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Last year's Reds list

The Top Ten

  1. RHP Robert Stephenson
  2. OF Jesse Winker
  3. RHP Michael Lorenzen
  4. OF Yorman Rodriguez
  5. RHP Nick Howard
  6. SS Alex Blandino
  7. RHP Ben Lively
  8. RHP Nick Travieso
  9. OF Phil Ervin
  10. 3B Gavin LaValley

1. Robert Stephenson
Position: RHP
DOB: 02/24/1993
Height/Weight: 6’2” 190 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2011 draft, Alhambra HS (Martinez, CA)
Previous Ranking: #1 (Org), #22 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: 4.74 ERA (136.2, 114 H, 140 K, 74 BB) at Double-A Pensacola
The Tools: 7+ potential FB; 7 potential CB; 5+ potential CH

What Happened in 2014: Stephenson had an uneven first run at the Southern League but continues to show swing-and-miss stuff while retaining further projection in body and stuff.

Strengths: Athletic and projectable; loose and easy power arm; solid extension; generates torque through upper/lower-half separation; fastball already plays to double plus; operates comfortably in the mid-90s velocity band and regularly flirts in the upper 90s; hard curve with utility in and out of zone; sharp bite with plus-plus potential at maturity; changeup will flash; easy arm and athleticism give foundation for solid control and command; competitive; attack mentality on the bump with aggressive approach; already showing loud stuff with room for additional growth across the board.

Weaknesses: Yet to transition from thrower to pitcher; adversity too often met with “grip and rip” mentality; needs to work to unpack the craft and become less predictable, particularly with runners on or when struggling; control took a step back at Double-A with fewer bats chasing and Stephenson overthrowing when behind; changeup still budding, and can come deliberate and firm; needs off-speed to effectively neutralize righty bats, especially if command doesn’t fully manifest.

Overall Future Potential: 7; no. 2 starter

Realistic Role: 6; no. 3 starter with shutdown closer fallback

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; limited success at Double-A; overall refinement required

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s no questioning the potential in Stephenson, as it’s among the highest in the minors, but his 2014 showed what the shortfalls could be in his fantasy profile—and they could take a big hit out of his value. The strikeouts are fantastic, and he could whiff 200 over a full year, but just look at 2014 Zack Wheeler who struck out more than a batter per inning, but walked 79 en route to a 1.33 WHIP and a 65th place ranking among starting pitchers in mixed leagues. And like Wheeler, he can take that next step forward to be a high-end SP2.

The Year Ahead: Stephenson survived the year at Double-A Pensacola, but in the process showed there is work to be done before tackling the next set of developmental challenges. Almost all of the righty’s issues can be traced back to a propensity to try to throw through his on-field obstacles, rather than negotiate them via more precise execution of his craft. The fastball-curve combo has the potential to miss bats at every level, but in order to fully tap into that potential, Stephenson is going to have to rein things in and place a higher premium on spotting and execution. It’s dangerous to scout the stat line when putting together a prospect profile, but in Stephenson’s case, last year’s numbers point to a profile confirmed by reports: struggles maintaining a handle on his power arsenal, lack of a present weapon against right-handed bats, and discomfort operating with runners on. While his problems caused evaluators in and out of the organization to pump their brakes, the road to major-league impact is still wide open for the former first rounder thanks to an impressive arsenal. Stephenson has the athleticism, projectable strength, and body control to grow into a solid command profile, and an enticing bit of room left in projecting his secondaries. It’s likely he starts 2015 back in Double-A and remains on track to debut in Cincinnati at some point in the next two years with an eye to assuming Opening Day duties in the not-to-distant future.

Major league ETA: 2015

2. Jesse Winker
Position: OF
DOB: 08/17/1993
Height/Weight: 6’2” 210 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012 draft, Olympia HS (Olympia, FL)
Previous Ranking: #5 (Org)
2014 Stats: .208/.326/.351 at Double-A Pensacola (21 games), .317/.426/.580 at High-A Bakersfield (53 games)
The Tools: 6 potential hit; 5+ potential power; 5 run; 5 potential glove

What Happened in 2014: After raking his way through 53 California League games, the former sandwich pick was promoted to Double-A Pensacola where his season was cut short after a car accident left him with a partially torn tendon in his right wrist.

Strengths: Natural hitter; efficient barrel delivery with easy extension through contact; capable of squaring up with regularity across the quadrants; solid plate coverage; advanced approach; comfort hitting in all counts; can spray line to line; good present strength; power could play above average thanks to regular hard contact and some natural loft; capable defender in a corner; solid feel across his game; good makeup and positive presence on the field and in the locker room.

Weaknesses: Average at best athleticism; below-average runner; arm plays fringe average; likely limited to left field; can expand zone some away when down in count; some issue with quality spin; pitch identification could limit impact of natural bat-to-ball ability and strike-zone command; power derivation skewed slightly to strength over bat speed, enhancing risk profile associated with pitch identification.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division regular

Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; limited exposure to Double-A; danger hit utility drops at upper levels; 2014 checkered with injuries, including early-season concussion and partially torn tendon in right wrist

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It’s easy to overlook the guy whose hit tool is his strongest in fantasy, but like your parents always told you, just because it’s easy doesn’t make it right. Winker could be a points league darling, who hits .290 with 20-plus homers (especially in that park)—and even without much speed to speak of, it’s a solid OF2 profile.

