as workloads begin to pile up. The Brewers gave him a head start by pushing Ashby to Triple-A Nashville to start the season. -- Adam McCalvy
Cardinals: Johan Oviedo (No. 9)
When the Cardinals expanded to a six-man rotation for a gauntlet of games towards the end of April, there was little doubt who that sixth arm would be. Oviedo, kept on the back fields during Spring training (i.e., away from exposure in competition), was long planned to be that arm. Ranked No. 9 on the Cards' top prospects list, Oviedo has the respect of many, already with three appearances under his belt this season. His debut in 2020 was a bit ahead of schedule, but his training this offseason has allowed him to unlock another level in his arsenal, focusing especially on his changeup. Early results are exceedingly encouraging, with his advanced and predictive numbers (exit velocity, hard-hit percentage, whiff percentage) among the tops in the league, small sample size acknowledged. Oviedo’s 6-foot-5 frame makes it hard to remember he’s still a prospect, but just 23 years old, is it possible for him to grow more? --Zachary Silver
Cubs: RHP Keegan Thompson (No. 14)
The Cubs summoned Thompson from their alternate training site on Sunday and the young righty made his MLB debut with one shutout relief inning in a wild, 13-12, loss to the Reds. One day later, Chicago optioned Thompson back to the Minors and the pitcher thought he was on his way to starting his season with Triple-A Iowa. That was before a rainout on Monday and a slew of roster moves (including two pitchers landing on the injured list) ahead of a doubleheader on Tuesday against the Dodgers.
The 26-year-old Thompson (a third-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft) started in the second game in place of Jake Arrieta and worked into the fourth inning without allowing a run. Arrieta said the following day: "He's not going to shy away from any situation. That's something I learned about him." Chicago's top prospect is lefty Brailyn Marquez, but he is in extended spring and is expected to start at Double-A after a build-up program. With the MLB rotation depth thin, Thompson is in a better position to impact the Cubs (as a spot starter or multi-inning reliever) as this season progresses. --Jordan Bastian
Pirates: RHP Miguel Yajure (No. 12)
For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll forgo Ke'Bryan Hayes, who will be an everyday Major Leaguer. Yajure made his MLB debut with the Yankees last season, then made a spot start against Detroit for his Pirates debut. It didn’t go particularly well — four runs on four hits (two homers) and two walks — but there is still a lot to like within the arsenal of the Pirates' No. 12-ranked prospect.
Yajure’s fastball is solid, sitting in the low-to-mid 90s, and he has a cutter to give it a different look. In spring and in his Pittsburgh debut, he showed a hard curveball that he can place for strikes or use to draw ugly whiffs, and he’s got great feel for his changeup. Yajure isn’t expected to be a No. 1 starter in the rotation of the future for the Pirates, but in a season in which innings are at a premium, he should have a big impact down the stretch as the club works to manage pitcher workloads. --Jake Crouse
Reds: Hunter Greene (No. 2)
Cincinnati’s No. 2 prospect and No. 61 overall, Greene is behind No. 1 prospect and fellow starting pitcher Nick Lodolo in terms of age, command and control. But if the club had a bullpen need late this season, Greene could make an immediate impact. After missing two seasons because of Tommy John surgery and the pandemic, Greene started a Spring Training game this year and his first three pitches were 101, 102 and 103 mph. He has continued to bring that triple-digit velocity with an easy delivery in Arizona during Minor League camp.
The Reds have both Greene and Lodolo at Double-A Chattanooga to begin the season. Greene is working on developing his secondary pitches and has impressed many with his maturity and desire to not be a one-trick pitcher. In his first Double-A start, Greene topped 100 mph on 37 of his 71 pitches. --Mark Sheldon