The State of the System: Cincinnati added a very nice name at the top with the second overall pick, but it was an up-and-down year for the rest of the system. It lacks impact names past the top two, but it is a deep organization with some interesting 2017 breakout candidates.
The Top Ten
- 3B Nick Senzel
- LHP Amir Garrett
- LF Jesse Winker
- RHP Robert Stephenson
- C Tyler Stephenson
- OF Taylor Trammell
- OF Aristides Aquino
- RHP Antonio Santillan
- 2B Shedric Long
- RHP Ian Kahaloa
The Big Question: How long should a rebuild take?
As you set out for Ithaca
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
In Western mythology, Orpheus is one of only a few mortals granted passage to the underworld. But the quest to bring his wife Eurydice back to life comes to a tragic end. He charms Hades and pulls his beloved to the brink of earth, only to look over his shoulder and see her descend again.
Such was the Cincinnati bullpen’s plight last season, watching the trajectory of 103 of the team’s 258 home runs—both major league records. Reviewing the Reds’ recent history is commensurate with reading multiple Greek tragedies at once. The Sisyphean task facing a young pitching staff and the league’s worst by PWARP; sundry Achilles’ heels (or elbows, knees and shoulders); and one final playoff push in 2015 that fell as swiftly as young Icarus.
It was a painful but unsurprising step in the process best known as rebuilding. Walt Jocketty preferred the term retooling, as if he had to buy a new belt sander when he forgot where his old one was. Whatever the PR-friendly term to counter the insidious label “tanking”—rebuilding, reloading, restocking—the underlying concept has been well established.
There are a handful of teams actively pursuing an overhaul and another half-dozen either starting or winding down their own. In this space, you’ll soon read about the White Sox, who didn’t quite bottom out but gave their prospect list a shot in the arm, and the long-term consequences of the Royals’ short-term bet.
But every case is different as clubs borrow from other front office philosophies. The Braves sold off their young, controllable core for younger, more controllable prospects. With four top-10 draft picks in as many years, the Cubs developed hitters while buying their eventual championship rotation. The Phillies, bringing their blossoming team to Cincinnati on Opening Day, finally ended up on the right side of their high-stakes game of catch and release. Meanwhile, the Reds are content with building around Joey Votto, leaning on their pitching prospects and waiting for a pair of no. 2 overall draft picks to make their debuts. But with their National League counterparts flourishing, when can the Reds expect to compete?
Jeff Sullivan pegged the number at four years in terms of turning a cellar dweller into a postseason team. The Astros averaged 104 losses from 2011 to 2014 before reaching the divisional series. Theo Epstein’s Cubs lost 101 games in his first year as president of baseball operations, and that story likely ends in Cooperstown. This will be the Reds’ second year of full investment in a rebuild but arguably their third overall. Despite acquiring Anthony DeSclafani and Eugenio Suarez after the 2014 season, the teardown didn’t begin until the following All-Star break. By targeting players in the upper minors or those with some major-league seasoning, the Reds hoped to shave a year off the process, but it came at a cost.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Constantine P. Cavafy, one of the foremost Greek poets of the twentieth century, continued the theme set in Homer’s epic in his 1911 work “Ithaca.” The island has a significance larger than life, cherished more for the journey and the demons travelers must conquer along the way than for what awaits. Aroldis Chapman was a generational arm; with all due respect, Rookie Davis is not, but that shouldn’t be held against him. The team couldn’t pitch long-term contract flexibility to potential suitors, trading Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and Marlon Byrd just before they hit free agency. Chapman and Todd Frazier soon followed, dealt at their nadir in the winter for critically panned packages.
Though the Reds lack the splashy, high-upside players that populate top-100 lists, they added the kind of depth on which small-market teams rely. But the club made greater strides in gaining focus and fresh perspective, described by Cavafy as “harbors seen for the first time.” Dick Williams beefed up the club’s minor league operations in his first year as general manager, incorporating mental skills coaching and leadership training into the team’s player development strategy. The front office also made a much-needed investment in their analytics department, prioritizing the individualized approach and “culture of flexibility” that Brendan Gawlowski discussed here in 2015.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.
