Feature Photo: T.J. Friedl, OF, Reds
Ed. Note: Click here to listen to Defreitas and Faleris discuss the Reds and their prospects on the debut episode of Defensive Indifference, the official Podcast of 2080 Baseball! You can also follow along as we publish reviews of all 30 teams this offseason by clicking here. And as always, follow us on Twitter and Facebook!
By David DeFreitas and Nick J. Faleris
It’s a system light on impact, but there is some depth in potential back-end arms at the upper levels, a handful of intriguing talents making their way through the lower minors thanks to a solid 2016 draft effort, and a couple of upside international signings.
CREAM OF THE CROP
Nick Senzel, 3B, Class A Dayton | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/55
Ht/Wt: 6’1″/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 21y, 5m
The Tools: 60 hit; 55 power; 55 field; 55 arm; 50 speed – The best collegiate hitter in the 2016 MLB Draft class, Senzel has a chance to show above-average to plus hit and power tools thanks to good bat speed and and a compact, explosive stroke. He’s found a defensive home at the hot corner, where his solid hands and quick first step allow him to make all the necessary plays side-to-side, and he shows fluidity in action when charging. The arm plays easily on the left side, and he’s an average runner.
The Profile: The University of Tennessee product was selected second overall in the 2016 MLB Draft and could be on the fast track to Cincinnati starting in 2017. At the plate, Senzel wields the barrel with intent and precision, producing regular hard contact to all fields, and showing an ability to drive the ball out of the park to the pull side. He can carry the oppo gap with ease, and his pop could mature into above-average playable power when all is said and done.
A defensive liability entering the summer between his sophomore and junior year, Senzel found regular playing time at third base on the Cape and stuck there once back in Knoxville. He’s taken to the position with aplomb and projects as an average to tick above-average glove with an above-average arm capable of making all the throws. He’s just an average runner, but he’ll show some feel on the bases, as well as selective aggressiveness challenging for extra bases. Senzel should open 2017 in Daytona, and he could be ready for MLB at-bats as early as late-2017, though given the outlook for the Reds it might not be in their plans to rush the promising young bat unnecessarily.
The Tools: 60 hit; 55 power; 50 field – Winker brings to the plate an advanced approach, good balance, feel for the barrel, and some leverage, giving him a chance for at least above-average hit and power tools. He’s a below-average runner with a fringy arm, but moves better than his appearance would suggest, with a chance to provide average defense in left field.
The Profile: Winker has been a mainstay on prospect lists for the past four years, showing steady production at the plate throughout his ascension through the Reds’ system and one of the more advanced approaches you’ll find in the minors. He’s the complete package in the box, displaying patience, a keen eye, and an ability to do some damage when he does put the barrel to use. The swing can appear geared more to line drive contact than over-the-fence pop, but the former Florida prep product will show some comfort getting the ball in the air, as well, and when he does it comes with good carry both pull side and to the opposite field.
In the field, Winker moves with a level of comfort belied by his frame and physique, covering solid ground and even showing impressive body control at times getting after balls to the fringes of his range. He’s still a corner defender, with an arm positioned better for left field than it is for right, but there should be enough bat to make the overall profile play as a potential everyday guy in that corner, and perhaps a fringe first-division starter. After a solid showing with Triple-A Louisville in 2016, Winker is ready to compete for a spot on the 25-man roster this spring, and he should be a fixture in the Reds’ lineup for the foreseeable future.
ON THE HORIZON
Amir Garrett, LHP, Triple-A Louisville | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’5″/210 B/T: R/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 24y, 7m
Quick Hit: A late convert to full-time baseball action, the former St. John’s basketball player finds himself knocking on the door in Cincinnati after a respectable year that was split between Double-A Pensacola and Triple-A Louisville. Garrett logged just under 145 innings of work between the two stops, averaging over eight strikeouts-per-nine innings, and limiting baserunners to the tune of a 1.092 WHIP.
