As the 2017 season approaches the 1/3 mark, the Reds rebuilding process appears to be moving along very well except for the very important area of starting pitching.

Unfortunately the starting pitching is in such a sorry state that it is difficult to project it advancing to even league average standards prior to 2019 at the earliest. Another season or two beyond that point may be required for the starting pitching to reach the level it needs to be for the Reds to be a serious championship contender.

In the meantime, the current group of position players will move into and through their period of team control, becoming evermore expensive. By opening day 2020, three current everyday position players, Zack Cozart, Devin Mesoraco, and Billy Hamilton, will have reached free agency eligibility; at 2020 season’s end two more, Eugenio Suarez and Tucker Barnhart will join them.

Will the Reds be able to sustain or even improve their position player group to synch with the hopefully improved pitching?  I turned to Doug Gray’s Reds Minor top 30 prospect list for insight. While this list includes 11 position players, only three of the 11, outfielders Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino and Phillip Ervin, are currently at AAA or AA and thus likely to be ready to provide help in the next year or two. However at the two levels of class A, the Reds appear to have a veritable (excuse me for saying this) Cubs-like wave of talent starting to percolate up the chain. With a bit of a push onto the fast track, these players could begin arriving with the Reds in 2019-20.

Let’s have a look at the players in this potential Reds Wave by the order they appear on Doug’s prospect list. Click on the player’s bold name to see his stats page.

Nick Senzel, the #2 overall 2016 MLB Draft pick tops the list. Senzel who is playing at class A+ Daytona played some shortstop in college but is at 3B for Daytona. Senzel’s current OPS is .830 with a very solid .366 OBP rate. Senzel seems a likely candidate for promotion to AA later this season. Given the all around development of Eugenio Suarez at 3B, is it too much to hope that Senzel — like his fellow #2 overall draft pick Kris Bryant (2013) — might have the versatility to play some corner outfield?

Taylor Trammell was the #35 overall (1st Round competitive balance slot) pick in the 2016 MLB draft. Trammell, the Georgia Class A high school football 2016 player of the year (running back) had already signed a letter of intent to play football at Georgia Tech when the Reds came calling with enough money to change his mind. The 19 year old outfielder is more than holding his own at Class (Low) A Dayton in a league where the average player age is 2 years older than him. Trammel may have further to come than anyone else in this group because of his tender age. He might however end up with the highest ceiling of all.

Chris Okey, the #43 overall pick in the 2016 draft and Tyler Stephenson, the #11 overall pick in the 2015 draft are catchers. 22 year old Okey old is struggling offensively at A+ Daytona. Stephenson, 20, who battled through multiple injuries ultimately resulting in wrist surgery in 2016 seems to be back on track at Low A Dayton. Stephenson is currently OPSing at .830 thanks in large part to a .393 OBP. Stephenson has been mentioned as player who at some point could play corner OF or 1B to accommodate getting his batting skills into a lineup.

Shed Long does not sport the high draft position of the previous players we’ve looked at (12th round #375 overall 2013); but, once given the opportunity, he’s made the most of it. Long currently plays 2B for A+ Daytona. At 21 years old, he is almost 2 years younger than the average aged player in the Florida State League. Long’s current OPS is around .875 with strong OBP component, just over .370. He’s another player who could be pushed on up to AA at midseason.

TJ Friedl is a former NCAA Division I college and team USA player who went undrafted in the 2016 draft amidst confusion concerning his eligibility. The Reds subsequently outbid several other organizations to sign Friedl when he was declared an undrafted domestic free agent. Even at a record undrafted free agent bonus of $730K+, Friedl looks like a steal. He is currently playing CF at Low A Dayton and posting an OPS just under .900 with  an OBP > .380. If Friedl continues to perform as he has to date, he is a candidate to move up to A+ later in the season.

Alfredo Rodriguez is the Cuban-born shortstop whose controversial signing pushed the Reds over their international bonus pool limit which Baseball America says made the effective cost of signing him at least $12M, with $6M going to Rodriguez and an equal amount being paid to MLB as a fine. Rodriguez, 22, is at A+ Daytona. Following a slow start he has recently surged offensively to lift his 2017 aggregate OPS to .640.

