It turns out that yesterday was the day for the two big national publications to release their midseason Top 50 prospects lists. When the afternoon rolled around both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus had released their lists and we saw a total of three Cincinnati Reds prospects on the two lists.
The Baseball America Top 50 list had two Reds on it. Top pitching prospect Robert Stephenson was the top ranked Red on the list, coming in at #20 on the list. That is down one spot from where he ranked coming into the season on the Baseball America list. One other Red made the list as Jesse Winker found himself all of the way up to #29 on the list. He was unranked coming into the 2014 season on the Baseball America list.
The Baseball Prospectus Top 50 list had three Reds on it. Like on the Baseball America list, Robert Stephenson came in as the highest ranking Red. The pitcher came in at #10 on the list, which was up from his preseason ranking of #22. Jesse Winker was the next Red to make the list, coming in at #42 on the list, which was up from being unranked on the Top 101 coming into the season. The third Red to make the list was Michael Lorenzen. The right handed pitcher also came into the 2014 season unranked on the Top 101 list.
Looking at the season for the three players
Robert Stephenson started last night for Pensacola and after six shutout innings he got his ERA back under 4.00, dropping it to 3.97 on the season in 18 games. Let’s take a look at his overall stats this season:
The two things that jump out from the numbers here is the walk rate and the home runs. While the home run rate isn’t actually bad, it’s worth talking about because of how the splits have worked out. In Pensacola he has allowed nine home runs and has allowed just one home run on the road despite less than a four inning difference. Pensacola is a very home run friendly ballpark to left and left-center, while being rather stingy on home runs to right and right-center. While there is likely a little bit of luck involved with how the splits have worked out, the home ballpark hasn’t helped the home run total at all.
The walk rate is more interesting. May has been the only month where Stephenson had a solid walk rate on the season. He has had more struggles this season with the strikezone than we have seen from him in the past. Part of that comes from the fact that he is the second youngest pitcher in the Southern League, having faced just one batter that is younger than he is all season long. With that being said, the struggles do go beyond just his age.
The good news is, when he is throwing strikes, guys aren’t doing much. His strikeout rate is high and he is limiting the hits quite well. If he can get back to where he was last year in terms of controlling the strikezone, the sky is the limit.
Jesse Winker jumped way up both lists, going from unranked to being ranked in the top 30 and top 45 on the two lists. Like Stephenson, he is now playing in Pensacola, though he as spent a majority of his season in Bakersfield. Let’s take a quick look at his overall numbers:
The thing that was pointed out in the reports from both lists is just how good his bat is and can be. Looking at his numbers we see a player who is showing power, patience and the ability to hit for average. Now in Double-A, he is only one of four position players under the age of 21, and has the second most plate appearances among that group of four players. He is off to a slightly slow start in Pensacola, but has warmed up over his last 10 games where he has an .866 OPS.
What separates Winker from most prospects is his all around hitting tools. He utilizes the entire field in his approach and he can hit for power to both left and right fields. He has a good understanding of the strikezone that helps him get on base frequently and keep a strikeout rate that’s been low for his career. Even as someone projected to play left field, his bat stands out.
Michael Lorenzen only made one of the lists, coming in near the end of the Baseball Prospectus Top 50. He has been the biggest riser in the system among the top group of guys as he has made an outstanding transition from college outfielder and closer into professional starting pitcher. Let’s take a look at his stats, all of which have come with the Double-A Pensacola team:
The low ERA jumps out at you, as does the low home run total. I noted earlier how friendly the Pensacola home park was for home runs to left and left-center, but it hasn’t effected Lorenzen much. The reason for that is that he is a very high rate groundball pitcher. His current groundball rate is 59%, which if it were in the big leagues would rank as the second best rate among starting pitchers.
Along with a lot of grounders, Lorenzen also shows off a low walk rate. While his control isn’t outstanding, he can throw strikes most of the time. For the time being, he isn’t missing bats as often as some other top pitching prospects are, but he is also still very raw when it comes to pitching as he had less than 75 innings between college and professional baseball coming into the season and has more than held his own at the Double-A level despite that.
He has to be the biggest surprise of the system this year despite coming into the season as a well regarded prospect simply because of how well he has adjusted to his new role and at the level in which he has been able to do it. The strikeout rate will rise as he learns more and becomes more consistent.
To wrap things up, mark it down on your calendars or put it into your phone: This Sunday is the MLB All-Star Futures Game in Minneapolis. The Reds will be represented by both Robert Stephenson and Jesse Winker. The game will be at 5pm ET and you can watch it on MLB.com or MLB Network.