|Original Published Date: October 11, 2016|
It was a tough year for the Cincinnati Reds. They are rebuilding, kind of…but have yet to move some of their long-tenured major league players. However, because of a terrible pitching staff, particularly their bullpen, they had the second worst record in the league with 94 losses.
Their minor league system is very strong. Nick Senzel, the number two overall pick in the 2016 MLB draft leads the way. The kid can flat out hit and should make quick work of the minor leagues. Jesse Winker is another bat that is just about ready for the show and while there is debate about his power, there’s no question about his ability to hit. The final big bat in the system is Taylor Trammell, an uber athletic prospect who could turn into a superstar or struggle to make it out of Double-A.
If you include Cody Reed (graduated), the Reds pitching staff is looking very promising. While there is no true potential ace in the system, there is a lot of talent that could help the big league team as mid-rotation components or even as a number #2. Amir Garrett leads the charge and has really taken a big step forward this year. Robert Stephenson is still around and kicking and if he can learn to throw strikes, could help the Reds immediately. Tyler Mahle had one of the more impressive seasons in the Reds system and should be ready to contribute next year. Finally there is Antonio Santillan, a raw, big-time talent that has the stuff to be a front-line starter or a power reliever. He too though needs to learn to throw strikes.
It’s a good system, in fact a very good system with talent at many levels of the organization. Is it good enough to replace Johnny Cueto, Joey Votto, and Brandon Phillips? Time will tell.
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 3B
Nick Senzel was the best college hitter in the 2016 MLB draft and the Cincinnati Reds decided to pay him $6.2 million dollars to be their third baseman of the future. How good was he in college? In 57 games in 2016, he slashed .352/.456/.595 with eight home runs and 25 stolen bases while walking twice as much as he struck out. You know what that stat line resembles? Alex Bregman’s junior year at LSU.
Senzel had no trouble once he started to taste professional baseball. After a few days in the Pioneer League, he slashed .329/.415/.567 in 58 games in Low-A. He continued to show an uncanny ability to control the strike zone, walking 32 times while only striking out 49 times in 251 plate appearances.
Scouting Report: Senzel is first and foremost a hitter. He has a mature approach with an excellent understanding of the strike zone with the ability to barrel the ball. The swing is more line drive oriented but he has enough bat speed to project to have future double-digit home run power. Could he add more loft and develop more power? Sure, but it will likely come with a few more strikeouts. That might be a fair trade-off as his approach is so good that he should be able to sustain a high OBP, even with a few more strikeouts.
Despite having only average speed, he is a threat on the base paths. He was 18 for 25 in professional baseball and stole 25 of 29 bases as a junior at Tennessee. While many times good base running skills don’t translate at the big league level, I think it will with Senzel. Particularly early in his career, he could steal 20 plus stolen bases annually.
Fantasy Impact: It’s easy in a rookie fantasy draft to pass over Senzel. He doesn’t have 30 home run or 30 stolen base potential. But, he does have 20 HR/20 SB upside and in a H2H or roto league format, the batting average and OBP will be elite. Add it all up, and it feels a lot like Anthony Rendon or maybe the up and coming Alex Bregman. #BigFan
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
By now, the journey of Amir Garrett from promising basketball player to full-time pitcher is well known. What might not be as well chronicled is how good he pitched last year. The Reds started him off in Double-A to begin the season and he had little trouble. In 12 starts, he struck out over a batter an inning with a reasonable 3.37 walk rate while not giving up a single home run. After his June promotion to Triple-A, he continued to pitch well, posting a 3.46 ERA in 11 starts.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, Garrett has the size that Player Development Leaders crave. Toss in the fact he’s a southpaw and can dial his fastball up to 96 MPH, and there is a lot to work with. The stuff is still a little raw but all of his pitches are now starting to take shape. In particular, his slider has taken a step-up this year and he’s showing more fastball command.
