Present & Future of the NL Central
This series of blogs is 100% opinion based on who I see as the best players in the NL Central and who I can see having a legit shot at the HOF. The "most exciting" are the players who are young but already have shown to have the highest upside. The "on their way" are the players getting closer and closer to the HoF with every year they play. The "honorable mentions" are players who will be on the ballot but will not make it into the HoF. The "future HoF" are the players that I have no doubt will make it into Cooperstown. Just an FYI, the NL Central is loaded with talent and future Hall of Famers; today's post will be a little lengthy.
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Luis Urias 2B/SS Brewers- The trio of Urias, Arcia, and Hirua give the Brewers one heck of an IF core to lean on for the future. The 23yo Urias has shown flashes of great defense at 3B posting a .982FLD% with 3DRS. The bat is coming around and has time to develop with good defense and plenty of opportunities. Urias should bloom into an excellent 3B for the Brewers.
Orlando Arcia SS Brewers- The 26yo Arcia has turned into an excellent defender at SS. Over 4238INN at the position, he owns a .973FLD% with 11DRS. In 2020 Arcia looked to take a step forward, posting a .260/.317/.416 slash line, which was all career-best since 2017. Like Urias, Arcia has plenty of time still to develop into a solid SS for the Brewers.
Ian Happ OF Cubs-Happ has quietly developed into one of the best players on the Cubs. In 2017 he finished 8th in the ROY, and in 2020 ended 18 in the MVP. Happ posted a .258/.361/.5050 slash line in 2020 to go with a 1.4WAR
Nico Hoerner SS Cubs- Hoerner was excellent in his 2020 debut. The 23yo posted a 0.7WAR with a .222/.312/.259 slash line across 108AB. Hoerner got a Gold Glove nomination after he posted 5DRS at 2B. Hoerner showed the Cubs his ability with the Glove in 2020, and it's only a matter of time before the bat comes around with more opportunity.
Ke'Bryan Hayes 3B Pirates- I had been waiting on Hayes since last season, and he did not disappoint once he got his chance in 2020. The 23yo came in to post a 1.9WAR with 5HR and a slash line of .376/.442/.682 over 85AB. He also totaled 4DRS in 198.1INN at the hot corner. Hayes is on his way to be the cornerstone of the Pirates lineup for years to come.
Dylan Carlson OF Cardinals- The young 22yo OF came on to post average numbers in 2020. He slashed .200/.252/.364 in 110AB and had a 0.0WAR. Carlson did, however, post 4DRS while showing he can play all three outfield positions. Carlson has nothing but time to improve the bat while playing great defense.
Tyler O'Neill OF Cardinals- O'Neill has light-tower power. In 2020 the young LF earned his first career Gold Glove after posting 9DRS. The bat and power haven't quite come around yet as he posted only 7HR. His biggest flaw is the 43K-15BB that gave him a .173/.261/.360 slash line. The 25yo still has time to put it all together but needs to take a giant leap forward in 2021 to remain on this list.
On Their Way:
Paul Goldschmidt 1B Cardinals- Good ol' Goldy, owns a career 45.1WAR, 249HR,828RBI with a slash of .293/.392/.522 over 4763AB. He is also a 6x All-Star, 3x Gold Glove winner, 4x Silver Slugger. He has been a top 3 MVP finalist 3x and a full 20 4x in his career. I am a big fan of Goldy as he has another four seasons in STL with the Cardinals, and I am sure each of those will be laced with greatness.
Kris Bryant 3B Cubs- The 28yo Bryant has been one of the better 3B since coming into the MLB. Bryants has won the Rookie of the Year, MVP, and was part of that great 2016 WS Cubs team. He is also a 3x All-Star. Bryant owns a 24.3WAR with 142HR, 414RBI with a .280/.380/508 slash line across five seasons in the MLB. Bryant will be given an enormous contract sometime in 2021 or after that, and whoever it's with will be getting a potential Hall of Fame level 3B.
Javier Baez SS Cubs- El Mago himself has given us some of the best defensive plays of the last five years. The best player at tagging runners out at second carries 52DRS in his 7 season career. The 2016 NLCS MVP and World Series champ have earned 1 Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and a 2x All-Star. Javy owns a career 17.7WAR with 118HR, 378RBI with a .264/.304/.473 slash line in that time. Javy has been among the best at SS for almost a decade, and at 28yo, the future is bright.
