The Cincinnati Reds four full season affiliates all released their preliminary rosters on Monday afternoon. You can see all of the rosters here if you’d like to browse through them. Each of those also has a little bit of a rundown on the entire team from me, but for the article here at Redleg Nation today I want to dive into one hitter and one pitcher on each squad a little bit deeper.
Jesse Winker leads the position player group on the Bats for the 2016 season. With all due respect to Jose Peraza, who is a quality prospect in his own right, Winker is just on a different level in my mind. Winker does a little bit of everything at the plate and he does it well. The left handed hitter can and does use the entire field, helping him hit for a high average. He’s got enough power to hit the ball out from foul line to foul line. He understands the strikezone better than just about any hitter in the minor leagues, Reds system or not. The Reds may wait until midseason to bring Winker up for financial and team control reasons, which will likely keep him in Louisville to bolster the middle of the order.
As things sit right now, Cody Reed is the top prospect on the mound for the Bats. Robert Stephenson may take that from him when he heads to Louisville after his start later this week, but for now it’s the lefty who can reach into the mid 90’s as a starter with a very nice looking breaking ball. Bryan Price mentioned during the spring that he believed Reed needed to work on his change up, which is his third offering. He’s correct with that statement, but even without much improvement there Reed should be able to handle the jump to Triple-A quite well. Obviously it is important for him to improve the change up so he’s better prepared for the Major Leagues when that time comes – but for now the combination of throwing plenty of strikes with his slider and fastball will put him in a good spot in the International League.
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Offensively there are several intriguing names, including Eric Jagielo, but the top position prospect on the team for me is outfielder Phillip Ervin. The former 1st round pick hasn’t had the best go of things since he completed his first season. What he has done though is shown flashes of the things that led to him being a first rounder in 2013. His combination of speed, power and plate discipline put his upside at a fairly high level – it’s just a matter of putting it all together. He had an outstanding spring, both with the big league club and once he was sent back to minor league camp. Is this the year that he’s going to put everything together and have the tools finally match the production?
On the mound you can pick from a few guys and make a good argument for them being the top prospect. Most places are going to list Amir Garrett from this group, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s a strong armed lefty with a good breaking ball who put up outstanding numbers last season with tons of upside. However, I’ve got him just behind teammate Nick Travieso. The righty throws his fastball in the mid 90’s with a cutter, slider, curveball and a change up – all of which are average or better offerings. His array of pitches, and ability to throw them for strikes is likely to help him perform well against more advanced Double-A hitters.
On the offensive side of things for the Tortugas, returning third baseman Taylor Sparks is the top prospect. He struggled to begin the season, but made some adjustments and turned things around over his final 78 games where he hit .253/.319/.454 (on the surface this doesn’t seem all too impressive – but the league average line was .248/.313/.337 on the season – so Sparks was .120 OPS point better than the league in that span). He’s got four strong tools, with only his hit tool lagging behind. His swing is long, and strikeouts are going to be a problem that follows him around, but the rest of his game is strong.
In one of the bigger surprises out of spring training, Keury Mella is returning to Daytona for the 2016 season. The right hander finished the year with the Tortugas after being traded to the Reds in the Mike Leake deal in late July. He works with a mid 90’s fastball and a good slider, while also mixing in a change up at times.He struggled with his control after arriving in the Reds organization (he walked 15 batters in 21.1 innings after walking just 26 in 81.2 innings with the Giants Advanced-A team earlier in the season). In the one start I saw him make in Arizona he struggled with his control as well, perhaps a part of the reason he is returning to Daytona. Still, he’s got big time stuff to work with and if he’s able to throw strikes he should flourish in the league and could move up to Double-A rather quickly.
Picking the top position prospect on the Dragons was easy. The Reds 2015 1st round draft pick Tyler Stephenson is heading to Dayton to being the 2016 campaign. The catcher spent his 2015 year with Billings where he showed a solid plate approach as an 18-year-old facing mostly college pitchers. The right handed hitter smacked a good number of doubles, but despite having above-average raw power, he only hit one home run. He may not be able to tap into that home run power immediately, but it’s in there for the future. He’s an advanced hitter for his age and shows a good ability to stay back and adjust to pitches, which you can see below in a video from spring training where he smacks a single the other way.
On the mound the Dragons rotation has several nice arms to choose from. Tanner Rainey was a 2nd round pick for the organization last year, Ty Boyles won the Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year Award and Jacob Constante got one of the largest signing bonuses that the organization has handed out over the last seven years for an amateur player. However, it’s the 2014 6th round draft pick that gets the nod here as the top prospect on the mound entering the season from this group. Jose Lopez got out to a slow start in 2015 as he returned from Tommy John surgery, but was absolutely dominant in his final eight starts for Billings. He posted a 2.13 ERA in 38.0 innings with seven walks and 50 strikeouts in that span, all while showing quality stuff. The former Seton Hall pitcher really put things together in 2015 and looked strong in spring training as well. If he can carry forward what he finished the 2015 season with, he may not stick around the Dragons rotation for too long.