It’s not perfect as he’ll struggle with his mechanics from time-to-time, but with his athleticism, I have very little concerns that he’ll throw consistent strikes as he gains more experience through repetition. Once he does, he has a chance to be a number two starter in the major leagues; and given his 67 Triple-A innings, that could come as early as next season.
Fantasy Impact: Your chance to buy Garrett was in 2015 as he’s now on everyone’s radar. If he is somehow still on your Dynasty League’s waiver wire, stop reading this and go pick him up. 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.
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 to 40 SP
I know I constantly write…”you need to stay patient with young pitchers.” But candidly, I’m losing patience with Robert Stephenson. I think he’s made more Top 100 list than any other player I’ve ranked in the past five years. Yet, the stat lines stays the same; a good strikeout rate but too many walks that is leading to a high ERA and WHIP.
He did get a couple of spot starts in April, as well as pitched in September in the big leagues but after 37 innings, it’s hard to conclude anything. He did throw hard with a 94.03 average velocity on his fastball with a good change-up and curve ball.
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 continues to improve and it projects to be an above-average future offering.
We continue to be high on Stephenson despite the poor control. He’s big, athletic and possesses a dynamic arsenal. Remember, he’s only 23-years-old and sometimes it just takes a while for pitchers to put it all together. 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 has set in for me with Robert Stephenson. However, I keep reminding myself and will remind you, 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.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
Anybody who throws a no-hitter, at any level in professional baseball gets my attention. That’s what Tyler Mahle did on June 13th with he traveled to Jupiter to play the Miami Marlins Florida State League affiliate. 27 up, and 27 down, with six strikeouts and only 105 pitches. He was rewarded in an immediate promotion to Double-A where he continued to pitch very well. So, who is Tyler Mahle?
Scouting Report: Drafted out of Westminster California High School in the seventh round of the 2013 MLB draft, Mahle stood 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds with a modest fastball and a feel to spin a curve. The Reds saw projection in the kid and three years later, he stands 6-foot-4, 210 pounds with a fastball that he can run up to 96 MPH and a curve ball that’s taken a big step up.
He pounds the strike zone with plus control and is not afraid to pitch to contact. He does pitch up in the zone, but it only works when he’s able to throw in the mid-90s. I would like to see him incorporate more two-seamers in his arsenal as he will likely need that as he faces the small confines of the Great American Ballpark. The ceiling is a solid number three starter with a chance for more if he’s able to incorporate a sinker into his repertoire.
Fantasy Impact: Most Dynasty League owners have not heard of Tyler Mahle and this is your chance to jump on him. The stuff took a step up this year and with simple, clean mechanics, there’s a lot to like. There’s a good chance that he sees time in Cincinnati before the end of the year.
Highest Level: Short-Season, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 OF but with extreme risk
I heard a great interview with Taylor Trammell shortly after the Reds drafted him in the Supplemental First Round (Pick 35). He talked about the drama of waiting to be picked and what he did while other players were picked ahead of him. It was nerve wrecking, with everyone staring at him at his home. It’s a reminder that an 18-year-old is still just a kid and the emotions on draft day can be enormous.
After being selected, he went to the Mall to buy his Reds Cap. Before the draft, he considered buying a hat for each team, but when he realized that each hat cost $30, he decided to wait because he couldn’t afford them all. After signing a well over slot bonus of $3.2 million dollars, I think he can afford as many hats as he wants.
Scouting Report: Trammell is the definition of raw and toolsy. He was a two-sport athlete in high school, highly recruited for his exploits on the football field as well as his potential on the diamond. Fortunately for baseball, he chose the superior sport. He’s an exceptional athlete who has double-plus speed and plus bat speed. As with many athletes with this profile, the question is can he hit? Clearly the Reds think he can grow into at least an average hitter and based on the early returns, it looks encouraging. In 61 games in the Pioneer league, he posted a 22% strikeout rate and a 9% walk rate. That’s far from elite skills, but not bad for a kid that many questioned his future hit-tool.