Even if the win-loss record doesn’t reflect it, the Reds are better off today than their last postseason team. As Jeff Quinton wrote, though, anyone can copy the Cubs’ winning model but few will replicate its success. The next step is staving off the stagnation of Kansas City and Pittsburgh, making the most of a short window and keeping the pace in a top-heavy division. This team will most likely finish under .500, but the Reds are already fighting a winning battle for 2018 and beyond. —Kourage Kundahl
1. Nick Senzel, 3B
Height/Weight: 6’1” 205 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted second overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, University of Tennessee (Knoxville, TN); signed for $6.2 million
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .152/.293/.182, 0 HR, 3 SB in 10 games at short-season Billings, .329/.415/.567, 7 HR, 15 SB in 58 games at Low-A Dayton
The Good: Senzel received the biggest bonus in the 2016 draft class, and he backed up the paycheck on the field. He’s a potential five-tool third baseman with plus hit and above-average power grades making him a potential middle-of-the-order bat at the hot corner. His defensive tools aren’t quite as exciting—not that you’d care at this point—but he’s a competent glove at third with a plus arm.
The Bad: It’s a balanced profile, which isn’t bad per se, but he lacks an impact carrying tool. Might be more of a good regular than a perennial all-star type. Power may play more as average long-term and he may fit best as a no. 6 hitter on a first division team.
The Irrelevant: Senzel isn’t the rangiest third baseman you’ll find, but he can make plays all over the diamond (and in the dugout).
OFP 60—First division third baseman
Likely 55—Above-average third baseman
The Risks: Senzel is about as safe a bet as you can find in A-ball. While he lacks the ceiling of the elite class of prospects, he has an advanced hit tool and should be a solid contributor both at the plate and on the dirt. He could also move very quickly, and a major-league debut in 2017 is not impossible although the Reds have no incentive to push him through the minors..
Major league ETA: Early 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Sounds good to me! Senzel serves as a badly needed injection of upside and probability for a collection of third base dynasty prospects that’s the weakest it’s been in years. He’s probably the best dynasty prospect from the last draft, and he’s a no-doubt top-50 name right now. Sure, you don’t have to squint to see the ceiling, but if Senzel emerges as, oh, I don’t know, 2016 Anthony Rendon (.270, 20 homers, 12 steals), no one will be complaining.
2. Amir Garrett, LHP
Height/Weight: 6’5” 215 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted in the 22nd round of the 2011 MLB Draft, Henderson International School (Henderson, NV); signed for $1 million
Previous Ranking(s): #4 (Org.), #77 (Overall)
2016 Stats: 1.75 ERA, 3.21 DRA, 77 IP, 51 H, 28 BB, 78 K in 13 games at Double-A Pensacola, 3.46 ERA, 4.44 DRA, 67.2 IP, 48 H, 31 BB, 54 K in 12 games at Triple-A Louisville
The Good: Do you like athletic pitchers? Of course you do. Garrett was a swingman on the hardwood for the Red Storm, and the athleticism translates to the mound. Your average NCAA 3 doesn’t have a 95 mph fastball though. Garrett can touch even higher and the offering has late arm-side life. The slider flashes plus with hard, late tilt. Even though he has already advanced to Triple-A, there is more projection left than your average International League arm given how late Garrett came to full-time pitching.
The Bad: His delivery has a bit of crossfire to it, and the arm action can be slingy. Those are two qualities you often associate with relief arms. Also associated with relief arms: a below-average changeup. Garrett’s is “developing,” but at present it doesn’t “do much.” Additional command refinement is needed.
The Irrelevant: “Jeffrey, do you happen to have an Amir Garrett dunk montage handy?” “Yes, yes I do.”
