January 21, 2016
Cincinnati Reds Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: If you don’t like people who throw hard, you’re a monster—and you won’t like this system. If you do, you’ll be happy until you look at the hitters.
The Top Ten
1. Robert Stephenson, RHP
In terms of pure stuff, there are only a handful of players who can match what Stephenson has. He no longer touches 99 mph routinely, but he sits 93-95 with his four-seamer and will occasionally touch 97—all with movement. The curveball also flashes double-plus with ridiculous depth and spin that can make hitters look incompetent. When everything is clicking he can locate it for strikes in addition to getting whiffs out of the zone. Stephenson made serious progress with his changeup this past season as it evolved from a fringy offering into a borderline plus pitch featuring splitter-like drop. The pitch is delivered deceptively by replicating the same level of insane arm speed he utilizes on his fastball.
As good as the stuff is, the command isn’t. His back leg collapses too early, which leads to missing up in the zone and failing to locate the fastball and secondary offerings. Some feel a move to the bullpen is necessary to maximize value, but that’s likely a few years down the road. Even with the so-so command and self-inflicted damage, Stephenson has a shot at being a no. 2—one who will miss a lot of bats and should help the Reds’ depleted rotation by this summer.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The upside may not be as lofty with Stephenson as it once was, but there’s still plenty of height to it. The most likely outcome at this point is a maddeningly inconsistent SP3 or SP4 with the stuff to be an SP2—along the lines of A.J. Burnett. The walk rate is likely never going to shrink to the point where Stephenson isn’t a sizable WHIP risk, but if Gio Gonzalez can put up two seasons of a sub-1.20 WHIP, all hope is not lost.
Major League ETA: 2016
2. Cody Reed, LHP
Amir Garrett got most of the talk when we asked who the Reds’ most improved southpaw was in 2015—and yes, this is the type of question I ask—but Reed wasn’t far behind. His heater has plus velocity (93-95, occasionally in the high 90s), but it’s plus-plus because it has loads of life and is tough to pick up. The slider is rarely a strike, but it doesn’t have to be, as it falls off the table late and features plenty of tilt. The change also flashes average, but he doesn’t have great feel for the pitch, and there are often outings when he’ll only throw it a handful of times—a trend that can’t continue if he’s going to start at the next level.
Reed’s stuff showed improvement in 2015, but it was the jump in command that drew raves. His arm slot is a little lower than a typical starter’s, but he repeats his delivery and keeps the self-inflicted damage to a dull roar. If he shows more confidence in the change and continues making progress, he could be a top-25 prospect in July and a member of the Reds rotation by late summer.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It’s a much tighter battle for top dynasty league arm in this system than current perception allows. In fact, given the choice, I’d take the southpaw right now given the fact that his stuff is just as nasty and he has better command of it. Reed should be able to miss a lot of bats with his slider—enough to push him into strong SP3 territory even without a reliable secondary to whiff right-handers with.
Major League ETA: 2016
3. Jesse Winker, OF
Winker’s 2015 numbers are solid, but they’re even more impressive when you consider that he was hitting .229 and slugging .314 before June. He pairs a good approach with top-notch barrel control, giving him a chance for a plus-plus hit tool despite less-than-elite bat speed.
While he hadn’t shown any difficulties handling southpaws in years past, a .654 OPS against them in 2015 highlights an area that will require constant attention as he continues on up the chain. There’s solid-average power in his bat, and while he’ll never be a 30-plus homer guy, 20-homer seasons aren’t out of the question because he has a strong lower half and just enough loft in his swing.
Defensively, Winker has worked hard to get to the fringe-average point, but fringe-average is all he’s going to be. He’s an average runner who doesn’t get great jumps, and his fringe-average arm limits him to left field. He’d obviously be a whole lot more valuable at essentially every other position than first base, but when you have these kinds of on-base skills, you live with the defensive shortcomings.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Winker remains the top fantasy prospect in this system, as it’s really tough to take a pitching prospect over an outfielder who could hit .300 with 20-plus homers (it is Cincinnati after all). This off-season probably represents your last realistic buying opportunity on the 22-year-old, given that his stats were depressed by injury last year.
Major League ETA: 2016
4. Amir Garrett, LHP
After giving up on that “other” sport (he was a guard/forward for St. John’s), Garrett showed what he’s capable of doing over a full season, and one front-office member called him the most improved left-handed pitching prospect in baseball. He’s as athletic as any hurler you’ll find, and his elite arm strength allows him to get his four-seamer up to 97, sitting comfortably 92-95 with size that allows him to get downhill. His slider will flash plus, but its quality fluctuates more than most—it varies from 40 to 60 depending on the outing, not just from 50 to 60. His changeup is still in its nascent stage, but it should develop into an average offering as he becomes more comfortable with it, with enough projection to allow him to start.
