Feature Photo: Jesse Winker, RF, Reds
In this week’s column, I take a closer look at the Reds’ Triple-A Louisville affiliate and LHP Cody Reed, who looks destined for the bullpen; RF Jesse Winker, who could be up with the Reds by the All-Star break, and OF Phillip Ervin from the Reds. I also wrote up RHP Kyle Kendrick, who might still have some major league value; LHP Brian Johnson, who is – oddly – putting up better numbers with the parent club than he is down in Pawtucket, and RHP Kyle Martin from the Pawtucket Red Sox, whose fastball has lost a tick or two since last year, and who is getting hit around more this year.
2080 Prospect Spotlights
Louisville Bats (CIN) – Pawtucket Red Sox (BOS) Series
Triple-A International League
May 23-25, 2017
Cincinnati Reds Prospect Spotlights
Cody Reed, LHP, Reds (Triple-A Louisville, International League)
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/228 lbs. B/T: L/L Age: (As of April 1, 2017): 24y, 1m
Although Reed is currently used as a starter, he projects as a middle reliever due to his well-below-average command and control profile. Reed started the season in the big leagues with Cincinnati, pitching in seven games, but his 8.25 BB/9 rate over 14 innings made for a quick trip back down to Louisville on May 4 to sort out his control problems. It hasn’t gotten much better since, as Reed has averaged 6.2 BB/9 in his 24 2/3 innings with the Bats. All of this is stark contrast to his 2016 2.9 BB/9 rate over 121 2/3 combined innings between Louisville and Cincinnati, so he is clearly trending with a downward arrow this year.
Reed owns a semi-power arm with a quick arm action, working from an abbreviated, no windup delivery, and a low-¾’s arm slot. The arm action creates angle that can make him a tough look versus left-handed hitters. He has a wrap in the back and at times has some difficulty getting out front with an upright finish. His inability at times to get over his stiff front leg gives him issues working down in the strike zone, and clearly is contributing to poor command and control of his three-pitch arsenal, and the result is that he oftentimes is working from behind in the count and upping his pitch counts.
Reed’s plus to double-plus fastball is in the 93-to-96 mph but sits mostly at 94 mph, with run tail and boring action to both sides of the plate, and with plus movement. Command of his fastball will never be average, but he has enough velocity and movement for it to be effective. His slider is average in the 84-to-87 mph range, with some glimpses of plus movement on occasion, with tilt and depth being present when doesn’t get around the pitch and have it back up on him, and as with the fastball, control of the pitch is very suspect. He shows good arm speed and arm action on the changeup (84-to-87 mph), and he can get some late fading action to both sides of the plate, but with the command and control profile so out of whack at present, he has trouble getting to it simply because he is pitching from behind in the count so often.
Reed is ready for a change of scenery, and a move to the bullpen is warranted at this point in his career. He has enough of a power arm and enough stuff to pitch as sixth- or seventh-inning arm, but the questions will still remain if he is going to be able to throw enough strikes stay there. He has a high-risk ceiling of a Role 40 reliever, with question marks of command and control over-riding the raw stuff that he possesses. If the command and control don’t improve, he’ll have a floor of an up/down, Role 30 emergency arm.
Jesse Winker, RF, Reds (Triple-A Louisville, International League)
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/215 lbs. B/T: L/R Age: (As of April 1, 2017): 23y, 9m
Winker is a projectable everyday corner outfielder who presently looks like a better fit for left field than right field due to his fringy, but playable arm strength. I only saw him play right field in this two-game look, however.
Winker is physically matured, and has more of an offensive-minded profile, with a projectable plus bat and above average in-game power. He has a good rhythm at the plate and the ball really jumps off the bat with a hard contact-oriented, line-drive approach, and with the ability to spray the ball to all fields thanks to his quick bat and loose swing. Most of his power will be extra-base hits into the gaps, with his home runs being more to the pull side. He’s got good hand/eye coordination, and a good plan at the plate with plus plate discipline, and he knows how to work the count and fight off the pitches he can’t handle, and he’ll draw his share of walks. His high on-base percentages are consistent proof of that, with steady .390, .397, and .365 on-base numbers from 2015-2017.