The reports I received on Trammell indicate that he looks like a football player playing baseball. What does that mean? He didn’t naturally go back on balls in the outfield, ran the bases like he was trying to score a touchdown, and had no arm flexibility while throwing. With instructions, all of these can be fixed, particularly when you are dealing with this level of an athlete, who by all accounts has excellent make-up.
Fantasy Impact: There’s always a guy in your Dynasty League who loves the high risk/high reward prospect. Trammell defines that. He has the talent to be a superstar but also might not make it out of Double-A. The tools are alluring and if you have the patience to wait three to four years, you could have a superstar on your hands.
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2018, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 OF
We have always been high on Aristides Aquino but until this year, he had yet to translate his tools into production. That changed when he hit 23 home runs in the Florida State League, one behind league leader, Christin Stewart. He also added 11 stolen bases but did get caught seven times.
Aquino is a reminder to fans as well as fantasy owners, that one have patience with 16-year-old Latin signees. He spent two years playing in the Dominican Summer League and another three years playing in rookie ball before it started to come together. Will he now fly to the majors? Perhaps, but it’s more likely he’ll spend another two-years in apprenticeship before getting his chance.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-4 and a listed 190 pounds (he looks heavier), Aqunio looks the part of a prototypical, big league right-fielder. He has plus raw power that is starting to translate into in-game production. Hitting 23 home runs in the Florida State League is impressive given the size of the parks and the summer heat and humidity. He does expand the strike zone due to his extremely aggressive approach. This will need to be addressed as he moves up the ladder, or the strikeouts will mount and he could struggle to get to his plus raw power in-games.
Fantasy Impact: Aquino should be owned in all Dynasty Leagues that roster 150 to 200 prospects. He has plus power potential and the ability to steal 5 to 10 bases annually. His ultra-aggressive approach could put pressure on his batting average and his overall ability to get on base.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Fifth OF ala Nick Markakis
I always play in an NFBC draft and hold league and part of the fun of that type of format is drafting minor league players that you hope will be promoted and contribute to your team. I drafted Jesse Winker in the 33rd round in hopes that he would help my team. Unfortunately that didn’t happen as Winker was kept in the minor leagues as he struggled to recover from a strained wrist for most of the season.
The wrist clearly zapped him of his power as he slugged only .402 (same as his OBP), after slugging .455 over his minor league career. While he’ll never have elite power, I do think he’ll eventually hit for double-digit power, perhaps 15 to 18 once he establishes himself in the big leagues. What he can do is hit. He continues to control the strike zone at an elite level, walking as much as he strikes out.
Scouting Report: Winker is a pure hitter. He almost never sells out for power and keeps his swing short to the ball. He is strong and if he wanted to add leverage, I think power could develop, but to-date, it just has not. He did hit 13 home runs in a half season in the California League, but that’s an extreme hitters league where balls fly out of at least half the ballparks.
What Winker has continued to show is excellent contact and strike zone awareness. In 463 plate appearances, he had an 1:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is one of the best ratios in the minor leagues. He’s also an average runner at best, so in order for him to truly become an impact player, he’s going to have to add some pop. I still think he will to the tune of 15 to 18 a year.
Fantasy Impact: Winker will not be a fantasy stud. He could be a nice asset for leagues that favor OBP though and owners should adjust his value accordingly. I thought he would see considerable time in 2016 in the big leagues but injuries dictated a different plan. Assuming health, he should see time in Cincinnati in 2017 with again an upside of a .280/.380+ batting average/on-base percentage with double-digit home runs (15 to 18 as a ceiling).
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Closer or solid Holds guy
Drafted in the second round of the 2015 MLB draft, Antonio Santillan was viewed as a project on draft day. He had an electric fastball with the ability to spin a curve but had little idea where the ball was going. After a year of instructions, the 240 pound right-hander has added a tick on his fastball and has smoothed out his delivery.