Like Stephenson, there’s no questioning the upside of a prospect with this arsenal, but his command leaves a lot to be desired. His delivery will get out of sync, and he doesn’t always stay on top of his pitches. That could mean an eventual move to the bullpen if he doesn't develop consistency, but keep in mind that this is a player still relatively new to playing baseball full-time. There’s volatility here, but athletic left-handers who can touch 97 don’t grow on trees, and the Reds will give Garrett every chance to start, as they should.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s plenty of bullpen-risk with Garrett, but there’s also high-end ceiling that comes with it—making him worthy of fantasy investment. Right now, he’s a back-end-of-the-top-100 type of prospect in dynasty leagues, but the closer he gets to proving he can start, the greater the trajectory of that value becomes. If it all comes together, he could be a 200-plus strikeout starter with some ratio wobbles.
Major League ETA: 2017
5. Jose Peraza, 2B
Peraza has now been traded two times in the span of five months, but don’t let that fool you: He is still a future regular up the middle, and one who should be a contributor in 2016. His feel for the barrel is outstanding, and he consistently makes hard contact thanks to his hand-eye coordination and a compact, quick stroke. The hit tool could be plus if took more pitches and worked more counts, but he doesn’t, so it isn’t. He’s wiry, and his lack of strength along with a flat swing plane makes the power essentially non-existent. He compensates for the lack of power with his legs, as he’s a plus-plus runner who generally gets good jumps and can steal 50-plus bases if given the opportunity.
The Braves moved Peraza to second base for various causes, but there’s certainly reason to believe he could handle shortstop. His 70 speed gives him quality range, and while he won’t remind anyone of Andrelton Simmons, he might remind them of Erick Aybar. He’s a potential defensive star at second base, so if the Reds choose to leave him there, that’ll work out just fine.
He no longer looks like a future top-of-the-order cog, but Peraza is still a competent regular who should hit .270 and steal 30-40 bases a year, while playing excellent defense at second.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The speed is the redeeming factor for Peraza, and something that dynasty leaguers are unlikely to have forgotten about despite seeing him fall on prospect lists. A hitter who can be a net positive in batting average and potentially reach 40 steals is a rare commodity these days—especially one who dons middle infield eligibility.
Major League ETA: Debuted in 2015
6. Tyler Stephenson, C
Catchers who can hit for power are always going to be highly sought after, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Stephenson was a candidate to go in the top five last June. The big selling point here is raw power, as he generates outstanding leverage and clears his hips well, with enough extension to take the ball out to any part of the field. He’s a smart hitter who shows an advanced understanding of the strike zone, but contact issues will likely follow him throughout his career because his swing has some length and his bat speed is only average.
All prep catchers are a work in progress (yes, even Reese McGuire), and Stephenson is no exception. He’s got a chance to stick behind the plate, however, as he possesses a strong, accurate arm, and his receiving skills are more advanced than your typical 19-year-old. The lack of speed means the only other viable position is first base, so there’s added pressure for him to stay behind the plate. If he can, he’s a potential All-Star with 30-homer potential and a glove that won’t make you cringe.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Prep catchers, even if they have plenty of upside, are rarely a good investment in dynasty leagues given the generally slow movement through the minors and the increased risk (as a movement down the positional spectrum is very hurtful to their value). Stephenson has power, but use a top-two round pick on him this year at your own risk, or that farm spot may be occupied for the next five years.
Major League ETA: 2019
7. Keury Mella, RHP
In return for impending free agent Mike Leake, the Reds acquired a talented—if volatile—hurler in Mella. He’ll touch 97 mph with his fastball but sits more comfortably 90-94, with enough movement to call it a plus pitch. The curveball also flashes in that range, but because of his long arm path, it’s an easy pitch for left-handed hitters to spot at times. His change is a fringe-average offering, one that will keep southpaw hitters honest with just enough deception and fade. There’s a good deal of effort in his crossfire delivery (though he was making progress on being more direct as the year wore on) which makes it difficult to project anything more than fringe-average command.
Mella’s lack of an above-average third pitch limits his upside, and his delivery could cause some durability issues, but there’s enough here to suggest that he can stick in the rotation. If he is moved to the bullpen, he could be a death-on-righties eighth- or ninth-inning guy.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Investing in Mella as a starting pitcher isn’t something I’m terribly comfortable with, and that places him towards the very back of the top 200 or so fantasy prospects right now. There’s SP3 potential if he can lock down that whole third pitch and command stuff, but realistically Mella has more fantasy upside as a reliever than a starter—which is not a good thing.
