When it comes to minor leaguers, you will often hear about the raw talents or skills of a player, but how that player hasn’t really learned to use those things yet to consistently produce on the field. Sometimes those guys don’t ever start to put things together and they fade off as a distant memory, but some guys are able to put things together and they establish themselves as guys to really start keeping an eye on.
Today I wanted to look at two guys who have seemingly taken that next step in their development from raw and talented to skilled and talented. The first player is left handed pitcher Amir Garrett. The Reds drafted Garrett out of high school in the 22nd round of the 2011 draft, but don’t let the round fool you, the Reds gave him a multi-sport signing bonus of $1M, which allowed them to spread it out over a few seasons as long as he stuck with baseball. He spent the fall through early spring playing basketball at St. Johns, limiting his time on the baseball field. In the 2012 season, his first as a professional, he only threw 20.0 innings, splitting time between Arizona and Billings. Last year he threw 57.2 innings between Billings and Dayton, though he struggled with his consistency as he walked 26 batters and struck out 32 while posting a 5.15 ERA.
Garrett transferred out of St. Johns and to Cal-State Northridge for basketball, but was ineligible for the 2013-2014 season due to the transfer. That was a big step for Garrett as it gave him the first chance to have a spring training rather than joining everyone in Arizona for extended spring training after basketball season was over. Despite that, he got off to a slow start for Dayton. Through his first six starts he posted a 6.56 ERA in 23.1 innings with 13 walks and 19 strikeouts. Then things began to change for the left hander.
He began to find consistency with the strikezone. He began throwing his breaking ball for strikes. His mechanics became more consistent. Over his last 73.2 innings pitched he has posted a 2.93 ERA with a 1.10 WHIP, 27 walks and 63 strikeouts. It’s taken a few years, but he is starting to show both the skills on a consistent basis that made him a highly paid draft pick despite a lot of pitching experience.
On the other side of the ball is a young Dominica outfielder down in Billings. Two years ago I first started hearing rumblings about a very toolsy teenager playing in the Dominican Summer League named Aristides Aquino. The first thing I did of course was look up his numbers and to say they were bad would be an understatement. At the ages of 17 and 18 he combined to hit .193/.280/.286 over the course of two seasons with neither season really being any better than the other.
Despite the performance the Reds still brought him to the United States to play for the Arizona League Reds in 2013. During the early months of 2013, before the season began in June, word was coming out of Arizona that Aquino was making big strides in the power department. Then the season began and he got off to a good start over the first two months in Arizona, hitting .278/.325/.479 with 10 walks and 40 strikeouts in 209 plate appearances and was promoted to Billings for the final three weeks of the season. With the Mustangs in 2013 things did not go well as the pitching was just too advanced for him, holding him to a .212.229/.394 line with 2 walks and 22 strikeouts over 70 plate appearances.
This season he has headed back to Billings as a 20-year-old and has gotten off to an strong start, hitting .313/.350/.633 with 10 doubles, two triples and nine home runs in 137 late appearances. The outfielder has seven walks and 27 strikeouts on the season. His walk rate has gone up, though it is still lower than you would like to see. The strikeout rate in Billings has gone from 31.4% last season to 19.7% this season, a drastic improvement and a good sign that he has been able to make some adjustments.
With an increased walk rate and a decreased strikeout rate he has really begun to hit for big time power as well. Over the weekend he hit four home runs, with back-to-back games with two each. He now leads the league in home runs and is third in doubles. In the span of two years he has taken very, very raw tools that couldn’t play in the Dominican Summer League to tools that are playing against other professionals in the Pioneer League and has truly established himself as a real bonafide prospect in the system.
It’s still early on for both Amir Garrett and Aristides Aquino, and both players ranked inside my Top 20 Reds prospects to begin the year based on their potential. But now both guys have taken strides forward and are showing that potential on a consistent basis. It doesn’t always happen with the toolsy, but raw players, but when it does it can really be like flipping a switch and out of nowhere they just seem to be able to produce.