Cincinnati Reds Top 20 Prospects for 2014
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Robert Stephenson, RHP, Grade A: Combines one of the best fastballs in the minor leagues with a really good curveball and an improving changeup. Command has come along nicely and he has everything needed to be a top-line starting pitcher.
2) Billy Hamilton, OF, Grade B+: Normally I am a skeptic about speed players, but Hamilton is off-the-charts on that tool and I think there is more in the bat than he showed last year. At worst he should be something like Vince Coleman. If he can get on-base at a remotely-adequate clip, his speed will be incredibly disruptive.
3) Phillip Ervin, OF, Grade B+: A more balanced, complete player than Hamilton with 20/20 potential to go with on-base ability. I’d like to see him at higher levels but he should be a valuable investment in a long-term fantasy league and a solid regular outfielder.
4) Jesse Winker, OF, Grade B+: Good power and on-base ability stood out in Low-A, met or exceeded all expectations for a supplemental first-rounder. A future outfield of Hamilton in center, Ervin and Winker on the corners would be extremely intriguing if they live up to their potential.
5) David Holmberg, LHP, Grade B-: Traded from the Diamondbacks, Holmberg isn’t spectacular but he throws his average fastball, curve, and change for strikes and eats innings without getting hurt, profiling as a number four starter.
6) Michael Lorenzen, RHP, Grade B-: Supplemental first rounder went from Cal State Fullerton to Double-A in two months. Very athletic, excellent fastball, development of changeup will determine if he starts or relieves.
7) Ben Lively, RHP, Grade B-: Fourth round pick from Central Florida made huge gains with his command over the last year; dominated college as well as the Pioneer League. Throws strikes with low-90s fastball, curve, slider, changeup. Potential fourth starter and perhaps more; I like him.
8) Carlos Contreras, RHP, Grade C+: Very good stuff with low-90s fastball, curve, changeup, although shaky control still holds him back to some extent. Probably more reliever than starter in the long run but we’ll see.
9) Yorman Rodriguez, OF, Grade C+: Remains more potential than production but has made some progress over the last year. Contact remains troublesome but the tools remain interesting and he’s still just 21.
10) Jon Moscot, RHP, Grade C+: Throws four pitches for strikes. I am old enough to remember when his 2-14 record at Bakersfield would be held against him, but baseball has progressed enough that no one really notices that, focusing more (as they should) on his K/BB ratio and ability to work the zone.
11) Nick Travieso, RHP, Grade C+: 2012 first rounder not throwing 95 like he did in high school, although low-90s is still good enough if his breaking ball and changeup progress. Not spectacular in the Midwest League (4.63 ERA, 61/27 K/BB in 82 innings) but he throws strikes at least.
12) Seth Mejias-Brean, 3B, Grade C+: University of Arizona product hit .305/.379/.457 in A-ball. He’s also a superior defender at third base. Main issues are age (23 last year) and lack of home run power for a corner player, but he’s not punchless.
13) Daniel Corcino, RHP, Grade C+: Borderline C. Ugly numbers at Triple-A Louisville (5.86 ERA, 90/73 K/BB in 129 innings) but he was much more effective in winter ball (12/1 K/BB in 10 relief innings). Perhaps bullpen work will be a better fit. Improved command will be better in any event.
14) Tucker Barnhart, C, Grade C: Borderline C+. Defense-oriented catcher threw out 37% of runners in Double-A while hitting.260/.348/.348. Controls the strike zone but lack of power makes him more likely to be a reserve than a starter.
15) Chad Rogers, RHP, Grade C: Borderline C+. 28th round pick from 2010 throws strikes with average fastball, good slider, adequate changeup. Posted 3.21 ERA with 103/45 K/BB in 140 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, then pitched well in Arizona Fall League (12/4 K/BB in 14 innings, 0.66). Potential fifth starter or reliever.
16) Ismael Guillon, LHP, Grade C: 4.75 ERA in Low-A but with 134 strikeouts in 121 innings, only 95 hits. He also walked 95, far too many. Good changeup but command of fastball and curveball need a lot of work. Young enough to improve, turns 22 in a month.
17) Jeremy Kivel, RHP, Grade C: 10th round pick in 2012 but would have ranked much higher if not for knee injury. Made debut in ’13 with decent results, 3.91 ERA with 56/23 K/BB in 51 innings in rookie ball. Somewhat raw but has the arm strength to take a large step forward and should be regarded as a significant sleeper prospect.
18) Junior Arias, OF, Grade C: Potentially outstanding speed/power combination, with 60 swipes and 15 homers last year in A-ball. His strike zone judgment is horrid however: 18 walks, 132 strikeouts in 493 at-bats. Improving his approach is a huge "if", but the upside is there.
19) Kevin Garcia, OF, Grade C: Like several Reds prospects, Garcia has some tools including speed and power potential. Unlike others, he controlled the strike zone well, in rookie ball at least (23 walks, 27 whiffs in 214 at-bats with a .308/.383/.449 line). At age 20 he was a bit old for the AZL so I want to see him at higher levels, but this is another guy who could rank higher next year with more data.
20) Tyler Mahle, RHP, Grade C: Seventh round pick in 2013 from high school in California, pitched well in rookie ball (2.36 ERA, 30/8 K/BB in 34 innings) and impressed observers with combination of stuff projection and already-present command. Breakout candidate.
OTHERS: Nick Christiani, RHP; Drew Cisco, RHP; Tim Crabbe, RHP; Amir Garrett, LHP; Ryan LaMarre, OF; Donald Lutz, OF-1B; Reydel Medina, OF; Curtis Partch, RHP; Tanner Rahier, 3B; Henry Rodriguez, 2B; Sal Romano, RHP; Juan Silva, OF; Josh Smith, RHP; Neftali Soto, 1B-3B; Kyle Waldrop, OF. You could make cases for most of these guys to slot in the 15-20 range.
The Reds system seems top-heavy at first glance. Stephenson is one of the top pitching arms in baseball and Hamilton is the fastest guy I’ve ever seen in person. As noted above, I think he can improve enough as a hitter for the speed to matter, although it may take two years of patience on Cincinnati’s part for him to get there. Erwin and Winker both look like regular outfielders.
After this quartet, the talent level trails off, although it could look much different a year from now. Many of the Grade C+/C types have the potential for higher grades, particularly young arms like Kivel and Mahle who need to see more innings from them at higher levels. There’s also the usual set of toolsy hitters with doubtful plate discipline that the Reds like to sign, with Kevin Garcia a potential exception. Also watch for Cuban Reydel Medina.
Other Grade Cs like Josh Smith, Chad Rogers, or Tim Crabbe don’t have exciting stuff but could be useful inning-eaters and bullpen assets. Ben Lively should be watched quite closely; he could advance through the organization very rapidly.
Overall, the organization likely ranks about the middle of the pack. Any team would love to have the top four, but we need to see how the C-types sort out.
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