The Year Ahead: Winker is an interesting case study, with a feel for the barrel that sticks out at the lower levels but may play down some once exposed to more advanced arms. The combination of less-than-impactful bat speed and some issues with identifying the soft stuff have led to slightly higher whiff rates than you’d expect from a player with an advanced approach and a comfortable and loving relationship with the strike zone. As Winker is more regularly challenged with pitchers wielding quality secondaries and displaying more precision with their arsenal, there is a chance the strikeout rate increases to the point it starts to eat into the hit-tool production (and transitively the power production). The same, Winker has displayed a strong work ethic at the professional level, and there is little doubt he will put in the requisite time and effort to continue making adjustments as he progresses towards Cincy. This season should find him back in Double-A, hopefully fully healthy, and ready to make his first earnest run at the upper levels. The upside is a solid number two or three bat that won’t be a drain in the field, and he should hit enough in any event to be a regular producer at the major-league level even if it happens to be a bit further down the lineup card.

Major league ETA: 2016

3. Michael Lorenzen
Position: RHP
DOB: 01/04/1992
Height/Weight: 6’3” 180 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2013 draft, California State University Fullerton (Fullerton, CA)
Previous Ranking: #8 (Org)
2014 Stats: 3.13 ERA (120.2 IP, 112 H, 84 K, 44 BB) at Double-A Pensacola
The Tools: 6+ potential FB; 5+ potential SL; 6 potential CH

What Happened in 2014: The former Fullerton Titan completed his first full season as a starter, logging 120.2 innings and dealing power stuff along the way before fading noticeably through the second half.

Strengths: Top-shelf arm strength; fastball capable of reaching the upper 90s up in the zone; operates comfortably 91 to 94 mph and can mix two- and four-seam looks to miss barrels; works effectively at the base of the zone; impressive comfort with changeup; will flash good fade and late drop; weapon against lefties; slider shows plus potential thanks to release and plane deception with fastball; can be tough to pick up with tilt and bite to draw empty swings; can drop a “show me” curve with 12-to-6 action to keep bats off plane; excellent athlete with firm physique; improved consistency in mechanics; command projects; intense competitor; mental fortitude to close if shifted back to relief.

Weaknesses: Faded significantly down the stretch; stuff tends to decrease over the course of a start; best fit may be in pen where fastball and slider would both play up in shorter stints; changeup still a work in progress, with misfires often up and over the plate; can overthrow, particularly when working behind; still learning to pace through starts and season; lacks present durability and endurance to weather full season as a starter; arsenal consistently played a full grade lower late in season, and a half grade lower through later innings.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; needs to build up endurance for starter’s slog; precipitous drop in quality stuff across innings/starts; safe bet to contribute in some form.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Lorenzen has a little too much bullpen risk to be a top-50 fantasy prospect, despite his proximity—which is a strange thing to say given that in a vacuum he has more fantasy potential in the bullpen than in the rotation. As a starter, he could look quite similar to 2014 Mike Leake on the stat page, contributing across the board without being dominant anywhere.

The Year Ahead: It was a hugely successful summer for the one-time two-way standout, as Lorenzen showed he could hold his own in a starter capacity while sprinkling in flashes of dominance. The big question is whether the strong-armed righty will be able to build up the arm and the body to the point where he is consistently delivering a power arsenal later into his starts, and more importantly later in the season. If a more conservative pacing causes the stuff to tick down, then this profile moves closer to a solid number four starter with three potential above-average offerings but not enough snap, crackle, and pop to be a true impact arm. At that point, it is likely team need would determine whether Lorenzen is more valuable as a solid contributor in the rotation, or a true shut-down arm in the pen, where the fastball and slider could both play to double plus in short bursts. Lorenzen could start back in Double-A with a more deliberate approach to his pacing and a chance to finish the level off on a strong note before continuing his ascent.

Major league ETA: 2016

4. Yorman Rodriguez
Position: OF
DOB: 08/15/1992
Height/Weight: 6’3” 197 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International Free Agent, 2008, Venezuela
Previous Ranking: #4 (Org)
2014 Stats: .222/.276/.222 at major league level (11 games), .262/.331/.389 at Double-A Pensacola (119 games)
The Tools: 6+ potential power; 6 run; 7 arm; 5+ potential glove

What Happened in 2014: Rodriguez made a brief debut in Cincinnati after putting together a solid Southern League showing over 119 games with Pensacola.

Strengths: Strength and athleticism; quality glove, plus speed, and plus-plus arm complete impressive defensive foundation for center or right; closes well; arm comes with accuracy and smooth release; loose hands and whippy bat; raw power displays about double plus; quick twitch with some natural lift and carry; solid feel for strike zone; improving approach and ability to make in-game adjustments.

Weaknesses: Reads and routes still a work in progress; some hitch and length to swing; susceptible to mature sequencing; can be led out of the zone up top and away; could rack up empty swings against major-league arms; in-game power could play down due to inconsistencies in lower-half weight transfer and merely average barrel control; second-gear runner with slight ramp-up delay.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division regular

Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; hit utility has potential to eat into value at major-league level; solid but unspectacular Double-A performance.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The power and speed are appealing as his natural tools whisper 20/20, but he’s far riskier than a prospect with a full season of upper-minors experience (and an MLB cup of coffee) should be. He’s likely to give the type of roto value we’ve seen from Danny Espinosa (both the good and bad), but without the middle infield eligibility.

