|Original Published Date: October 7, 2014|
The Cincinnati Reds have been consistent winners over the past five years and consequently have not drafted in the single digits since 2009 when they drafted Mike Leake at pick seven. Proving that it’s many times more about scouting and player development, the Reds minor league system is healthy with talent throughout the organization. Additionally, they have developed one of the most exciting talents to enter the major leagues in the past decade in Billy Hamilton. While I don’t see another Billy Hamilton in the system, the Reds have built a nice talent pipeline to maintain their winning ways for many years to come.
Two elite prospects in Robert Stephenson and Jesse Winker rank atop the organization and both should see Cincinnati sometime in 2015. Converted relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen made excellent progress in 2014 and the experiment should result in a job as a big league starting pitching. If it doesn’t work, he could move back to the bullpen with the chance to be an interesting closer option. Yorman Rodriguez continues to be a wild card as his combination of raw skills could one day make him a star. Aristides Aquino is the latest guy to dream on within the organization and that will likely lead to a great deal of hype in the off-season. You should believe it, but good luck pronouncing his name!
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 195||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
I fully expected to see Robert Stephenson in the Cincinnati starting rotation sometime during the second half, but the emergence (I can’t think of any other word) of Alfredo Simon put an end to that prediction. It didn’t help that Stephenson was just not ready.
Stephenson is an elite talent. He has the size, athleticism, and arsenal to be a top-of-the-rotation starter, but his inability to repeat his delivery and his fly ball tendency has pushed his ceiling down. The arsenal is excellent with a fastball that sits 94-96 MPH with excellent late action due to nice momentum to the plate. His power curve is another plus offering and is a true swing and miss pitch. It sits in the low-80’s with excellent shape and spin. Batters are routinely caught off guard and are late on the pitch. The change-up is still developing and eventually should grade out as an above average offering.
Despite his athleticism, he just has not been able to consistently repeat his delivery. Plus, he continues to pitch up in the zone and this has led to more fly balls than ground balls and 18 home runs given up in Double-A. The stuff though is producing a lot of swing and misses and his 140 strikeouts ranked first in the Southern League. However, he also walked nearly five per nine and when you combined that with being homer-prone, an inflated 4.74 ERA resulted.
Fantasy Impact: While there’s a lot to like with Stephenson, there is also a lot of work left to polish the package. The ceiling is still a number two but given his struggles, the risk profile has increased. While I fully expect his control to improve, I’m more worried about his fly ball tendency and what the “Great American Small Park” might bring. That said, if you’re a dynasty owner, you don’t give up on athletic pitchers who can hit 98 MPH. It might take a while, but the reward could be very, very good. Be patient and take the long road and invest.
|2015 Age: 21||Ceiling: 1st Div
|Ht:6-3 Weight: 210||Bats: Left Throws:Left||ETA: 2015|
I had a debate with one of my readers – Jesse Winker vs. Phillip Ervin. I argued the tools of Ervin and he argued the hit-tool of Winker. So far, Winker has excelled and Ervin has struggled; although Ervin did steal 30 bases and still has a chance to be just as good, if not better than Winker. Yeah I know, I’m competitive and hate losing. But back to Winker…
Winker started the year in Bakersfield in the California league and showed an impressive ability to control the strike zone with a 46K/40BB strikeout-to-walk ratio. If you’re keeping score, that’s elite territory and what will carry Winker to the major leagues – he can flat out hit. The power is the question. His swing is short to the ball and he obvious makes great contact but it’s more of a contact swing and lacks the leverage of a pull-side slugger. While he did hit 13 home runs in 53 games in High-A, his total was surely enhanced by the hitter-friendly confines of the Cali-League. I think the swing points to a 15 to 20 home run ceiling as opposed to a 25 to 30 ceiling.
Shortly after being promoted to Double-A, Winker was in a car accident that caused him to tear a tendon in his right wrist. He missed the remainder of the season but was selected for the Arizona Fall League. While the missed time was a setback, Winker’s bat will continue to move him quickly through the minor leagues with a late 2015 call-up a distinct possibility.
Fantasy Impact: I really like players that can hit and Winker fits the bill. The ability to control the strike zone is the hardest skill to acquire and I believe Winker will have a long and prosperous career. His fantasy value will be sneaky in that he should contribute in one of the harder categories – RUNS. He could have a ceiling of a .290-.300 batting average with 18 home runs, five stolen bases, and 100 runs scored. That’s a very nice fantasy player particularly for a roto league. If you’re in a points league, the value will be somewhat reduced as those leagues usually favor power.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: #3 starter or closer
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 195||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015-16|
As primarily an outfielder in college, most observers assumed that Lorenzen would be drafted as a positional player. However, the Reds loved his arm and how he handled the closer duties at Cal State Fullerton and moved him to the bump.
