Cincinnati Reds

Original Published Date: October 6, 2015

The Reds added some much needed depth to their minor league system when the traded Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake at the trading deadline.  None of the prospects they received have huge ceilings, although Keury Mella, Cody Reed and Brandon Finnegan were close.  However, as the Houston Astros have proven, depth is critically important to an organization.  Candidly, with some very good positional players on the major league roster, the Reds are not that far away from competing.

Pitching is the real need at the major league level and Robert Stephenson and John Lamb give them a very good one, two punch that should help as soon as next year.  Amir Garrett, Keury Mella, and Cody Reed are a couple years away, but all show number three starter upside.

Jesse Winker is the closes positional player to helping the Reds.  Unfortunately, the power went down in 2015 but he still is a fine prospect who can really hit.  Alex Blandino is also moving up very quickly and is a similar player to Winker – a kid who can just really hit.

The Reds have a good system with both elite prospects that can help in 2016 and depth to help them compete over the next three to four years.  Together with an existing solid major league roster, the Reds should not be a sub-500 team for long.  Now, they just need to find a way to get out of the NL Central.  Let’s face it, jumping over the Cubs, Pirates, and Cardinals is going to be a tall order.

1. Robert Stephenson (RHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 AA,AAA 134.0 104 57 10 4.70 9.40 3.83 1.30

After 231.2 innings pitched at Double-A Pensacola, Robert Stephenson was finally promoted to Triple-A.  It was a difficult two years for the 6-foot-2 right-hander as he struggling mightily to control his arsenal, posting an ugly 5.06 walk-per-nine (BB/9) ratio.  Once the Reds finally did promote him to Triple-A in July, the control was still below average as he posted a 4.37 BB/9 ratio. However, the arsenal is still electric and Stephenson has enough athleticism to eventually repeat his delivery, so long-term, we are still bullish on his upside.

Scouting Report:  As Stephenson has matured, he’s become more of a pitcher than a thrower.  When he was in Low-A, he could reach back and hit triple-digits.  Now, he’s more controlled and sitting 91 to 94 MPH and topping out at 96 when he needs something extra.  It’s still a plus fastball with good life but he does pitch up in the zone.  His outpitch is a 78 to 80 MPH curveball with good shape, but as his control numbers show, he doesn’t always throw it over the plate.  His change-up has taken a nice step-up this year and projects to be an above-average future offering.

With three above-average to plus pitches, Stephenson just lacks the ability to consistently throw them for strikes.  While that’s a big “caveat” when evaluating prospects, Stephenson is just 22-years-old and does have enough athleticism to repeat his delivery better than what he is doing.  The next couple of years will likely to continue to be inconsistent for Stephenson, but long-term he has the arsenal to profile as a high number three starter in the big leagues.

Fantasy Impact:  Prospect fatigue is likely setting in for Robert Stephenson.  I get it…he’s been on our Top 100 list for the last three years and hit #37 on our 2015 mid-season list.  However, not all prospects develop at the same rate and Stephenson is just taking a little longer to polish the product.   The ceiling is a top 40 major league pitcher with a high strikeout rate, but ratios that will likely always be a little elevated given his control problems and home run tendency.

2. Jesse Winker (OF)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 210 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
2015 AA 443 69 13 55 8 .282 .390 81.3 14.1 .320

In my respects, it was a disappointing year for Jesse Winker, our number 38th pre-season ranked prospect.   However, if you dig deeper into the stats and review the scouting reports, he appears to be the same player that we thought he was at the start of the season.

Scouting Report:  In 2013 and 2014, Winker showed both an excellent approach and surprising pop; candidly, more pop than his swing mechanics would suggest.  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.   Then why so many home runs last year?  The primary reason was the friendly hitter parks of the California League where Winker posted a .263 ISO.  However, once he was promoted to Double-A, his ISO dropped to .143, which is similar to the .151 ISO he posted in 2015.

What Winker has continued to show is excellent contact and strike zone awareness.  In 417 at-bats, he had an 82/74 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which was one of the best ratios in the minor leagues.    The question becomes, can he have enough power to generate 15 to 18 home runs at the highest level to warrant a first division corner outfielder.  I think he can.