The Year Ahead: Rodriguez remains an interesting upside play, with the requisite physicality and athleticism to allow for some dream and daring in projection. Despite quality bat speed and big raw power buoying the offensive profile, there is a fair amount of risk anchored to the right-swinging outfielder as well. The swing violence, while producing impactful contact, limits Rodriguez’s barrel control and, when paired with strike-zone restraint that can fray at the margins both up and out, forms a dangerous combination that could be regularly exploited by major-league arms. While Rodriguez has shown an improved ability to make in-game adjustments, it remains likely that robust strike out totals will be a fixture in his major-league game. That won’t in and of itself sink him, but any significant struggles to make regular hard contact could limit the overall upside in the offensive profile, with added negative impact if a full-time switch to right occurs and a larger slice of the “value pie” is tied to the stick. Rodriguez would benefit from a stint in Louisville to start 2015, where the Venezuelan product could continue to log reps against advanced minor-league competition in the hopes of making the incremental progress necessary, both in the field and at the plate, to bridge the gap between present skill set and the proficiency required to contribute on the games brightest stage.

Major league ETA: 2016

5. Nick Howard
Position: RHP
DOB: 04/06/1993
Height/Weight: 6’3” 215 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2014 draft, University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: 3.74 ERA (33.2 IP, 28 H, 23 K, 11 BB) at Low-A Dayton
The Tools: 6+ potential FB; 6 potential SL; 5+ potential CB

What Happened in 2014: The Wahoo closer helped push UVA to its first ever College World Series Finals appearance before logging 54 professional innings between the Midwest League and Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Power arm; fastball can reach as high as 98 mph in relief; could sit comfortably in 92-94 mph velocity band as a starter; works both sides of the plate effectively; slider and curve show distinct shape and action; low- to mid-80s slide piece comes with tilt and can be true swing-and-miss offering; 11-to-5 curve gives solid vertical look with depth and bite; changeup progressing and could be average in time; good balance throughout motion; hint of crossfire; sturdy build; short circle and quick arm helps ball to jump on hitters.

Weaknesses: Needs to build up stamina and arm to hold quality of stuff and control/command across starter’s load; can slow arm with curve and change; will occasionally flash “hooked” wrist on the backside with curve; fastball-reliant working inner half against same-side bats; lacks effective weapon to handle lefties; stuff was slightly down in pro debut after long season.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; yet to complete full pro season; conversion to starter still theoretical.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Howard, given his usage at UVA, is going to take some time to build up to a true starter’s workload even if the conversion is successful. This places a strain on his fantasy value, given the extension of his ETA. Without high-end starter potential, Howard is someone who should not be targeted in the first two rounds of dynasty drafts this year.

The Year Ahead: As was the case with Lorenzen, the Reds popped Howard in the draft with the intent to transition the college closer to a pro rotation. Howard shares a number of similarities with Lorenzen, including big velocity, sturdy build, a power breaking ball, and solid athleticism, providing on-the-surface comfort that there is a firm foundation from which to build up a quality pro starting pitcher. Howard comes with the additional advantage of having some experience starting in the past, though he has further to go in developing a quality off-speed pitch with which to disrupt timing and help set up the plus or better heater. At the outset next year, the curve should give Howard a reprieve from lower-level bats sitting on the fastball-slider velo and plane, but he will need to find a workable off-speed to consistently turn over lineups at the upper levels. Perhaps more importantly, the former Cavalier needs to find a pitch to help neutralize lefty bats if he’s to prove effective over multiple innings. Virginia’s deep run in the collegiate playoffs ate into Howard’s time in pro ball, though the righty was able to get some work in during the AFL pushing him above 90 in-game innings for the calendar year. He’s advanced enough to start 2015 in High-A, with hopes that he can follow in Lorenzen’s footsteps in reaching 120 or so innings and perhaps a promotion to Double-A by year end. Again, like Lorenzen, there is late-inning potential in the arm should Howard shift back to the pen at some point.

Major league ETA: 2017

6. Alex Blandino
Position: SS
DOB: 11/06/1992
Height/Weight: 6’0” 190 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2014 draft, Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: .261/.329/.440 at Low-A Dayton (34 games), .309/.412/.527 at short-season Billings (29 games)
The Tools: 5+ potential hit; 5 potential power; 5+ potential glove; 5+ arm

What Happened in 2014: Blandino rode a strong 2013 summer performance on the Cape to a prominent place on follow lists, and a better-than-the-stats-show spring to selection in the back of the first round in June’s draft.

Strengths: Compact swing produces regular loud contact across the diamond; has shown the ability to drop the barrel and drive the ball with wood; solid approach at present with ability to work deep into counts; good balance at the plate and quick wrists; very good with the glove; lower half works well and sets up above-average arm; throws play from all the angles and on the run; solid first step and clean actions help profile to play across three skill spots on the dirt in spite of fringy foot speed; chance to handle short and glove could play above average at both third and second base.

Weaknesses: Below-average run; over-the-fence power is not natural part of game, so he’ll need to learn when to look for pitches to try and drive; questions as to ultimate power output; hands can get too low in load, leading to coverage issues on inner half; can be beat with velocity up in the zone; at times too passive early in count; limited range; doubts as to long-term fit at shortstop, placing added pressure on offensive development.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division regular

Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; yet to reach High-A

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Another prospect on this list far more suited to points leagues, Blandino should be the first Red taken in dynasty drafts this winter—though he’s a better use of a pick in deeper mixed leagues. The governor on his tools means he’s not likely to be a consistent top-ten performer at whatever position he ends up at, but could have Asdrubal Cabrera-type value (minus the fluky power season).