The results this year were mixed. He pitched very well in the Pioneer League but found the sledding much tougher upon his promotion to the Midwest League. All totaled, he posted a 5.19 ERA, while striking out 10.9 per nine and walking 5.2 per nine.
Scouting Report: Santillan is a big strong kid at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds. Physically, he reminds me of Alex Reyes of the St. Louis Cardinals. He has a simple, athletic delivery that while he struggles to maintain his release point, should improve as he pitches more. The ball comes out very easy with a fastball that sits 93 to 96 MPH (T98) and a hard curve that when he throws strikes, can be a real weapon. He lacks a true third pitch at the moment.
While the Reds currently have him starting, the arsenal might point to a dominate back-of-the bullpen arm as I’m guessing when asked to air-it-out, triple-digits could follow.
Fantasy Impact: While Santillan ranks high on my Reds list, he’s very raw and should only be rostered in the deepest of leagues. That said, there’s something there and smart fantasy owners need to monitor very closely. If his walk rate improves a grade, jump on him.
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 catcher
It was a tough year for Tyler Stephenson, the Reds 2015 first round pick. He started off the year slow and then had two DL stints with a wrist sprain before finally making it back for the final three weeks of the season. While the final stat line was not great; slashing .220/.287/.340 with four home runs and a 4-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio, the Reds are still very high on the 20-year-old catcher.
Given his limited exposure last season, don’t be surprised if the Reds start him back in Dayton to begin the 2017 season. Remember, he’s very young and it just takes time to develop catchers.
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 are worries 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 just turned 20 and is likely three to four 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 target as a buy-low player. The ceiling is a solid contributor with 20 home runs, a .250 batting average, hitting as a number six or seven hole batter. At 20-years-old, he has a ton of time to develop, but then again, that puts him far away from helping your fantasy team.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP or Closer
In December, when intense uncertainty around the future of Aroldis Chapman was swirling, the Reds made the decision to get the “best they could” for arguably the best closer in the game. While right-hander Rookie Davis was not the lead player in the deal, he will likely turn out to be the best player in the deal.
Davis had a very nice year in Double-A, posting an impressive 2.72 ERA in 18 starts, showing very good control (2.44 BB/9) but also not striking out many (5.44 K/9). However, he pitches up in the zone (1.10 GO/AO rate) and gave up nine home runs in 96 innings. In August, the Reds promoted him to Triple-A and he found the path a bit more difficult, posting an ugly 7.50 ERA in four starts.
Scouting Report: Davis has a nice three pitch mix that starts with his fastball that sits 91 to 93 MPH (T95). While he doesn’t have premium velocity, the pitch has a ton of movement and batters had a tough time squaring him up. Despite the movement as well as his length, he pitches more in the top of the zone and is a fly ball pitcher as a result. That was not going to play well in Yankees Stadium and will not play well in Cincinnati either. His secondary pitches are good with his curveball ahead of his change-up.
While the stuff is fine and he throws strikes, no scouting capsule would be complete without a comment about Davis presence on the mound. He’s a big dude. He’s listed at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, and he’s every bit of that, if not more. In watching him, you can’t help but think – “What if he moved to the pen”. He could be an intimidating force with a fastball that would likely play up a grade.
Fantasy Impact: Davis is an intriguing pitcher that should be monitored in all Dynasty Leagues. He has the size to log innings or be a force out of the pen.
2017 Emerging Prospect
The Reds dipped into the Cuban market and signed Alfredo Rodriguez last winter, the 2014 Serie National Rookie of the Year. Rodriguez has two plus tools in his defense and double-plus speed. While he has size, his swing is “slappy” and he doesn’t yet square up pitchers very well. Additionally, he has yet to make his professional debut in the states and at 22, time is ticking. Assuming he can hit, which there are questions, his speed is going to play and his glove will ultimately allow him to be a big leaguer.