Major League ETA: 2017
8. Nick Travieso, RHP
Hey, another hard-throwing right-hander—who left Dave Dombrowski in charge of this list? The Reds have been very patient with Travieso, and he may have the highest floor of any hurler in this system. He commands the heck out of a mid-90s four-seam fastball, and like every other pitcher in this system (it seems) he can touch 98 when he reaches back for more. He shows a low-80s slider that will occasionally back up on him and get slurvy, but for the most part it’s an above-average pitch with good depth. The change has also progressed each year he’s been a professional, and there’s some decent movement to it now. He’s added a curveball into the mix as well, though it's a pitch that will need to add a few ticks to be effective, but that showed some promise toward the end of the season. The Reds have done a good job cleaning up his mechanics, and he now projects to have enough command to start, although there are the occasional fits of errancy.
The stuff will play up in shorter spurts, but right now Travieso projects as a durable back-end starter who can miss some bats. If the Reds ever move him to the bullpen, we might be talking about a future closer.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Travieso has been largely forgotten since his days as a prep pitcher with arm strength in dynasty drafts three years ago. Now, he’s a potential SP4 with a good shot at sticking in the rotation and good enough secondaries to be at least an average starter from a strikeout perspective. He’s more valuable than Mella now, and closer to Garrett than you think—especially in deeper formats.
Major League ETA: 2017
9. Alex Blandino, 2B/SS
This ranking speaks to the depth of the Cincinnati system, as Blandino would be in the top five of the majority of the systems we've published. He struggled upon his promotion to the Southern League, but there were more good moments than poor in 2015. His short, simple swing has just enough bat speed and plane to project a solid-average hit tool, and his consistent, assertive approach at the plate should lead to solid on-base percentages. Unlike some of his Stanford brethren, his swing path isn't totally empty of power, and there's enough strength and leverage to project double digits in home runs.
Blandino has played all over the field since entering the professional ranks, but his combination of speed and arm will allow him to end up at second or third. The Reds might choose to continue his development at shortstop, knowing any available infield position would be a potential landing spot for a player without many plus tools, but no real weakness.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: With a future home (likely) in Great American Ballpark, that fringy power has the potential to play up into the 15-homer range. Combine that with enough athleticism and speed (and IQ) to steal 10-15 bases and a batting average that’s more likely to help than hurt, and you get a very good deep league prospect who has a path to mixed league value as well. Blandino also ticks up in OBP and points leagues.
Major League ETA: 2017
10. Antonio Santillan, RHP
Santillan was one of the late bloomers of the 2015 draft, and by the end of June one front-office member called him the best player in the state of Texas—even over Trent Clark. There’s almost zero projection left, but that doesn’t matter, as he throws 94-97 mph bullets with some sink and decent plane. Add in a plus curveball that has quality spin and slider-like bite, and you have the makings of a frontline starter.
Some of the makings, anyway. Frontline starters have competent third pitches, and Santillan doesn’t have that—not yet, anyway. The change is very much a nascent offering, lacking deception and movement. He also struggles to repeat his delivery, and both his control and command leave a lot to be desired.
The Reds should do one of two things: move him to the bullpen right now to fast-track the hell out of this arm, or threaten to make him watch Corky Romano until he develops feel for the change.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s not enough here to make Santillan a wise investment in dynasty drafts this year, as this is not much of a starter’s profile. Odds are that dynasty league owners forget his name for the next 5-6 years and then—BOOM—he shows up as next in line for the Reds’ closer job in 2021.
Major League ETA: 2019
Ian Kahaloa, RHP – The Reds took Kahaloa with the their fifth-round pick in June, and while the sample is small, it appears they might have found a diamond. He sits 92-94 with big life on his four- and two-seam fastballs, and he flashed an above-average slider with some tilt. He’s missing a quality third pitch and there are concerns about his height and lack of girth, but if you’re looking for the next great Hawaiian hurler Kahaloa might be a better bet than Kodi Medeiros.
Aristides Aquino, OF – In terms of pure tools, Aquino might be the most talented player in the system. In terms of application of said tools, he has a really long way to go. He’ll show big raw power generated by his bat speed and ability to extend, along with borderline plus-plus speed. But when you can’t make consistent contact and have no semblance of an approach at the plate, it still doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot. He’s only 21, and if that light clicks, look out.
Calten Daal, SS – Daal gets unfairly compared to his fellow countryman Didi Gregorius, and while he doesn’t have the same kind of upside (yes, Didi Gregorius has upside), he has a chance to be a contributor up the middle. There’s zero power potential, but he’s quick to the ball with just enough bat speed to project an average hit tool. He’s a quick-twitch athlete at short, with enough arm and footwork to stay on the left side, and the speed to steal 25 bases a year. He’s several years from contributing, but another step forward in 2016 could see him jump into the top 10 next year.