OFP 60—No. 3 starter
Likely 55—Above-average starter or late-inning arm
The Risks: The main risk here is that Garrett’s command and changeup issues force him to the bullpen. He’s a potential late-inning arm there, but it’s not enough of an impact relief profile to make you prefer it to the starting one.
Major league ETA: Late 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Garrett is close enough to the majors and has a high enough upside that we can feel good investing in him despite the bullpen concerns. He’s got a future as a dynasty SP4/5 who doesn’t do anything particularly well or particularly poorly when it comes to strikeouts, ERA and WHIP. That’s not super exciting, but unless your league has a low innings cap there’s plenty of value in an innings eater who eats innings at an above league-average rate. Don’t believe me? Josh Tomlin was the 53rd-best fantasy starter last year. Garrett is nothing like Tomlin, I’m just saying the bar’s not as high as you think it is.
3. Jesse Winker, OF
Height/Weight: 6’3” 210 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 49th overall in the 2012 MLB Draft, Olympia HS, (Orlando, FL); signed for $1 million
Previous Ranking(s): #3 (Org.), #50 (Overall)
2016 Stats: .462/.533/.923, 2 HR, 0 SB in 4 games at AZL Complex, .303/.397/.384, 3 HR, 0 SB in 106 games at Triple-A Louisville
The Good: Winker kept doing Winker things in 2016, hitting .300 as one of the youngest players in the International League. He has an easy plus hit tool that he pairs with a strong approach at the plate. There’s more power in the profile—due to a slight uppercut and above-average bat speed—than he showed this year as he battled wrist issues. He is a safe bet to be an above-average offensive player in the majors despite a below-average power projection even once the wrist heels.
The Bad: He’s a left fielder. Okay the arm is accurate enough he could probably be okay in right field, but it’s not strong enough to make that the more likely corner outfield landing spot. He’s a fine left fielder, but he’s not going to win any Gold Gloves, so you are really betting on the hit tool. As patient as he is, without more pop than he showed in 2016, his on-base ability might suffer against major-league arms.
The Irrelevant: Winker looks set to become the second Olympia High School grad to make the majors, following in the footsteps of future-best-SS-in-the-AL-now-1B, Brad Miller.
OFP 55—High BA/OBP everyday left fielder
Likely 50—Average everyday left fielder
The Risks: Winker still may have a smidge of physical projection left, but he is otherwise a finished, polished product for good and for ill. The one crimp in the profile here might be his recovery from his wrist issues.
Major league ETA: 2017
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Winker is a better fantasy prospect than an IRL prospect, as I think he’s a safe bet to hit well in the majors. It’s not a sexy profile, but a future as an AVG-driven OF4 with 15-20 homers is well within his range, sort of like a modern day Melky Cabrera. Basically, the deeper your league is the more valuable Winker is, because he’ll give you a modest boost in four categories. Just don’t be afraid to aim higher if you’re in one of those weird, stupid leagues where each team only rosters three prospects or something (I’ve seen it).
4. Robert Stephenson, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’2” 200 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 27th overall in the 2011 MLB Draft, Alhambra HS (Martinez, CA); signed for $2 million
Previous Ranking(s): #1 (Org.), #30 (Overall)
2016 Stats: 6.08 ERA, 6.34 DRA, 37 IP, 41 H, 19 BB, 31 K in 8 games at major league level, 4.41 ERA, 8.76 DRA, 136.2 IP, 115 H, 71 BB, 120 K in 24 games at Triple-A Louisville
The Good: Stephenson has #thegoodstuff. If you catch him on the right day, he will flash three plus pitches, including a fastball that can touch 96, a downer 11-5 curve, and a hard change that can be a swing-and-miss pitch to both righties and lefties when he is getting it to tumble down in the zone.