The big lefty will show a loose and athletic arm, running his fastball up to the middle 90s with some life while mixing in an above-average slider and a changeup that now grades fairly consistently as an average offering. Garrett has made good strides on the bump over the past two seasons, and he looks to be a good candidate to compete for a rotation spot in 2017. While the control is solid, the in-zone command can get a little loose, and will be tested against major league bats. He’s a low-mileage arm with the physicality to rack up innings as a potential mid-rotation arm.
Robert Stephenson, RHP, Reds | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’2″/200 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 23y, 9m
Quick Hit: After several years of oozing potential and collecting impressive strikeout totals in the minors, Stephenson made his Cincinnati debut in 2016 to mixed reviews. The big righty retains the impressive arm strength that put him on the prospect map immediately upon selection in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft, generating torque through good upper/lower-half separation, and showing a loose and easy power arm. The fastball sits comfortably in the middle 90s, touching the upper 90s, with his power curve showing effectiveness both in and out of the zone and his changeup taking a step forward over the past 18 months or so.
Unfortunately, Stephenson has yet to transition from promising thrower to a pitcher with a more refined approach. As a result, he’ll too often try to power through adversity by reaching back and trying to throw through hitters when he struggles, or when he falls behind. He can get predictable in pitch selection and major league hitters have shown a willingness to wait Stephenson out while finding mistakes to drive. Given his natural talents, the upside remains that of a frontline starter, but it is looking more and more like the ultimate fit may settle in closer to a solid number three or number four arm with loud stuff but below-average consistency in execution.
Stephenson will be just 24 years old this upcoming season, and the Reds have the luxury of continuing to help him find the consistency he needs to stay in the rotation long term. Should he shift to the pen, he has the mentality and the raw stuff of a potential late-inning arm.
Quick Hit: After putting together an impressive 150 inning campaign with Class A Dayton in 2015 Mahle repeated his act this past summer with another 150 innings split between High A Daytona and Double-A Pensacola, showing a solid command profile to go with an effective four-pitch mix and advanced approach. Mahle’s fastball is a heavy low-90s offering that will touch 95 mph and plays particularly well down and to the margins, regularly forcing bats to work off of the top half of the ball. He boasts three solid average secondaries in the form of a low-80s changeup that he can turn over with some fade, a 12-to-6 curve that comes with good depth and shape, and slider that plays off of the same pitch plane as his heater.
Mahle has already seen an uptick in stuff since being drafted in the seventh round of the 2013 MLB Draft, and there is still some room for additional growth across his repertoire. Able to pitch front-to-back with all four offerings with an efficient and aggressive approach, Mahle fits the profile of a solid number three or number four starter. He was knocked around a bit in Double-A, too often catching too much of the white while working in the zone, and will likely return to Pensacola to continue refining his approach. He’s not far off from a cup of coffee in the Queen City, and he could be ready to contribute significant innings by 2018.
Quick Hit: VanMeter found his way to Cincinnati this winter in exchange for Rule 5 selection Luis Torrens (SS), with the Reds and Padres swapping upper-minors talents with a chance to fill everyday roles. VanMeter is a solid glove at the hot corner with above-average arm strength and some first-step quickness, and with just one full season under his belt as an everyday third baseman, there is room for more improvement with continued reps at the five-spot.
In the box, the former Hoosier State prep product has a smooth, easy load with a level stroke that projects to an average hit tool. He keeps the barrel in the zone, and shows an ability to work up the middle with enough strength to drive the gaps – perhaps with enough still to come to get to solid-average power at maturity. VanMeter has the upside of an everyday third baseman with a chance to hit for some average and some power, while providing a steady hand in the field. He isn’t a runner, but is far from a base-clogger and the athleticism plays up the 40 run grade. VanMeter struggled after his midsummer promotion to Double-A, and he did not look particularly strong in the AFL, but after missing much of 2015 with a broken fibula it’s safe to assume that fatigue played a role after 401 plate appearances in the Cal League. He should return to Double-A with his new organization to start 2017 with an eye towards competing for time in Cincinnati come 2018.
Quick Hit: After acquiring a reputation as a glove-only shortstop during his first three full seasons of pro ball, the Pepperdine product showed signs of hitting the ball with a little more authority in 2016 before a breakout this fall in the Arizona Fall League. Vincej slashed .352/.425/.676 for the Peoria Javelinas, leading the club in all three categories, while showing a solid approach at the plate and an ability to regularly find the ball with the barrel.