The Year Ahead: Blandino impressed pro evaluators with his actions at shortstop over a limited look this summer, showing enough aptitude to keep hope alive that that he could stick at the six-spot through at least the start of his pro career. With a good feel for contact and advanced approach, the Stanford product proved far too advanced for the Pioneer League, and was bumped up to Low-A Dayton where he showed some signs of fatigue and an uncharacteristic willingness to expand the zone. The range of possible outcomes varies widely for Blandino, which is not generally the case for a well-baked collegiate first rounder. Supporters see a first-division regular with the bat to hit at the top of a contender’s lineup and the chops to provide adequate defense at short or flash above-average leather at the hot corner or keystone. One evaluator even compared Blandino to a poor man’s Anthony Rendon, envisioning an above-average glove at third and solid arm to go with a .275/.350/.425 slash at maturity. Skeptics see a future utility player whose power will play light for third and limited range will keep him from a full time gig up-the-middle. The most realistic outcome lies somewhere in between, potentially as a solid second-base glove whose baseball IQ will make up for below-average speed on the bases and range in the field, and whose solid but unspectacular bat could provide enough gap-to-gap pop and on-base ability to slot in as a number two hitter on a solid club. Blandino is ready to start 2015 with High-A Daytona and could move quickly depending on how he looks at short and the level of import the Reds place on his sticking there. If the bat progresses as most expect he could push his way to Cincy before long.

Major league ETA: 2016

7. Ben Lively
Position: LHP
DOB: 03/05/1992
Height/Weight: 6’4” 190 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 4th round, 2013 draft, University of Central Florida (Orlando, FL)
Previous Ranking: #7 (Org)
2014 Stats: 3.88 ERA (72 IP, 60 H, 76 K, 36 BB) at Double-A Pensacola, 2.28 ERA (79 IP, 57 H, 95 K, 16 BB) High-A Dayton
The Tools: 5+ FB; 6 potential SL; 5+ potential CH; 5 potential CB

What Happened in 2014: Lively split 2014 between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola, dominating the California League and continuing to look the part and Southern League competition.

Strengths: Strong, durable build; big time deception across arsenal; shields ball from hitter, with fastball and slider particularly difficult to pick up/differentiate; excellent balance and consistent timing; plus control and above-average command; fastball ranges comfortably 88 to 92 and reaches 94 with regularity; some arm-side run; low- to mid-80s slider capable of missing bats and barrels alike; improving feel for changeup; can flash above-average fade; mid-70s curve serves as change-of-pace offering that is most effective as a freeze pitch; can mix all four offerings; little trouble maintaining effectiveness throughout starts.

Weaknesses: Still working to make changeup a consistent weapon; can struggle to put away lefty bats when off-speed not clicking; slider will back up on him when struggling to find release; curve is a limited-use weapon and can be tracked if not properly sequenced; faded some in August; some questions as to whether effort and unorthodox delivery will allow for enough consistency in execution over course of a major-league season; fastball flattens out, particularly up in the zone; could be susceptible to the long ball if in-zone command doesn’t fully develop.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; limited exposure to Double-A

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Lively became a very popular name in dynasty leagues as the 2014 season kicked off, and frankly it’s not his fault that owners got far too excited. The right-hander isn’t a great bet to hold a ton of value in mixed leagues, as he projects for only average ratios and strikeout numbers—and that’s if he sticks as a starter.

The Year Ahead: Lively cruised through the first half of 2014, overwhelming High-A bats with four pitches that all showed major-league average or better over the course of his 13 Bakersfield starts. The transition to Double-A fell short of seamless, but the powerful righty continued to show mid-rotation potential thanks to the quality of his fastball and slider, and willingness to mix in the curve and change as needed. Any time you run into a non-traditional mechanical package you will get evaluators entrenched on either side, and Lively is no different. Critics of the arm action and effort continue to insist that Lively will struggle to establish enough command and consistency to thrive against major-league bats, fitting best in the late innings pumping his fastball and slide piece. Supporters point to Lively’s solid 150-plus innings this year and believe the steady progress he has shown in refining his four-pitch mix and overall feel bodes well for a future as a number three or four starter. Whether the former Central Florida Knight starts 2015 in Double-A or Triple-A, he is on the cusp of beginning his big-league career with a chance to debut in Cincinnati at some point next summer.

Major league ETA: 2015

8. Nick Travieso
Position: RHP
DOB: 01/31/1994
Height/Weight: 6’2” 215 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012 draft, Archbishop McCarthy HS (Southwest Ranches, FL)
Previous Ranking: On The Rise
2014 Stats: 3.03 ERA (142.2 IP, 123 H, 114 K, 44 BB) at Low-A Dayton
The Tools: 6 potential FB; 5+ potential SL; 5 potential CH

What Happened in 2014: After a disappointing 2013, Travieso took steps towards righting the ship in his second spin through the Midwest League, averaging just under six innings per start and finishing the year with nine impressive starts in which he held opponents to a .164 batting average and .048 ISO to go along with 38 strikeouts over those 51.2 innings.

Strengths: Relatively low-mileage arm; logged 142.2 innings in tough Midwest League, showing solid durability and improved stamina through starts; fastball reached the mid-90s periodically, sitting regularly in the 88 to 92 mph velocity band; slider will flash above average with short bite and tilt; shows some feel for changeup; can produce plane with the fastball; some deception, ability to hide ball; repeatable mechanics; should continue to throw strikes as he moves up the ranks.

