Every year teams around Major League Baseball have to finalize their 40-man roster about two weeks in advance of the winter meetings with regards to adding eligible minor league players to the 40-man roster so that they can’t be selected in the Rule 5 draft. That date has been pushed up by a week this year and teams will need to have their prospects added to the roster by November 15th this year.
Over the last decade the Cincinnati Reds have added somewhere between one and eight players in November to protect them from the Rule 5 draft. How many players will be added in the next week isn’t yet known, but there are more than a dozen possibilities that we will discuss this week. Today we are going to look at the outfielders who are Rule 5 eligible who the organization likely discussed as they prepare to makes their decisions. Yesterday we took a look at the infielders and there were quite a few more options to look at there (which makes sense given that there are more positions there than in the outfield).
Unlike yesterday with the infield group, there are no “easy choices” that are all but guaranteed additions to the roster. But there are a few guys worth talking about.
The “Let’s talk about ’em” Group
Selected out of South Carolina in the 9th round of the 2019 draft, TJ Hopkins didn’t jump out statistically in Billings in his debut. In 2021 the Reds jumped him all the way up to Double-A, skipping over both Low and High-A in the process. He missed time late in the year with a back injury, but held his own hitting .269/.341/.436 in 77 games played.
This past season the team sent him back to Chattanooga and he hit a little bit better – this time as a 25-year-old – posting a .260/.337/.464 line in 101 games before being promoted up to Triple-A Louisville. With the Bats he hit .255/.320/.436 in 25 games. Between the two stops he picked up 26 doubles, 2 triples, 21 home runs, stole 8 bases and hit a combined .259/.333/.458. You can see all of his stats here.
Defensively he’s mostly played in the corners, but has limited experience as a pro in center where he can play in a pinch.
Making the call
Cincinnati’s outfield situation as it stands today is full of question marks. There’s not a single player on the 40-man roster that should be heading into spring training with anything remotely close to an expectation that they aren’t competing for a spot on the 26-man roster. The profile for Hopkins probably is more that of a 4th outfielder than as a starter, but right now that’s the profile that can get a whole lot of playing time in Cincinnati where everyone seems to profile as a 4th/5th/6th outfielder. This could be a coin flip situation. A team out there looking for a utility guy who can play some outfield, provide a little bit of pop and speed off of the bench could certainly be interested in a guy like Hopkins who has found some success in the upper minor leagues. It may come down to just how much room the Reds want to create on the 40-man heading into the winter.
A free agent signing before the 2022 season began, Isiah Gilliam made his presence known during the 2022 campaign. The switch hitting 25-year-old began his season in Double-A Chattanooga and hit .288/.376/.515 in 62 games. That got him promoted to Triple-A Louisville where he finished out his season. IN the 53 games with the Bats he hit .253/.339/.468. In total he clubbed 18 home runs, added 24 doubles, had 4 triples, and stole 13 bases in 14 attempts. That production came with plenty of strikeouts – he had a 32% strikeout rate on the season to go along with an 11% walk rate.
Of course as a switch hitter you should probably take a look at the splits and in Gilliam’s case they are worth noting. As a right-handed hitter he hit .288/.389/.523 (with a 13% walk rate and a 34% strikeout rate). When he stepped into the box as a lefty he hit just .239/.290/.407. In 2021 his splits were pretty even.
Defensively Gilliam has mostly played corner outfield in his career, but he does have some experience at first base, too – including a few games this past year.
Making the call
Isiah Gilliam has plenty of power and he’s got a little bit of speed. A switch hitter, he can provide some value there but it may also depend on what your scouts say about how real his 2022 splits were (when he faced the most advanced pitching he’d seen in his professional career). Gilliam is likely going to rack up plenty of strikeouts along the way – it’s something that’s followed him from level to level throughout his career.
There could be teams looking for a bench option that can bring some power, speed, and a little bit of defensive versatility to their team. Gilliam may be able to provide that. But it’s also fair to think that teams could look at the strikeout rate, the splits, and the lack of being able to play up the middle on the field as a reason to pass on him and look somewhere else. This choice feels a little bit more like it leans towards keeping him off of the 40-man, but the right situation could push it in the other direction.