[Tom Diesman is out of town this week. We asked Warren Leeman (known here and the far eastern territory of Russia as Shchi Cossack) to pinch hit. Thanks, Warren!]
With the Big Club’s season over from a competitive perspective and the minor league season winding down, a look back through the 2015 minor league season and a look forward to 2016 and 2017 for the minor league contributions at the major league level is appropriate.
Reality Superseding Hope
Yorman Rodriguez had been proclaimed by many as an OF solution to fill the LF void or supplant Billy Hamilton in CF if Hamilton continues to lack on-base skills. That ain’t happening. Y-Rod has stabilized his improvement from last season, hitting .269/.308/.429, but the toolsy OF, signed as a 16 year old, is now a 23 year old (still youngish) playing in AAA with a 5% BB% and a 24% SO%. His ceiling looks more like a utility OF than a major league starter. He is not nearly ready for a role as a major league utility OF.
Kyle Waldrop flashed a shiny .902 OPS in 2014 at A+ and AA getting many fans excited. It looks like 2014 will turn out as nothing more than a spectacular outlier season for the 23 year old playing in AAA. Waldrop’s 0.615 OPS with a 4% BB% and a 24% SO% speaks to a career minor league OF rather than even a major league utility OF.
Brennan Boesch destroyed the PCL in 2014 with a 1.017 OPS and has manhandled the INT with an .829 OPS in 2015. When given recent opportunities to produce at the major league level, Boesch hasn’t fulfilled his AAA promise, putting up an OPS+ of 48 in 191 PA. I see no reason to expect any different results heading into 2016.
Jason Bourgeois cannot hit, has never been able to hit and is now a 33-year-old aging OF with a 44 OPS+. This compares with his career 71 OPS+, buffered by one marginal season (89 OPS+) in 2011. Reds management is demonstrating poor judgment (again!) by including Bourgeois on the 25-man or 40-man rosters.
Fun While it Lasted
We all like a good Cinderella story. Kris Negron was a true Cinderella heading into 2015. I love the way Negron plays. I love the defensive flexibility he offers the Reds as a super utility player. When the chimes rang at midnight, Negron simply couldn’t hit (14 OPS+ in 2015) for the Reds and he hasn’t hit (.189/.255/.299) since his demotion to Louisville AAA. I hope Negron turns it around and gets another shot, but I also hoped to make a significant contribution towards winning a Nobel Prize when I was younger.
Can It Continue?
Ivan De Jesus should have made the 25-man roster coming out of spring training in 2015. The fact that he was jilted in favor of players such as Boesch, Chris Dominguez and Skip Schumaker speaks to the decision-making of the Reds rather than the capability of De Jesus. De Jesus has filled the super utility role vacated by Negron and has added a 101 OPS+. He has provided hitting (.736 OPS) and some pop (4 HR) along with a SO% of 20% and a league-average BB% of 8% in his 123 PA for the Reds after a 10% BB% and 20% SO% in 209 PA at AAA.
I still dream of Negron and De Jesus in utility roles for the Reds. But if De Jesus can continue with his performance into 2016 and 2017, he would become a cornerstone of the Reds bench going forward. From 2012-2015, De Jesus put up a AAA OPS of: .759, .837, .745 and .762. The dude can play and provide relief at every defensive position except catcher. De Jesus will play for league minimum through 2017 and will remain under team control through 2020. This off-season, I would get De Jesus serious work in CF and begin developing him as an emergency backup at catcher.
Not Yet, but Soon
It’s all about the walks. Robert Stephenson will take the mound for the Reds, possibly as early as 2015 when the September extended rosters are added. Stephenson is not ready … yet (see Homer Bailey). Do not rush him to the 25-man roster. There are simply too many other options to explore for the 2016 starting rotation. Stephenson is still the best bet for a future staff ace. Let him continue to work on mastering his control before promotion to the 25-man roster. Stephenson’s 4.9 BB/9 in 2014 and 4.8 BB/9 in 2015 will not play at GABP. If and when Stephenson halves his walk rate, he should be on the shuttle from Louisville to Cincinnati post haste.
Under the Radar
Seth Mejias-Brean has a career OBP of .373 as a RH hitter, just what the Reds need at the top of the order, hitting in front of Votto. But Mejias-Brean hasn’t hit a lot of HR (39) and doesn’t steal a lot of bases (26) in his 1700 plate appearances. He simply doesn’t fit the Reds’ narrow, antiquated profile. Mejias-Brean has put up a 2012 OPS (.925), 2013 OPS (.837), 2014 OPS (.773) 2015 OPS (.737), strong defense, a career BB% of 12%, a career SO% of 17% and career ISO of .150.
Seth Mejias-Brean is a base clogger and he clogs a LOT of bases. He has hit .252/.362/.376 in AA this season. While his BA is down slightly this season, his OBP is consistently high, like every other season in his professional career. Since the Reds will not compete for the NLCD title or playoffs in 2016, they probably won’t need Mejias-Brean in 2016. But he should be in AAA and ready for a call up if needed and he may be the answer for offensive needs in 2017. That’s the year the Reds hopefully will move into the 21st century with new leadership in Baseball Operations.
If Not Now, When
The man we have waited for is ready, more than ready. Jesse Winker started the 2015 season slowly with a .736 OPS in April. I hesitate to call Winker’s performance in April poor or substandard but it was certainly below expectations for the Reds #1 prospect. Then Winker’s performance tanked in May (.592 OPS).
Was the pressure of high expectations causing Winker to press? Could Winker have had a negative reaction to the Reds stashing him in AA while others were promoted to AAA?
The good news is Winker is back, with a vengeance. He homered in five consecutive games las week and is hitting .277/.375/.436. That’s still below his career line of .291/.393/.473, but trending up with an OPS of 1.250 in August.
The Reds won’t need Winker in 2016, even though he is ready. The talent in Winker’s bat must be maximized and the timing of his promotion to the 25-man roster handled carefully. His arbitration clock should be managed to avoid Super Two status. The target should be full offensive production going in to 2017. Young Mr. Winker’s time has arrived.
Looking to 2017
I’m excited about the Reds moving forward. In my heart, I haven’t given up on their chances in 2016, but my head is resolved to look past 2016 to 2017. A young starting rotation can be scary and exhilarating. Raisel Iglesias, Homer Bailey (once he is rehabbed and healthy) and Disco could all be legitimate #2’s. A line of quality prospects has formed behind those three pitchers ready to stake a claim.
Questions remain: What can Aroldis Chapman fetch this off-season if he is marketed? Will the Reds reach outside the organization in a trade (Burns or Santana) or tap the FA market (Fowler) for the leadoff hitter they desperately need?
I’m anxiously awaiting the 2015 September roster expansion and spring training in 2016 as we begin to see the answers to these roster questions.