While his outburst in the hitter-friendly AFL should not be construed as signs that Vincej is now a .300-ISO bat, the performance did show a natural extension of the progress made in-season in 2016, and there is some reason to believe he will continue to make enough hard contact to carveout an everyday role. His glove remains his calling card, as he catches everything he can get to and shows an easy left-side arm to go with his above-average range.
Though the glove and arm are there for an everyday profile at short, Vincej may be more valuable in a super-utility role where he can find time across the infield, and potentially even the outfield. He’s a high energy player with solid instincts on the diamond and should get an invite to big league camp to show what he can do. While the bat is unlikely to be an impact weapon, there’s a chance for good defensive value across multiple positions and a solid on-base skill set.
Quick Hit: Dixon impressed in the AFL, slashing .333/.429/.550 a compact but pull-oriented stroke with some raw pop baked in. Acquired in last winter’s three-team deal that sent Todd Frazier (3B) to the White Sox, Dixon had a strong organizational debut with Double-A Pensacola, showing good athleticism and some pop to go with a solid glove and a bit of defensive versatility.
The approach at the plate is still underdeveloped, which leads to Dixon too often working behind in the count, and expanding the zone when he finds himself at that disadvantage. It’s unlikely at this point that the former Arizona Wildcat grows into an on-base machine, but he may not be too far off from providing some major league value as a utility option capable of handling second and third base, as well as a corner outfield spot, while providing some pop with the stick. He is ready for a taste of Triple-A Louisville to start 2017, and he get the call to Cincy at some point later in the year.
Chris Okey, C, Class A Dayton | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 5’11″/195 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 21y, 11m
Quick Hit: Okey owns a balanced profile as a solid-average defender with a steady catch-and-throw game to go with hit and power tools that could grade out as average. While there isn’t a carrying tool here, the Clemson product is a refined glove who could handle high-minors arms now without issue – in fact, he joined the 2015 USA Pan Am Team for a couple of scrimmages at the USA Baseball complex as a rising junior, and he stepped into the mix without missing a beat, all while working with advanced pro arms such as Aaron Blair (RHP, Braves) and Jake Thompson (RHP, Phillies).
At the plate, Okey will flash above-average raw power to the pull side, though it’s likely his in-game output settles in closer to average pop, where he could produce home run totals in the mid-teens to go with a solid number of doubles. It’s a simple swing with good balance, and his advanced feel behind the plate shows in the box, as he excels at tracking the ball while showing a good command of the zone. After a long college season the Reds took it easy with Okey in his pro debut, allowing him an extended run through the Midwest League.
He should enter 2017 on the fast track with a chance to see time at High A Daytona with an eye towards advancement to Double-A Pensacola before the year is up. The speed with which he moves through the system will be dictated by the bat, and given Okey’s advanced approach he could see his offensive game fully baked in short order.
Sal Romano, RHP, Double-A Pensacola | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’5″/260 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 23y, 2m
Quick Hit: The burly Romano logged 156 innings for Double-A Pensacola, showing a plus fastball that reached as high as 95 mph and generally working a three-pitch mix with a solid control profile. The heater comes with good heft and is tough to lift, while both the curve and changeup lack impact, grading out as fringe-average offerings. There’s a case to be made that Romano would be most valuable as a hard-throwing reliever where his over-reliance on the fastball would be less of a detriment. Capable of maintaining good velocity late into his starts, there’s a chance he gains a half-tick of velo airing it out in the pen, as well.
The Reds are still probably a year away from being forced to decide on a pen-versus-rotation future for Romano, and he has handled starting thus far despite a somewhat limited arsenal. He should debut in Cincinnati this summer.
