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.

23 Responses

  1. RedsInROC

    They might be a hair too slow, but I would rather erring on the side of caution than rushing the “next big thing” guys before they are ready.

    I would compare them with the Twins as another small market team. The Twins’ hot prospects often went right AA to the majors with little or no stopover in AAA. An elite prospect like Byron Buxton (and Aaron Hicks before him) who is elite defensively absolutely could have used more seasoning offensively before being rushed up. He’s only really been here in Rochester on rehab. Same goes for guys like Sano and Kepler, whereas Brian Dozier wasn’t rushed through and became, for better or worse, their cornerstone until the other day.

    I would rather guys get that experience against more mature players, at least for a little while, rather than putting a 19YO right to the majors and either struggling or being unable to adjust after the rest of the league adjusts to his hot start. The bigger issue for the Reds is waiting too long at AAA and keeping the prospects blocked.

  2. Bill

    The Reds are also often accused of rushing guys to the majors. Homer Bailey is an example of someone who made it to the majors as a 21 year old who people thought weren’t ready. Most use Senzel as an example, but between vertigo and being blocked at 2B and 3B he isn’t a good example. India is already at Dayton after playing for both Greenville and Billings this year so he isn’t being promoted slowly

  3. Wayne nabors

    I agree with bill bout india,i was surprised by that cause I’ve complained on this very sight that I do believe reds promote slowly,you can go back to votto and especially Dunn in my opinion,I believe winker was held back to long,and I definitely thought Tyler Stephenson would be farther along,also know he has had some injuries,but as a whole maybe they are changing,look at mahle fi example

  4. roger garrett

    Sure they promote players too slowly and when they do get a promotion they let them watch from the bench.

    • Bill

      Up until recently there wasn’t really a place for anyone to play that was brought up from AAA, and none of those guys are future stars. Minus the four man OF rotation who has sat on the bench that should be starting? Blandino and Dixon don’t project to be stars, Ervin is a 4th OF, Herrera could probably start if there was an opening at 2B or 3B. I am puzzled as to why they brought Herrera up, but he isn’t displacing Suarez or Gennett. I guess an argument could be made for benching Peraza for Blandino earlier in the season, but Peraza improved and Blandino struggled from the bench.

  5. B-town Fan

    Castillo went from AA to the Majors

    • Bill

      Mahle took a brief stop in AAA, but basically did the same. Started the year in AA and was with the Reds by the end of the year.

  6. dougschloemer

    Hamilton was rushed b4 he was ready offensively

  7. cfd3000

    My big issue is the apparently arbitrary preferences. Why are Romano and Mahle getting extended opportunities, but Stephenson and Reed are showing improvement at AAA with no hint that they might get a shot at some real starting chances? It seems like there’s a quick hook for some guys, and an endless leash for others. And I know you can spin the stats and make a case for any one guy to be pitching (or not) but it seems completely inconsistent. Do you need three pitches to be a starter? Obviously not – Sal Romano has had a ton of starts despite middling results. Do you need a high strike out rate? Nope. Do you need to be a lefty? Nope. The only consistent criteria seems to be that once you’ve pitched well in the bullpen you’re never getting a shot to start again. Sorry Lorenzen, Garrett, Reed. Maybe Robert Stephenson will buck that trend but no one ever really projected him as a reliever. Frustrating. I’m not at all convinced that Romano, Mahle, Bailey or Harvey are among the best 5 starters in the Reds system for 2019 and 2020. But we may never find out if someone else might be better. In a lost season, why not?

    Okay, that’s the end of my rant. Can’t wait to see Senzel, Santillan, India, Trammell and Greene in Cincinnati. Someday when they’re ready.

  8. Optimist

    The oldsters here may remember Gary Redus – check out his progression thru 4 yrs of the minors. Many consider the year in Billings the greatest MiLB season ever. Certainly silly stats. Had a fine career.

    • greenmtred

      Evidently I’m an oldster, but this puzzles me, because Thom would say that I’m 71 years young.

  9. Brad Johnson

    I don’t follow it enough to compare to all teams. But, I do believe the Reds promote too slowly. At least to get full value on them. It’s either too slowly or they don’t develop the talent well enough. Just consider. By the time they do bring most any of their prospects up they either aren’t ready for prime time or they are so close to contract extension that we really don’t get much of them.

    Like with India, he just got up to Single A, will probably finish the season there. He probably won’t get past AA next season. Which means one more season at AA and/or AAA, then talk about majors. How old will he be by then? There won’t be talk of majors until he’s 24. And, this is without no injuries and steady progression. Then, what, we are talking about the “team control” until when, 30? Then, we are talking about do we extend someone who is going to be in their 30’s for most of their next contract?

    • Bill

      They are only close to contract extension talk if they have four or five years of service time. India was drafted this year if he is in AA next year that is moving through the system quickly. If age was a concern teams would only draft high school players. If a guy plays his age 24 through 30 seasons at a level that warrants an extension talk then it was a good draft pick

  10. turbobuckeye

    I think the article is focusing on guys who were not only aggressively promoted, but also aggressively promoted to the ML. I.e., their “promotion story” has concluded. Part of the criticism floating around about the Reds’ moves lately has been centered around guys like Taylor Trammell who are still working their way to the ML. In other words, their promotion stories are not over yet. But they seem to be languishing in the middle chapters of the book.

    • Doug Gray

      I’m a huge Taylor Trammell believer. He’s got a .670 OPS since the start of June and he’s struck out 25% of the time he’s stepped to the plate. He’s probably where he should be right now.

  11. VaRedsFan

    I’ve always heard “baseball people” say that High caliber college programs are equivalent or close to AA in competition. So why does India (and senzel before him) have to play in 3 levels below AA before getting to AA? He could certainly have gone to High A after college and then get his feet wet at AA before the season ended. Start 2019 at AA, then level up if he remains successful. Then ETA in Cincy in May of 2020. That still may happen, but probably not.

    • Bill

      I did a quick look, not anything in depth, but it appears most of the college players drafted in the top ten this year are in low A. Only Mize is currently in high A. That would seem to show the Reds promote at about the same speed as other organizations. Other than the few guys like Finnegan, who played in the WS after being drafted, I don’t think most prospects make it above A ball before their first full year in professional baseball

  12. VaRedsFan

    “Baseball people” have always compared elite college programs with AA baseball. So why did India (and Senzel) have to do 3 levels of pro before getting to AA? After college, if India went straight to High A, then maybe he could have gotten to AA before the end of the season. Then start AA in 2019, and be promoted with success, followed by a May call up to Cincy in 2020. This might still happen, but I wouldn’t count on it.

    • big5ed

      The notion that the SEC or any other college league is equivalent to AA baseball is utter hogwash. The colleges may try to tell you that, but it ain’t so. Never has been; never will be.

    • Doug Gray

      No baseball person is going to try and feed you that garbage. The best team in the SEC would go about 20-120 against a team from Low-A. Maybe.

      The depth on a college team would be exposed in very quick fashion. Their bullpens are not good. Their defense, as a whole, is not good. Their lineups aren’t deep.

      Go back six years and find the best team in the SEC. Now pick the best 5 players on that team. How many of them even MADE it to Double-A, much less did so and performed anything remotely close to what they did in college? Most of the players on that team will never even sign a pro contract, much less make it to full season ball, much less make it to Double-A.

  13. Old-school

    The Reds seem to be doing a lot right in drafting and developing the last few years. I’m glad they got pitchers with MLB experience for Duvall.

    The quick-sand of AA makes it hard to project unless Griffey or Bruce or hopefully Senzel is being evaluated.