Michael Beltre  is a 21 year old outfielder signed out of the Dominican Republic. He is currently grouped with Trammell and Friedl at Low A Dayton to fill out a remarkable outfield trio. Beltre doesn’t look to have the pop in his bat that both Friedl and Trammel are demonstrating but he has posted a .368 OBP rate far in 2017.

We won’t know for a number of years whether this group will emerge as a Reds Wave to carry the team deep into the postseason. Some of the players may wash out or be sidetracked by injury. Others might be traded to fill talent gaps ahead of their projected arrival with Reds. What can be said now is that it has been a while since the Reds have had a closely-clustered group of position players in the minors who were as talented and diverse as this group appears to be demonstrating they are. This can bode only well for the team and its fans.

Statistics and material from Minor League Baseball, Baseball-Reference, MLB, Baseball America, and Reds Minor Leagues

22 Responses

  1. Joe Atkinson

    I’m not sure I agree with the premise that the Reds’ starting pitching staff won’t progress even to league average by 2019. While the current staff is, admittedly, abysmal, they are only “the current staff” because the planned pitching staff has been decimated by injuries. Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Amir Garrett, and Brandon Finnegan all are legitimate major league starters; we have every reason to believe that Sal Romano could be, as well. And while there are legitimate questions with some of those guys – Will Homer Bailey be more than a shadow of his former self? Will Finnegan rediscover the strike zone after those last two awful starts? How will Roman look with a bit more seasoning? – I do believe the Reds have the makings of a competitive pitching staff. Not suggesting they’ll be Cueto/Latos/Bailey/Arroyo/Leake circa 2012, but certainly enough to keep a team with this offense and bullpen in the hunt.

    • Joe Atkinson

      At the moment, I have the biggest gripe with not giving Stephenson a chance, though given his persistent issues with control, I’m not sure how much “a chance” would help him. If anything, I suspect it would sort him out of the future mix – which, in and of itself, would be a significant bit of knowledge to have. Reed, at least, is getting the chance to work out his issues in the Louisville rotation; ideally, he’d be doing it up in Cincinnati, but at least he’s not eating service time (he said, hunting for a silver lining). In fact, if what we’re seeing means that the Reds don’t care about service time issues with Stephenson because they’ve grown frustrated with his control issues to the point of giving up on him, but they do care enough about Reed to have him work out issues in Louisville rather than accrue wasted service time … then okay. Might not be a strategy I agree with, but at least that would be a strategy.

      But I’m probably grasping at straws there.

      I do think they’ve done well in developing Garrett. Not crazy about sending him to AAA when they did, because I think it interrupted his progress at the ML level (and now, he’s on the DL). But of the three, I think he’s the one who’s largely been handled well and has a good shot at being a bit part of the future.

  2. jazzmanbbfan

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding you but Bryan Price is the manager of the major league team so I’m not sure it falls to him to develop unproven prospects. It seems like that would fall to the minor league staff.

    • jazzmanbbfan

      If they’re at AAA then Delino DeSheilds and the other coaching staff at that level plus whatever other instructors the Reds bring in to work with them. Once they’re in Cincinnati, it is up the Price and his staff to determine how to best utilize their talents and abilities. It can be debated whether he is doing a good enough job at that. I’m still not seeing where it falls to him to develop players who are still in the minors.

      • jaY jOHNSON

        Price showed his inability to maximize their talent tonight by putting Stephenson into an impossible situation.He must be replaced for this team to advance to the next level.

    • Josh

      Price is trying something new and old school, I want two more years of this guy, he works very well with what ya got. players like him, and for once, the front office and the mgmt is on the same path, Which is being smart about things, and did you think they would be this good this year?

      • benkten

        I agree with you on Price. I don’t think he has been perfect, however his bullpen management has been very good. I would like to see some changes with the lineup, but he is doing fine there. I cannot attest to how he is viewed amongst the players, but I certainly am behind him.

      • jazzmanbbfan

        If he is a shaky kid with no confidence then he likely doesn’t belong on the ML roster. Not sure who they would replace him with the options at AAA currently on the 40 man roster though. The guy who replaced Stephenson didn’t do any better either. I’m not sure what the answer is, and I can surmise that Stephenson may not have been handled ideally this season by the manager but I don’t think bringing him into this particular game at that time is justification for firing Price.

