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.
Down on the Farm Part Two: Cincinnati Reds’ Prospect Pipeline
Bounce Back Candidates
24-year old LHP Ismael Guillon was once the No. 8 prospect for Cincinnati. He faced injury and inconsistency and had left off with a 6.79 ERA and 1.65 WHIP for A+ Bakersfield in 2014. He has returned for 85.1 IP this season for Daytona and has looked good as new. In 28 appearances and 12 starts he has a 2.32 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, a BB/9 below his career average at 3.7 and an impressive 11.1 K/9. With Guillon still just 24, he is more than capable at making a full-steamed run at the majors.
Phil Ervin started his baseball ascent red-hot, but he cooled down in 2014 and 2015 with Dayton and Daytona with OPS of .681 and .713. Now 24 years old, Ervin has experienced a rapid fire recovery. He ended 2015 with 51 Double-A at-bats to the tune of an .821 OPS and this season has taken 355 Double-A at-bats. He has an OPS of .752, 11 HR, 34 XBH and, most impressively, he has stolen 31 bases.
This is already Ervin’s third minor league season with 30+ steals and his second season with double-digit home run totals in combination with 30+ steals. The other outfielders like Winker, Hamilton, Duvall and Schebler may be getting a lot of the spotlight for Cincinnati, but Phil Ervin shouldn’t be forgotten. In his final year at Samford he had a 1.056 OPS, 11 HR, 27 XBH and 21 steals…in just 196 AB. That’s the real deal.
Lesser-Known Prospects to Watch
21-year old Ryan Hendrix is a reliever and alumnus of Texas A&M. He was selected by the Reds No. 138 overall in the fifth round after having a final college season boasting a 6.39 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 1.1 HR/9 and 7.11 BB/9. He then debuted in Billings with a 5.19 ERA, 1.85 WHIP and 5.19 BB/9 in 8.2 IP. So why is Hendrix ranked as the No. 30 prospect in the Reds’ Prospect Pipeline?
The answer is in his electric velocity. His fastball has a range of from 94-98 mph, and he has always utilized that speed to become a high-volume strikeout reliever. The problem was that for some reason, without explanation, his fastball velocity would dip all the way down to 88 mph, and that’s when he would get shelled. So he is mainly working on maintaining his power pitch with durability and the Reds decided to take a chance on this high risk-high reward project.
Since he was promoted to Dayton, he has netted high rewards. He has pitched 18.1 innings from the bullpen and has a 0.98 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, a drastically improved 2.95 BB/9, and has yet to give up a home run. If he has finally found a way to keep his fastball consistently in the mid to high 90s, then his performances in Dayton seem to prove that he will be a potential future closer at the MLB level.
Lastly, everyone should keep an eye on 21-year old Scott Moss, who was the other LHP out of Florida this year that no one seemed to notice in the shadow of teammate A.J. Puk. Moss was stifled by injury after injury while at Florida and only got to pitch 23 total innings in college, all in 2016 after his recovery. The Reds took Moss as a lottery ticket flier No. 108 overall in the fourth round after he produced a 1.57 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, a scorching 12.13 K/9, and didn’t allow a homer in his 23 IP.
The only other sample of Moss’s ability came in 2015 when he pitched 20.2 innings in relief for the Madison Mallards of the Northwoods League. There he posted a 3.48 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, didn’t allow a home run, and even though he walked 6.97/9, he also whiffed 13.1 batters per 9. Well Scott Moss is 25.1 IP and seven starts into his pro career for the Billings Mustangs, and you would hardly believe that he only made 14 NCAA appearances. He has a 2.13 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and while he is only producing a 5.33 K/9, he has apparently improved his command with a 2.84 BB/9.
Moss’s Gator teammate Puk may have been the sixth overall selection and Oakland’s No. 2 franchise prospect, but Scott Moss was always highly regarded for his talent too, his injury issues just never allowed him to showcase that on the proper stage. Now that Moss looks to be throwing fresh and healthy, he is putting his southpaw talent to awesome use in Billings right where he left off in the SEC.
What the Reds Are Doing Right
If there is one thing the Reds are doing very well, it is their performances in recent MLB Drafts. Specifically, the way the Reds draft a healthy mix of college tested, proven prospects; and high-ceiling, talented project players. For every Nick Senzel that the Reds select, they take a Taylor Trammell type player. For every Alex Blandino who produced at a high level at the NCAA level, they take a lottery ticket talent like Ryan Hendrix. For every bonafide All-American quality player like Phil Ervin, a diamond in the rough like Scott Moss enters the pipeline.
