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Cincinnati Reds Top 20 Prospects for 2015

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The Reds farm system has some quirks, but it is quite interesting from a developmental perspective.

Jesse Winker
Jesse Winker
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Cincinnati Reds Top 20 Prospects for 2015

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 2015 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. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other 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. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.

Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis 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) Jesse Winker, OF, Grade A-/Borderline B+: Age 21, hit .317/.426/.580 in 53 games the California League, .208/.326/.351 in 21 games in Double-A tenure shortened by wrist injury, rebounded in Arizona Fall League (.338/.440/.559). Outstanding plate discipline and feel for hitting, should produce high BA/OBP and at least moderate power.

2) Robert Stephenson, RHP, Grade A-/Borderline B+:
Age 21, posted 4.74 ERA with 140/74 K/BB in 137 innings in Double-A, 114 hits. Strong K/IP and H/IP marks intact but command failed him too often last year. Top-of-rotation-stuff up to 99 MPH and a big breaking curve, change-up still needs work and command showed rough edges for Pensacola. Upside remains very high but needs more development work than it looked a year ago.

ANALYST NOTE: I went back and forth between Winker and Stephenson at one/two for several days. That may yet change when I get to doing the Top 175 prospects list.

3) Rasiel Iglesias, RHP, Grade B: Age 25, Cuban defector, up to 95 in Arizona Fall League with slider, change-up, curve. Relieved in Cuba but Reds reportedly considering him as a starter due to versatile arsenal. Question about role/durability are unanswerable at this point but certainly an intriguing property for fantasy purposes who could pay big dividends, or not, depending on how he is used.

4) Michael Lorenzen, RHP, Grade B-/Borderline B.
Age 23, posted 3.13 ERA with 84/44 K/BB in 121 innings, 112 hits. Scouting reports are ahead of the mediocre K/IP ratio, focusing on hard sinker and promising slider, change-up needs work. Mid-rotation potential or would be more dominant in relief.

5) Alex Blandino, INF, Grade B-:
Age 22, first round pick out of Stanford, hit .283/.367/.480 between Pioneer and Midwest Leagues with better-than-expected defense at shortstop, though second base may still be the long-term position. Solid all-around bat with pop, seems like he might be able to avoid the problematic record of Stanford hitters in pro ball.

6) Anthony DeSclafani, RHP, Grade B-:
Age 23, acquired in trade with Marlins, 3.49 ERA with 59/21 K/BB in 59 innings in Triple-A but 6.27 ERA with 26/5 K/BB in 33 innings in the majors. I think the Marlins may have cut bait too quickly here, three-pitch mix with decent control could make him a steady number four starter. Nice pickup for the Reds.

7) Nick Howard, RHP, Grade B-:
Age 21, first round pick from University of Virginia, 3.74 ERA with 23/11 K/BB in 34 innings in Midwest League debut. Relieved his junior year but has started in the past, low-to-mid-90s, impressive curveball, slider and change-up coming along, control generally steady. Like Lorenzen he could be a mid-rotation arm or a more dominant relief force.

8) Amir Garrett, LHP, Grade B-:
Age 22, posted 3.65 ERA with 127/51 K/BB in 133 innings in Low-A, 115 hits. Former college basketball player has chosen the right sport finally, athletic with low/mid-90s fastball, curvy slurve or slurvey curve, change needs work but has promise. Another mid-rotation candidate with considerable upside in my view.

9) Nick Travieso, RHP, Grade B-:
Just turned 21, posted 3.03 ERA with 14-5 record, 114/44 K/BB in 143 innings in Low-A, repeating the league after mediocre 2013. Velocity back up a notch after dropping in ’13, some progression with slider and change-up, yet another mid-rotation possibility who could be more dominant if used in relief role.

10) Aristedes Aquino, OF, Grade B-/Borderline C+:
Age 20, hit .292/.342/.577 with 16 homers, 21 steals, 15 walks, 66 strikeouts in 284 at-bats in Pioneer League. Exciting power/speed potential with impatience issues, a typical pattern for Reds position players. Promising broad base of tools, flashes the skills and young enough to build them up, though risk premium is pretty high too.

11) Kyle Waldrop, OF, Grade B-/Borderline C+:
Age 23, hit .359/.409/.516 in the California League then .315/.359/.517 after moving up to Double-A. There is some sort of disconnect here, Waldrop not getting a lot of attention despite easy transition to Double-A and broad base of skills. Tools are downplayed by experts but he looked like a pretty good athlete to me back in the Midwest League in 2012, if one who needed more polish. Some issues with strike zone judgment but seems like a solid role player at least and maybe more.

12) Jonathan Crawford, RHP, Grade C+/Borderline B-
: Age 23, first round pick from University of Florida in 2013 acquired from Tigers, posted 2.85 ERA with 85/50 K/BB in 123 innings in Low-A, 93 hits. Like several Reds prospects he has a live arm and good surface stats but questions about secondary pitches and future role.

13) Daniel Corcino, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 24, 4.24 ERA with 119/74 K/BB in 149 innings between Pensacola and Louisville, 4.34 ERA with 15/10 K/BB in 19 innings in the majors. Stuff has taken a step back from a couple of years ago and command hasn’t been good enough to fully compensate, but there is still enough here to project some long-term value as a reliever or back-end starter.