Alejandro Chacin, RHP, Double-A Pensacola | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’0″/204 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 23y, 5m
Quick Hit: Chacin improved his stock in 2016 when he showed his deceptive stuff could also play as swing-and-miss stuff against upper-minors bats in the Southern League, with the Venezuela native punching out 75 batters over 60 2/3 innings of work. He works off of an average to tick above-average fastball with heavy arm-side run and sink, and an average to tick-above-average slider, both of which play up out of a low arm slot due to the angle. He is enjoying a strong showing in the Venezuelan Winter League thus far, allowing just one run in 13 appearances, and is well positioned to see time in big league camp come spring. He should get an opportunity in Cincinnati at some point this upcoming season.
Nick Travieso, RHP, Double-A Pensacola | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’2″/225 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 22y, 10m
Quick Hit: The former first-rounder saw his stuff take a step back in 2016, as the sturdy righty struggled to execute in his first exposure to Double-A bats in the Southern League. Owner of a plus fastball and a slider and changeup that have each played average to a tick above-average in the past, all three offerings dropped a half-grade this past summer due to below-average control and struggles in hitting his release point with consistency and maintaining a steady tempo.
Prior to 2016, Travieso appeared to be traveling on an upward trajectory coming out of solid High A and Arizona Fall League performances. He was unable to build off of that momentum, however, and his loose in-zone command spiraled into more significant control issues as the year wore on. There is still a chance for value as a back-end arm or, at minimum, some value as a relief arm provided he can rediscover the sink in his fastball and bite in his slider that was so effective exiting the 2015 season. He could head back to Pensacola in 2017 for a second crack at the Southern League, with a chance to debut in Cincinnati at some point in 2018.
Keury Mella, RHP, High A Daytona | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’2″/200 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 23y, 4m
Quick Hit: Mella’s raw stuff continues to outdistance his production, as the hard-throwing righty remains too loose in the zone with his plus fastball and above-average curveball. The Dominican product struggles to hold his stuff together multiple times through the lineup, and while the pieces are here for a potential mid-rotation arm, the much more likely outcome is that of a hard-throwing reliever who can air it out over shorter stints.
There’s some deception in the delivery, and the quality of the fastball/curveball combo could play to the level of a solid set-up man or second-division closer if it all comes together. Regardless of whether his ultimate home is in the rotation or in the pen, Mella needs to find a way to simplify things and execute more consistently. Added to the 40-man roster this offseason despite logging just one start above High A ball in 2016, Mella could get one more shot at rotation work before being shifted to the pen and fast tracked to Cincy.
Jimmy Herget, RHP, High A Daytona | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’3″/170 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 23y, 3m
Quick Hit: Herget impressed in his first full season of pro ball, striking out 12.3 batters-per-nine innings with High A Daytona while holding opposing hitters to a .208 average over 60 2/3 innings pitched. The senior sign out of the University of South Florida has some funk in the arm action, providing deception to his upper-80s to low-90s fastball and sweeping slider, and could see more ground balls to go with his strike outs with a little firmer execution in the zone.
It isn’t an overpowering arsenal, but it comes on a tough angle from a low slot, and Herget has a high level of comfort with his stuff, working aggressively in and around the zone. He’ll tackle the Southern League to start 2017 and, provided his game continues to play against upper-minors bats, should be just a phone call away from Cincinnati at that point. He profiles as a seventh-inning arm with a shot at late-inning work if the deception plays.
Rookie Davis, RHP, Triple-A Louisville | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’5″/245 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 23y, 7m
Quick Hit: Davis came over to the Cincinnati organization as part of the Aroldis Chapman (LHP, Yankees) trade last off-season riding a breakout 2015, but struggled to find his footing in 2016 (in part due to a nagging groin injury). Davis saw his stuff back up on him, with his usual plus fastball and above-average breaking ball each playing a half to a full grade below their 2015 best. A fully healthy Davis could re-emerge at Triple-A Louisville in 2017 with a chance to re-establish himself as a future innings-eating number four starter, but at present the profile looks more the part of a swingman or seventh-inning arm.
