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Know your enemy: One name to watch on each NL Central team

These are some new players to keep an eye on.

MLB: Spring Training-St. Louis Cardinals at New York Yankees
Jordan Walker hits an RBI single against the Yankees
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Congratulations, friends. We made it. The long dark night of the offseason is over and baseball is back in all its glory.

The new season brings new faces to every team and today I wanted to spend some time on some of the new faces who we’ll be seeing a lot of in the National League Central division. These are the players I’m most intrigued by on each of the Cubs rivals who are (basically) new. Some are prospects, some are trades, I admit, the guy on the Pirates was there last year and honestly there is just no one more intriguing. However, as you watch the Cubs play their division rivals this season you will not want to miss these players.

Cardinals — Walk this way with Jordan Walker

I got to see Jordan Walker play in the Arizona Fall League last November and I was impressed. The 20-year-old played most of his minor league games at third base, however, Nolan Arenado has that locked up for a while now. If you can play third, you can probably play corner outfield and Walker should be just fine in right field for the Cardinals.

Walker is here for his bat. In Double-A last year he put up a .306/.388/.510 slashline with a wRC+ o 128 across 536 plate appearances. He stayed hot in spring training slashing .277/.299/.492 across 65 at bats and won a spot on the team.

Making the move from Double-A to the major leagues can be a rough adjustment, as we saw with Christopher Morel last season. However, for now, Walker seems to be adapting just fine. In 25 plate appearances so far he’s slashing .333/.360/.542 with a wOBA of .389 and a wRC+ of 147. His max exit velocity is already an impressive 113.9 MPH, which puts him in the 98th percentile of all MLB players in this early season.

Brewers — An early power surge from Garrett Mitchell

The Cubs got an early look at the Brewers and Garrett Mitchell and he did not disappoint. The number five prospect in the Brewers organization was called up at the end of 2022, where he put up an impressive .311/.373/.459 along with two home runs and eight stolen bases in just 68 plate appearances. He’s stayed hot in 2023 where he’s already hit three home runs over just 22 plate appearances (!!!) while slashing .300/.364/.850 for a wRC+ of 213.

Mitchell projects as more of a speed guy than a power guy, but the 112.3 exit velocity he’s already posted this season would beg to differ. He’s already got a walk off home run for the Brewers, the first Brewer rookie to hit a walk off home run since 2019 [VIDEO].

Pirates — Cruise control at the bottom of the division — Oneil Cruz

I could have gone a couple of different routes here. I almost opted for flagging Andrew McCutchen’s return to Pittsburgh, which is both a heartwarming story for fans and a bit of a disappointment that he could not play out his entire career with the team whose lineup he anchored for so long. But the last ride of McCutchen is not nearly as interesting as the statcast darling who comes in his wake: Oneil Cruz. Just look at this Statcast card from 2022:

2022 Statcast percentiles
Baseball Savant

To put this slightly differently, no one in baseball hit a ball harder than the 122.4 mile per hour exit velocity that Cruz posted last year and it isn’t just that he hits the ball exceptionally hard. He has a 96th percentile barrel rate, a 98th percentile sprint speed and a 97th percentile arm strength. The tools are not just loud, they are among the most elite in all of baseball.

Cruz has not gotten off to quite the hot start that Mitchell and Walker have, but he’s still put up some highlights worth taking a look at, including this Opening Day home run that left the ballpark in a hurry [VIDEO].

Reds — Where there’s a Will, there’s a Way and there are two Wil(l)s, so...

The Cubs just got their first look at the Reds this season, and admittedly, my players to keep an eye on here have not really impressed so far. Will Benson is a former first round pick. The Reds picked him up in a trade with the Guardians and Benson made the team on the back of an exceptionally strong spring training campaign that saw him put up a .327/.408/.735 slash line over 49 at bats. He’s struggled so far in his time in the majors, striking out 75 percent of the time in his 12 plate appearances. But even with these early struggles, Benson is worth keeping an eye on — just look at this catch [VIDEO].

Whether Benson figures out his woes at the plate or not, one new face in Cincy I am definitely intrigued by is former Padre Wil Myers. Myers has started off slow this season posting a .188/.350/.188 slash line across his first 20 plate appearances, but the 32 year old has multiple 20/20 seasons in his past and stands to benefit from a park factor upgrade moving from Petco Park to Great American Ballpark. It would not surprise me to see the veteran put up 20-25 home runs in his new park, even though I think his days of stealing lots of bases could be in the rearview mirror.