At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he has natural strength and shows that in batting practice.  Plus, he just turned 22-years-old in August and was very young for the league.   I think the power will come, and with the ability to steal a handful of bases, I still see a first division major league player.

Fantasy Impact:  We will still rank Winker very high on our 2016 Top 100 Prospect List as we believe he’ll profile as a .280 plus hitter with 15 home runs and five to eight stolen bases.  While that’s not a superstar, there is upside in the power as he continues to fill-out and learns how to put backspin on the ball.  Dynasty League owners need to stay patient and non-owners need to start making trade offers.

3. Amir Garrett (LHP)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-5 Weight: 210 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+ 140.1 117 38 4 3.53 8.53 2.44 1.23

Amir Garrett had been splitting time between the hardwood and the diamond, but after a full season in Low-A in 2014, the uber-athletic lefty is finally starting to grow into his talent.   In 140.1 innings in the Florida State League, he posted an impressive 2.44 ERA with a 133/50 strikeout-to-walk ratio.  While the strikeout rate shows the promise, the walk rate shows the work that he has left to complete.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Garrett has the size that Player Development Leaders crave.  Throw in he pitches from the left side and can dial his fastball up to 96 MPH, and there is a lot to work with.  However, the stuff is raw and his slider still needs a lot of work.  He’s also starting to show a feel for a change-up and given time, that offering should grade out to an average offering.

Garrett is still two years away from the big leagues and the Reds will surely take it slow with him.  He’s still more thrower than pitcher, but the athleticism is elite and this should allow him to eventually repeat his delivery.  Once he does, he has a chance to be a number two starter in the major leagues.   There’s obvious risk, but one that we are willing to take.

Fantasy Impact:  Garrett came into the 2015 season as an under-the-radar prospect.  He will not be that anymore and Dynasty League owners need to jump on board.  The upside is a number two starter with a strikeout an inning; and depending on how quickly his control improves, better than league average ratios.

4. Keury Mella (RHP)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+ 103.0 77 37 7 3.58 9.26 3.23 1.15

Keury Mella was my favorite of the five players acquired by the Reds at the trading deadline.  While he might not have had the name recognition of Brandon Finnegan or John Lamb, he’s younger and with a higher upside.   He showed that in 15 starts in the challenging California League where he posted a 3.50 ERA with a 9.40 K/9 and a 3.13 BB/9 rate.

Scouting Report:  Mella has a solid arsenal with potentially three above-average pitches.  His fastball sits 93 to 94 MPH with plenty of 5’s and 6’s.  It has a ton of heavy life and movement that batters struggle to square up.  He throws a hard curve that sits 78 to 80 MPH that has some slider action to it. When he throws it for strikes, it can be very difficult to hit.  He’s also starting to show a feel for a change-up and that ultimately might become his best secondary pitch.

His delivery has a cross-fire pattern and that helps to hide the ball well to both arm and glove side hitters.  The release is just short of a traditional three-quarters release point.  While the delivery works to make his stuff play-up, it also is putting a lot of stress on his arm.  He’s already had some arm problems and the Reds might be well served to try and correct some of the violence in his delivery.  If not, he could eventually be moved to the pen.

Fantasy Impact:  Mella has the stuff to be a solid mid-rotation starter or if the Reds decide to move him to the pen, a lock-down closer.  Regardless of the role, there is definitely upside from a fantasy standpoint with high strikeout totals and the ability to induce a ton of ground balls.  He’s a solid prospect with a chance to break into the back-end of our Top 100 prospect list.

5. John Lamb (LHP)

2016 Age: 25 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 205 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 AAA 111.1 94 33 7 2.91 9.46 2.67 1.17

The story of John Lamb needs to be told over and over again as it’s one of persistence of a player with a great work ethic who beat the odds.  In 2012, John Lamb was considered one of the best left handed pitching prospects in baseball.  He fastball sat 92 to 95 MPH with promising secondary pitches.  Entering the 2011 season, many were predicting that Lamb could be in the majors by the end of the season as a 21-year-old.  However, in a late May game, he blew out his elbow and went in for Tommy John Reconstructive surgery.  No worries…everyone comes back from TJS…but Lamb did not.