He spent his entire first year in the minor leagues as a reliever, closing four games along the way. The Reds decided to move him to the rotation to start the 2014 season and so far, it’s worked. Over 120.2 innings in Double-A, he posted an impressive 3.13 ERA with 84 strikeouts and 44 walks while giving up 112 hits.
Lorenzen’s primarily a two-pitch pitcher with a plus fastball that he can run up into the mid-90’s and a hard slider that generates plenty of swings and misses. The change-up has improved and while right-handed batters hit .260, it’s still 40 more than lefties hit. The 6.3 K/9 rate does shows that he’s not a pure strikeout pitcher, but his 2.18 ground-ball-to-flyball ratio demonstrates the sink and plane he gets on his pitches.
Fantasy Impact: While there is no guarantee that Lorenzen will stay a starter, his fastball/slider combination will play as a back of the bullpen arm as well. For a fantasy owner it’s a potential win-win situation. Because of this, Lorenzen is a player that I would be adding to all my dynasty leagues.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: 1st Div
|Ht:5-10 Weight: 205||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
Signed in the first round of the 2013 first year player draft out of Samford University, Phillip Ervin has failed to put up impressive statistics in his brief professional career. The Reds started him back in Low-A and while he showed very good strike zone awareness, he only managed a slash line of .237/.305/.376. Part of his poor batting average and resulting OBP can be attributed to a .283 BABIP.
This low BABIP is a little surprising given his plus running speed and bat speed. He makes loud contact and while he only managed to hit eight home runs, the bat speed and swing path point to a ceiling of 12 to 15 home run potential. His running speed rates 60 on the 20-80 scale and that combined with his ability to read pitchers resulted in him stealing 30 bases at an 86% success rate. It’s a nice all-around offensive package, again, even if the in-game production has not yet shown up.
He’s an average fielder, but has enough speed to make center field work. Given the progression of Billy Hamilton as a defender, Ervin will have to move to left field to see Cincinnati or be used as a trade asset at some future point.
Fantasy Impact: While Jesse Winker is the safer prospect with the better hit-tool, Ervin could be the better fantasy contributor. He has a ceiling of 12 to 15 home runs with 30 plus stolen bases while batting .260 to .270. In fact, Ervin might be an excellent buy low candidate as the tools are there to become an excellent fantasy contributor.
|2015 Age: 21||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 215||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016-17|
While fellow first round draft pick Michael Lorenzen has passed Nick Travieso in our rankings, the upside of Travieso is every bit as high, if not more so.
Travieso was the Reds 2013 first round draft pick out of Archbishop McCarthy High School in Florida. While 2013 was a good year for the 20-year-old rightly, his fastball velocity took a step back and was sitting 90-92 MPH and lacked the life he had as an amateur. In 2014, he arrived in camp in better shape and the arsenal improved with more 93-94’s and a tighter slider. The result is a better strikeout rate, fewer home runs, and more ground balls.
The mechanics are still strong, although his balance could use some improvement as he falls off to the first base side on his landing. He continues to show strong momentum to the plate and that is allowing his pitches to have that extra bit of life. Finally, he is able to repeat his delivery which is resulting in an impressive 2.78 walk-per-nine rate.
Fantasy Impact: Travieso might not yet be a household name, but he has solid number three upside. While I was disappointed that he spent most of the year in Low-A, he’s still only 20-years-old, which made him one of the youngest pitchers in the Midwest League. There’s a lot to like with Travieso and given his non-elite prospect status, there is a buying opportunity.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 215||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
Nick Howard was a two-way player in Virginia, slashing .303/.345/.400 in three seasons as a third baseman. However, what intrigued the Reds was his arm strength and the ability to hit the upper nineties with this fastball. While in college, he struck out 149 batters in a 141 innings but in 2014, was used as the team’s closer where he saved 20 games.
After being drafted, the Reds publically acknowledged that they were going to develop Howard as a starting pitcher much like they did with Michael Lorenzen. In his first 21 professional innings, Lorenzen was used as a reliever. In Howard’s first 33.2 professional innings, he was used exclusively as a reliever, he struck out 23 while walking 11.
While the mechanics need to be cleaned up, the arsenal works well. He throws a fastball that sits 91-93 MPH with a lot of late life given the momentum he gets on his delivery. His out-pitch is an 84-86 MPH slider that could be a real weapon. Since he was primarily used as a reliever, his change-up is underdeveloped but given his athleticism and arm slot, the pitch should profile as at least average if not more.
