During the 2018/2019 off season, the Reds revamped 60% of the starting pitching rotation and 60% of the outfield. Both those units represented significant deficiencies on the 2018 team. Which Cincinnati Reds prospects will be assigned to the Reds farm resulting from pushback of the off season acquisitions?
David Bell announced four of the five starting rotation slots. The fifth starter, Alex Wood, begins the season on the Injured List (IL). Bell previously announced his intention to carry a 13-man pitching staff. The bullpen provides two openings with a temporary 4-man starting rotation. Due to a temporary 12-man pitching staff until the Reds activate Wood, the outfield provides one opening. The infield provides two utility positions. After a delayed spring training start, Curt Casali appears healthy, locking down the catcher position.
The Established Roster for Opening Day
Starting Pitchers (4):
Luis Castillo, Tanner Roark, Sonny Gray and Anthony DeSclafani.
Relief Pitchers (6):
Raisel Iglesias, Jared Hughes, David Hernandez, Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett and Zach Duke.
Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez and Jose Peraza.
Jesse Winker, Scott Schebler, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp.
Tucker Barnhart, Curt Casali.
It’s All about Options
Robert Stephenson, Matt Wisler, Amir Garrett and Curt Casali are out of minor league options. Reds must utilize a Designated for Assignment (DFA) for any of the four players not added to the 25-man roster or the major league IL. The DFA makes them available to the rest of the major league baseball teams via a waiver claim.
The Reds signed Jose Iglesias and Derek Dietrich to minor league contracts during the 2018/2019 off season. Both players almost certainly have opt-out clauses in their minor league contracts due to their established capability at the major league level. As a result, the Reds risk losing either or both players if they are not promoted to the 40-man and 25-man rosters.
Conner Joe was acquired during the 2018/2019 off season via the rule 5 draft. Although Joe has minor league options available, he must be maintained on the 25-man roster all season or DFA and offered back to the LA Dodgers for $50,000 if Joe is not claimed by any other team.
From this point, I offer my thoughts on what should happen, rather than what I think will happen when the Reds make the actual roster decisions for opening day. We’ll discuss the actual moves when the Reds announce the minor league assignments and rosters after next week.
Which Cincinnati Reds Prospects Survive the Pushback
Some players earn a position and some players inherit a position on the 25-man roster. Those players inheriting a position by default receive one final opportunity to earn that position. A productive future contribution after the 2019 season serves as the benefit for the Reds to provide that one final opportunity.
Robert Stephenson possesses a right arm too talented to give away unless no other option exists. He pitched just one inning in a ‘B’ game and one inning in an ‘A’ game this spring. As a result, Stephenson fills a bullpen opening. After Stephenson stretches out his stamina, he receives first consideration as a replacement starter in the major league rotation. Stephenson succeeds as a starter, succeeds as a reliever or finds himself playing for another organization.
Matt Wisler performed well during spring training and also produced good results in limited work after being acquired by the Reds in 2018. With no options remaining, Matt Wisler works on a short leash as the 8th reliever in the bullpen, pitching in a low-leverage, middle-relief role. If Wisler fails to perform early, he risks a DFA.
Dietrich can hit at the MLB level and provides good defensive flexibility. Unfortunately, he fields every position poorly. As a high-leverage, left-handed pinch hitter, Dietrich provides a valuable bat off the bench for David Bell.
Iglesias picks it at shortstop, the most important defensive position between the white lines, with the best major league defenders. As a gifted defensive shortstop, Iglesias fills a big defensive hole on the Reds roster as a utility infielder with good flexibility. His marginal offense becomes a non-issue with an otherwise solid offensive bench.
Phillip Ervin picked the right time to dispay his dangerous offensive skills to the new coaching staff. His 1.300 OPS, against predominately AAA level pitching this spring, combined with his defensive flexibility to play every outfield position earns Ervin a 25-man roster spot as a utility outfielder and high-leverage, right-handed pinch hitter.
Which Cincinnati Reds prospects fall victim to pushback?
When an organization adds external talent at the major league level, prior prospects suffer from the inevitable pushback.
Conner Joe provides a unique opportunity, but the Reds simply don’t have room to carry him on the 25-man roster. Joe provides the flexibility to play both corner infield and outfield positions. Joe appears capable of hitting major league pitching. Irrespective of his 49-game, 188-plate appearance (PA), Pacific Coast League buffered hitting surge in 2018, Joe has a .255/.364/.428 slash in 151 games and 590 PA at the AA level across three separate leagues. Joe also provides defensive versatility as an emergency catcher, freeing up Barnhart or Casali as an additional pinch hitter. That might represent enough value to arrange a possible trade with the LA Dodgers if the Reds must DFA him. It certainly fails to provide sufficient value to carry Joe on the 25-man roster.
Mahle represents a prime candidate for the major league starting rotation in 2020. With an option available, an extended audition as a major league starter with marginal success in 2018 and success as a starter in the upper minors, Mahle needs to start at AAA rather than work out of the major league bullpen. If Stephenson proves unavailable or ineffective, Mahle receives the first opportunity to fill an available starting role in the major league rotation.
Cody Reed can pitch at the major league level out of the bullpen. That capability proves to be legitimately irrefutable. The question relates to his potential as a major league starting pitcher. With left-handed relievers Duke and Garrett in the major league bullpen and an option available, a starting pitcher role at AAA represents Reed’s best utilization. If Reed excels as a starter at AAA this season, he earns the next available opportunity as a starting pitcher on the 25-man roster after Stephenson and Mahle. That represents a huge benefit going into the 2020 season.
Sal Romano pitched effectively as a reliever in limited opportunities at the major league level. He pitched ineffectively as a starter in extended opportunities at the major league level. The Reds are potentially losing Hughes and Hernandez from the bullpen after the 2019 season. Romano’s experience slips right into a high-leverage, multi-inning relief role for next season. Romano retains an available option, allowing Romano to refine his relief role at AAA this season.
Nick Senzel’s talent plays at the major league level right now. His centerfield defense improves with every game. Unfortunately for Senzel, the outfield and infield are filled with major league talent and experience. The Reds must promote Senzel to both the 40-man roster and 25-man roster and both rosters are full. His time will come, but not on opening day 2019.
Alex Blandino plowed through four minor league levels in two years, ending at AA Pensacola in 2015. He played the entire 2016 season at AA Pensacola with disappointing results. Blandino exploded during the 2017 season with an .834 OPS in 63 games at AA Pensacola and an .836 OPS in 62 games at AAA Louisville. Blandino provides excellent flexibility across the infield, including shortstop. Unfortunately, he provides just marginal defense. He begins the 2019 season injured, but plays at AAA unless an opportunity arises at the major league level.
So what does everyone think the minor league pushback should look like?