Alex Blandino, 2B, Double-A Pensacola | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’0″/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 24y, 1m
Quick Hit: Blandino continues to show a quality approach at the plate, but the former Stanford standout failed to impact the ball with any regularity in 2016. The glove plays both at second base and at the hot corner, but there’s a question as to how well he sees the ball at the plate, and whether or not the profile ultimately amounts to more than a reserve talent. His camp performance will help dictate whether he is challenged with an assignment to Triple-A Louisville or if he heads back to Double-A Pensacola for another shot against Southern League arms.
Ismael Guillon, LHP, Double-A Pensacola | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1″/160 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 24y, 10m
Quick Hit: Guillon has a chance to carve out some value as a quality relief arm off the strength of a plus changeup, which helps his average fastball to play up in tandem. Lacking power stuff, Guillon gets by on guile, working pitch plane and arm slot/speed deception with his fastball/changeup combo, and will likely have a thin margin for error as he begins tackling upper-level bats. If he shows well in camp, he could draw a Double-A assignment with a chance for quick advancement once he proves his stuff plays.
Calten Daal, SS, Double-A Pensacola | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’1″/180 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 23y, 4m
Quick Hit: Daal put together a solid showing in Double-A this past summer, though shoulder troubles and a concussion limited him to just 40 games of action. It’s a glove-first profile, with a chance for above-average up-the-middle defense to go with an above-average arm and solid athleticism. The power is limited, which will allow high-level arms to consistently challenge him in the zone, limiting his on-base profile. With a purely batting average-driven offensive game, the upside is limited, but Daal could find his way to a big league utility role, or be a second-division regular as a down-order defensive specialist.
Stuart Turner, C, Double-A Pensacola | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2″/220 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 24y, 11m
Quick Hit: An advanced defensive backstop, Turner landed with the Reds by way of the 2016 Rule 5 Draft. The Ole Miss product has a chance to stick with the big club by virtue of his receiving and catch-and-throw game, which could play in a backup capacity on a reloading Cincinnati club. It’s a clear down-order bat, however, and there’s little evidence thus far that the average bat speed will play against high-level arms. There’s value in the glove, but with the bat speed and swing-and-miss tendencies, it may be tough for Turner to carve out a long-term role.
Quick Hit: A draft-eligible redshirt sophomore out of the University of Nevada, Friedl slipped through the cracks, going un-drafted last June despite hitting over .400 during his spring season, while displaying double-plus speed and a solid glove in center field. The Reds gladly scooped him up after getting an extended look during his stint with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, and let him finish his summer in the Rookie Pioneer League, where he torched the overmatched arms to the tune of a .347/.423/.545 slash line over 137 plate appearances.
Friedl’s value is anchored by his speed and defense, each of which can impact the game. He utilizes a contact-friendly swing powered by quick hands, and shows a solid approach with good balance in the box. The upside is a high-contact lead-off stick who can put pressure on the defense with his speed and provide good value as an up-the-middle glove on the grass. In his first full season of pro ball it isn’t outlandish to expect him to move quickly to High A Daytona, or to perhaps make the jump there right off the bat.
Vladamir Gutierrez, RHP, International Signee | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 6’1″/172 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 21y, 2m
Quick Hit: One of two significant international investments for the Reds in 2016, Gutierrez received a $4.5 million signing bonus this September in hopes that he will soon help anchor the next competitive Cincy staff. The arsenal begins with a lively fastball that grades out as plus thanks to movement and a low-90s velocity band. His best secondary is a power curve that can operate as a swing-and-miss pitch both in and out of the zone. Gutierrez will also show feel for a changeup that has a chance to grow into an average or tick-above-average offering with further reps.
The Cuban righty isn’t overly physical, but he displays a quick arm and good athleticism, giving him a chance to execute his offerings consistently and without maximum effort. He’ll make his stateside debut in 2017 with an expected three-year developmental horizon. He looks the part of a quality number four starter with number three upside and some risk attached to durability questions and proximity to the majors.
Quick Hit: Aquino blossomed into a true power prospect in 2016, putting up a .246-ISO in a difficult Florida State League environment, utilizing a highly-leveraged swing with natural loft. The approach is still underdeveloped, and it’s likely Aquino always struggles some with swing-and-miss. But the promise of power more clearly manifested this summer, helping to bring his future profile into slightly clearer focus – a welcome development for a prospect who has been tantalizing for the better part of two seasons.