I saw him in Wilmington in 2013 and his fastball was sitting 86 to 87 MPH with his curveball, which looked great, sitting 66 to 68 MPH.  He wasn’t fooling anyone and got hammered, posting a 5.63 ERA while giving up 13 home runs in 19 starts.  He looked like Barry Zito to me and by the end of the year, everyone in baseball simply wrote him off as a “statistic”; the one who didn’t make it back.

But Lamb didn’t give up.  He kept working on his craft, building arm strength, and guess what?  The stuff returned, or returned “good enough”.  In his 49.2 innings in the big leagues in 2015, his fastball averaged 91.72 with his secondary pitches looking very good.  John Lamb beat the odds and made it back.

Scouting Report: Lamb is a good pitcher with a solid four pitch mix.  His fastball sits 90 to 93 (T94) with his slider/cutter becoming his best secondary pitch.  He doesn’t use his 6-foot-4 frame well and pitches up in the zone. It could be a hold-over from when he threw harder but the Reds need to work on having him use his height better.  He has added a sinker but he struggles locating it.  He secondary pitches will get plenty of swings and misses and that should make him a high strikeout pitcher.

Fantasy Impact: Lamb’s ceiling is a solid mid-rotation starter but he needs to keep the ball in the ballpark better. I think he can solve that and eventually reach his ceiling. He should be owned on all Dynasty Leagues, including 2016 re-draft leagues.

6. Alex Blandino (SS)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
2015 A+,AA 414 61 10 53 9 .278 .364 81.4 10.2 .316

With their second pick in the first round of the 2014 first year player draft, the Reds went with an advanced college hitter in Alex Blandino.  While the industry has been mixed on “Stanford hitters” as a cookie cutter approach that limits players from tapping into some of their natural hitting mechanics, it seems to work for Blandino.  In 302 at-bats in the challenging hitting environment of the Florida State League, Blandino posted an .800 OPS with seven home runs and a 57K/31BB strikeout-to-walk ratio.  While the excellent strikeout-to-walk-ratio continued upon his promotion to Double-A, it came with a disappointing .218 batting average and a .677 OPS.

Scouting Report:  While he’s not quite the hitter as Jesse Winker, there are some similarities in approach and swing mechanics.  He has a quick, compact swing with good bat speed and excellent strike zone awareness.  In batting practice, he shows more pop than during game play as he adds length to his swing and pulls the ball more.

Defensively, he’s an average at-best shortstop with limited range and a good arm.  He profiles best at second base and should have enough offensive projection to make it work.

Fantasy Impact:  The ceiling for Blandino is a classic number two hitter with great on-base skill, plenty of runs, 10 to 12 home runs and single-digit stolen bases.  Provided that comes from your middle-infield spot, that should work in deeper fantasy leagues.  That’s not a star, but a serviceable fantasy player with a low risk of meeting that ceiling.   In a Dynasty League, that’s important.

7. Phil Ervin (OF)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 5-10 Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
2015 A+,AA 456 75 14 71 34 .241 .346 78.5 12.2 .274

The Reds selected Phillip Ervin with the number 29th overall selection in the 2013 first year player draft and expected him to move quickly through the system.  He excelled in his three years at Samford, showing both power and speed with an excellent understanding of the strike zone and a mature approach.  However, in his two years of professional ball, things just haven’t clicked as well as the Reds had hoped.  While he had a good season in High-A, slashing .242/.338/.375 and showing some power and speed, it’s the second year in a row that he’s struggled to make hard and consistent contact.

The Reds did promote him to Double-A in the later part of August and in 16 games, it was a similar outcome.  A good approach, a solid strikeout-to-walk ratio but his game lacked hard, consistent contact.

Scouting Report:  Ervin has solid tools across the board.  He’s a 60 runner and enough bat speed to hit 20 home runs at the big league level.  Plus he’s making solid contact at 78% with decent plate zone awareness.  So, what’s the problem?  It’s mostly in his Batting Average of Balls in Play.  In 2014, he posted a .284 BABIP and .277 in 2015.  Given his tools, you would expect his BABIP to be 50 points higher and if it were, nobody would be questioning his prospect status.

He’s just rolling over a little too much on the ball.  It could be some over-anxiousness, perhaps he’s just pressing.   However, the tools are there and 12 home runs in the Florida State League was indeed impressive.  For me, he still has 20 HR/20 SB upside with a .260 to .270 batting average.