Fantasy Impact: As with Michael Lorenzen, Nick Howard is a nice high upside pitcher to own on a Dynasty League. His ceiling is a number three starter but if that doesn’t work, he could be moved to the bullpen as a late inning bullpen threat. Remember, Aroldis Chapman will be a free agent in two years.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling:Solid-Reg|
|Ht:6-3 Weight: 195||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
I’ve been leading the Yorman Rodriguez prospect bandwagon for two years now and candidly, I’m tiring on the potential. The tools are still alluring. He’s got bat speed, above average running speed, an above average arm, but his lack of plate discipline is not allowing him to advance.
2014 was nearly a carbon copy of 2013 where he had a 70% contact rate that was coupled with a 9% walk rate. In fact, his command of the strike zone was actually worse in 2014. Plus, the elite bat speed has not translated into over-the-fence power. In 450 at-bats, he managed to only hit nine home runs.
The optimist will say that he just turned 22-years-old in August and still has the raw tools to be a star. However, unless he can change his approach at the plate, I’m skeptical that he will reach his first division ceiling. At this rate, his ceiling might actually be an extra bat.
Fantasy Impact: I’ve dropped Rodriguez in all my Dynasty Leagues. He’s still a top 200 Prospect and does have the raw tools to be much more. However, his inability to modify his approach is starting to be a real problem and until he modifies, I’m taking a flyer on someone else.
|2015 Age: 21||Ceiling: 1st Div
|Ht:6-4 Weight: 190||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2017|
Aristides Aquino was our 2014 emerging prospect and could arguably have the highest upside of anyone in the Reds system. He’s got the body – 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds that screams power projection. In fact, his 16 home runs in the Pioneer league (2nd in the league) would indicate that the raw power is already starting to translate into in-game power. He has average speed but as he fills out, the speed will likely disappear. It’s not all roses as the approach is ultra-aggressive and he still has a tendency to swing at pitches, particularly breaking pitches, out of the strike zone. It’s now up to the development process and Aquino’s ability to learn and adjust. The ceiling is a first division starter as well as the top prospect in the Reds organization.
Fantasy Impact: In a deep Dynasty league with 250 to 300 minor leaguers, you should always leave room for two to three high impact prospects that are several years away. Aquino fits that definition as he has plus power potential that could lead to 25 plus home runs. However, his ultra-aggressive approach could put pressure on his batting average and on-base percentage.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-5 Weight: 210||Bats: Left Throws:Left||ETA: 2016-17|
Amir Garrett had been splitting time between the hardwood and the diamond, but after a full season in Low-A, the uber-athletic lefty looks like he’s finally focusing his attention on pitching full-time. While Garrett is still very raw, the arsenal holds promise with a fastball that sits 91-93 MPH with a lot of natural movement. He also throws a slurve but with a lot more slider-action. It’s a good pitch, particularly when he throws it hard with the ability to miss bats. His change-up is ahead of the slider and is already an above-average pitch.
Because of his height, there are a lot of levers to synchronize and therefore, Garrett doesn’t always finish his pitches off and frequently loses his release point. However, I always bet on the athlete and will continue to do so with Garrett.
Fantasy Impact: Now that he is focusing on baseball full-time, Garrett has a chance to be a solid number three starter if not more. The arsenal is promising and while the mechanics still need a lot of work, his athleticism should eventually allow him to repeat his delivery. It’s time to grab Garrett in a Dynasty League as the upside is too high to pass up. That said, it might take a while, so only roster him if you have the patience to ride the ups and downs of the development process.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: #5 starter|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 190||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015-16|
Ben Lively made our annual May Pop Up article on the back of a crazy 61K/5BB strikeout-to-walk ratio. Our position was he was dominating through funk in his delivery as opposed to plus stuff. His fastball sits 90-92 MPH and his secondary pitches play up partially because batters cannot pickup his pitches.
He continued to be successful after being promoted to Double-A by striking out over ten per nine, however the control became a problem as he walked over five per nine. The more patient approach by older and more experience batters is a big part of the explanation but fatigue could have also played a factor. Lively has a back-of-the-rotation ceiling but could have early success in the major leagues given how well he hides the ball. That opportunity will likely come in 2015.
Fantasy Impact: Ben Lively is a sell high candidate for me in a Dynasty League. I would play up the crazy strikeout rate he accomplished in the California League and how quickly he’s moving. While he could be the next Alex Wood, I’m betting he’s not.
2015 Emerging Prospect
Signed out of the Mexican League in 2013 as 21-year-old, Sebastian Elizalde missed most of last season recovering from Tommy John Surgery. When healthy, Elizalde has plus speed but still needs to improve his base stealing skills (19 of 36) as well as good strike zone awareness at the plate. He profiles as a top-of-the-lineup bat capable of 20 plus stolen bases and low double-digit home runs. He’s likely to start 2015 in Double-A and could see Cincinnati in late 2015.