Defensively, Aquino fits the traditional right field mold, possessing plus arm strength and improving enough on his routes and reads that he shouldn’t be a detriment with the leather by the time he is established in Cincinnati. There remains a risk that the swing and the approach are more aggressively exposed at the upper levels, but even with that hole in his game there an opportunity for a six-hole stick that will get the job done in right field, rack up strikeouts, and hit you 20-to-25 bombs.
Ian Kahaloa, RHP, Rookie Billings | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/45
Ht/Wt: 6’1″/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 19y, 2m
Quick Hit: Kahaloa possesses a loose, quick arm and athletic actions that bode well for projecting his above-average raw stuff out to maturity. At present he’ll show a fastball that runs from the upper 80s into the low 90s, touching 94-to-95 mph up in the zone, and both his changeup and slider have taken steps forward since his amateur days, with each projecting as an above-average offering in time.
The impressive righty already shows a good feel for the craft, which combined with his athleticism and pure stuff provide a foundation for a potential mid-rotation arm, albeit one that is still several years away from contributing meaningful innings in Cincinnati. After missing time on the disabled list to start the year, then being removed from his final start of the season with a forearm ailment, the focus for 2017 will be staying healthy and on the field. He’s ready for a bump to full season ball, where at the age of 19 he’ll likely be one of the youngest arms in the Midwest League.
Shed Long, 2B, High A Daytona | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 5’8″/180 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 21y, 3m
Quick Hit: A 13th-rounder from the 2013 MLB Draft class, Long has shown steady growth in his offensive game over the past three-plus seasons, culminating in a breakout of sorts in 2016, split between Class A Dayton and High A Daytona. The offensive-minded second baseman slashed .293/.371/.471 over 132 games, with over one third of his hits going for extra bases. There’s good bat speed in the swing, and he gets some lift and buggy whip through the zone, producing loud contact when he squares one up.
Long’s an above-average runner who can apply his speed on the base paths, be it via stolen base or by swiping an extra bag after putting the ball in play. He’ll need to show that he can replicate his results against more advanced arms, and he’ll get his chance to do just that with Double-A Pensacola in 2017. The tools suggest the potential to be an everyday contributor, however the swing and miss in his game will ultimately limit the impact resulting in a platoon or utility role.
Quick Hit: The Texas A&M product and USA Baseball alum is a max-effort, cross-body relief arm capable of delivering two plus offerings on a tough downhill angle. His heater can reach the upper 90s, though he tends to see a drop in velocity when throwing on back-to-back days, and the curve is a mid-80s hammer with depth and bite. He’ll show a changeup as a change-of-pace offering, but prefers to work primarily off of his one-two punch.
On pure stuff, Hendrix is a potential late-inning arm with two swing-and-miss pitches and a confident, aggressive style on the mound. The quality of his stuff wavered through the spring, however, and while he looked solid during his time in the Midwest League, there are still concerns about his durability. He should jump to High A Daytona in 2017 with a chance to move quickly so long as his stuff is there. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the profile due to the quality of his arsenal vacillating periodically, but the upside is a good late-inning arm, with a fallback position as a swingman or quality middle reliever.
Alfredo Rodriguez, SS, Rookie DSL Reds | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/40
Ht/Wt: 6’0″/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 21y, 11m
Quick Hit: Another significant international acquisition, the Reds landed Rodriguez with a hefty $7 million signing bonus, sending him to the Dominican Summer League for his first taste of pro ball. He’s a solid defender at shortstop at present, with a high waist and enough athleticism to give confidence he can stick at the six-spot even as the body matures. He covers good ground on the dirt, and the hands and arm strength are good enough to allow him to finish plays on the margins of his coverage area.
At the plate, Rodriguez has some length to his swing, but there’s bat speed to help counterbalance, and he’ll flash average pop in BP, with an ability to drive the oppo gap in-game. He’ll debut in full season next year at the age of 21 and could develop into a solid everyday shortstop for the Reds.