The key with the MLB Draft is optimizing your odds for future success. Every year there are 40 rounds and over a thousand new prospects that enter the minors from the draft. Seeing as how there are 750 players currently in the MLB on 25-man rosters and the average professional baseball career lasts 5.6 years, it can be safely concluded that not all prospects will turn into the core of a World Series winning team. By the Reds using their initial draft picks to secure highly-touted, thoroughly evaluated, track record proven players from the college ranks who have a higher chance of finding big league success, they can afford to use later picks on athletically gifted sleepers who offer high risk/high reward potential.
Obviously, not every one of these risky selections is destined to pan out. Not every NCAA stud is destined to pan out. Not even every Baseball America No. 1 prospect is destined to pan out. That is why MLB teams decided to spread all of their hope for the future across the Rookie, A-, A, A+, Double-A and Triple-A levels. All they are looking for is a core of All-Star caliber players and every day starters who will eventually separate themselves from the pack, in hope that they will be better than ever other team’s core in 2-5 years. The Cincinnati Reds are working towards this goal nicely by continually making smart draft picks and calculated gambles to optimize their odds for a deep postseason run in the future.
Take players like Lucas Benenati and Shedric Long. Benenati is a 23-year old pitcher out of Kansas State who was taken in the 10th round by the Reds in 2016 and has a 1.72 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 0.57 BB/9, and 9.77 K/9 in 15.2 IP since he was promoted to Dayton; while Shedric Long was drafted in the 12th round by the Reds back in 2013. He had an .831 OPS, 17 HR, and 18 SB in 487 AB at the Single-A level; and has a .990 OPS, with 4 homers and two stolen bases in 87 at-bats since he was promoted to Daytona.
What the Reds Are Doing Wrong
There are several aspects of rebuilding that the Reds’ organization has been slow at getting to or have all together fumbled. Namely it is their deceleration of transaction volume, their tunnel vision for the future and their close-mindedness towards a handful of players.
By trading Alfredo Simon, Mat Latos, Marlon Byrd, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Broxton, Todd Frazier, Jair Jurrjens, Ryan Hanigan and Chris Heisey since the end of the 2013 season, it would appear that the Reds have been incredibly active on the trade market. However, hidden under the moves they made are many missed opportunities to strengthen the farm system.
It mostly started with the failed attempts to trade Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips. If you know you want to trade a player, there is usually no reason to rush, but there is no reason to sit idly by as their value lowers. The more time the buyer gets out of the player, the more they are willing to pay. While Jay Bruce improved his stock this season with his All-Star worthy power-hitting, the time lost hurt the potential returns. 35-year old Brandon Phillips is a different story.
It would’ve been a great time to trade him after his All-Star, Gold Glove, 18 homers and 100+ RBI season in 2013. It would’ve been a great time to trade him after last season when he hit .294, 12 homers and stole 23 bases. However after 2013 the club was still too hopeful and sentimental about the fan-favorite Phillips, and last season Phillips may have still been a bit hopeful and sentimental himself by turning down trades to Washington and Arizona.
This season in June and July leading up to the trade deadline, all but all of “Dat Dude BP’s” value had evaporated. He had OPS of .608 and .671, he stole just two bases, and hit zero home runs. At 35, that didn’t seem too appealing to any contender willing to deal top prospects for a game-changing infielder. Though Phillips has hit two homers, stolen four bases and produced a 1.135 OPS in 49 August at-bats; so he could still have some trade value going forward, if the Reds can find a team he will say “yes” to.
To fully stock a prospect pipeline, you need to be all in so that you are certain you have the talent everywhere on the field. By missing out on trading players like Phillips, Zack Cozart, Manny Parra, Burke Badenhop, Ryan Mattheus, Dan Straily, Ivan De Jesus, Blake Wood, Ross Ohlendorf, Brayan Pena, Jumbo Diaz and even Skip Schumaker, the Reds left a lot of young talent on the table.
The Reds tend to overthink some frivolous details. With players like Tony Cingrani, Michael Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias, John Lamb and prospect Nick Howard, the team focuses far too closely on whether these 22-27-year olds have a future in either the rotation or the bullpen. The team has a history on trying to turn closers into starters and vice versa, so they force changes instead of letting the players pitch and evaluating as they move along.
The same goes for trying to immediately find spots for players like Adam Duvall, Jose Peraza, Scott Schebler and Jesse Winker instead of mixing and matching the players to help them adjust to playing at the big league level. This mindset leaves many prospects on the shelf for too long and they never get the chance to learn how to handle MLB competition.
The organization has chosen to not trade players who are likely not a part of future World Series plans, and then proceed to play them night after night while losing in high-volume instead of giving these at-bats and innings to young players who can get a head start on tackling the learning curve. If the Reds want to contend in a few years, they can’t logically expect to put their top prospects on the field and immediately be rookie superstars. Development takes time, and that’s why the Reds are hurting themselves by wasting any playing time given to players who aren’t a part of the vision for a dynasty.