Weaknesses: Still working to get mechanics to be second nature; deliberate in action; deep stab on back side; arm path not yet uniform and can hamper execution; slider can show below average when searching for release, with soft, slurvy action; changeup often too firm; in-zone command below average; still learning how to throw good strikes; can overthrow, leaving fastball flat and elevated; will need to stay on top of body and conditioning; fastball velocity and overall effectiveness of pitches fluctuates with regularity.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: High 4; no. 5 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; yet to reach High-A; volatility throughout profile

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s an awful lot of risk in Travieso’s fantasy profile, which places him closer in value to a short-season arm than one who spent all of 2014 in Low-A. The secondaries don’t project strongly enough to suggest that Travieso will be able to generate the kind of strikeouts mixed leaguers need at the highest level, so he’s a wait and see guy in dynasty formats.

The Year Ahead: While Travieso has not yet established himself as even a moderate risk asset, the developmental progress shown over the past twelve months has been encouraging. The former first rounder saw his stuff, and body, take a step back during his first pro season in 2013 but showed improvement on both fronts this past year. While not entirely back to where he flashed on longer rest in high school, the fastball did climb back into the mid-90s with regularity, and he was more effective in finding the strike zone with the offering, as well. Similarly, his slider has yet to realize the potential flashed pre-draft, most frequently showing short, cutter-like action, albeit with bite and tilt. The hope remains that as Travieso continues to build up pro experience and more effectively implement instruction, both pitches will consistently grade out as plus. He’ll need to make conditioning a priority in order to keep the body in check and prevent physical fluctuations that could hamper efforts to solidify his mechanical foundation. While his second trip through the Midwest League fell shy of a true breakout season, the fact that Travieso saw growth in the arsenal and showed enough durability and effectiveness to work over 140 innings was a significant step in the right direction. This season should see a High-A assignment and the potential for Travieso to firmly establish himself as an arm of interest on the prospecting scape.

Major league ETA: 2017

9. Phil Ervin
Position: OF
DOB: 07/17/1992
Height/Weight: 5’11” 190 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2013 draft, Samford University (Birmingham, AL)
Previous Ranking: #3 (Org), #63 (Top 101)
2014 Stats: .237/.305/.376 at Low-A Dayton (132 games)
The Tools: 5+ potential hit; 5 potential power; 5 potential glove; 6 arm; 5+ run

What Happened in 2014: It was a rough year all around for Ervin, as he struggled to find any rhythm in the box and found himself stumbling through a season’s worth of games at Low-A Dayton.

Strengths: Solid athleticism; strong build; chance to realize solid-average in-game power; ability to drive the ball middle in; has shown impact bat speed; at his best can stay short to contact and utilize full field; nose for the ball; routes continue to improve; arm should play in right field, with solid carry and accuracy; has shown plus foot speed underway.

Weaknesses: Can extend early, sapping power and complicating contact against spin; can get pull-happy; consistent struggles with soft stuff away; swing got upper-body centric through year, with choppy barrel delivery and limited swing plane/pitch plane overlap; slowing foot speed trending towards average; lacks physical projection; concerns injury history could negatively impact physical tools.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average major leaguer

Realistic Role: High 4; below-average major leaguer/4th outfielder

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; significant struggles at Low-A; robust injury history in file.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Buying low on Ervin is not a bad idea right about now, as his miserable 2014 season is far more fresh in fantasy owners’ heads than his strong pre-draft profile. It’s still possible that Ervin develops into a .275 hitter with 15/15 potential, but that “safe college bat” tag is long gone.

The Year Ahead: Ervin’s assignment to Low-A Dayton in 2014, after he cruised through a quick 12-game stint to close 2013, was intended to ease the former first rounder into the year after he underwent surgery on his wrist during the offseason. While wrist injuries can often linger, the extent to which Ervin looked lost was shocking. In his pro debut the Samford product stood out for his contact-oriented approach, compact swing, bat speed, and ability to make loud contact across the zone. To a T, these attributes abandoned the former Cape Cod MVP, as his 2014 swing came with early extension and pull-side heave, slowing the barrel through the zone and limiting his ability to adequately cover the plate. The hope is that an offseason’s worth of rest and continued strengthening of the wrist will see Ervin return to his pre-surgery form, when the first rounder looked the part of potential impact bat capable of wielding above-average hit and power tools. Outside of the box, Ervin appeared to slow some this past year, with many viewing him as a lock for right field as early as 2015, putting even more pressure on the bat coming around. There is still an impact player buried in the profile, but the struggles were severe enough in Dayton that he could be approaching make-or-break territory despite having just 762 pro plate appearances to his name. A hot start next year would go a long way towards getting evaluators to shrug off 2014 as a developmental hiccup, and putting Ervin back on developmental track.

Major league ETA: 2018

10. Gavin LaValley
Position: 3B
DOB: 12/28/1994
Height/Weight: 6’3” 235 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 4th round, 2014 draft, Carl Albert HS (Midwest City, OK)
Previous Ranking: NA
2014 Stats: .190/.227/333 at short-season Billings (5 games), .286/.374/.439 at complex level GCL (54 games)
The Tools: 6 potential power; 5 potential hit

What Happened in 2014: LaValley mashed his way through Oklahoma high school ball, hitting 18 home runs and finishing with 54 career dingers at the prep ranks. He was popped in the fourth round by the Reds, showing well in his pro debut.

Strengths: Big strength, massive size; plus or better raw power; will flash snap in the wrists; solid strike-zone awareness; highly confident in attacking ball across zone; oppo-capable, with willingness to let the ball travel; easy lift in swing; moves well in field, considering size; some projection remains via firming of physique; impact potential at the plate.

