Need a fix? Here’s what’s happening in the winter leagues (NL Central)

Starling Marte should find a home on Pittsburgh’s roster come opening day.

With the conclusion of the Arizona Fall League (AFL) over the weekend, all the focus is on baseball in other countries. We now shift our focus to the NL Central, which will be without the Houston Astros this year.

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In this article, I’m going to focus on prospects and some major league players who are spending their offseasons playing winter league baseball. Many of these players are top prospects or could be potential trade pieces during this offseason.

Chicago Cubs

Junior Lake — A 22-year-old shortstop who spent 2012 in double-A where he batted .279, Lake is currently hitting .342 in 76 Dominican League at-bats with five stolen bases. With Starlin Castro signed through 2020, Lake will either need to move positions or be traded.

Matt Szczur — Szczur was a fifth-round pick by the Cubs in the 2010 draft and has put together two solid, full seasons of minor league baseball, ending 2012 in double-A. The 23-year-old outfielder hit .264 in the AFL with 14 walks and only 10 strikeouts in 91 at-bats, while swiping nine bases.

Esmailin Caridad — The right handed reliever is looking impressive in the Mexican League in 20.1 innings. He’s given up four earned runs and six walks, while striking out 27. He had a decent season with the Cubs triple-A affiliate in 2012 striking out a batter an inning and could vie for a bullpen spot in 2013.

Cincinnati Reds

Donald Lutz — Lutz hit 20 and 22 home runs in his last two minor league seasons and earned a trip to the AFL where he hit .395 in 43 at-bats. The 23-year-old first baseman could be ready for the big leagues this year, as a backup, or traded.

Billy Hamilton — The 22-year-old outfielder created quite the buzz in minor league baseball when he stole 155 bases. But Hamilton struggled to get on base in the AFL batting .234 in 64 at-bats. He walked seven times and stole 10 bases. There is no doubt his speed belongs in the majors, but after finishing the season in double-A, I think it would be wise for the Reds to let him continue developing. He’s definitely in their future outfield plans. It’s also important to note Hamilton was injured during the championship game of the AFL after crashing into a wall, but reports say he is just having back spasms and should be fine.

Didi Gregorius — The 22-year-old shortstop registered six hits in 20 major league at-bats in 2012. With Gregorius hitting .284 in 74 AFL at-bats, I expect either him or Cozart to be traded soon with so many teams looking for shortstop help.

Milwaukee Brewers

Josh Prince — A third-round draft pick in 2009, Prince hit over .400 in the AFL with eight doubles, two triples, 14 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. He also walked 15 times and only struck out 14 times. The 24-year-old shortstop finished the season at double-A and could be ready for the majors soon, but probably needs more time in the minors. With Jean Segura emerging as the Brewers shortstop of the future, I expect a position change or a utility label to be placed on Prince.

Jean Segura — Speaking of Segura, the 22-year-old shortstop is hoping to defend his position in the lineup by freshening up in the Dominican League. In 90 at-bats, he’s batting .333 with 19 runs scored, 15 RBIs and seven stolen bases. I fully expect Segura to be the Brewers starting shortstop in 2013 and for years to come.

Taylor Green — Listed as the Brewers back-up third baseman, Green is hitting .300 in 40 Dominican League at-bats. He hasn’t been overly impressive in 140 major league at-bats, but he should be a serviceable back up for Aramis Ramirez.

Johnny Hellweg — The 16th-round draft pick was used mostly as a starter before being moved up to double-A in 2012. He threw 13 innings in the AFL, recorded two saves and struck out eight, while posting a 2.08 ERA.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Oscar Tejeda — The 23-year-old outfield prospect has spent the past two seasons posting mediocre performances in double-A. It’s now or never for Tejeda who looks to make improvements this offseason playing in the Dominican League. In just seven games, he’s batting .333.

Starling Marte — The big-time prospect got his chance in the majors in 2012 and held his own down the stretch hitting .257 with six triples, five home runs and 12 stolen bases. The future star in the Pirates outfield is batting .321 in 53 Dominican League at-bats. He’ll be batting leadoff for the Pirates on opening day.

Adalberto Santos — Another prospect in the Pirates outfield, Santos has hit .314 or higher in his first three minor league seasons. He hit .299 in 77 AFL at-bats with nine stolen bases. The 25-year-old could be in the majors soon.

Kyle Kaminska — Kaminska had the best ERA of all starting pitchers in the AFL at 1.61 in six starts. Through 28 innings, he allowed 22 hits, four walks and struck out 21. The 22-year-old was used mainly as a reliever in 2012, but that could change after his AFL performance.

St. Louis Cardinals

Anthony Garcia — At only 20-years-old, Garcia is showing signs of being an instrumental part of the Redbirds future in the outfield. In the Puerto Rican League this winter, he’s batting .429 in 14 at-bats with a home run. In A-ball he hit .280 with 19 home runs in 2012.

Mike O’Neill — This 31st-round draft pick is proving to be a diamond in the rough for the Cards. In 418 at-bats between high-A and double-A in 2012 O’Neill hit .359. He scored 61 runs, stole 10 bases and walked 78 times, while only striking out 26 times. In the AFL, he hit .368 in 68 at bats with 11 walks. He sounds like an on base machine, but brings nothing in terms of power. At 24, he could see time in the majors soon.

Oscar Taveras — Another 20-year-old outfield prospect for the Cardinals, Taveras spent 2012 in double-A where he hit .321 with 23 home runs and 94 RBIs. In 79 Dominican League at-bats, he’s hitting .329 with three home runs. He projects as a corner outfielder for the Cardinals in the near future. The Cardinals seem to have some depth in the outfield, and one of these guys could be used in a trade.

Kolten Wong — The Cardinals first-round draft pick in 2011 is moving his way through the organization rapidly. The second baseman spent 2012 in double-A hitting .287 with 79 runs scored and 21 stolen bases. In the AFL, he hit .324 and swiped five bases. He could be playing second for the Cardinals sooner rather than later.

Seth Blair — The Cardinals 2010 first-round pick, Blair had a successful showing in the hitter-friendly AFL. In six starts, he posted a 2.25 ERA in 20 innings, while striking out 22. He only pitched 19.2 innings during his 2012 minor league season, so he’ll need more time in double-A this season before the 23-year-old can be consider a possibility for the Cardinals’ rotation.

Kevin Siegrist — Siegrist may be a little closer to the majors after finishing his 2012 season in double-A and then putting on a good show in the AFL. In six games (five starts), he had an ERA of 2.37, while striking out 27 in only 19 innings pitched.

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