Tanner Rainey, RHP – You didn’t really think we were done with hard throwing right-handers, did you? Rainey was one of the best senior pitchers in the 2015 class, and he has a chance to move swiftly through the system. He’ll touch the high 90s with his fastball, sitting more comfortably 93-95, and he supplements that heater with a 55 slider that features hard, downward tilt. The Reds had him start and may give him the opportunity to pitch every fifth day, but with a below-average change and iffy command it’s easy to see Rainey pitching in high-leverage relief, instead—maybe soon. He also slugged .842 and hit 19 homers for West Alabama, so that’s fun, right?
Phil Ervin, OF – Ervin was terrible in 2014, and outside of a 17-game sample in the Southern League, he wasn’t much better in 2015. Still, this is the guy who made scouts salivate with his power/speed combination in Cape Cod two summers ago. His approach at least took an impressive step forward this season, but until he shows he can do it on a relatively consistent basis, it’s tough to see him becoming more than a fourth outfielder.
The Reds have done their best to dismantle the big league roster and start a rebuilding effort by flipping guys like Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman—along with maintaining interest in dealing Jay Bruce— and they’ve re-stocked their farm system and set themselves up for possible long-term success.
After a 2014 season that was viewed as a bit of a debacle, Stephenson rebounded to a degree in 2015, and that rebound is enough for him to garner the top spot on this list. His grip on the no. 1 ranking would seem firm given his potential as a no. 2/3 starter, but players like Eugenio Suarez, Brandon Finnegan, and Michael Lorenzen all bring skills and potential to the table that make the debate far more interesting.
Acquired as the lead piece in exchange for Alfredo Simon, Suarez grows on you the more you see him play, offering solid contributions in all phases of the game as an everyday regular player. There’s little chance Suarez’s evolution continues toward an All-Star caliber career, but given the low offensive bar at shortstop—even accounting for his apparent shift to third base—and his defensive potential at either position, Suarez can be a sound everyday piece of the Reds next contending team.
Left-hander Brandon Finnegan tends to be viewed through two different lenses by scouts; those that firmly believe in his potential as a mid-rotation starter, and those that believe he is an electric left-handed reliever. Finnegan found success in limited time as a starter last season, and his believers point to that brief stretch as evidence of his potential to harness his arsenal and turn over a lineup. Regardless of his ultimate role, Finnegan will have heavy influence on the Reds pitching staff of the future.
Starters Michael Lorenzen and Anthony DeSclafani arrive in the middle of the list via vastly different paths. Lorenzen offers additional upside thanks to greater athleticism that could result in above-average command of his more impressive arsenal, as well as room for continued growth with both secondary pitches. DeSclafani offers little room for improvement at this stage of the game, and while his numbers can lead the casual observer down a path where he is considered the more valuable arm, several scouts expressed concern over the crispness of his arsenal and his margin for error. In finalizing this ranking, the upside Lorenzen brings to the table was more desirable than the lower-risk profile of DeSclafani.
Billy Hamilton may be the most exciting player on this entire list, but owning that one tool—80-grade speed—that makes him so exciting does not make him a quality big-league player. Hamilton was terrible at the plate in 2015, offering limited contact ability, a sub-.300 on-base percentage, and absolutely no useable power. Then entire profile trended down from his 2014 campaign, which wasn't particularly impressive in its own right. Hamilton redeemed some value was on the bases, where he improved his reads and success rate on steals, and he also better utilized his speed to turn himself into a defensive asset in center field. Unfortunately, unbelievable speed and center field defense are not likely to be enough for Hamilton to maintain his grip on a starting role, short of a considerable leap forward at the plate. That said, given the current effort to remake the Reds roster, Hamilton will get ample opportunity to improve his offensive game; I’m just not expecting that improvement given my scouting history with the player.
Assuming the Reds deal Jay Bruce at some point, they are going to look to build around a roster anchored by Joey Votto and supported by up-and-comers like Lorenzen, Stephenson, Finnegan, and Suarez. While they need to do more to fill out the roster and prepare to compete in the extremely tough National League Central Division, three potential mid-rotation starters, an elite first baseman, and a good all-around shortstop/third baseman is not a bad place to start. - Mark Anderson
This will be Jocketty’s last year as the “decision maker” with the Reds, as Williams will take over the day-to-day operations. Yes, the last two years have been bad, and last year they were non-competitive. When you look at the overall body of work, however, what the Reds have done as a small market club has been pretty impressive. They clearly have their preferences—if you can’t tell what they are, you didn’t read this list very carefully—and like some of the other systems we talked about earlier in this process, they develop that preference very well.
That being said, there are some concerns here. The Reds have been willing to spend in the international market, but many of those signees have seen their development stall, with the best example being Yorman Rodriguez. The “I can fix him!” approach has also led to some questionable picks and trades, with high-profile players like Nick Howard and Jonathan Crawford just as likely to be organizational fodder as contributors. Buckley is a highly respected scouting director who has more hits than misses on his resume, but some of those misses are why the Reds are unlikely to contend for the next two or three seasons.