The Bad: So he should be way higher on this list, right? Well, he has trouble getting any of those offerings in the zone consistently, and when he is in the zone, he lives in the upper half. That proved to not work as well this year against the high-level hitters. Stephenson also relies too much on his fastball, and struggles to put away hitters at times despite his major-league-quality stuff. At this point the profile will play best in the bullpen, and it sounds like the Reds have come to a similar conclusion.
The Irrelevant: Major-league hitters batted .367 and slugged .663 against Stephenson’s fastball in 2016. Mike Trout batted .303 and slugged .560 against fastballs in 2016.
OFP 55—High-end setup/low end closer
Likely 50—8th inning guy
The Risks: Stephenson has already logged a fair amount of innings in the upper minors and even the majors, but there is still a chance that the below-average command and control profile blows up on him even in a short relief role. The stuff really should carry the profile anyway though. It is #good.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2016
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: If you still own Stephenson in a dynasty league, my advice would be try and sell high-ish on him, as he might still have name value that’s disproportionate with what he currently brings to the table. But if we’re being honest, you probably already missed your window to sell, which means now you’re left holding your breath. Don’t look to drop Stephenson if your league rosters 100 prospects, because he’s close and there’s still a chance Cincinnati might let him start. But don’t be afraid to cast him aside for more promising players either, because odds are we’re just looking at a high-WHIP reliever. It sounds like his #thegoodstuff isn’t as good as Joe Kelly’s Great Stuff(TM) anyway.
5. Tyler Stephenson, C
Height/Weight: 6’4” 225 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 11th overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, Kennesaw Mountain HS (Kennesaw, GA); signed for $3.1416 million
Previous Ranking(s): #6 (Org.)
2016 Stats: .250/.348/.450, 1 HR, 0 SB in 5 games at AZL Complex, .216/.278/.324, 3 HR, 0 SB in 39 games at Low-A Dayton
The Good: Stephenson is big, strong kid, with potential plus raw power and enough arm to stick behind the plate assuming further defensive refinement. We’d like to have more to report in this section, but…
The Bad: …Stephenson missed large chunks of the season with a wrist injury and was compromised by it even when he played. It eventually necessitated surgery. Oh, there was a concussion in there too. So yeah, we will call it a lost season. Not the end of the world when you are 19, but we’re not much closer to knowing how well the hit tool or defensive profile will project.
The Irrelevant: Kennesaw, GA is a popular spot for prospects we aren’t sure will stick at catcher. We’ve already written about Kennesaw Mountain State alum Max Pentecost on the Blue Jays list. He’s also not the last prospect from Kennesaw on this list.
OFP 55—Above-average backstop
Likely 45—Enough pop and glove to be a good backup or second-division starter
The Risks: He’s a prep catcher, man. A PREP CATCHER. The casino equivalent is those seven-reel video slot machines based on The Walking Dead. I don’t understand how those work either. Also he has had a spate of wrist injuries and would be one of the biggest catchers in the majors if he gets to the majors as a catcher.
Major league ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Waiting on fantasy catching prospects can be frustrating—their progress is often non-linear even as prospects go—but now is a good time to buy low on Stephenson. He’s not a top-100 guy yet, but if he hits the way he has the potential to hit, you’ll have missed your chance if you wait until next season. Pick him up if your league rosters 150-plus prospects, just feel free to drop him quickly if something tastier comes your way.
6. Taylor Trammell, OF
Height/Weight: 6’2” 195 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 35th overall in the 2016 MLB Draft, Mount Paran Christian School (Kennesaw, GA); signed for $3.2 million
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .303/.374/.421, 2 HR, 24 SB in 61 games at short-season Billings
The Good: The Reds continued their spending spree later in the 2016 draft, grabbing the toolsy Trammell for top-half-of-the-first-round money with their comp balance pick. The fast-twitch athletic tools jump out of the profile here, but Trammell also showed up in the Pioneer League with more advanced baseball skills than you would expect. He’s a plus-plus runner at present, and should stay above-average if not better as he fills out. Potentially average or better power given his bat speed and added strength. His profile could take a grade jump if the athleticism begins to show in places other than straight-line speed.
