During the early part of this season, the Reds have reminded me of another Reds team from not long ago: the 2009 team. Why 2009? The Reds finished 78-84, 4th in the NL Central that season, but it was the year before the magical 2010 division championship. The Reds had a number of prospects who would go on to help the team make the playoffs in 2010 and 2012 (and some of those then-prospects are still having successful careers today).

Of the 46 players on the Reds roster at some point during the 2009 season, twelve were age 25 and under. Eleven players were 26. It was a very up-and-coming team, with some bright futures for certain players. Both the 2009 Reds and the 2017 Reds have a significant core group of players ready to make their mark. However, that’s where the similarities stop. On that 2009 team, there were also 15 players age 30 and older, a high number for a team that was still rebuilding at the time.

This is the difference between 2009 and this year’s team. In 2017, of the 29 players who have played thus far, 13 are 25 years old and younger. Only five are over 30. Of those five, one is Bronson Arroyo. Two of the others, Joey Votto and Zack Cozart, play everyday and it can be argued they are still in their prime. Yes, it is important for a team to have a veteran presence (see: Scott Rolen in 2010), but for rebuilding teams, it’s all about how well teams can collect and utilize young players.

Another difference between the 2009 team and the 2017 team is the prospects. In 2009, Baseball America’s Top 10 Reds prospects looked like this:

  1. Yonder Alonso (starting first baseman with A’s)
  2. Todd Frazier (starting third baseman with White Sox)
  3. Drew Stubbs (minor leagues with the Giants)
  4. Chris Valaika (last played at AAA in Cubs org. in 2015)
  5. Yorman Rodriguez (free agent)  
  6. Kyle Lotzkar (played in an independent league in 2016)
  7. Neftali Soto (AA in Nationals org.)
  8. Juan Francisco (last playing in Japan & Dominican Winter League)
  9. Juan Duran (last played in Dominican Winter League in 2016)
  10. Devin Mesoraco

Only three players on this list are still at the MLB level. Stubbs has played five games for the Giants’ AAA team in 2017, after bouncing around between the minors and majors with four teams over the last three years. Votto, Homer Bailey, Jay Bruce, and Johnny Cueto, who were all Reds Top 10 prospects at one point, were already at the MLB level in 2009. Although the Reds finished with 78 wins that year, not much of a better finish than the teams in the early 2000s, they had a lot of promising young talent. That talent got them two division titles and a wild card berth over the next four years.

This year’s team — just based on the eye test — looks like it could be more talented than those teams. According to Baseball America, the Reds top 10 prospect list is currently: 

  1. Nick Senzel
  2. Cody Reed
  3. Amir Garrett
  4. Robert Stephenson
  5. Taylor Trammell
  6. Jesse Winker
  7. Aristides Aquino
  8. Sal Romano
  9. Vladimir Gutierrez
  10. Tyler Stephenson

Five of the ten players have already made their debut, and more are sure to follow. Senzel has looked like the number one draft pick he is. Early returns from the other players have been great, some more than others. Time will tell if they will succeed in MLB, but what they are doing both at the MLB level and the MiLB level has fans excited.

It’s always tough to know how prospects will perform at the MLB level. At the end of the day, no one can predict what will happen in the future. And age doesn’t always matter. A team could have all the young players in the country, and if those players don’t perform, the team will never get to the top of the standings. That being said, I think this core group of young talent the Reds have this year has the potential to be better than the teams from 2009-2013. (This is quite the statement because I still maintain the 2012 team had a good chance to win it all if not for injuries).

With such a young team, fans might get anxious about the team and how long the rebuild takes. But sometimes teams surprise and become good earlier than expected. The Chicago Cubs are an excellent example of that. In 2014, the Cubs were 73-89. In 2015, their Opening Day lineup had the lowest average age in baseball. That year, everyone predicted the Cubs were at least a year away. They surprised everyone by finishing 97-65, three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in a stacked NL Central. The Cubs went to the NLCS, where they were swept by the Mets. In 2016, they had the best record in baseball and were World Series champions, just two years after losing 90 games.

Of course, the Cubs have some advantages (money) over the Reds, but the core of their lineup is homegrown. They drafted well for several years in a row, and then just built around the core players.

The Reds tried to build a core nucleus of players in 2009, and it worked well for a couple of years, but injuries and age (and the San Francisco Giants) derailed that plan. It’s still a model the Reds are trying to duplicate, but with — hopefully — better players because of better drafts and wise trades. The rebuild is headed in the right direction, and with the way the Reds are playing, maybe — just maybe — the Reds will get there sooner than anticipated.

10 Responses

  1. Sliotar


    Good article.

    I am of the belief that the Reds true window of contention doesn’t begin until at least 2019 or 2020, when Winker and Senzel are firmly established, 2-3 WAR MLBers.

