Down on the Farm Part One: An Update on the Reds’ Prospect Pipeline

When it comes to an organization having such a bad season, it is important to be able to look at the future with a mix of realistic evaluations and hopeful optimism. That is why the current state of the Cincinnati Reds‘ Prospect Pipeline is so important. In order to be able to move forward with sights set on a future run at a World Series, it is important that it is fully understood just what the Reds are dealing with, what can realistically be expected, and what areas need improvement.

With that, let’s take a look at the Reds’ Prospect Pipeline and check on the performance of the club’s top prospects so that, hopefully, there will be plenty of realism behind any optimistic plans for the seasons to come.

The Cream of the Crop

There is some good news and bad news when it comes to the elite prospects within the Reds’ Prospect Pipeline. The good news is that many of the top prospects in the organization are players who are brand new to the franchise. The bad news is that this is because several of the Reds’ former top prospects have yet to develop over the hump. Let’s start with 2016 #2 overall draft pick Nick Senzel.

Nick Senzel

The former college star for Tennessee has had trouble finding his usual consistency and XBH threat with the bat in just 402 at bats this season with Billings and Dayton, as he has a slash line of .251/.317/.356 with just three home runs and 27 XBH. However, he has done a fantastic job of showing what he can do on the base paths. In his short amount of time as a professional he has already stolen 39 bases in 45 attempts for an 87% success rate. There should be no panic about Senzel. In his final season as a Volunteer he had a 1.051 OPS, 8 HR, 25 steals, 40 walks, just 21 strikeouts, and 34 XBH in just 210 at bats. currently ranks Senzel as #1 in the Reds’ Prospect Pipeline.

Upper Echelon

Also occupying the upper echelon of the Reds’ Farm System are fellow 2016 signees OF Taylor Trammell (#10), Catcher Chris Okey (#11), and undrafted OF T.J. Friedl (#12). Trammell is an absolute super-athlete who was also a high school football star and was named the Georgia High School Football Offensive Player of the Year as a running back. However, when considering that Trammell chose not to specialize in baseball early on, it means he has some developmental catching up to do. He has been striking out a lot for the Billings Mustangs with 40 strikeouts in just 163 at bats, but he has still been batting .288 with a .348 OBP and 17 total stolen bases. If he struggles, it isn’t for a lack of athleticism.

Then there is backstop Okey out of Clemson. Okey played a lot of international baseball as an amateur and was praised by the team’s pitchers for his in-game management skills. In his final year at Clemson he had a 1.076 OPS, 15 home runs, an impressive four stolen bases for a catcher, and 33 XBH in just 239 AB. In his 107 at bats since being promoted to Dayton, Okey has been keyed in. He has a .252/.333/.495 slash line, 6 HR, and already three steals. Okey’s unique mix of plate discipline, power, and athleticism make him a very interesting second round pickup.

Then there is the undrafted free agent Friedl out of the University of Nevada. With as many rounds and thousands of players that are picked in the MLB Draft, it is a head scratcher on how Friedl wasn’t selected. In his final year at Nevada he had a 1.057 OPS, 13 stolen bases, 21 XBH, and 32 walks in 222 at bats. He has taken 39 at bats so far for the Rookie League Mustangs and has been turning heads. He has a .385/.455/.718 slash line with two steals and eight XBH. There isn’t a better definition of a steal than signing your organization’s 12th best prospect after he wasn’t picked in 40 rounds and 1,216 selections.

Slow to Develop

These exciting new additions have come on scene at just the right time. Several of the Reds’ previous top young guns have been a little slow to become MLB ready. 2014 #19 overall draft pick Nick Howard, a closer out of Virginia, has been pushed all the way outside the organization’s top 30 prospects. He was formerly the fifth best prospect, but in 58 total IP between 2015-2016 Howard has a 6.67 ERA, 2.33 WHIP, and an absolutely awful 12.6 BB/9. Other former highly awaited prospects such as Phil Ervin, Nick Travieso, and Alex Blandino have seen their stocks take a shot with the arrival of the former college stars.

The #5 prospect for Cincinnati is former Cuban League Gold Glove winner and Rookie of the Year Alfredo Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a 22-year old shortstop who was signed for $7mm. Skills wise, he is a fairly typical infielder from Cuba. He lacks pop and consistency with the bat but he has speed and athleticism that makes him a nifty fielder and a dangerous base runner. If he is able to develop plate discipline, he could be an asset of long-time value.

Big Guns

Now to the big guns, the prospects we have been hearing about and drooling over for quite some time: LHP Amir Garrett (#2), OF Jesse Winker (#3), and RHP Robert Stephenson (#4). Garrett is a 24-year old former St.John’s basketball player who has made significant strides on the mound, so much so that now many scouts project him to have high probability ace potential. He started the season with Double-A Pensacola where he racked up a phenomenal 1.75 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, and an impressive zero home runs allowed in 77 innings pitched.