Weaknesses: Limited reps against advanced competition; power is strength-derived; bat speed can fluctuate due to inconsistent weight transfer; body soft at present; will shift to first base; value tied exclusively to the bat; could struggle with velocity, particularly on the hands; swing can get uphill; doesn’t backspin naturally, limiting carry; can get front-of-center, putting onus on arms and upper body; needs to better incorporate core in swing; well below-average run.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average major leaguer

Realistic Role: High 4; bench bat

Risk Factor/Injury History: High; yet to reach full-season ball; significant questions due to limited competition as amateur.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It’s no secret that this type of profile—big power potential bat with very little defensive value—is attractive in fantasy, but LaValley is still a long ways away from being someone owned across most dynasty formats. He’s a fun flier if your league rosters 300-plus minor leaguers, but that’s about it.

The Year Ahead: There is no mistaking LaValley’s carrying tool, as he is capable of putting big-time power on display regularly during batting practice and showed some in-game ability as well during his brief pro debut. There is a fair amount of work to do in growing the offensive profile, including cleaning up the weight transfer and adding efficiency to the swing, but it’s a testament to his overall feel that LaValley was able to step right into complex ball and thrive in spite of the limited competition he faced during his prep years. Though he logged time exclusively at the hot corner in 2014, his future home is across the diamond where he should move well enough to hold his own. There is a lot of risk inherent in the profile given the limited weapons and lack of evaluative history, but if the power plays it has the chance to be impactful. He’ll turn 20 this winter, so there is some urgency in getting him moving through the minors, with the Reds ideally starting him off in the Midwest League in 2015 provided his showings in camp indicate he is up to the challenge. It’s a high bust potential, but it comes with the chance for a very loud boom.

Major league ETA: 2019

Notable Omission: RHP Raisel Iglesias: Due to his pro resume, age, and proximity to majors, Iglesias was not considered a prospect for purposes of these rankings, but is a noteworthy addition to the Reds organization that would have ranked easily in the top five of the above list. His bread and butter is a hard low- to mid-90s heater, which he compliments with multi-look breakers and an improving changeup that will flash some late drop. Iglesias comes with some deception and shifting arm slot that ranges from almost true sidearm to high three-quarters, depending on the pitch and the shape he’s reaching for. He delivers a lively fastball, showing the ability to throw it to both sides of the plate while possessing a true slider with wipeout action and a hard 11-to-5 curve out of a high release. The Reds have indicated they believe he can start, but the general take outside of the organization is that he is a likely late-inning arm, due to his 5-foot-11, 170 pound frame and questionable command profile. Regardless of ultimate role, he could provide innings for the Reds as early as this summer.

Prospects on the Rise:

1. LHP Amir Garrett: With basketball firmly in the rear-view, Garrett took a nice step forward in 2014, logging 133 innings in the Midwest League while showcasing a plus fastball and improving slider. The lefty has size and arm strength, and has shown some aptitude on the bump, but his secondaries remain a work in progress. Garrett struggles to find consistency with the slider, leading to frequent misses in and out of the zone, and the changeup is very much in the nascent stages, lacking much in the way of deception or action. Because of his two-sport past, the fact that Garrett was able to make his way through 27 starts is encouraging, likely buying him at least another year’s worth of rotation work where he’ll need to start showing a little more feel. The upside is a mid-rotation arm, but he’s a long way off at present and could be a better fit coming out of the pen and letting it fly.

2. OF Aristides Aquino: In his second year stateside, Aquino impressed over 71 Pioneer League games with Billings, showing good raw power out of a leveraged swing, and a decent feel for contact. The Dominican outfielder continues to add strength to a projectable frame, and could settle in as a true middle-of-the-order power threat if he is able to hone his approach. Progress was made in that department in 2014, with Aquino doing a better job of laying off soft stuff, but the true test will come when he is faced with more advanced spin. He is capable in right field and has the athleticism to grow into an average or better defender at maturity with continued reps and work. A strong 2015 showing could see Aquino’s stock take off, and rocket him firmly into the Top 10 by this time next year.

3. OF Sebastian Elizalde: Elizalde logged 300 Mexican League at-bats over parts of four seasons before being inked by the Reds in 2013 and immediately undergoing Tommy John surgery. He debuted in the system this past summer, splitting time between Low-A Dayton and High-A Bakersfield, impressing at both stops. The lefty bat is well put together, bringing a solid approach to the plate with natural loft and lift in his swing that generates surprising raw power and allows him to drive the ball from oppo-gap to pull-side line. There’s a strong enough feel for the barrel that his hit and in-game pop could both grade to average in spite of a bat path that can get uphill and limit contact opportunities across certain sections of the zone. Elizalde struggles with same-side stuff at present, and in particular soft stuff away. In order for the hit tool to play up, and for the power to fully manifest, he’ll need to improve upon his plate coverage and pitch identification, and even then the swing could make him a specific-zone hitter that needs to pick his spots to drive. He shows solid breaks, above-average speed, and a reliable, accurate arm in the outfield, giving him a chance to log time across the grass depending on team needs. There’s interesting upside here, and a 2015 Double-A assignment for the 23-year-old should provide a better indicator as to just how good this bat might be. It’s a low probability profile, but he showed enough this summer and fall to warrant close attention next year.

Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2015)

1. RHP Daniel Corcino: Corcino held his own during a brief stint in Cincy this summer, but continues to run into bouts of wildness, lessening the effectiveness of his heavy upper-80s to low-90s fastball and average slider. Though the righty has spent the bulk of his career in the rotation, he fits best as a sinker/slider relief arm capable of handling the seventh or eighth inning depending on his ability to rein in his command and limit free passes. When he is clicking and hitting his release, his sinker comes with solid bore, making him tough to lift, with an average slider leading to further soft contact thanks to some plane deception. He could be an asset in the pen next year, and may still get a shot to break into the rotation if he shows some improved feel come spring.

2. C Tucker Barnhart: It’s not exciting, but Barnhart will provide useful innings at the major-league level in a back-up capacity, and some evaluators still give him a shot at hitting just enough for the profile to play as a second-division starter. Make no mistake, the value is in the glove and the arm, with a defensive package that will add positive value when called upon, including limiting the running game and providing a dependable backstop capable of handling a diverse staff. He got a taste of the bigs this past year, and should enter the spring with a chance to break camp as the backup for 2014 breakout Devin Mesoraco.

3. LHP Ismael Guillon: Guillon comes with a big fastball that could play up in relief, perhaps as “up” as the mid-90s with arm-side life. His changeup is a swing-and-miss pitch that comes with disappearing action and good deception, giving him a one-two punch capable of neutralizing lefties and righties alike. The breaking ball is inconsistent, but has its moments, providing a third potential major-league caliber weapon. Guillon is running out of options, which could force Cincy to shift him to the pen in spite of a foundation that could allow for starter development in time. If that shift to the pen does come, he could move quickly to Cincy where the Venezuelan could eventually grow into a late-inning option.

Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/89 or later)

  1. Robert Stephenson
  2. Billy Hamilton
  3. Jesse Winker
  4. Michael Lorenzen
  5. Tony Cingrani
  6. Raisel Iglesias
  7. Yorman Rodriguez
  8. Nick Howard
  9. Alex Blandino
  10. Ben Lively

Entering 2014, Cincinnati had won 90 plus games in three of the previous four seasons. There was plenty of reason for optimism in Southwest Ohio, but the team ended up limping to the finish line with a 76-86 record. The Reds farm system didn't fare much better this season.

The biggest change in these rankings was Billy Hamilton graduating from the prospect ranks. Hamilton established himself as a big leaguer, but questions about the utility of his bat remain. Hamilton now boasts a .254/.297/.359 career MLB slash line. Even his speed hasn't played as well as hoped on the base paths, where he led the majors with 23 caught stealing and a below league average 70.9% steal rate. Robert Stephenson ranked ahead of Hamilton entering 2014 and Stephenson is still the team’s top under-25 talent. Yet the arrow is trending sideways there as well, as the big right-hander struggled at Double-A. Stephenson and Hamilton are likely the only 25U players with significant impact potential in this system.

One player who was expected to have an impact in 2014 was Tony Cingrani. Of course, that didn't happen and he missed a large chunk of the season with discomfort in his throwing shoulder. It’s unclear in what capacity Cingrani will be able to contribute following his health and performance setbacks, but it’s possible this pushes the southpaw to relief work going forward. Cuban import Raisel Iglesias is a wildcard for 2015 and may end up filling a similar role for the Reds. The right-hander will be 25 next season and can potentially help the big league club relatively quickly. He was impressive in limited action in the Arizona Fall League, holding opposing hitters to just one hit and three walks while striking out seven of his 24 batters faced. Like Lorenzen, Howard, and Cingrani, the organization prefers to keep Iglesias in the rotation for as long as he’s able, and like that trio he has the stuff and makeup to handle high-leverage innings out of the pen if that is where he ends up.

The back end of the list is composed of recent draftees with slightly longer developmental curves. Drafted 19th overall out of Virginia, Nick Howard’s stock has been on a steep incline since last summer, and both Alex Blandino (2014 supplemental first rounder) and Ben Lively (2013 fourth rounder) look like nice finds for the Reds amateur scouting department.

The Reds still have a strong, relatively young core of talent that can compete in 2015, but there are enough questions at the major-league level that the organization will be leaning on additions, be it from within or through free agency and trade, in order to keep pace with a rapidly improving NL Central. A breakout season or two from the 25-and-under crowd would go a long way towards strengthening the foundation and limiting Cincy’s need to go outside of the organization for reinforcements. –Al Skorupa

A Parting Thought: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and depending on your lens this system could appear flush with future major-league contributors or a lot of bullpen arms and low-probability position players. Time will tell…

Nick J. Faleris is a practicing structured finance attorney and Sports Industry team member in the Milwaukee office of Foley & Lardner LLP. The views he expresses at Baseball Prospectus are his own, and not necessarily those of the law firm.