Willson Contreras C Cubs- Over the last five seasons, Contreras has been a better defensive catcher than throwing down to Javy and thrown out 32% of would-be base stealers. Another member of the 2016 WS Cubs and 2x All-Star owns a 12.8WAR. He has 74WAR, 253RBI, .265/.351/.463 slash line. Contreras is no Yadi, Salvy, or JTR but, at 28, has plenty of time to develop into one of the best.
Anthony Rizzo 1B Cubs- Rizzo has been one of the best 1B and has carved out a great career since being drafted in the 6th round in 2007. Rizzo is a 3x All-Star, 4x Gold Glove winner, 1x Silver Slugger, and was another member on this list part of the 2016 WS Cubs. The 31yo Rizzo owns a 34.5WAR with 229WAR, 753RBI with a .271/.372/.485 over 4617AB. Rizzo has played 10888.1INN and has a .995FLD% with 70DRS in his career. I am a big fan of Rizzo, and with a big end to his career, Rizzo could step down to the Future HoF before we know it.
Jason Heyward OF Cubs- Yes, I think Jason Heyward, regardless of how he hasn't lived up to the expectation of the 8yr/$184mil deal. I think Heyward will end up in the conversation for the HoF once he hangs them up. Heyward is a 1x All-Star, 2016WS champ, 5x Gold Glove winner. Over 11829.2INN in the outfield, he owns a .988FLD% with 148DRS. Heyward holds a 38.4WAR with 150HR, 601RBI with a .261/.345/.414 slash line over 5067AB. When you look at the numbers with the Glove and the above-average OBP numbers, it's hard to argue that he doesn't have a case for the HoF.
Lorenzo Cain OF Brewers- When you think of Cain, you don't see him as being one of the best to play the game. But Cain has been one of the most dependable players during his 11-year career. He has played 8670.2INN in the outfield and holds a .985FLD% with 128DRS. Cain holds a career 36.4WAR with 1128H, 78HR, 409RBI with a .288/.348/.413 slash over 3912AB. Cain is also a 2x All-Star, 1x Gold Glove, 2015 NLCS MVP, and 2015 World Series champ. Cain is in the same discussion as Heyward; when he hangs them up, their excellent glove work will get them on the ballot.
Christian Yelich OF Brewers- Yeli went from Gold Glove winner in 2014 to 19th in the MVP with a Silver Slugger in 2016 to MVP in 2018 and then inked a 9yr/$215mil contract to become the face of the Brewers until 2029. Yelich has won the MVP, 3x Silver Sluggers, 2x Batting Titles, and one Gold Glove. Yeli is only 29 and owns a 32.3WAR, 151HR, 522RBI with a .296/.381/.488 slash over 3741AB. Come to the end of the 2029 season, Yeli will go down as not only the best Brewer to ever play but will be one of the best to play.
Yadier Molina C Cardinals- If you're like me, you have been watching Yadi for almost 20 years, and in that time, you have seen him become one of the greatest catchers of all time. Yadi is a 9x All-Star, 9x Gold Glove, 4x Platinum Glove, 2x World Series champ, 1x Silver Slugger winner. All of those accolades have added up to 40.4WAR, 2001H, 160HR, 932RBI, .281/.333/.404 slash over 7114AB. Yadi has played 16665INN behind the plate and owns a .995FLD% with a 163DRS and thrown out 40% of would-be base stealers. When Yadi decides to hang them up, he will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Joey Votto 1B Reds- Joey Bats has been one of the most consistent and reliable players for the last 15years. Votto has been one of the favorite players and has earned every bit of respect in his career. He has won 1 MVP, 1 Gold Glove, and is a 6x All-Star. Votto owns a 62.1WAR with 1908H, 295HR, 966RBI with a .304/.419/.517 slash over 6274AB. Votto has been an excellent first-baseman across 14 seasons. He has played 14937INN and owns a .993FLD% and 62DRS.
Devin Williams P Brewers- I had no clue who the 26yo Devin Williams was going into 2020, but now we all know who he is after winning the NL Rookie of the Year. In 2020 alone, he posted a 1.2WAR, 0.33ERA/0.86FIP, 0.63WHIP with 53K over 27IP. Williams will look to continue his dominance into his prime with the Brewers.
Jack Flaherty P Cardinals- The young 25yo starter is looking to take the mantle as the next generational pitcher for the Cardinals from Adam Wainwright. So far in his career, he owns an 8.0WAR with a 3.37ERA/3.77FIP, 1.07WHIP, 482K-140BB over 409IP. I think Flaherty is destined to be the next great Cardinal pitcher.