The Bad: As good as they are, those athletic tools may not keep him in center field long term. He’s more of a runner at present than an electric baseball athlete, and the bat has a long way to go even considering the successful pro debut in Billings. Despite the big bonus number, he doesn’t currently project as an impact player in a corner outfield spot.
The Irrelevant: While not as prodigious as the surnames Johnson, Martinez, or Bonds, Trammells have compiled 58.6 WARP between Alan and Bubba.
OFP 55— Good everyday corner outfielder
Likely 45—Good fourth outfielder
The Risks: Toolsy outfielder in rookie ball you say…hmm…yeah, he is gonna be pretty risky.
Major league ETA: 2021
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Yes if your league roster 200 prospects. Mmmmmmayyyyybe if it rosters 150 prospects. No if it rosters 100 prospects. He’s just too far away.
7. Aristides Aquino, OF
Height/Weight: 6’4” 190 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Signed January 2011 out of the Dominican Republic for $110,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .273/.327/.519, 23 HR, 11 SB in 125 games at High-A Daytona
The Good: Aquino, who has spotlighted as a name to watch in the 2016 and 2015 versions of this list, broke out this past season. His plus raw power translated in a tough hitting environment and could play at full utility with his plus bat speed and loft. His plus bat speed and quick hands help him catch up to velo and is an aggressive fastball swinger. He is also a plus runner, which is better than what his size suggests. His plus arm is accurate and plays all over the outfield.
The Bad: He is an aggressive hitter, and lacks plate discipline, and has trouble making contact. His swing has length and a big leg kick and load can disrupt his overall timing. His defense is below average at present, while he has the speed to play CF he struggles with reads and routes, leaving him to a corner outfield spot. Has a tendency to air it out and throw behind runners, allowing them to move up.
The Irrelevant: Aristides was praised by Socrates as “an exceptional instance of good leadership”. I cannot confirm if Socrates Brito agrees.
OFP 55—Above-average regular
Likely 45—Fringe/second-division starter
The Risks: Reds fans might have seen this ballad before with the likes of Yorman Rodriguez, or Jonathan Reynoso. Loud tools, struggles to make contact and lack of plate discipline. His defensive skills could make him a liability and be more of a DH. Missed most of 2015, and a year of development, with a broken ulna and radius.
Major league ETA: Late 2018 —Steve Givarz
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: I get the sense that Aquino is pretty anonymous in dynasty circles, and while he shouldn’t be a household name he’s worth paying attention to. The contact issues are scary, as The Risks portfolio reminds us with tales of prospects past, but betting on players with plus raw and plus speed in the mid-to-high minors is a sound strategy. Consider grabbing Aquino if your league rosters 175-200 minor leaguers; he’s one of the more intriguing names in that range.
8. Antonio Santillan, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’3” 240 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 49th overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, Seguin HS (Arlington, TX); signed for $1.35 million
Previous Ranking(s): #10 (Org.)
2016 Stats: 3.92 ERA, 2.51 DRA, 39 IP, 32 H, 16 BB, 46 K in 8 games at short-season Billings, 6.82 ERA, 3.99 DRA, 30.1 IP, 27 H, 24 BB, 38 K in 7 games at Low-A Dayton
The Good: Santillan looks the part of a power arm that could head a rotation, and he has two big pitches to back that up. His fastball has touched 98 in starts and can sit 94-96 with impressive life. His curveball routinely receives plus grades, with its 11/5 shape and plus depth, arriving in the low-89s. He is a tremendous athlete and has impressive strength to hold his velocity deep into games.
The Bad: Santillan struggles to throw strikes. His high-effort, crossfire delivery has been tamped down since he signed, but still has a lot of moving parts. He will lose all semblance of control at times. He lacks feel for a changeup and it is a distant third offering.
