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.

18 Responses

  1. cfd3000

    What’s the general trajectory for players like this? Steady rise to the parent club? Eventual phenom or eventual never-quite-made-it? Of the top 20 in the system how many will on average become starters in the majors? I guess I’m really asking whether this transition now makes them players we might see in Cincinnati some day, or players we almost certainly will see as Reds?

    • Doug Gray

      Tough to really answer that first question. Once a guy figures it out, they don’t tend to just lose it. But with that said, Aquino still has some things to work on. The K/BB rate is still in a range that needs to improve before I feel real confident about him. But when it comes to what he does when he puts the bat on the ball, he seems to have gotten it. Garrett has gone from a project to a very good prospect, borderline top 10 guy at this point in time.

      Even tougher to answer the top 20 part of the question. The system isn’t always at the same level of talent from year to year. Guys one year who rounded out the top 10 may not even make the top 20 in a different season. In some systems they really don’t have a single starting caliber player at all, and in some they have ten between position guys and pitchers.

      Then of course is the whole distinction between starting caliber and will be a starter. Lots and lots of starting caliber guys. Almost guaranteed to start? A very small number because until guys are succeeding in Double-A, its very tough to be insanely confident they will almost assuredly be that kind of guy.

  2. zaglamir

    I don’t have much to ask this week, so just saying thanks for keeping this up. I appreciate the updates.

  3. Eric the Red

    Thanks for doing this. It’s interesting information I didn’t even know I wanted to read about before I read it, that I wouldn’t be able to read anywhere else.

  4. Thegaffer

    Any thoughts on Nick Travieso. With the run of sucessful first rounders, he has been disappointing and as he is not Wacha. He is very young and seems to have been solid enough at Dayton. Is he a Lecure 2.0?

    • Doug Gray

      He’s the third best prospect in the system according to my rankings and the fourth according to the midseason Baseball America rankings. He has hardly been a disappointment. He is one of the Reds better prospects in the system, and the second or third best pitching prospect in the system depending on who you ask. Some scouts have called him a #2/#3 future starter. He’s far more than a future LeCure.

  5. Jonathan Linn

    Question….what more does Garrett have to do to crack the top 10 for next year? And what would it take for him to give up on basketball?

    And…how deep is this year top 20? Would most of these guys be Top 20 in years past? I remember the failed drafts of the early 2000’s so it seems to me that these last 5-7 years have been a lot deeper Top 20’s than in years past.

    • Doug Gray

      If Garrett continues doing what he has been doing, it will be hard to keep him out of the top 10 after the season. When my top 10 came out a month ago for the midseason rankings, neither Nick Howard or Rasiel Iglesias had signed with the Reds, and Garrett was fighting for that final spot in the top 10. I decided to go with Sal Romano there instead, but the two guys were pretty much interchangeable depending on how I was feeling at a given moment. He gets pushed back with the signing of the other two pitchers, but his performance warrants him moving up too. The Reds are pretty deep right now, regardless of what some other places seem to think (Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus seems to be on the Reds are deep bandwagon though, so at least I’m not alone in crazytown). I don’t think he wants to give up on basketball, so realistically, I think it’s going to take one of two things….. reaching the Major Leagues or graduating college.

      I think this top 20 stacks up very well with other years. Lots of depth.

  6. Michael Grote

    Long time reader, first time poster, I have a partial (17 game) season ticket package to the Dragons. I’ve had it since 2009, but I saw one of Mesoraco’s first games in Dayton. Made his family scowl in mine and a relative’s general direction.

    Early in this season I was underwhelmed (nay disgusted) with Garret’s performances. I saw him two games in a row. Both were back in April, the first game I saw him in, he pitched 1+ (faced 6 batters in the second, before getting yanked) and gave up 5 ER on 8 hits. The second game was rained out so any stats he had were erased. According to my score book he gave up 3 runs (2ER) in the second inning but also had a HBP and a WP. (I left after 3, the game’s start was delayed by rain and then it was delayed again after 3). He’s improved since then but I was ready to send him back to Billings after that first April game. I would say Garrett needs to work on his control. Those 8 hits were all singles, so it wasn’t like he was giving up extra bases, but he was still leaving enough over the plate for the other team to start raking. He’s a lanky guy and as Doug said, his mechanics have improved over time.

    As for Travieso, I can’t speak much for or against him. I haven’t seen him that much. When I have seen him, he seems very Mike Leake-esque. Good for 4 or 5 innings but he’ll sneak a bad inning somewhere in the middle.

    I’ve not seen Howard yet but I think he only recently joined the squad and they’ve been on the road for the past week.

    When someone asks me if there’s any Robert Stephensons or Billy Hamiltons on the 2014 Dragons’ roster. My answer has been the same since May. There are a number of could bes, and may bes, but there’s also a number of “Son, it’s time to find your path in life, because baseball ain’t it.” In the end there aren’t any players that I can say with any confidence that they are sure fire pro players.

    Some day I’ll tell my Mesoraco story.

  7. Thegaffer

    The yankees gave up NOTHING for Chase Headley. I can,t imagine the reds could not have pulled that trade off without giving up vital pieces. It only cost 2.5 million in real money too.

    • the next janish

      Wow, I had to check to make sure it was the true. Maybe not a great fit for the Reds but I’m saying the Yank’s are probably not going to regret this trade.

      • Thegaffer

        He is a great fit, great 3B defense, experience in LF. Yanks going to try him at 1B. Switch hitter!

    • Doug Gray

      They also traded for a well below-average hitter (at least in 2014). At this point, it’s a step backwards. The guy they traded for him, not even accounting for the prospect they gave up, has easily outhit Headley in 2014. Headley has a big name, and his past speaks a lot better, but in 2014, the Yankees traded a guy for Headley who has easily outhit him. And Headley is a free agent in 9 weeks, while Solarte isn’t a free agent until 2020. In my book, it’s a questionable trade at best. Headley hasn’t hit at all this year and it’s not like he’s been doing something special lately other than riding the BABIP train to a solid July. He has 0 walks and 17 strikeouts in the month. That’s not how you start hitting.