  3. Andy

    Every time I see the Reds #1 at fangraphs when ranked by (non-pitching) WAR, I think we shouldn’t wait for pitching to come around. I also think most of the necessary pieces are already here but on the DL. I think Feldman can be our #5 starter. I think 3 of the following may be ready to take spots 2,3,4 at the All Star break: Desclafani, Bailey, Finnegan, Garrett, Reed, Stephenson, Lorenzen. I think the Reds should be looking at trade targets for starting pitchers with this year plus 2 more years of control: This person needs to be the #1, because I don’t see a #1 starter in the Reds organization. Seriously: look for this trade, extend Cozart, and this team is ready to roll for 3 years.

    • jazzmanbbfan

      I think Desclafani can’t be considered for this year. I think he won’t be back until sometime in August, if at all this year. Unless Price has a change of heart, he was quoted saying that Lorenzen won’t start this year but that he may be looked at for next year in that role. That was an interview in April but I haven’t seen/heard that his thinking has changed on that. If I was to guess, Bailey, Finnegan and Garrett get the spots by the all star break.

    • Chuck Schick

      In order to obtain a number 1 type pitcher with team control the price would be incredibly high. That would probably do more harm than good in that you’re a worse team 4/5 games.

  4. bouwills

    Would a bona-fide young starting pitcher(4 year control) or top pitching prospect be too little to ask of Suarez, Cozart, Duvall, or even Iglesias? Would it make much sense to accept less for any of those players? I believe Williams holds a hand full of face cards in this upcoming poker match called the trading deadline. Prospects for rentals is a no-go. Outside of that, there’s a lot of room for both this season plus long term improvement. If Reds find a 5 man rotation, it’s not like they have to release Reed, Stephenson, Romano, Davis, Mahle, or Castillo. Besides, nobody includes Adelman, who is a good #5 or a great #6 sp.

    • Chuck Schick

      I’m sure the Reds….or any team run by someone sober, sane and possessing an IQ above 46 would trade any of those players for a number 1 with 4 years of control. However, no team possessing such a player would trade him for anything less than a combination of 3 of those players and probably much more……therefore making the trade detrimental to the Reds

  5. bouwills

    To everything, there is a season. Yada, yada yada.

  6. JB WV

    Most young pitchers go through an extended learning curve when they get to the big leagues. Garrett has obviously shown at times that he has the makeup to be a solid starter. Reed looked unhittable coming out of the bullpen earlier in the year, when he was consistently throwing strikes. The mental part takes time. Injuries have obviously decimated the rotation this year, but to project a weak starting rotation two years from now is a poor guessing game. Before last year Suarez, Duvall, and Schebler were dissed as poor returns in trades. One’s already an AS, Suarez might be joining him soon, and Schebler’s on pace for 40+ dingers. Have patience.

    • jazzmanbbfan

      I was completely wrong on Suarez. I was convinced he would never be anything but a below-average to terrible fielder.

  7. JB WV

    And there was a period of time when the starters didn’t miss a game for a whole year. In 1989, the Reds couldn’t keep a healthy body on the field. In 1990, they did and won the World Series. Injuries seem to come in waves or not at all. People were writing Cueto off when he had some arm issues. Turned out pretty well in the long run. Nationals are glad they didn’t give up on Strasburg. It happens. There’s not one poster on here that knows one tenth of what the Red’s medical staff knows about pitching injuries. And to insinuate that Price is the cause of these injuries is ludicrous.

  8. benkten

    I think the reds will have a league average rotation next year. I think Bailey and Disco will be slightly above average. Then Finnegan will be totally average. Then probably Garrett and Romano will vary between ace and hot trash depending on the start, but should average out at average to below average.

  9. benkten

    There is certainly a lot of talent in the low minors. There were also prospects Jose Siri, Blake Trahan, and Gavin LaVally in the low minors. I hope Okey can break out of his slump. Having seen a Dragons game this year I really enjoyed watching Tyler Stephenson bat, he is very patient and can hit the ball very hard.

  10. Dewey Roberts

    I saw Tyler Mahle again tonight. He combined on a 7 inning, 3 hit shut out. He has presence, a 93-94 mph fastball, command, composure, and control. He projects in my opinion to a 3-4 starter in the majors. I saw Stephenson a few years ago and he never was nearly as impressive. Mahle is a great prospect in my opinion.