OFP 55—No. 3 Starter/Closer
Likely 45—Up/Down reliever
The Risks: He’s still a pitcher, and one that struggles to throw strikes consistently. His delivery is high-effort and he can lose it at times with the strike zone. His lack of a third pitch could consign him to the bullpen.
Major league ETA: 2019 —Steve Givarz
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Santillan basically has the default loadout for “power arm” in the low-to-mid minors. His strikeout potential and reasonable upside make him worthy of your watch list, but the probability that he’s a reliever and his distance from the Majors limit his present dynasty value.
9. Shedric Long, 2B
Height/Weight: 5’8” 180 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 375th overall in the 2013 MLB Draft, Jacksonville HS (Jacksonville, AL); signed for $100,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: .281/.371/.457, 11 HR, 16 SB in 94 games at Single-A Dayton, .322/.371/.503, 4 HR, 5 SB in 38 games at High-A Daytona
The Good: As much as we’d like to see an 70-speed catcher in the majors, it isn’t a surprise Long moved out into the infield. What might be a surprise is the pop he found in 2016 in rather unfriendly hitting environments. He has above-average bat speed and average raw power. That’s impressive from a dude his size, and useful at an up the middle spot. Oh yeah, and he’s got top-of-the-scale speed. Because of the weird development path, there is positive risk in the profile. This could very well be the start of a breakout.
The Bad: The swing is noisy and long, and the hit tool may play to below-average at higher levels, limiting the in-game power. As a converted catcher, Long is…well, built like a catcher. The speed is plus-plus, but the other athletic tools are fringy, so he’s not as good a defender as you might think at second, although he should be fine there. He’s still figuring out how to turn his speed into a weapon on the bases.
The Irrelevant: The single-season record for steals as a catcher is 36, set by the Royals John Wathan in 1982.
OFP 50—Average second baseman
Likely 40—Useful utility infielder
The Risks: I like to say that unusual prospects carry unusual risks, and Long is certainly an unusual prospect, but this risk profile is rather usual. The hit tool will need to allow the burgeoning raw power to play in games, or he will only be a speedy bench option with some pop.
Major league ETA: Late 2018
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: At the risk of repeating myself, Long is another one for the watch list. His speed and relative proximity to the majors make him interesting, but the odds are too great for us to get excited yet. But if you want to argue “speed, though,” well, I’d listen.
10. Ian Kahaloa, RHP
Height/Weight: 6’1” 185 lbs.
Drafted/Acquired: Drafted 145th overall in the 2015 MLB Draft, Campbell HS (Ewa Beach, HI); signed for $300,000
Previous Ranking(s): N/A
2016 Stats: 0.00 ERA, 2.77 DRA, 8 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 10 K in 2 games at AZL Complex, 2.82 ERA, 2.74 DRA, 44.2 IP, 38 H, 13 BB, 42 K in 10 games at short-season Billings
The Good: Kahaloa has an advanced feel for pitching, throwing three pitches for strikes. His fastball is 92-94 and can touch 96 in games with above-average run. His slider has power break and depth and can be an above-average offering down the line. He has feel for a change and it shows similar action to his fastball and could be an average offering.
The Bad: He doesn’t have ideal size for a starter, as he lacks downhill plane and extension on his pitches. His changeup is mostly projection right now, and his command is behind his control with his fastball. Has only played at short-season thus far. He has had various injuries through his career, including an issue with his elbow that lowered his signing bonus. He missed most of spring training with an oblique injury, and left his last start of the year with a forearm issue.
The Irrelevant: The best Hawaiian pitcher of all-time was Sid Fernandez, who accumulated 47.3 WARP, mostly with the 1980s Mets.
OFP 50—Back-end starter/setup man
Likely 40—low-leverage reliever
The Risks: Long injury history with just two years under his belt, he also lacks ideal size for a rotation and might not hold up taking the ball every fifth day. He currently has only played in short-season ball and needs to be tested at higher levels. Not only is he a pitcher, he is a high school pitcher.
