As the 2017 season approaches the 1/3 mark, the Reds rebuilding process appears to be moving along very well except for the very important area of starting pitching.
Unfortunately the starting pitching is in such a sorry state that it is difficult to project it advancing to even league average standards prior to 2019 at the earliest. Another season or two beyond that point may be required for the starting pitching to reach the level it needs to be for the Reds to be a serious championship contender.
In the meantime, the current group of position players will move into and through their period of team control, becoming evermore expensive. By opening day 2020, three current everyday position players, Zack Cozart, Devin Mesoraco, and Billy Hamilton, will have reached free agency eligibility; at 2020 season’s end two more, Eugenio Suarez and Tucker Barnhart will join them.
Will the Reds be able to sustain or even improve their position player group to synch with the hopefully improved pitching? I turned to Doug Gray’s Reds Minor Leagues.com top 30 prospect list for insight. While this list includes 11 position players, only three of the 11, outfielders Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino and Phillip Ervin, are currently at AAA or AA and thus likely to be ready to provide help in the next year or two. However at the two levels of class A, the Reds appear to have a veritable (excuse me for saying this) Cubs-like wave of talent starting to percolate up the chain. With a bit of a push onto the fast track, these players could begin arriving with the Reds in 2019-20.
Let’s have a look at the players in this potential Reds Wave by the order they appear on Doug’s prospect list. Click on the player’s bold name to see his stats page.
Nick Senzel, the #2 overall 2016 MLB Draft pick tops the list. Senzel who is playing at class A+ Daytona played some shortstop in college but is at 3B for Daytona. Senzel’s current OPS is .830 with a very solid .366 OBP rate. Senzel seems a likely candidate for promotion to AA later this season. Given the all around development of Eugenio Suarez at 3B, is it too much to hope that Senzel — like his fellow #2 overall draft pick Kris Bryant (2013) — might have the versatility to play some corner outfield?
Taylor Trammell was the #35 overall (1st Round competitive balance slot) pick in the 2016 MLB draft. Trammell, the Georgia Class A high school football 2016 player of the year (running back) had already signed a letter of intent to play football at Georgia Tech when the Reds came calling with enough money to change his mind. The 19 year old outfielder is more than holding his own at Class (Low) A Dayton in a league where the average player age is 2 years older than him. Trammel may have further to come than anyone else in this group because of his tender age. He might however end up with the highest ceiling of all.
Chris Okey, the #43 overall pick in the 2016 draft and Tyler Stephenson, the #11 overall pick in the 2015 draft are catchers. 22 year old Okey old is struggling offensively at A+ Daytona. Stephenson, 20, who battled through multiple injuries ultimately resulting in wrist surgery in 2016 seems to be back on track at Low A Dayton. Stephenson is currently OPSing at .830 thanks in large part to a .393 OBP. Stephenson has been mentioned as player who at some point could play corner OF or 1B to accommodate getting his batting skills into a lineup.
Shed Long does not sport the high draft position of the previous players we’ve looked at (12th round #375 overall 2013); but, once given the opportunity, he’s made the most of it. Long currently plays 2B for A+ Daytona. At 21 years old, he is almost 2 years younger than the average aged player in the Florida State League. Long’s current OPS is around .875 with strong OBP component, just over .370. He’s another player who could be pushed on up to AA at midseason.
TJ Friedl is a former NCAA Division I college and team USA player who went undrafted in the 2016 draft amidst confusion concerning his eligibility. The Reds subsequently outbid several other organizations to sign Friedl when he was declared an undrafted domestic free agent. Even at a record undrafted free agent bonus of $730K+, Friedl looks like a steal. He is currently playing CF at Low A Dayton and posting an OPS just under .900 with an OBP > .380. If Friedl continues to perform as he has to date, he is a candidate to move up to A+ later in the season.
Alfredo Rodriguez is the Cuban-born shortstop whose controversial signing pushed the Reds over their international bonus pool limit which Baseball America says made the effective cost of signing him at least $12M, with $6M going to Rodriguez and an equal amount being paid to MLB as a fine. Rodriguez, 22, is at A+ Daytona. Following a slow start he has recently surged offensively to lift his 2017 aggregate OPS to .640.
Michael Beltre is a 21 year old outfielder signed out of the Dominican Republic. He is currently grouped with Trammell and Friedl at Low A Dayton to fill out a remarkable outfield trio. Beltre doesn’t look to have the pop in his bat that both Friedl and Trammel are demonstrating but he has posted a .368 OBP rate far in 2017.
We won’t know for a number of years whether this group will emerge as a Reds Wave to carry the team deep into the postseason. Some of the players may wash out or be sidetracked by injury. Others might be traded to fill talent gaps ahead of their projected arrival with Reds. What can be said now is that it has been a while since the Reds have had a closely-clustered group of position players in the minors who were as talented and diverse as this group appears to be demonstrating they are. This can bode only well for the team and its fans.