Defensively, he won’t wow you in right field, with an average glove but fringe-average range with limited lateral quickness to get into the gap. From what I’ve seen defensively, his fielding ability looks more conducive to moving to the other corner-outfield spot. He’s also well-below-average runner (4.47 second home-to-first times) who is not a baseclogger, but who is also not going to be a threat to take an extra base.
Winker’s bat is his carrying tool, projecting as a plus hitter with above-average power and above-average on-base potential for the left-field position. His ceiling is that of a Role 55, above average, offensive-minded left fielder if the power comes on, and his floor is that of a Role 50, average left fielder if the power and average don’t translate. You always want to see more power out of a corner-outfield spot, but I’m confident he’ll hit for average, and he reminds me some of Christian Yelich (OF, Marlins) in terms of potential as a run producer. He could make it back to Cincinnati after the All-Star Break.
Phillip Ervin, OF, Reds (Triple-A Louisville, International League)
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/207 lbs. B/T: R/R Age: (As of April 1, 2017): 24y, 10m
Ervin is a former first-rounder from the 2013 MLB Draft with a strong, athletic body and fully developed frame. From a wide-based, squared-up stance, Ervin is a groove swinger who has some strength, loft, and leverage, but who doesn’t make many adjustments and consistently looks to pull, and to cheat on the fastball middle-in. His well-below-average hitting shows that he can be pitched to, especially to the outside margins of the plate, and his numbers are trending down in a big way, from .239/.362/.399 to at Double-A Pensacola last year, to his present .220/.273/.340 slash line through 162 plate appearances with Louisville. He’s also striking out 28% of the time in 2017, after striking out 21% in 2016. So overall, the hit tool project to be below average, with limited ability to make adjustments, and with what appears to be below-average instincts tapered a bit by average power. He does show above-average run times (4.25 seconds home-to-first), and the speed plays slightly better underway, as he had trouble getting out of the box because he ties himself up.
On defense, he is a steady-average defender in left field with average fielding actions and the ability to go side-to-side with average range and fringe-average arm strength. In my limited one-game look seeing him play center field, he would not project as an OF-5 player capable of holding the position for more than a couple of weeks, showing below-average reads and jumps and catching balls that he could get to, but he would be a risky player have out in center field for any extended period of time.
To get to the big leagues, Ervin will need to prove that he can handle the ability to play center field, because a Role 35 OF-4 corner-outfielder role seems to be his ceiling right now, but even that’s a high-risk ceiling. A more realistic role is that of a Role 30 OF-4 – an emergency call-up left fielder with average power who is limited to left field because his arm strength could be exposed in right field.
Boston Red Sox Prospect Spotlights
Kyle Kendrick, RHP, Red Sox (Triple-A Pawtucket, International League)
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/220 lbs. B/T: R/R Age: (As of April 1, 2017): 32y, 9m
Kendrick is a veteran pitcher whose biggest attribute is his experience as starter in the major leagues, from 2007-to-2015 with the Phillies and Rockies. His profile is that of a command and control, finesse pitcher, and that has played out in his numbers so far this year, with a near-elite 1.6 BB/9 over 37 minor league innings in 2017, following up a 2016 campaign where he had 1.62 BB/9 rate. Although his feel remains above average to plus, his overall stuff is declining. Kendrick works from a full windup that includes a short arm action and some effort in the delivery. He is a fly ball pitcher and is prone to the long ball, having allowed 11 home runs this season in the International League (tied for the second-most in the league as of 5/27).
His below-average fastball runs in the 87-to-91 mph range and generally sits at 89 mph, with some run and tail, and occasional two-seam life. Kendrick is effective with the fastball when can spot it on the outer margins of the strike zone. His fringe-average slider has some occasional cutter-like action, but he also throws many with a harder slurvy action, with lateral break. It’s most effective for him when he gets hitters chasing it out of the zone. His average changeup has fade and sinking action away from left-handers, but he’s also not afraid to use it versus righties. With age and career innings beginning to catch up with him, I see him at his best filling in for a second-division club as a light Role 30 starter.