Major league ETA: 2020
Ben Carsley’s Fantasy Take: Far from the majors with a low ceiling and a medical history. Sign me up!
Others of note:
The guy who needs to hit some more
Calten Daal, SS/2B
Dall missed significant time with a right shoulder strain in 2016, but when he was on the field it was more of the same from the speedy middle infielder. It’s 20 power—Daal has hit two home runs and 20 doubles in almost 1000 pro plate appearances—but he can hit a bit, run a bit, and play both middle infield positions. It’s likely a utility profile, but if there was actually offensive progress made in 2016, he might be able to carve out a career as an 8-hole hitter on a second-division team. That sounds like a damning with faint praise, but it isn’t, we swear.
The hard-throwing Italians
Sal Romano, RHP
Nick Travieso, RHP
A pair of 22-year-olds with plus fastballs and shots to fit into the back of a major league rotation, the question for both is if the command profiles will improve enough for them to start. Travieso continued to struggle with that part in 2016, and his overall stuff has taken a step backwards since he was the 14th overall pick in 2012. Romano—a 23rd round pick a year earlier—has leapfrogged him this year on the back of a fastball he can run up to 97, a solid curve, and improving command. He is a big human with a big heater. Another year of refinement will make him an easy top ten selection and give me more confidence he is a long term major league starter. For now, let’s also call him #11.
The park factor of note
Phil Ervin, OF
Much like hoping a movie didn’t give everything away in the trailer, you wonder if Phillip Ervin could live up to the expectations he set in his rookie season. The outfielder still struggles to hit for average but posted a .312 TAv and .761 OPS in his second tour of the Southern League, both among the best at the level. Though he’ll have to work to push his hit tool to average, the former first-rounder still offers an intriguing mix of power and speed. The latter contributed to a career-high 36 stolen bases but doesn’t translate to center field. As for the former, it’s worth noting his incredibly lopsided home-road splits. With the left field fences in Pensacola pushed back from 325 to 342 feet, the pull hitter was a victim of his home park—he hit .191/.348/.312 in Pensacola and .282/.376/.477 everywhere else. There may be room for improvement at Triple-A Louisville; at the moment, he’s a fourth outfielder with a chance for something more. —Kourage Kundahl
Tyler Mahle, RHP
More of a steady player than a sexy player, Mahle nonetheless could be a solid contributor in the not too distant future. He lacks remaining projection at this point but his fastball should be an above-average offering at peak. His arsenal plays up because of his ability to pound the zone, and place his fastball where he wants it. His slider shows the most promise of his secondaries and could be a bat-misser at the highest level. —Steve Givarz
The consistently inconsistent
Keury Mella, RHP
Acquired in the 2015 deadline for Mike Leake, Mella has showcased potential, but struggled to put it all together consistently. His fastball and slider will both show above-average grades on a good day, but he has struggled to miss bats and barrels thus far. His fastball has above-average movement and can be tough to control for him at times. His stuff doesn't translate as well in a bullpen if he isn't throwing strikes, so he needs to gain some more consistency before re-cementing his top 10 status. —Steve Givarz
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/91 or later)
- Nick Senzel
- Eugenio Suarez
- Amir Garrett
- Jesse Winker
- Brandon Finnegan
- Cody Reed
- Robert Stephenson
- Michael Lorenzen
- Jose Peraza
- Dilson Herrera
It’s not too thrilling, is it? The exciting guys–Senzel, Garrett, maybe Winker–already got coverage by Jeff and co. above. The rest of the bunch feel, well, pretty Cincinnati. The Reds have somehow fallen out of the national baseball conversation over the last few years–just ask Ben and Sam–by producing perfectly good ballplayers and trading them other teams for average-ish returns as part of a drawn-out pseudo-rebuild. Something is keeping this team from going whole-hog into a Phillies-and-Braves-style rebuild, for better or for worse. Jay Bruce is gone ahead of free agency, but what about Zack Cozart? Could a Billy Hamilton deal finally bring back the sort of impact prospect they haven’t had since the Mat Latos trade? While sometimes it makes sense to bet big on a mediocre core that could shine with a few lucky breaks, it feels as if this Reds team requires a few lucky breaks just to break even, never mind having to share a division with Chicago and St. Louis. Let’s hope for 85 wins next year! Blah.
