Minors | General | 12/8/2021

PG Down on the Farm: NL Central

David Rawnsley     
Photo: Nolan Gorman (Perfect Game)
It’s been especially difficult to follow the minors over the past two years, with the pandemic-canceled 2020 season and the complete restructuring of the minor leagues by Major League Baseball in 2021. So, over a two-week period, Perfect Game will be taking a look at former PG standouts who are continuing to build their baseball skills and resumes in the minor leagues in an attempt to bring things into a bit more focus.  One player from each organization will be highlighted, with the schedule as follows: 
American League East: November 29
American League Central: December 1
American League West: December 6
National League East: December 7
National League Central: December 8 
National League West: December 10

National League Central 
Cincinnati Reds: RHP Graham Ashcraft 
High School: Huntsville (Ala.) 
College: Mississippi State/Alabama-Birmingham 
Travel Team: SoCal NTT 
Final PG Class Ranking: No. 90 (2016) 
Drafted/Signing Bonus: 6th round, Cincinnati Reds (2019), $247,000 
Highest 2021 Level: AA 
2022 Age: 24 
It would be easy to put either of the Reds top two pitching prospects, former PG All-Americans Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, in this slot but both have been written about many times and could both be in the Reds rotation early in 2022.  Far less hyped is the Reds third best pitching prospect, Ashcraft. 
Ashcraft was a hard-throwing prospect in high school, topping out at 93 mph at the 2015 PG National Showcase while showing college-level two-way ability as a slugging first baseman as well.  He topped out at 95 mph at the 2015 WWBA 17U National Championships to go with a mid-80s power slider.  The Dodgers, who have a significant recent history of finding pitching prospect gems in the mid-rounds, tried to coax Ashcraft out of his Mississippi State scholarship in the 12th round in 2016 but were unsuccessful. 
Ashcraft started five games early in his freshman season, with mixed results, but missed most of the next two years with a hip injury that eventually required surgery.  He returned in 2019 at Alabama-Birmingham and while the performance numbers weren’t great (2-5, 5.63 ERA with 39 walks in 56 innings), the raw stuff was impressive enough, including a fastball that would touch the upper 90’s, for the Reds to grab Ashcraft in the sixth round. 
Coming out of the pandemic, Ashcraft did one thing in 2021 that he’d never done before, throw consistent strikes.  Working the majority of his innings in AA, he went 11-4, with a 3.00 ERA with 129 strikeouts and only 37 walks in 111 innings, notably allowing only four home runs.  His stuff was still top shelf, working consistently in the mid-90s and touching triple digits while flashing a plus slider. 
Chicago Cubs: OF Brennen Davis 
High School: Basha HS (Ariz.) 
Travel Team: AZ D-Backs Scout Team/NE Baseball 
Final PG Class Ranking: No. 106 (2018) 
Drafted/Signing Bonus: 62nd overall, Chicago Cubs (2018), $1.1M 
Highest 2021 Level: AAA 
2022 Age: 22 
Davis was a primary basketball player through much of his athletic development, helping lead Basha HS to an Arizona state championship in 2017 and especially standing out on defense as a long and fast 6-foot-4, 175-pound wing.  He made his first PG appearance late due to this and this scout saw him there at the 2017 17U PG World Series. Davis looked like a basketball player, definitely had effortless plus running speed and had a raw swing that was mistimed but seemed to have barrel skills. 
When Davis appeared in Jupiter a few months later, after quitting basketball to concentrate on baseball, it was obvious playing baseball every day had really jumped his game and his body forward.  He was noticeably stronger, with a smoother and faster swing, and showed huge range in center field as well.  Davis hit .429 with four walks and five stolen bases at that event.  He continued to improve throughout his senior year on the same path, hitting .444-3-20 in 23 games with 13 steals. 
The Cubs skipped Davis over rookie ball in his first year and he hit .305-8-30/.907 OPS as a 19-year-old in the Midwest League but was limited to 50 games due to finger injuries.  He returned from the pandemic-canceled 2020 season bigger and stronger and is now listed at 210 pounds.  That increased strength translated to significant power gains, as Davis hit .260-19-53/.869 across A+/AA/AAA and famously blasted two home runs in the MLB Futures Game. 
The Cubs are in clear rebuilding mode and don’t' even have an average big league outfielder on their roster right now.  With Davis their top minor league prospect and having already had a successful taste of AAA, his future in Chicago is likely sooner rather than later. 
Milwaukee Brewers: OF Joe Gray Jr
High School: Hattiesburg HS (Miss.) 
Travel Team: Canes National 
Final PG Class Ranking: No. 20 (2018) 
Drafted/Signing Bonus: 60th overall, Milwaukee Brewers (2019), $1,113,500 