Brian Johnson, LHP, Red Sox (Triple-A Pawtucket, International League)
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/235 lbs. B/T: L/L Age: (As of April 1, 2017): 26y, 5m
Johnson, a former 2012 first-rounder for the Red Sox out of Florida, features a four-pitch mix with a plus feel for pitching. The big-bodied lefty has a long windup with long arm action. Johnson has been up with parent club for two spot-starts, including a recent 5-0 shutout in which he gave up five hits, no walks, and eight strikeouts in a 6-0 home win versus the Mariners on May 27. The quandary with Johnson, however, is that he has faired better in his MLB starts than he has at Pawtucket. His control in Boston in his two starts (14 innings) in 2017 was double plus (1.9 BB/9) but at the Triple-A level in 2017 the control numbers inflate to a below average 3.4 BB/9 over 44 2/3 innings, and his larger sample size of his 2016 showed a similar below-average 3.8 BB/9 across three minor league stops and 95 innings.
To be effective against high-level bats, Johnson has to really locate his entire repertoire, and his only real weapon is his average-graded curveball (73-to-77 mph) that he uses to keep hitters off his well-below-average fastball that sits 86-to-89 mph with run and tail action to both sides of the plate. While the fastball command and movement is average, he needs to be ultra-fine with his command so he can get to his curveball, which shows downer 12-to-6 break with good two-plane depth. He shows the ability to throw it for strikes with command. He can change the shape and depth of his slider, which sits 77-to-80 mph, but it comes in with slurvy action on most offerings. His fourth pitch is a fringe-average changeup that sits in the 80-to-81 mph velo range with fading action.
His MLB starts aside, his overall inconsistency as a starter is rooted in his present inability to command the fastball and locate the curveball. He’s not a player that will wow you with his stuff, but his pitchability still gives him a chance to fill the role of a Role 30, up/down starter, as he has for the Red Sox this year. If the fastball command gains more consistency to get him into his secondary stuff, he still has an outside shot to hit a ceiling of a Role 40 number five starter for a club in need.
Kyle Martin, RHP, Red Sox (Triple-A Pawtucket, International League)
Ht/Wt: 6’7”/240 lbs. B/T: R/R Age: (As of April 1, 2017): 26y, 4m
Since being added to the Red Sox 40-man roster this offseason, Martin has shown some decline in his stuff that may lead to a slow erosion into a organizational arm who tops out at the Triple-A level due to his declining changeup and below average fastball command in my views.
Martin has a long-but-quick arm action with a full arm circle, and for a big man, he repeats his delivery well. He’s got average control numbers (2.8 BB/9 in 18 inning this season, 2.8 BB/9 over 66 2/3 innings last year), but he’s doing it despite the fastball command issues he’s having this year. The fastball sitys mostly in the lower end of the 92-to-94 mph velo band – a tick or two down from last year – and it will show run and tail when he can command it in the lower third of the zone, but the pitch will leak into the fat part of the zone and get left out over the plate, which is a dangerous place to work from with just fringy ‘true’ overall movement on the pitch. His circle changeup sits in the 80-to-84 mph range with good arm speed replication for some deception from the fastball, but he’s prone to changing his arm slot on occasion, and causing inconsistency. The pitch does show some late fade, but it wasn’t the plus pitch that I’ve seen in the past views, but merely average at present. At times he’ll toss in a below-average ‘show-me’ slider with a longer, slurvy action.
Martin doesn’t seem to trust his fastball right now, and he’s going to his changeup much too often. With the command and control not what once was, it’s causing him to get hit, especially off the fastball. It all points to what I see as an arrow pointing down for Martin, and he appears headed more towards a floor of a Triple-A organizational arm, with a ceiling of a Role 30 emergency bullpen arm. But too hit his ceiling, he’ll need to manufacture more consistent fastball movement, and the circle changeup needs to come back to being a plus pitch to get him back on the radar of the Red Sox’ front office as a true major league prospect.