The top talents 25-and-under for this team also seem mediocre; this isn’t a squad with some transcendent talent or even someone to peg as a future four-win contributor in the bunch. It’s a group led by a steady hand in the infield, possessed of a few interesting pitching contributors, and culminating in a couple of guys who could top out as average up-the-middle dudes or bottom out as fringe big-leaguers.
Eugenio Suarez was the return for Alfredo Simon heading to Detroit, a brilliant deal for Cincy that has worked out just swimmingly. (For the Reds, at least. The Tigers … not so much.) Although Suarez teased All-Star-level performance back in a partial season in 2015, his 2016 performance reflected the work of a ho-hum average big-league infielder. This is definitely not damning with faint praise, this is a legitimate plaudit for a third baseman with pop and circumstance (read: power and a little versatility). He’s not a chased-by-chainsaw-wielding-lions nightmare, and he’s not the incredible dream of flying over the Grand Canyon while winning a Nobel Prize. He’s a good, restful night’s sleep … something we all need and perhaps don’t value as much as we should.
Then there’s the brace of remaining Reds lefties who came back as part of the Johnny Cueto trade. (Bon voyage, John Lamb!) Brandon Finnegan was supposed to be the headliner highlight of that deal, and I guess he still is, but when you trade away a pitcher like Johnny Cueto for three lefties, you must hope you’re getting a least a No. 3 starter back. Finnegan could still get there, but there’s still work to be done. He was the most present Reds starter last season–he made 31 starts among the dross and maybes that was the team’s young-and-unproven 2016 crop of starters–but he was hardly the best. His 5.43 DRA made for a below-replacement pitcher, despite his below-4.00 ERA, and there were far, far too many fly balls for anyone to be comfortable. Cody Reed on the other hand, had the opposite problem: his ERA was atrocious (7.36), but his DRA was delicious (3.93). By the metric that best predicts future performance, he was above-average in his 10 starts, but in the metric that best predicts another shot in the majors … not so good.
Michael Lorenzen checks in next, and may be better known as the best part of an incredibly shoddy Reds bullpen last year. (Sorry, Rasiel Iglesias!) Recently converted from starting, Lorenzen looked like a dollar-store ripoff of Mark Melancon from a performance perspective: his 64 percent ground ball rate was great, and he struck out almost a batter per inning to match up with that. Homers were a bit of a problem–when he allowed a fly ball, it left the park almost one-fourth of the time–but he appears to be a solid setup arm so long as his mid-90s cutter and sinker hold up over the long haul.
Then there’s the curious cases of Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera, both likely blocked at their best position–second base–by Ohio institution Brandon Phillips. While Dat Dude is still enough of a defensive force and veteran presence to stave off these two youngsters, both stand a chance at becoming a productive regular once BP finally moves along or accepts a trade elsewhere. Peraza’s more likely to shine in a super-utility role given his speed and nascent versatility, but Herrera’s got the more advanced offensive skills. Certainly, neither is the type of foundational up-the-middle-player that you’d build a team around, but one could imagine a world where Herrera is an effective role-50 second baseman with offensive upside and where Peraza is the type of super-utility player that managers love and statheads prefer to Kris Negron-esque can’t-hit-a-lick alternatives. If you prefer them to the present-reliever value of Lorenzen above, well, that’s pretty reasonable, too. They’re not sexy profiles—especially as the returns for long-time Reds sluggers like Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce—but hey, this is Cincinnati: a well-documented medium place for medium persons.