Fantasy Impact:  Phil Ervin is a buy-low candidate in a Dynasty League, plain and simple.  Is there risk…sure, but the tools are very fantasy-friendly and I don’t think he’s going to hit in the .250’s.  Remember, he’s still going to play in one of the best hitting parks in the league and that could come in late 2016 or 2017.

8. Cody Reed (LHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-5 Weight: 220 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+,AA 145.2 127 39 4 2.60 8.93 2.42 1.16

In five years, the Reds could look back on their 2015 trades and conclude that Cody Reed was the best talent acquired.  While John Lamb has the better pedigree, Reed has the stuff and size to excel at the highest level.  On pure upside, Reed is ahead of Lamb.  However, since Lamb is already in the big leagues, that puts him ahead on the prospect depth chart.

Scouting Report:  I had a chance to see Reed in the High-A all-star game and was really impressed.  He lit up the radar gun at 98 MPH with a plus slider.  Granted, it was in a short burst, but the arm strength he showed was indeed impressive and seeing him sit 94 to 95 MPH as a starter is totally reasonable.

Reed’s pitching mechanics need some work as there are currently a lot of moving parts.  That said, he’s able to repeat his delivery and that’s all that matters.

Fantasy Impact:  He’s big, he’s a lefty and therefore, he needs to be on Dynasty League owner’s radar.  If my Top 100 list went to 150, he would be on it.  In fact, he might be on it if I went down to 125.  The upside is a top 40 fantasy pitcher with seven plus strike outs per nine and better than league average ratios.

9. Tyler Stephenson (C)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 225 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2019
2015 R 487 28 1 16 0 .268 .352 78.4 10.0 .338

Tyler Stephenson shot up draft boards this spring as the Georgia high schooler had an impressive senior year posting a .425 batting average with nine home runs in 28 games.   While the power didn’t translate well in his first taste of professional ball, he showed good contactability (79%) and a decent approach at the plate.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Stephenson doesn’t look like your prototypical catcher, but instead is more of an outlier along the lines of Orioles all-star catcher, Matt Wieters.  While not everyone is sold on him being able to stay behind the plate, he does have good receiving skills with a plus arm.  From all indications, the Reds intend to keep him at catcher.

Offensively, he has plus raw power that is more derived from his physicality instead of plus bat speed.  Because of this, there will be worry about his ability to catch-up to inside heat.  Additionally, his size will naturally add length to his swing and he’ll have to work on creating more directness to the ball.  There are clearly a lot of concerns, but there are equally as many compelling reasons to get excited about.  He’s only 18-years-old and likely four to five years away from the majors, so the development process does favor him.

Fantasy Impact:  If you’re in a two-catcher league, Stephenson is a kid to bid on in your upcoming draft.  The ceiling is a solid contributor with 20 home runs, a .250 batting average, hitting as a number six or seven hole batter.  At 18-years-old, he has a ton of time to develop, but then again, that puts him far away from helping your fantasy team.

10. Aristides Aquino (OF)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018
2015 A 283 32 7 40 6 .247 .290 78.1 4.3 .292

We really pumped up Aristides Aquino last year and ranked him number eight on the Reds Top 10 list.  Unfortunately, he suffered a broken arm in late April and missed two months of the season and played the rest of the year in Low-A.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, Aqunio looks the part of a prototypical, big league right-fielder.   He has plus raw power that translated in 2014 to 16 home runs in the Pioneer league, but disappeared in his injury-shorten season this year.  The Midwest League does suppress home runs but Aquino can also expand the strike zone due to his extremely aggressive approach.  This will need to be addressed as he moves up the ladder as the strikeouts will mount and he’ll struggle to get to his plus raw power in-games.

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 home runs annually. However, his ultra-aggressive approach could put pressure on his batting average and his overall ability to get on base.

2016 Emerging Prospect

Antonio Santillan (RHP)

Antonio Santiillan was the Reds second round draft pick in the 2015 draft.  He’s an arm strength kid with impressive physical size.  He can run his fastball to the mid to upper nineties with a curve ball that one source said “could be a real weapon”.  His pitching mechanics need a lot of attention and the Reds will start to break that down in the Fall Instructional League.  He’s sushi raw but he has the kind of tools that could eventually play at the top of a major league rotation.

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