14) Phil Ervin, OF, Grade C+:
Age 22, first round pick from 2013, extremely disappointing season in Midwest League, hit .237/.305/.376 with just seven homers, 46 walks, 110 strikeouts in 498 at-bats. He did steal 30 bases in 35 attempts. Was it still due to 2013 wrist problem? Speed and intriguing power potential combination still present but he was not as polished as expected. Too soon to give up of course.

15) Gavin LaValley, 3B, Grade C+:
Age 20, fourth round pick from high school in Oklahoma, hit .276/.361/.429 with six homers, 26 walks, 54 strikeouts in 210 at-bats between AZL and Pioneer League. Enormous power potential from right-handed bat but questions about contact and defense will need to be answered. Some sources really like him and see a terrific slugger, others are more cautious and worry about approach at higher levels.

16) Tyler Mahle, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 20, 3.87 ERA with 71/15 K/BB in 77 innings in Pioneer League. Seventh round pick from California high school in 2013, throws strikes with 90-93 fastball, curve, change-up, solid pitchability. Good sleeper prospect to take a look at.

17) Seth Mejias-Brean, 3B, Grade C+:
Age 23, hit .300/.396/.476 in Cal League, .235/.333/.323 in Southern League, combined for 14 homers, 76 walks. Maintained plate discipline after his promotion but power production tailed way off. Deserves more chances though. Glovework has been very good at third base, plays above his tools. My guess is that the bat rebounds.

18) Sal Romano, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 21, posted 4.12 ERA with 128/42 K/BB in 149 innings in Midwest League, 169 hits. Hittable but I think there is more here than the numbers show on the surface, MWL observers report 92-96 MPH fastball along with improved curveball and change-up. Good K/BB ratio is a nice marker in concert with the stuff reports.

19) Chad Wallach, C, Grade C+:
Age 23, fifth round pick by Marlins in 2013 acquired in trade hit .322/.431/.457 in A-ball last year, 62 walks, 46 strikeouts in 335 at-bats. Solid receiver, outstanding strike zone judgment is a plus, not a huge power guy but a nice trade pick-up along with DeSclafani in the Mat Latos transaction.

20) Wyatt Strahan, RHP, Grade C+:
Age 21, third round pick last year from USC, 2.76 ERA with 40/12 K/BB in 42 innings in Pioneer League, 2.31 GO/AO. Heavy stuff, had command issues in college but this was less evident in pros, power sinker and good curve would look strong in bullpen but will reportedly be given trial as a starter.

21) Taylor Sparks, 3B, Grade C+
: Age 21, second round pick from UC Irvine, hit .232/.350/.490 with 10 homers, 31 walks, 84 strikeouts, 14-for-15 in steals in Pioneer League. First-round tools with power/speed combination but contact problems put him in the second round and were obvious in first look at pro pitching. Fine tools but raw and risky as college hitters go.

OTHERS: Junior Arias, OF; Mark Armstrong, RHP; Tucker Barnhart, C; Carlos Contreras, RHP; Jacob Constante, LHP; Carlton Daal, SS; Sebastian Elizalde, OF; Ismael Guillon, LHP; David Holmberg, LHP; Jeremy Kivel, RHP; Ben Klimesh, RHP; Dan Langfield, RHP; Jon Moscot, RHP; Yorman Rodriguez, OF; Keyvius Sampson, RHP; Juan Silva, OF; Jackson Stephens, RHP; Daniel Wright, RHP


Generally speaking I like the Reds farm system. They aren’t as bang-wow as the Cubs and don’t have the insane C+ depth of the Yankees or Astros but they do have some impressive assets, beginning with pitching depth.

Robert Stephenson was one of my favorite pitching prospects entering 2014. He did not live up to expectations in Double-A but his upside remains enormous and as long as there isn’t some kind of health issue he is a good bet to rebound. He could be more of a Homer Bailey-ish steady progressor rather than an immediate anchor but that’s OK. After him there is a large group of B-C+ types, potential mid-rotation arms or bullpen options. Sure you’d like to have more future aces but many teams would love to have as much C+/B- depth as the Reds have and it isn’t like all these guys lack upside.

Some of the Cs are quite interesting too, including sleeper rookie ball prospects Mark Armstrong and Jacob Constante, Jeremy Kivel, and Padres refugee Keyvius Sampson. The Reds always seem to have a group of hard-throwing physical relievers like Ben Klimesh and Dan Langfield who can become surprise contributors with just a few adjustments.

The big wild card is Cuban defector Rasiel Iglesias. I have given him a cowardly Grade B pending a good look in spring training.

With the position players the Reds have a familiar two-track pattern. They usually have a distinct batch of high-upside power hitter toolsy types with big strike zones, big scouting reports, and mediocre production records. Call it the Neftali Soto/Yorman Rodriguez development track. When these guys work out you can find a Jay Bruce. Probably the most exciting of the group right now is Aristides Aquino, but we need to see if he can get away with his approach at a higher level than the Pioneer League.

They also have the polished hitter development track, call it the Joey Votto school. These guys may not have exciting tools or run track well but when they pan out they are solid and consistent producers, with Jesse Winker the best avatar for this group at present.

Overall, this is an organization with some quirks but it is quite interesting from a developmental perspective.