As I type this the Reds still haven’t officially released any of their affiliate rosters for opening day on Thursday. With how the big league roster played out at the end of spring with so many players heading to the disabled list, and several minor leaguers also being injured in the last week of the spring and the Reds needing to go outside of the organization to try and find replacements, it makes sense that we are still without rosters. The Reds are probably the only team without a single affiliate having released a roster yet, and that stinks for us. Fortunately though, we do know where a lot of the guys are going because they are already in the town where they will be playing and in a day of social media, you can find out things rather easily.
By the time A Minors Obsession comes back around next week, the minor league season will be underway and the first series will be completed. For this week though, let’s take a look at the top position and top pitching prospect that will be at each level to begin the 2014 season.
Louisville Bats (Triple-A)
Top Position Prospect | Ryan LaMarre (Outfielder)
Ryan LaMarre ranked as the 25th best prospect in my 2014 Prospect Guide. With normal circumstances Redleg Nation Spotlight Player Tucker Barnhart would be the top guy here, but injuries have led to his being with the big league club for now so he doesn’t qualify. I’m sure he doesn’t mind.
LaMarre has had ups and downs throughout his career. He played through injuries in 2012, one of which required surgery following the season. In 2013 he returned healthy but struggled out of the gate. He turned things around in the second half where he hit .281 with Pensacola and began showing some power. Defensively he is strong in center field where his good speed and instincts play well.
Top Pitching Prospect | David Holmberg (LH Starter)
The Reds acquired David Holmberg in the Ryan Hanigan trade from the Diamondbacks where he made his Major League debut in 2013, throwing 3.2 innings in his only appearance. The 22-year-old spent the rest of his season in Double-A.
Holmberg profiles as a back end of the rotation starter. He has reportedly shown good control in the past, but in 2013 he struggled to locate his pitches in the zone. His stuff is a bit fringe-average overall, but he has nice change up that could work out of the bullpen with his fastball if he doesn’t work out as a starter.
No video available
Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Double-A)
Top Position Prospect | Yorman Rodriguez (Outfielder)
The Reds paid a then 16-year-old Yorman Rodriguez a record bonus of $2.5M to sign with the organization in August of 2008. While it may seem that Rodriguez has been around forever he will play all but two weeks of the 2014 season as a 21-year-old and continues to be one of the youngest players at every level he plays at.
With his youth does come some rawness around his game. While he has come a very long way over the last season on the field, there are still times where his youth can be apparent. A true 5-tool player, Rodriguez is still in the process of turning his raw tools into usable skills. His defense is strong in right field and he can play center field well enough at this point that he won’t hurt you out there. Offensively he uses the entire field and shows some plate discipline, but he struggles to make contact. His power is also still developing.
Top Pitching Prospect | Robert Stephenson (RH Starter)
Robert Stephenson is the top pitching prospect in the Reds system and the former first rounder pitched at three levels in 2012 as he posted a 2.99 ERA in 114.1 innings with 136 strikeouts and 35 walks. He ranks among the top pitching prospects in all of baseball.
With a fastball that sits in the 94-98 MPH range Stephenson can overpower most minor league hitters, but a fastball that can touch triple digits isn’t the only pitch he has working for him. His curveball is nearly as good of a pitch and his change up, while not as good as the other two pitches, is good by itself on most nights. Was it mentioned that he also has good control? He does. He is the best pitching prospect to come through the farm system in my lifetime.
Bakersfield Blaze (Advanced-A)
Top Position Prospect | Jesse Winker (Outfielder)
The Reds supplemental first round pick in the 2012 season has done nothing but rake since being drafted. The left hander spent the 2013 season with the Dayton Dragons where he finished 6th in the league in home runs, and only one of the five players ahead of him had fewer plate appearances.
Power isn’t the only thing Winker can do though. The guy can flat out hit. He uses the entire field and does have power to all fields. His plate approach is incredibly advanced for his age, which showed up in the stats as he walked 63 times and struck out just 75 times in 486 plate appearances last year. He is limited defensively in the corners, with most believing that his arm is a better fit for left field than right.
Top Pitching Prospect | Ben Lively (RH Starter)
Following in the footsteps of Tony Cingrani, Lively was a drafted outside of the first few rounds and went to Billings where he absolutely dominated the hitters of the Pioneer League before getting a one start call up to Dayton. He posted a combined 0.88 ERA in 41 innings with 56 strikeouts during the season.
Lively shows a deceptive fastball in the low 90’s that can touch a tad higher along with good control. He throws three offspeed pitches with his slider being the best of the bunch and the one he goes to more often. There are questions about how well his stuff will hold up over longer starts for a full season since he was limited in 2013 after coming off of a long college season, but the initial results were nothing short of outstanding.
No video available
Dayton Dragons (Low-A)
Top Position Prospect | Phillip Ervin (Outfielder)
The Reds first round pick from the 2013 draft came out of Samford crushing the ball as he hit a combined .331 with 25 walks, 20 extra-base hits and 14 steals in just 46 games between Billings and Dayton.
Ervin was playing with some injuries throughout the 2013 season, which makes what he did even more impressive. His speed was effected by an ankle injury and there are some concerns his speed may not be enough to handle center field in the long run. With his bat though he could slide to right field without much issue. An advanced approach and some power lead to a very good all-around hitter.
Top Pitching Prospect | Nick Travieso (RH Starter)
The Dragons are loaded with quality starting pitching prospects in 2014 with most of the guys returning for a second stint in the league. Travieso was the Reds first round pick in the 2012 season. He threw 81.2 innings for the Dragons in 2013 with 61 strikeouts.
Consistency will be key for the right hander as his stuff varied during 2013. On some days he would sit 88-91, other days 90-92 and other days 93-95 while touching higher. His secondary pitches will need improvement as he moves up to remain a starter, but he has flashed enough of them to believe they can improve. He can throw strikes and when he is at his best, like he was in the six weeks from July through the middle of August (45.2 innings with just 12 walks and 42 strikeouts), he looks the part of a quality starter.