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Festivus313
11/21
Thoughts on Jackson Stephens? Near top 10? SP profile?
mblthd
11/21
When Bret Sayre says, "Blandino should be the first Red taken in dynasty drafts this winter," is he assuming Stephenson and Winker were taken in dynasty drafts last winter?
jfranco77
11/21
I would imagine. Most dynasty leagues are only drafting 2014 picks and guys who came from out of nowhere in the preceding season.
Muboshgu
11/21
Yeah I'd assume he meant a dynasty draft of newly eligible players (like those from the 2014 MLB Draft). I've had Stephenson in my dynasty league since 2012.
TheArtfulDodger
11/21
As others have stated, he means in first-year player drafts.
mblthd
11/21
Yeah, that makes sense, thanks... *slinks back under rock of stupid question asking*
NickFaleris
11/21
Not near top 10. Should stay a starter at minimum to log more innings and continue to develop and has chance to stick if he 1) proves durable enough, and 2) achieves enough consistency to make a decent base of secondaries work. Whole game needs refinement and, most importantly, innings/reps.
JJoyce
11/21
Looks like there's a couple editor notes in the team wrap-up.
niffoc44
11/21
Any thoughts on Kyle Waldrop? Likely tops out as quad-a guy?
NickFaleris
11/21
I don't think he's necessarily relegated to 4A status -- there is definitely growth and developmental progress being made and he's doing a better job of getting to his raw power in-game and learning what pitches he can drive. The big issue is he really has difficulty with same side arms, and particularly making *good* contact against lefties, and he's limited to a corner in the outfield. So he has a chance to be a contributor with the big club, be it's most likely as a bench/platoon bat with an outside shot that he makes enough progress against lefties to put together average everyday production.
OuagadougouGM
11/21
A lefty who can't hit lefties, but crushes righties? Sign me up. There's plenty of useful guys like that in the majors at any given time.
maphal
11/21
What has become apparent the last few years is the Reds have heavily invested in projectable arms that could ultimately leave them with a glut of power relievers. The prototype was Tony Cingrani, and after that went *relatively* well, it seems the Reds have preferred this method of developing starters. The bigger concern currently is the enormous lack of talent at AAA Louisville, which affected the '14 major league team when they suffered an avalanche of injuries. Thus, guys like Lutz, Soto, and Bernadina made unfortunate appearances. A few thoughts on individual players: YRod(?) needs at least a season at AAA and possible even AA before he's ready to contribute. Still very raw. Corcino will make a nice bullpen arm. I feel his starting days are over. Winker is far and away their best hitting talent in the minors. The Reds have not had success developing hitters the last few years. Excited to see what Iglesias will do, wherever that is.
NickFaleris
11/21
Good thoughts. I think you can get a pretty solid feel for an evaluators likes/dislikes by having them express thoughts about the Reds system. The college reliever to pro starter conversion approach is interesting. It seems like the Reds have the right idea as far as the type of profiles you peg for that sort of conversion, but there's that ever-present question as to "what does this 'wow' 9th inning collegiate stuff look like over 5 professional innings every five days?" It's nice to have that late-inning reliever safety net sort of built into the profile, for sure. But you do wonder how many of the conversions will ultimately be successful?
jfranco77
11/21
It works great if Stephenson is Yordano Ventura and Lorenzen/Howard are Holland/Herrera. It works less well if the 3 of them are Holland/Herrera/Crow or Herrera/Crow/Hoechevar.
tybradley
11/21
Why LaValley over Aquino right now? Seems like Aquino has the highest position-player ceiling in this system right now
dougdirt
11/21
There are several guys with higher ceilings than Aquino in the system from the position side of things, well, two guys, but having LaValley over Aquino is certainly strange given the defensive values of each player. LaValley would have to have a significantly better bat.
NickFaleris
11/21
Defensive value is a big component in evaluation, without question. With guys this far out, a lot also depends on the extent to which you think progress will reasonably come in the various areas of concern. Aquino plays a more valuable position without question, but is not at present, and it's questionable if he projects to be, an impact talent with the glove.
NickFaleris
11/21
LaValley is a little more comfortable in the box with natural bat-to-ball and ability to work across the field, and has yet to really be exposed to advanced pro instruction and reps. Aquino is a very, very interesting talent that took a nice step forward this year, and has a higher upside, but the approach is a little less refined and it's a little more difficult to anticipate growth in that area. There's a strong case for Aquino over LaValley, without question. The case for LaValley is that once the mechanics are cleaned-up a little and he works into a pro routine with respect to conditioning and strength training, his natural bat speed will play up more in games and his natural bat-to-ball and strike zone awareness will be more fully leveraged. It's a big hurdle either way, but I preferred the "harder to teach" feel LaValley has, even if it comes in a non-traditional package, because I believe there's a solid chance he is able to make the mechanical tweaks necessary and natural physical maturation will take care of a lot. Good question.
Gmurphsiu02
11/21
I'm interested if there was any discussion of Winker being above Stephenson, or if that's not close from your perspective. I've only seen Winker at the Future's game and his swing is one of the most memorable things from the entire event.
NickFaleris
11/21
A case can be made, but I think you need to hang it on Stephenson's lack of progression in the "feel" department. On pure natural upside and track record, Stephenson was a comfortable step ahead.
flyingdutchman
11/21
Another guy with a #2 ceiling! Exciting!
Behemoth
11/24
Let's put in something unrealistic just to liven things up for you.
curto
11/21
For editing purposes, you've got Lively as both a LHP (in the bio) and a RHP (in comments). I think he's a righty.
lyricalkiller
11/21
Resolved. Thanks Mike.
mmontice
11/22
This writeup makes a few of the others look like the Cliff Notes versions.
SansRig
11/22
How would you grade Garrett's slider/potential slider? I enjoy this type of profile a lot on the pitching side, but I have a lot of questions as we'll. Mostly, I am wondering how his command profile projects, given his athleticism and age. Is Garrett more likely to improve his command because he is athletic, or is this one of those things that would require that he focused solely on baseball earlier in his career? I know that it is not as black and white as that, but I was thinking about Garrett specifically and also thinking about this type of profile in general. For example, if Jameis Winston were to decide to focus on baseball, where would the missed developmental time affect him the most? Thanks for another great write up. The BP prospect team is doing a great job this year.