    If the Reds do surprise next year, I hope it does happen organically, and not a forced, all-in move by the front office. The 2015 Padres and 2016 Diamondbacks are recent examples of that strategy blowing up and setting a team back.

    Better to wait until the team has turned the corner with its own prospect pool, no matter how long it takes in the Reds small-market situation, and then add through free agency to fill in the holes.

    • Ashley Davis

      Thanks! And I agree about it happening organically. The Padres are a good example of how not to do a rebuild. It make take longer (i.e. the Cubs), buy drafting and developing players first, and then signing the right veteran free agents is the better way to go.

    • Big56dog

      I was feeling a little doom and gloom as I thought a lot would be moving on, but after review who will be gone that is of value now besides Cozart by 2019? I always wondered where the Reds would be if they rebuilt in 2011- how valuable were Latos and Choo? Maybe moved Rolen, BP and Arroyo while they still had some value.

  2. Geoff

    This year I expect the Reds to go .500. Their pitching is much improved. I think next year you have Descanfani and Homer healthy the team could make a lot of noise. This weekends series against the Cubs will be a good barometer.

    • Ashley Davis

      I don’t expect the Reds to have a winning record this year, but I’ve been saying they will be better than what people are predicting. Even though they lost 2 of 3 to Baltimore, the pitching was excellent against a very good offensive team. It gives me hope.

  3. ScottyA

    Well written article. One of the main reason’s I’m for a couple big trades is that Joey votto turns 37 in 2020 and our window of winning will get tighter likely as a result of his decline. If we could trade for say a #2 starter by using some of our uncertain minor league starters (Castillo, Mahle, Stephens, Romano, Davis etc.) I think we could win in 2018. Especially if Desclafani comes back strong and or Bailey. This starting rotation looks like a playoff team:

    1. Desclafani
    2. ???
    3. Finnegan
    4. Garrett
    5. Bailey or whoever comes along from the minors.

    • Still a Red

      No offense Scottya, but Desclafani (twice on the DL at season’s start), ???, Finnegan (who still has to find the strike zone regularly), and Bailey (who has started just a few games the last two years), does not sound like a starting rotation to rely on. That said, there are still a few others in the pipeline that could pan out (Reed, Davis, Romano and throw in Lorenzen).

  4. sandman

    Here’s some questions I have. If this years Reds team finishes with a winning record, 1)Would that mean they are playing beyond their capabilities at this point in their development? 2)Is there even such a thing as a team playing above its capabilities? 3)That year the Cubs finished with 97 wins and got swept by the Mets, does that mean that they weren’t quite ready yet and playing above their capabilities?

  5. Jordan Barhorst

    Man, looking at that prospect list, it’s interesting to think who will be playing for the Reds in 8 years, who will be traded away, and who will never make it. IIRC, the 2009 system was viewed about the same by the rankings media as the 2017 system is currently – anywhere from just outside the top 10 to 15th.

    Five of the guys from the 2009 top 10 had more than a cup of coffee in the bigs: Alonso, Frazier, Stubbs, Francisco, and Mesoraco. Everyone else was eventually written off as minor league depth or AAAA guys. Only two from the top 10 had substantial careers for the Reds.

    So, looking at the 2017 list, let’s theorize what might happen by 2025:

    I’d say at least two or three of the Reed/Garrett/Stephenson/Romano/Gutierrez group gets traded. Too many valuable pieces here that will likely be used when/if the Reds are ‘one piece away’. Got a lot of guys who can fill in their spots on the pitching staff.

    I’d also say at least one of the Winker/Trammell/Aquino group will get traded. Again, too much talent here not to flip for a piece when/if Reds are in contention. Ton of outfielders to replace them, not to mention Billy potentially getting an extension.

    The next ‘Frazier’ if this group (Reds stalwart for a few years, gets traded for pieces at the deadline) will be Robert Stephenson. He’s got the name recognition unlike any of these other prospects, and stuff for days. I think he’s jaded the front office a little bit, and I can see teams wanting him at the deadline as an impact reliever or starter, if he gets his stuff together.

    I think the ‘Mesoraco’ of the group (stays with the Reds, signs an extension) will probably be Jesse Winker or Nick Senzel. Senzel could price himself out of an extension if he reaches full potential, and you’ve gotta think the Reds will avoid signing any pitchers to long term extensions in the future.

    I think Tyler Stephenson has the most Yorman Rodriguez or Juan Duran potential. Tons of talent there, just not sure he can stay healthy enough to get the reps you need to develop as a catcher. Hope I’m wrong about that one, though!

  6. Ashley Davis

    It looks like according to Baseball America, in 2009, the Reds farm system was ranked 14th. This year, the farm system is ranked 13th. Over the last seven years, the Reds have remained consistently in that 13-17 range, with the exception of 2011-2012 when they were 6th and 7th.