Each fall since 1992 Major League Baseball has held the Arizona Fall League. It is the only current stateside fall or winter league (there used to be a Hawaiian Winter League as well, but it shut down after 2009 I believe) and when it comes to prospect followers it is the premiere winter league. In the other winter leagues there just isn’t such a strong concentration of top end prospects. Each team selects 6-8 players to send out there to participate in the league. There are some roster rules to work around, but the rules are pretty loose as teams can get exceptions rather easily if they just ask.

Today I wanted to look at the four position players who will be representing the Cincinnati Reds on the Surprise Saguaros, which will be managed by Pensacola Blue Wahoos manager Delino DeShields. Next week, which will mark opening day for the league, I will look at the pitchers.

Seth Mejias-Brean | Third Base

Seth Mejias-Brean as selected by the Reds in the 8th round of the 2012 draft. He came out of the University of Arizona where he was considered a toolsy player who hadn’t really put together all of his hitting tools while in college. A good example of that was that despite power potential he had hit just two total homers in college despite being a three-year starter (748 total plate appearances). Since turning pro he has hit 33 home runs in 1335 plate appearances as his power has developed. The Reds changed his mechanics a bit from his time in college and it helped the power come forward.

He had hit over .300 at his first three stops with solid power but when he arrived in Double-A he struggled for the first prolonged period of time in his pro career. While the drop was small, his walk rate declined and his strikeout rate increased (though remained solid). The big difference was that his power went from solid-good to slap-hitter like. His isolated power (Slugging-Average) went from .176 to .088. The complete lack of power was the biggest issue that led to his second half line of .235/.333/.323 with the Blue Wahoos.

Juan Perez | Middle Infield

Perez was actually a replacement that was recently added to the roster. He took the place of Ryan Wright who was on the original roster. Perez was drafted in the 26th round of the 2011 draft at 19-years-old from the College of the Canyons. He hit well in rookie ball in his first year and played mostly shortstop. The next season he made the jump to Dayton where his hitting fell off some, but he held his own as he hit .252/.335/.396 and again spent his time at shortstop.

In 2013 he moved up to the California League where he struggled at the plate. His walk rate dropped and his strikeout rate jumped up. For 2014 he returned to Bakersfield and found himself spending most of his time at secondbase, though he did get time at shortstop, third, first and one game in left field. At the plate he improved to hit .267/.307/.427 as he lowered his strikeout rate and boosted his power output a little bit. His walk rate dropped off, but it was a small drop. He projects better as a second baseman from a defensive standpoint.

Perez is one of two players we will cover today who is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year if he is left unprotected by the Reds. I doubt he would be selected unless he goes out to Arizona and just absolutely destroys the league while showing a different skillset at the plate than he has in the past. His inexperience above Advanced-A doesn’t lead to teams being willing to have him on the 25-man roster all season at the big league level.

Kyle Waldrop | Outfield

The Reds selected Kyle Waldrop in the 12th round of the 2010 draft out of high school, but they paid him like a 2nd or 3rd rounder to keep him from going to school on a football scholarship. Prior to 2014 he had been solid but unspectacular in his career. He had moved one level at a time, going from Arizona to Billings to Dayton and then to Bakersfield in each of his first four seasons.

At age 22 he had to repeat a level for the first time as he headed back to Bakersfield to begin the year and things couldn’t have gone much better as he hit .359/.409/.516 in the second go-around of the league while raising his walk rate and dropping his strikeout rate. He road an incredibly high BABIP of .432 to help prop up those numbers but it earned him a promotion to Double-A in the second half. He slowed down slightly but still hit very well as he posted a .315/.359/.517 line with the Blue Wahoos. What was impressive there is that he lowered his strikeout rate and raised his power output despite jumping up a level and moving to a much more pitcher friendly home park against left handed hitters. I wrote about his breakout in August and also talked with him about it if you are interested in what he had to say about why he feels he was able to make such big improvements.

Waldrop, like Perez, is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this season if left unprotected. After the season that he just had I can’t see the team not protecting him by placing him on the 40-man roster in November. Not only did he have a great season he also plays a position of need.

Jesse Winker | Outfield

Winker came into the season as arguably the top position prospect in the organization and with Billy Hamilton graduating to the Major Leagues he now finds himself alone at the top among the position guys. The 2012 supplemental first rounder has done nothing but hit since being drafted. He entered the 2014 season with a career line of .301/.402/.476 to go along with 103 walks and just 125 strikeouts over 761 plate appearances.

His 2014 season began with him spending the first half in Bakersfield where he just obliterated the league to the tune of .317/.426/.580 with 40 walks and 46 strikeouts. That got him named to the league all-star team where he went on to win the home run derby and an invite to the MLB All-Star Futures Game. Unfortunately his season was derailed right before the Futures Game when he had a car accident that wound up injuring his wrist. He would play in the game and even a few games in Double-A Pensacola after before realizing that while the rest of his body was healing from the accident that his wrist wasn’t and he was shut down for the final seven weeks of the season.