Taylor Trammell, OF, Rookie Billings | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2″/185 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 19y, 2m
Quick Hit: A competitive balance pick in this year’s MLB Draft, Trammell has one of the highest upsides in the system, with the raw tools to develop into a speedy, power-hitting center fielder with impactful defense. He’s a superior athlete, showing double-plus speed and explosiveness in his swing, with a chance to grow into average-or-better power in time.
At present, however, he remains a good distance away from that reality, with his approach still very raw at the plate, and the bat head running in and out of the zone quickly, leading to struggles against same-side stuff and quality off-speed offerings. He put together a very strong debut in the Pioneer League this past summer and he should be challenged with a bump to the Midwest League in 2017. It may be a slow boil, but the reward could be well worth the wait if Trammell can put it all together.
Tony Santillan, RHP, Class A Dayton | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/45
Ht/Wt: 6’3″/240 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 19y, 7m
Quick Hit: Santillan has some of the most impressive raw stuff in the entire system, capable of reaching the upper 90s with his fastball and showing a power curveball in the middle 80s that stymied Pioneer and Midwest League bats alike in 2016. In addition to the power fastball/curveball combo, Santillan can show a changeup, though it remains his third best pitch by a fair margin. Still much more a thrower than a pitcher, Santillan has trouble reining in his stuff and hitting his spots, and can also get in trouble being too imprecise in the zone (particularly when working behind in the count).
He hasn’t yet learned how to fully leverage his size and the angles he creates, and needs to do a better job of repeating his mechanics, as well. All that said, the potential is immense given the nature of his raw stuff, and he’ll be one of the more interesting arms to follow entering 2017. A return trip to the Midwest League seems likely, where he can focus on refining his stuff and limiting the traffic on the basepaths.
Gavin LaValley, 1B, High A Daytona | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/40
Ht/Wt: 6’3″/235 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 21y, 11m
Quick Hit: Challenged with a promotion to the hitter-friendly Florida State League, LaValley responded by slashing .275/.334/.470 while cutting down on his strikeouts and improving his power output. Now comfortably removed from his time as a lineman in high school, LaValley is settling into his baseball body and showing more comfort in his actions.
There’s still a question as to how much power will ultimately develop, but the swing works, and the Oklahoma prep product continues to improve his approach as he logs more reps. As a pure first baseman now with well-below-average speed, there is a lot of pressure on the bat to continue to develop. Notwithstanding the work yet to be done, another year of positive developments could see him shoot up the org rankings in a hurry.
Tyler Stephenson, C, Class A Daytona | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/40
Ht/Wt: 6’4″/225 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 20y, 3m
Quick Hit: Stephenson has been slowed some by injury, but has also struggled to adjust to pro ball on both sides of the field. The power has yet to materialize and some of the swing-and-miss concerns on draft day have amplified, with the former Georgia Tech commit striking out in 30% of his Midwest League plate appearances. Behind the dish, Stephenson has impressive arm strength, but struggles with his transfer and footwork, limiting the effectiveness of his catch-and=-throw game. Already a big body, there is some concern he will struggle with framing and overall mobility, as well.
He’ll play almost all of 2017 as a 20-year-old, so there is no need to hit the panic button just yet. Still, the 2015 first rounder needs to stay on the field and log reps if he’s to move forward in his development as a catcher and as a hitter. If he is forced to shift out from behind the plate, the bat becomes a lot less interesting at a corner spot.
Max Wotell, LHP, Rookie Billings | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/40
Ht/Wt: 6’3″/195 B/T: R/L Age (as of December 1, 2016): 20y, 3m
Quick Hit: Selected by the Mets in the third round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Wotell came to Cincy as part of the Jay Bruce (OF, Mets) deal this summer. After a solid start in the Appalachian League mid-summer, Wotell struggled with his control and execution after coming over to the Reds’ system and taking his game to the Pioneer League, finishing the year with three forgettable starts. He’ll flirt with the middle 90s depending on the start, and shows some feel for spinning a quality curveball as well.
