There’s been a lot of talk lately that the Cincinnati Reds are too slow to promote their prospects up levels. It’s something that I’ve heard many times in the past, but seems to really have caught traction on the social media platform of choice in the last year or so.
Perhaps some of that is because the team was slow to call up Nick Senzel to the Majors Leagues. Perhaps it’s because some teams, like the Braves and Nationals, have found themselves with super prospect teenagers reaching the Majors. Regardless of the reason, though, it’s a sentiment that seems to have caught plenty of traction.
Historically, I don’t believe it is a true statement. The Braves are notoriously aggressive with their promotions. Comparing the promotion schedule to them and nearly every team in baseball is going to look like they move their prospects slowly. But I think what is happening is that we, as a whole, are seeing other teams elite guys move quickly and think that should be happening with the Reds guys. But we aren’t realizing that that’s really only happening with the elite prospects who are also putting up huge numbers.
Let’s take Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals for example. He’s 19-year-old and he’s in the Major Leagues. And he’s KILLING the baseball, too. He began the season in Low-A this year. In the previous two seasons he had hit .368 and .351. In Hagerstown in the final month of 2017 he hit .360 with more walks than strikeouts as an 18-year-old. He returned there to start the year and posted an OPS of 1.300 in the first month before being promoted. In Advanced-A it was more of the same – he hit .371/.466/.790 with more walks than strikeouts and got another quick promotion. Things took a small step backwards in Double-A where his OPS dropped to .981 before he was promoted to the Major Leagues.
Was that a quick promotion? Maybe. But apparently it wasn’t. Because Juan Soto is currently hitting .310/.418/.567 in 249 Major League at-bats as a 19-year-old and that’s insane. It was painfully clear that he was better than everyone else at whatever minor league level he was playing at. That warranted incredibly fast and quick promotion. Who is the Reds prospect that’s been dominant like that, well, ever, in your lifetime?
Expecting the Reds to be that kind of aggressive simply isn’t a fair comparison because the Reds just haven’t had a player like that. But what about when they have a player who is still very dominant and a guy who also has plenty of Major League caliber tools/abilities? Only two guys come to mind in the last decade plus that fall into that category, and the Reds were pretty aggressive in promoting both of them.
The first one was Jay Bruce. He spent a full year in Dayton at age 19. But when he was 20-years-old he spent time at three different levels, destroying his way through the minors. He went to Sarasota, where the ball doesn’t fly, and hit .325/.379/.586 and then got a promotion to Double-A. In just under three weeks there he hit .333/.405/.652 and got another promotion. In 50 games in Louisville he just kept on going, hitting .305/.358/.567.
The Reds kept him in the minors for “team control” reasons to start the next year. In 49 games with the Bats to begin 2008 he hit .364/.393/.630 and he was in the Majors by the end of May as a 21-year-old.
The next time that it happened was with Tony Cingrani. He was drafted in 2011 and spend that partial season in Billings. The next year he began in Advanced-A and then after ten starts was promoted to Double-A and he dominated at both levels. He found himself in Cincinnati in September. That happened because he was the outlier. Cingrani posted an ERA of 1.65 in 256.1 innings with 83 walks and 334 strikeouts. He was clearly better than the other guys and there was next to no struggling at all.
Most teams have been much like the Reds in terms of how they promote their prospects. When you have that rare, super-prospect who is blowing away the competition, the Reds have acted liked other organizations when they also have those guys. But Cincinnati (and everyone else) rarely has those guys. We just happen to see those guys every year because there are 30 teams, and we see it when it’s time for that random team to find that guy.