Making up for lost time is likely the reason that Winker was chosen to head to Arizona. Wrist injuries are funny in that sometimes guys will recover fully within two months but some will linger and have effects that last nearly a year after the injury even though the player is considered fully healthy. Where Winker falls on that scale we don’t know yet, but his professional approach will carry forward even if the power does take some time to return after the injury.

12 Responses

  1. WVRedlegs

    The Reds are going to have to clear some space at Louisville in their OF. YorRod seems destined for AAA next year. So does Waldrop as he needs to be placed on the 40-man roster in November when they shake things up just before the Rule V draft. Where Winker starts out probably depends on how well his wrist has recovered and how well he does in the AFL.
    Waldrop played football. That explains some things then. He is a big dude as he looks like a hybrid TE/WR type. He’s built kind of like Paul O’Neill. He also hits and fields like O’Niell.
    If he can be anything close to O’Neill then the Reds have themselves a winner in Waldrop. Winker and YorRod get the prospect star power, but Waldrop is a blue collar type that hopefully has a nice MLB career ahead of him.

  2. cfd3000

    Good to see some serious prospects in the outfield. The free agent market looks weak, again, but the longer term looks promising. I’ll look forward to hearing results from these guys. Thanks Doug.

  3. Thegaffer

    At this point, we need to hope the position players develop quickly. AFL will be important for them, so I will be following closely. However, our best prospects/assets in trades are the AA pitchers and they wont be playing. What we decide to do with them and/or Cueto, Latos, Leake in the next months is the most vital to the future of the big club.

    • Doug Gray

      If the Reds wanted to cash in trade chips, I’d agree that Stephenson and Lorenzen would probably head that list. Winker, Travieso, Garrett and Romano probably follow those two up in some order depending on what team were asking. The Reds have the parts to make serious trades if they want to.

    • Doug Gray

      Great insight Rick. You should bring more of that kind of commenting to the site, it really livens the place up. Thumbs down.

      • lwblogger2

        What? “That guy stinks!!” screamed at the top of one’s lungs isn’t constructive? 😉

  4. VaRedsFan

    I absolutely LOVE the AFL rule change trials:

    •Batter’s Box Rule: The batter shall keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout his at-bat, unless one of a series of established exceptions occurs, in which case the batter may leave the batter’s box but not the dirt area surrounding home plate. (Exceptions include a foul ball or a foul tip; a pitch forcing the batter out of the batter’s box; “time” being requested and granted; a wild pitch or a passed ball; and several others.)

    •No-Pitch Intentional Walks: In the event a team decides to intentionally walk a batter, no pitches shall be thrown. Instead, the manager shall signal to the home plate umpire with four fingers, and the batter should proceed to first base to become a runner.

    •20-Second Rule [AT 17 SALT RIVER FIELDS HOME GAMES ONLY]: A modified version of Rule 8.04, which discourages unnecessary delays by the pitcher, shall apply. Rule 8.04 requires the pitcher to deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball with the bases unoccupied. The penalty prescribed by Rule 8.04 for a pitcher’s violation of the Rule is that the umpire shall call “Ball.”

  5. Sunbreakthedawn

    It will be an excited race to see who of Winker, Waldrop and YorRod makes a big league contribution first.
    I like the look of Waldrop’s swing. Nice and smooth from video posted above.
    Thanks Doug!

  6. Steve Schoenbaechler

    These are one reason why I wouldn’t have a problem letting Bruce go or giving him one more season to have the “breakout year” we all are still expecting from him. With players like Winker and Waldrop developing, if Bruce doesn’t watch it, he may just be on his way out, and the Reds would be able to use Bruce’s money to pay for another area of need or extend someone else. Not that I want Bruce to leave at all. I hope he can live up to his potential as well as his contract. I just don’t feel he has yet or will, especially with the numbers his contract has in the next couple of years.

    Also, this is what the Reds need to get back to, developing their farm system some more. This is what directly gave them several of their current big league roster as well as indirectly through trades of prospects gave them some other players on the current big league roster. But, after those, our cupboards were practically bone dry. That’s why I like the job O’Brien and Krivsky did with our club and developed the farm system. It’s a lot easier to replace players with prospects you develop and prospects you can trade rather than current member of your big club.

  7. JRS1972

    Bruce was only one of the top 2-3 outfielders in HR and RBIs over the three year period before he got hurt this year, while playing near gold glove defense and beign a huge asset in the community. By all means let’s just cut him loose because he had to play injured in 2014.

  8. VaRedsFan

    Why is it when a player goes on the DL that we almost always give him a pass for the entire year? He missed about 1 month. Don’t talk about “well he was playing hurt” He was stealing bases just a few weeks after the return from the DL.

    BP came back a little early, struggled, before finishing the season strong. We shouldn’t be making excuses for Bruce. He needs to be accountable for his performance.