Highest 2021 Level: A+ 
2022 Age: 22 
Gray was one of the most impressive athletes in the 2018 class, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound center fielder who combined plus speed with big bat speed and power potential.  He was strongly considered the top defensive outfielder in the class, as he already got next-level jumps, ran excellent routes and had a 98 mph throwing arm on top of it.  He could put on a show in batting practice, but if there was a concern among scouts, it was with Gray’s hit tool and how that would develop against better pitching. 
Those concerns proved prophetic as Gray only hit .171 during his first two pro seasons, both in rookie ball, and struggled to get on the field consistently due to minor injuries. 
Gray had one of the best bounce back seasons of any prospect in baseball in 2021 though, hitting .252-20-90/.854 OPS with 23 steals in 110 games evenly split between A and A+ and has regained his prospect status going into his age 22 season.  The Brewers have drafted toolsy college outfielders in the first round of the past two drafts, UCLA’s Garrett Mitchell (2020) and Boston College’s Sal Frelick (2021) and Gray fits behind them on the Brewers current minor league depth chart. 
Pittsburgh Pirates: RHP Quinn Priester  
High School: Cary-Grove Community HS (Ill.) 
Travel Team: Blackhawks National 
Final PG Class Ranking: No. 7 (2019) 
Drafted/Signing Bonus: 18th overall, Pittsburgh Pirates (2019), $3,481,400 
Highest 2021 Level: A+
2022 Age: 21 
Priester was two-sport standout in high school, excelling at football first as a quarterback and later as a tight end/defensive back on the state champion Cary-Grove Community HS team.  This limited his baseball appearances somewhat in the summer and eliminated them during the fall but he stood out so much at the events he did attend, including the 2017 WWBA 16U National Championships, the 2017 PG Underclass All-American Games and the 2018 PG National Showcase that he was an easy choice for the 2018 PG All-American Classic.   
A broad shouldered and very athletic pitcher, Priester worked in the 90-93 mph range with an easy delivery during that 2018 summer, with his best pitch often being an upper-70s curveball thrown from a high three-quarter slot with big tilt to it.   
With football behind him and additional strength, Priester had an outstanding senior year, regularly getting up to 95-97 mph with his fastball and striking out 91 hitters in 60 innings and went into the draft as a consensus first round talent.  He was ranked No. 7 in the final PG class rankings and was indeed the seventh high school player picked in the 2019 draft. 
Priester had a solid first full pro season, going 7-4, with a 3.04 ERA in 20 starts and 97 innings in A+.  He’s added a slider to his fastball/curveball/change up arsenal and now steadily works in the mid-90s with his fastball. 
St. Louis Cardinals: 2B Nolan Gorman 
High School: Sandra Day O’Connor HS (Ariz.) 
Travel Team: Central Florida Gators 
Final PG Class Ranking: No. 5 (2018) 
Drafted/Signing Bonus: 19th overall, St. Louis Cardinals (2018), $3,321,000 
Highest 2021 Level: AAA 
2022 Age: 22 
Gorman was considered for much of his high school career to be the top hitter in the 2018 class and couldn’t have hit better during the 2017 summer season.  He hit .571 at the 17U PG World Series and .389 with three home runs at WWBA 17U National Championships.  He won the home run derby at both the MLB All-Star Game and at the PG All-American Classic.  Then Gorman blasted a home run and a 2-RBI single during the Classic itself and was named Most Valuable Player.  The left-handed hitter seemed to have all three major components in his favor; patience and barrel control, pull power and the ability to drive pitches the other way. 
Even though Gorman hit .421-10-32 with 46 walks in 32 games as a senior, the scouting community seemed disappointed in Gorman’s hitting approach and he generally slid a notch in most team’s minds heading into the 2018 draft. 
Gorman signed right away and, of course, went right on hitting as if it were the previous summer, posting a .291-17-44/.949 line in his debut between rookie ball and Low A. 
The 2021 season cemented Gorman’s status as the Cardinals' top position prospect and a future Big League regular.  Playing about two-thirds of the season in AAA as a 21-year-old, Gorman hit a combined .279-25-75/.814 while significantly reducing the strikeouts that had plagued his 2019 year in A ball.  But perhaps the biggest step that Gorman took in 2021 was shifting from third base, where he was solid to potentially plus, to second base as his primary position, seemingly making the adjustment well.  That would clearly be his future position in the Cardinals organization, with third baseman Nolan Arenado and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt two of the top players in the game at those respective positions. 
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