A Minors Obsession

The top prospects for each Cincinnati Reds affiliate

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.

16 thoughts on “The top prospects for each Cincinnati Reds affiliate

    • I doubt it, mostly because the Double-A rotation is pretty stacked so he would have to jump over quite a few guys that the Reds also like in order to get there.

  1. Nice topic choice to fill the week before the season starts.

    We’ve seen Bruce and Cingrani shoot through their minor league career and join the 25 man roster successfully after very short minor league experience. We’ve seen Bailey rushed to the 25 man roster before he was ready and struggle until his maturity and experience caught up with his physical ability. We’ve also seen Hamilton held at each level of development in the minor leagues after demonstrating full competency and capability until he reached AAA and then he wbeing rushed to the 25 man roster before he had demonstrated full capability, with the results still to unfold before our eyes this season.

    The Reds now have some significant, premier prospects (Stephenson, Winker, Ervin, Rodriguez, etc.) ready to emerge from their minor league cocoons. I see the Reds appropriately pushing Stephenson through his minor league career for the results he has shown, while limiting the advancement of Ervin and Winker up the minor league ladder after equally impressive results. How do you see the Reds handling (pushing or restraining) the progress of their premier prospects through the minor leagues?

    • I think they have handled most of the guys well. I think they are being too aggressive with Lorenzen right out of the gate. He has really struggled to throw strikes as a professional and is transitioning to a starter. That just doesn’t sound like “place him in Double-A”, but they are doing that. He is the one that jumps out this year in terms of pushing someone too much. Similarly with Hamilton at the big league level, but they didn’t really have much of a choice after failing to get Sizemore or Choo to return.

      • Thanks Doug. I hvae found that you will always respond promptly, openly and insightfully regard questions and requests. Your efforts and contributions (both here and at RML) are greatly appreciated by the Old Cossack.

  2. I would suggest that the Reds are not being aggressive enough with Winker and Ervin. Both have demonstrated good (or even great in Winker’s case) plate discipline already and both have an impressive hit tool at their disposal. I would have liked to see each start up a level from where they are.

    After this year the Reds are going to either take the option on Ludwick or have a hole in LF. Depending on Ludwick’s return to health/form they may have a hole in LF either way. We have three guys coming up the pike in the OF that are top prospects in Winker, Ervin, and YRod. At this point in time, even though YRod is in the higher level I believe he is still further away in terms of development. Maybe he really puts it together this year, and the fall league stats are somewhat promising. But unless we are willing to dumpster dive for a stop gap, then we will need to push one of Winker/Ervin through the system to take over in 2015.

    • Not to mention that the CF/leadoff questions are still unanswered right now so both LF & CF could be issues going into 2015. I also think LaMarre, Neal, Smith & Lutz might be ready to throw their caps into the ring for a roster spot in 2015. I would not expect stardom for any of those players but a very serviceable stopgap player might be possible.

      • I’ll admit to not knowing a whole lot about Neal since he’s new to the organization. Lutz will have to prove he can hit Double-A pitching consistently before he’ll throw his hat in that arena. It certainly didn’t help that he sat on the Reds bench and then got hurt as soon as he went back to Pensacola last year. He almost had a wasted year. LaMarre is the one to watch out for I believe because he can play all three OF spots and has good plate discipline. If he has a bounce back year, then he may be the stop-gap until Winker/Ervin.

    • I am not overly concerned about how Winker/Ervin are being handled.I expect both guys to see plenty of time at two levels this season, perhaps three if they really take care of things. I do think both could handle a level higher than where they are, but let’s just play it out. If you promote both of them right now, who sits in Pensacola between Lutz, Winker, Rodriguez, Duran and Smith. Smith is clearly the guy who doesn’t have the investment, so despite probably being the best current player of the group, he would get pushed to the bench. Then what? There are four guys that the Reds are heavily invested in and all need playing time. Pensacola only gets to DH about 30% of the time, so they would have someone they are heavily invested in sitting on the bench an awful lot. Ervin would join an outfield that is likely holding Kyle Waldrop and Junior Arias, so there would be playing time for him there, But it still leaves Winker and the guys in Double-A looking for playing time. And playing time is far more important than where a guy is playing at, so I think the Reds are making the right call. At Triple-A there are a bunch of veterans and Ryan LaMarre in the outfield (though I do like Thomas Neal, but he is getting older), so there is room to move someone up from Double-A and open up some spots for Winker and Ervin to move up if they show they are ready.

      I fully believe that Ryan Ludwick is a Red in 2015. They have to pay him $4.5M to leave, or they can just pay him another $4.5M to stay. Unless he is just absolutely terrible in 2014, he is staying a Red IMO.

      • They can make room for Winker by moving Lutz to 1B, and moving Mattair up to Triple-A. Winker, Rodriguez, Duran across the OF. Smith gives each guy a rest when they’re due, and Winker DH’s for the 30% of the time they use one. Louisville doesn’t have a prospect manning 3B or 1B at the moment with Soto with the Reds, so Mattair could easily find plenty of playing time.

    • Yeah, I think Winker needs to be pushed through a bit faster. Try to make him ready to start in 2015 in LF. Heck, isn’t plate discipline the reason you keep hitters in the minors? If he already has it, wouldn’t mind pushing him through a little.

      Either Winker or Ervin are probably going to have to start in LF in 2015, and depending on how BP does over the span of 2014, I wouldn’t be extremely surprised if they both were with the majors in 2015 and Hamilton moved to 2B. It’s been awhile, but he played 2nd a bit in the minors in 2010.

      • Hamilton will not be making another position change. The Reds also aren’t going to bench or trade Phillips. They owe him too much money to bench him and if he is playing well enough to not be benched, they aren’t going to want to trade him. If he is playing poorly to the point where you want to bench him, no one will want to trade for him unless the Reds eat salary and I don’t remember the last time that happened.

        • Even if he continues to lose .020 BA/.030 SLG a year like he has over the last three years? If he hits .240/.295/.366 in 2014, I can’t help but think there might be at least a little FO talk about putting him on the bench/out to pasture in 2015.

          Of course I say this with the hope he goes back to 2011 BP. I just know 2015 is a big time make-or-break season for the Reds. It’s the last season before both Cueto, Latos, and Leake become FA. Same for Marshall, Ludwick, Parra, Hannahan, and Pena.

          It’s also when Chapman will likely become way too expensive (once he turns down his $5m player option and goes to arbitration). 2015 is also the year Frazier and Cozart become arbitration eligible and thus less cost effective.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if the 2016 team looks drastically different to the 2014 team. Depending on how they do in 2014 and 2015, it might be a big clean out rebuilding.

    • He doesn’t have a lot of torque in his lower half, but not everyone needs to have that either. If you only watched my video and haven’t watched other video of him, then you are missing out some a bit. Unfortunately I only had a chance to see him in person twice last season, on back-to-back nights and the first night he had flown in to Dayton that day and was clearly tired, but he talked his way into the lineup because he wanted to play.

  3. The Reds got Ervin and lorenson in the first round last year at #27 and #38 respectively. Ervin is on the move up. This year the Reds again have two first round picks at #19 and #29. That is two top-30 players in the draft to add to the Reds growing list of prospects. They should get two very,very good players with these two picks. I would hope the Reds go out and get two very solid bats to add with those two picks, a SS and an 3B. But I would imagine they do like last year and get one bat and one arm.
    Yes, Ben Lively is one to watch this year. The former Central Florida (4th round) star is very good.
    It’ll be nice to see alot of these guys catch up to each other in AAA in a year or so. Watch out then.

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