Since his promotion to Triple-A Louisville, he hasn’t been dominant, but he has handled the learning curve smoothly. In 50 innings pitched he has a 3.24 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and has a HR/9 of just 0.54. Jesse Winker was selected 49th by the Reds in 2012 and in 1700 total AB in those five seasons he has a .295/.397/.456 slash line, 159 XBH, has hit as many as 16 home runs, and stolen as many as 8 bases in a season. In large contrast to new New York Met Jay Bruce, Winker profiles much less as a murderous and streaky power hitter, and has drawn large comparisons to Joey Votto for his elite plate discipline, and solid mix of contact, power, and sneaky base running.

This season for Triple-A Lousiville Winker has an OPS of .764, which is far below his average. However, that is because he has struggled to power hit at Triple-A. He still has a .300 BA, a .389 OBP, and an equal amount of K:BB with 47 each in 317 AB. The power has always been there for Jesse, so it is most vital that he continues to demonstrate his plate discipline and contact hitting. To wrap up the enigmatic three young-ins, there is Stephenson.

Robert Stephenson

He was taken 27th by the Reds in 2011 and, though it seems like he’s been a top prospect for a decade, he is just 23 years old. He has been an MLB top 100 prospect and a Cincinnati top 3 prospect every year since 2013, but it is a little confusing to understand why. Over 507 total innings pitched in the minors he has a 3.99 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and has allowed a mediocre 4.26 BB/9.

This season in Louisville he has a 4.29 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 1.11 HR/9, and 4.5 BB/9. Scouts have always liked Stephenson’s build and the fact that he seems to have some electric potential in his pitching arsenal. He has consistently shown that he can be durable and eat innings through his 94 career minor league starts, and he has had success in a limited MLB sample size in which he holds a 3.00 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 3.0 BB/9 through 12 innings pitched in two starts in the big leagues for an average of 6 innings per start.

Every Bit Counts

As of now, in total, 16 of the Reds top 30 prospects are acquisitions as recent as 2015 to the present via the MLB Draft, International Signings, and recent trades. Adam Duvall and the fruits of his All-Star season were courtesy of the Mike Leake trade; and a very high amount of current big league Reds were either top organizational prospects or top 100 MLB prospects from 2013 and on including: Tucker Barnhart, Jose Peraza, Eugenio Suarez, Billy Hamilton, Scott Schebler, Kyle Waldrop, Jon Moscot, Cody Reed, Dan Straily, Brandon Finnegan, Anthony DeSclafani, John Lamb, Michael Lorenzen, Tony Cingrani, and Raisel Iglesias.

There have also been several other players that were gained via trade who are still young with potential, but currently land outside the Reds’ top 30 prospects or they no longer qualify such as Brandon Dixon, Tony Renda, Stephen Johnson, and Caleb Cotham. The point is that there are a lot of young and talented Reds who were responsibly acquired via the trade market. Rookie Davis (#7), Keury Mella (#8), Max Wotell (#21), Eric Jagielo (#24), and not to forget recently acquired infielder from the Mets, Dilson Herrera, who was the #46 overall prospect in baseball last season and already has played in 49 games across two seasons in the big leagues despite being just 22 years old.

The trio of Mahle, Davis, and Mella have been infuego. Mahle rode a scorching hot streak for 13 starts and 79.1 innings pitched for A+ Daytona this season in which he averaged 6.10 IP per start, a 2.50 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 0.68 HR/9, and just 1.93 BB/9 and he even tossed a no-hitter against Jupiter in which he allowed just one base runner. Davis came to the Reds in the Aroldis Chapman deal and wasn’t exactly polarized, but in 18 starts for Double-A Pensacola he averaged 5.33 IP per start, a 2.72 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 2.44 BB/9. 23-year old Keury Mella who was packaged with Adam Duvall from the Giants has never been much of an inning-eating starter, but he has had consistent success.

In 414 innings pitched since 2012 in the minors he has a 3.22 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 3.30 BB/9, and a stifling 0.39 HR/9. There have also been some prospects who have struggled to gain any traction. Tyler Stephenson was the #11 pick in 2015 and he managed just a .713 OPS in 2015 with 194 AB for Billings and this year has a poor OPS of just .602 in 139 Dayton Dragon at bats.

Former Stanford infielder Alex Blandino has cooled off significantly. He holds the Winker-Votto skill-set and was able to produce a .939 OPS in 110 AB for Billings and a .808 OPS through two seasons at A+ Daytona. Last season he was promoted to Pensacola and managed an OPS of just .724 in 115 AB and this season he has been really skidding with an ugly OPS of .669 in 332 AB in Florida.

22-year old Nick Travieso has also regressed a bit. In 19 starts in 2015 with Daytona he had a 2.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 0.39 HR/9, and 2.89 BB/9. This season in 92.2 IP at Double-A he has a 4.18 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, nearly 2.5x more HR allowed at 0.97 HR/9, and 4.18 BB/9 after he had averaged just 2.8 for his previous four seasons. 18-year old Nick Hanson has a 9.18 ERA, 2.40 WHIP, and 8.1 BB/9 for his first 16.2 IP, but that is nothing to panic over; and we need not go into the horrendous struggles that Nick Howard is facing again.

Main Photo