During the early part of this season, the Reds have reminded me of another Reds team from not long ago: the 2009 team. Why 2009? The Reds finished 78-84, 4th in the NL Central that season, but it was the year before the magical 2010 division championship. The Reds had a number of prospects who would go on to help the team make the playoffs in 2010 and 2012 (and some of those then-prospects are still having successful careers today).
Of the 46 players on the Reds roster at some point during the 2009 season, twelve were age 25 and under. Eleven players were 26. It was a very up-and-coming team, with some bright futures for certain players. Both the 2009 Reds and the 2017 Reds have a significant core group of players ready to make their mark. However, that’s where the similarities stop. On that 2009 team, there were also 15 players age 30 and older, a high number for a team that was still rebuilding at the time.
This is the difference between 2009 and this year’s team. In 2017, of the 29 players who have played thus far, 13 are 25 years old and younger. Only five are over 30. Of those five, one is Bronson Arroyo. Two of the others, Joey Votto and Zack Cozart, play everyday and it can be argued they are still in their prime. Yes, it is important for a team to have a veteran presence (see: Scott Rolen in 2010), but for rebuilding teams, it’s all about how well teams can collect and utilize young players.
Another difference between the 2009 team and the 2017 team is the prospects. In 2009, Baseball America’s Top 10 Reds prospects looked like this:
- Yonder Alonso (starting first baseman with A’s)
- Todd Frazier (starting third baseman with White Sox)
- Drew Stubbs (minor leagues with the Giants)
- Chris Valaika (last played at AAA in Cubs org. in 2015)
- Yorman Rodriguez (free agent)
- Kyle Lotzkar (played in an independent league in 2016)
- Neftali Soto (AA in Nationals org.)
- Juan Francisco (last playing in Japan & Dominican Winter League)
- Juan Duran (last played in Dominican Winter League in 2016)
- Devin Mesoraco
Only three players on this list are still at the MLB level. Stubbs has played five games for the Giants’ AAA team in 2017, after bouncing around between the minors and majors with four teams over the last three years. Votto, Homer Bailey, Jay Bruce, and Johnny Cueto, who were all Reds Top 10 prospects at one point, were already at the MLB level in 2009. Although the Reds finished with 78 wins that year, not much of a better finish than the teams in the early 2000s, they had a lot of promising young talent. That talent got them two division titles and a wild card berth over the next four years.
This year’s team — just based on the eye test — looks like it could be more talented than those teams. According to Baseball America, the Reds top 10 prospect list is currently:
- Nick Senzel
- Cody Reed
- Amir Garrett
- Robert Stephenson
- Taylor Trammell
- Jesse Winker
- Aristides Aquino
- Sal Romano
- Vladimir Gutierrez
- Tyler Stephenson
Five of the ten players have already made their debut, and more are sure to follow. Senzel has looked like the number one draft pick he is. Early returns from the other players have been great, some more than others. Time will tell if they will succeed in MLB, but what they are doing both at the MLB level and the MiLB level has fans excited.
It’s always tough to know how prospects will perform at the MLB level. At the end of the day, no one can predict what will happen in the future. And age doesn’t always matter. A team could have all the young players in the country, and if those players don’t perform, the team will never get to the top of the standings. That being said, I think this core group of young talent the Reds have this year has the potential to be better than the teams from 2009-2013. (This is quite the statement because I still maintain the 2012 team had a good chance to win it all if not for injuries).
With such a young team, fans might get anxious about the team and how long the rebuild takes. But sometimes teams surprise and become good earlier than expected. The Chicago Cubs are an excellent example of that. In 2014, the Cubs were 73-89. In 2015, their Opening Day lineup had the lowest average age in baseball. That year, everyone predicted the Cubs were at least a year away. They surprised everyone by finishing 97-65, three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in a stacked NL Central. The Cubs went to the NLCS, where they were swept by the Mets. In 2016, they had the best record in baseball and were World Series champions, just two years after losing 90 games.
Of course, the Cubs have some advantages (money) over the Reds, but the core of their lineup is homegrown. They drafted well for several years in a row, and then just built around the core players.
The Reds tried to build a core nucleus of players in 2009, and it worked well for a couple of years, but injuries and age (and the San Francisco Giants) derailed that plan. It’s still a model the Reds are trying to duplicate, but with — hopefully — better players because of better drafts and wise trades. The rebuild is headed in the right direction, and with the way the Reds are playing, maybe — just maybe — the Reds will get there sooner than anticipated.