Given his athletic actions and arm speed, there’s an interesting foundation to work with here, though it will take some time for him to normalize his tempo and more consistently execute his offerings. He might benefit from some time in extended spring training to continue to work on his mechanics before being shipped off to the Midwest League later in 2017. He’s a potential number four starter with a potential late-inning reliever fallback given the potential fastball/curveball combo.
Nick Hanson, RHP, Rookie AZL Reds | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/40
Ht/Wt: 6’6″/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1, 2016): 18y, 5m
Quick Hit: Hanson was popped by Cincinnati in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft and shipped off to the Arizona League for his pro debut, where he showed loud but erratic stuff leading to 15 strikeouts, 15 walks and 25 hits in 16-plus innings. At his best, Hanson will climb up into the middle 90s with his fastball, and the curve will flash plus action, each on a tough angle.
A cold weather, low-mileage arm, there remains a lot of reps between his present stuff and their potential blossoming into consistent plus offerings. The Reds will likely take it slow with Hanson, easing him into Pioneer League action next year before a full-season assignment in 2019. A perfect world outcome would be a durable innings eater with mid-rotation stuff or an impactful late-inning arm.
|1. Nick Senzel, 3B, A||6. Vladamir Gutierrez, RHP, Int’l||11. Brandon Dixon, 2B/UTIL, AA|
|2. Jesse Winker, OF, AAA||7. Tyler Mahle, RHP, AA||12. Aristedes Aquino, OF, High A|
|3. Amir Garrett, LHP, AAA||8. Josh VanMeter, 3B, AA||13. Shed Long, 2B, High A|
|4. Robert Stephenson, RHP, MLB||9. Zach Vincej, SS, AA||14. Chris Okey, C, A|
|5. T.J. Friedl, OF, Rk.||10. Ian Kahaloa, RHP, Rk.||15. Ryan Hendrix, RHP, A|
The value in the system is centered around lower-upside, high-minors arms and projectable talent in the lower minors, with arms like Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett and Tyler Mahle likely too valuable to the Reds to be moved to help fill holes at the major league level. Nick Senzel is a true high-end talent, capable of anchoring a deal for a quality major league contributor, though like the arms listed above it would seem the Reds’ competitive timeline would make Senzel more useful in Cincinnati than as a trade asset.
The lower-minors talent, and in particular the international signings and draft acquisitions of the past 18 months, could yield good systemic depth in the coming years, providing Cincinnati with potential trade ammunition in 2018 and 2019 when they hope to be transitioning back into a competitor in the N.L. Central. For the time being, it’s likely the Reds focus on strengthening the system and acquiring young, cost-controlled talent, rather than looking for opportunities to package what they have in exchange for shorter-term major leaguers.
In a very competitive NL Central, the Reds are in a tough spot playing catch-up to strong systems in Milwaukee, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, with the Cardinals always lurking as a quality acquisition/development organization. With some rough drafts in the early part of the decade, the Reds appear to have begun righting the ship with aggressive international acquisitions and back-to-back upside draft classes helping to stock the lower minors.
At present, the return for Chapman is in danger of coming up snake-eyes, which would be an unfortunate setback in the rebuilding process. However, there is some positional talent in Josh VanMeter, Zach Vincej and Brandon Dixon to help supplement the likes of Jesse Winker and Senzel. The pitching remains a bit of a mystery, but there are a handful of arms between Double-A and Triple-A that should be able to help strengthen the pen and perhaps some combination of Garrett, Mahle and Stephenson click as long-term solutions in the back half of the Reds’ rotation. True front-end arms are missing from the system at present, leaving Cincinnati to either go out and purchase one or two when the time comes or hope the talent in the lower minors blossom enough such that a package can eventually be put together to land a top starter a few years down the line.
There’s no way to downplay the herculean task ahead of the Reds. They are playing in one of the best divisions in baseball, with the Cubs and Pirates loaded with young talent at the major league level, the Cardinals still clinging to a competitive club with some minor league depth, and the Brewers having a sizable head start in their rebuilding efforts. On the positive side, the most recent year has been a good one for amateur acquisition. The Reds need to continue to build on that if they’re to re-establish themselves as a force in the N.L. Central. The timeframe for that is likely closer to four or five years than it is two or three.
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