On Their Way:
Kyle Hendricks P Cubs- The 31yo Hendricks has been nothing short of durable and reliable in his career. Outside of his rookie year, injured 2017, and what was 2020, he has thrown at least 177IP. Over 1047.1IP, he has a 3.12ERA/3.53FIP, 1.10WHIP, 882K-226BB. He has earned 1 All-Star appearance, 1 ERA title, finished 3rd in the Cy Young in 2016 and 9th in 2020. Hendricks has plenty of time to work on his resume for the Hall of Fame.
Josh Hader P Brewers- Relievers have the most challenging time getting the respect due to them. That's why I recognize one of the best in the NL who is bound for greatness. The 26yo Hader is a 2x All-Star and a 2x Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year. Hader has a 7.1WAR, 2.54ERA/2.84FIP, 0.85WHIP, 380K-82BB over 223.2IP. I am a huge fan of the "Mad Hader" and think he will go down among the best to ever come out of a bullpen.
Yu Darvish P Cubs- Darvish should have more than 4x All-Star appearances on his resume. He was snubbed, in my opinion, for the 2020 Cy Young. Regardless the 34yo owns a 25.0WAR, 3.47ERA/3.43FIP, 1.16WHIP, 1392K-398BB over 1127IP. Darvish is one of the best pitchers to ever come over from the NPB to the MLB and has proved he belongs. Darvish will keep pitching on his current contract through 2023 and should end up in consideration for the Hall of Fame.
Sonny Gray SP Reds- The 31yo Gray was once the budding Ace of the Oakland A's. The 2x All-Star has been a reliable arm atop of any rotation he has been a part of. Gray is one of those guys that isn't about to razzle-dazzle you but is just consistent. Gray owns an 18.8WAR, 75-63 record, 3.54ERA/3.66FIP, 1.22WHIP, 1066K-403BB over 1132IP. Unless Gray pitches another 5-7 years with 200+IP in each of those and keeps to career averages to his point. I think Gray could find himself on the ballot someday.
Andrew Miller RP Cardinals- The 15yr vet has been one of the best relievers over the last 15 years. Miller is a 2x All-Star, 1x ALCS MVP, 1x Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year. In his 15yr career, he owns a 7.8WAR with a 3.99ERA/3.59FIP, 1.33WHIP, with 939K-367BB over 793IP. Miller has been one of the best RP in the MLB in his career and will one day for sure be in the conversation for Cooperstown when he hangs them up.
Adam Wainwright P Cardinals- Good ol Waino is as good as you can get over the last 15years. Waino is a 3x All-Star, 2x Gold Glove, 1x Silver Slugger, and 2006 World Series Champ. The 39yo vet has become a legend for the Cardinals and a prominent Hall of Famer. Waino owns a 41.0WAR, 167-987 W-L, 3.38ERA/3.41FIP, 1.22WHIP, 1830K-591BB over 2169.1IP. Waino has been exceptional in the postseason in his career as he holds a 2.89ERA, 1.10WHIP, 118K-20BB across 15 series. When Waino calls it a career, we will look back at him as a great player on the field and a great man off the field as he took home the 2020 Roberto Clemente award.
Jon Lester P Cubs- The man who bought drinks at several bars after the Cubs didn't pick up his option for 2021 has been nothing short of outstanding in his career. Lester is a 5x All-Star, 3x World Series Champ, and 1x NLCS MVP. Lester has finished 4th(2010), 4th(2014), 2nd(2016), 9th(2018) in the Cy Young voting. The 36yo Lester has had a tremendous 15yr career with a 44.6WAR, 193-111 W-L, 3.60ERA/3.69FIP, 1.26WHIP, 2397K-837BB across 2598.2IP. Lester in the postseason is one you don't want to see if you're an opposing hitter. In 17 series, he owns a 2.51ERA, 1.01WHIP, 133K-40BB in 154IP. When Lester decides to hang it up, he will go down as one of the best to ever take the hill.
Craig Kimbrel P Cubs- The 32yo Kimbrel gets to finish off the post today. Kimbrel has won the Rookie of the Year, 2018 World Series, Rolaids Reliever of the Year, Trevor Hoffman NL Reliever of the Year, Mariano Rivera AL Reliever the Year to go along with 7 All-Star appearances. Kimbrel has dominated in both the NL and AL in his career. He has finished 9th('11), 5th('12), 4th('13), 9th('14), 6th('17) in the Cy Young award. He owns a 19.4WAR, 31-24 W-L, 348SV, 926K-229BB, 2.17ERA/2.24FIP, 0.95WHIP over 568.2IP. Kimbrel will be great for several more years, and when he calls it, he will undoubtedly end up in Cooperstown.
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