At the top of the 2018 season, the Reds had four prospects in MLB.com’s Top 100 — Nick Senzel, Hunter Greene, Taylor Trammel, and Tyler Mahle. On its face, that’s a strong system. I mean a top 10, three top 50, and four total premier prospects: What is there to complain about?
But then consider that the Braves, who are step ahead in the rebuild, have eight top 100 prospects and that’s even after Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies lost prospect eligibility. Or think that the Padres, arguably a step behind the Reds, have seven top 100 prospects, including one top 10 and six top 50.
The Reds have a good-looking farm, sure, but compared to other rebuilding teams, the minor league hands aren’t expected to push this team over the edge on their own. This exercise intends to explore options that could bolster the upper levels of the Reds’ farm system and push the rebuild over the edge without signing another “veteran presence.”
I’ve identified three positions of need for the Reds — middle infield, starting pitching, and outfield — where a big league ready prospect could come over and find playing time quickly, if not right away. For each position, I’ve picked a prospect reach, a realistic deal, and a deep cut guy. The first situation means the other team would be unlikely to sell; the second a deal that makes sense for both sides; and the third a lower-level player who the Reds could aggressively push along and maybe call up in mid-2019.
Keep in mind that the Reds don’t have many commodities a team looking for a playoff berth would want. Scott Schebler, should he keep hitting, could be moved, and Homer Bailey, should he keep pitching and the Reds eat some of his contract, would be a boon to any staff. But beyond them, Billy Hamilton and Adam Duvall have turned into pumpkins and while Raisel Iglesias should be moved, it’s hard to know which teams will need closers this early in the season. In sum, the deals I’m suggesting are the best the Reds should offer for any of these players, not necessarily a deal that will get the job done.
Realistic: Yu-Cheng Chang, Cleveland Indians
We’ll start with easily my favorite prospect of all nine I’m naming. Yu-Cheng Chang is the Indians No. 6 prospect, their second-best shortstop prospect, and blocked by two all-world middle infielders in Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis, with Jose Ramirez taking up space at the hot corner as well. Suffice to say, Chang will not be getting Major League looks with the Tribe any time soon.
Which is unfortunate for Chang because this kid can rake. The lowest full season wRC+ he’s posted is 91, back when he was in A ball. In high A, he posted a 117 wRC+; in AA, a 110 wRC+; and currently, another 110 through 16 AAA games. Chang strikes out a lot but also has immense power for a shortstop and will walk around an 8-10% clip. He won’t be the truest three-outcome player, but for a shortstop, he’ll add plenty of value to an offense currently relying on Jose Peraza. But the best part is that the Indians should be looking to move Chang, being a playoff hopeful and needing some outfield help and a dependable bench bat.
Deal: Chang for Billy Hamilton, Scooter Gennett
Reach: Franklin Barreto, Oakland A’s
I’ll preface this one by saying there is only a one percent chance the A’s would ever move Barreto. He hits for average with decent power for a shortstop, and while he doesn’t walk much, his OBP will still be better than Billy Hamilton’s. He’s the future of their middle infield, their second ranked prospect, and has already spent time with the big league club.
However, the A’s could use a decent hitting outfielder, a high-upside starter, and a catcher on the right side of 30. Also, Jed Lowrie’s late career resurgence could cause the A’s to gamble on 2018, and Marcus Semien’s sudden development into a 2.0-WAR player blocks short for the next couple of years. So in conclusion, it would be beyond stupid for the A’s to move Barreto, but should there be a sliver of hope for a wild card berth and Barreto continues to struggle in AAA, moving him for some short term help could happen. A one percent chance at least.
Deal: Barreto for Scott Schebler, Jackson Stephens
Deep Cut: Thairo Estrada, New York Yankees
Estrada is the Yankee’s No. 10 prospect and has already played a season at AA, so this cut isn’t as deep as the other two will be. But the Yankees already have Didi Gregorius, Gleybar Torres, and Miguel Andujar around the infield, which if you’re keeping track is an All-Star caliber shortstop and two uber-prospects, so Estrada looks blocked for years to come.
He likely wouldn’t make a big league debut until mid-2019 at the earliest, but Estrada hit .301/.353/.392 over a full season at AA last year. He’s a contact hitter without much power, but he won’t strikeout much either and has never recorded a full season wRC+ below 100. He’s also a defensive wizard who profiles more at second than short, but can reasonably play either. Even though he suffered a gunshot wound over the offseason, the injury isn’t expected to hinder Estrada’s development, though a slow start to the year won’t ease any minds.
Deal: Estrada, Ben Heller (Yankees No. 29 prospect, RHP) for Homer Bailey
Realistic: Austin Voth, Washington Nationals
Saying the Reds should trade for a guy who posted a 6.38 ERA and 5.96 FIP in 66.1 innings at AAA last year probably won’t inspire much faith in my prospecting ability but hear me out. Voth was next in line for a big league promotion in 2016 but was passed over in favor for Lucas Giolito. The wheels promptly fell off for Voth after that.
So far through 2018 though, Voth has been lights out with a 0.96 ERA, 2.82 FIP, and a disgusting 32.8 K%. He’s also only walked 3% of batters, which clearly won’t last but does serve to illustrate Voth’s absurd control. He’s a Tyler Mahle type prospect with more upside. He’s also someone the Nats could be looking to sell.
With Erick Fedde next in line for a rotation shot, Voth’s best chance for playing time necessitates two injuries to the Nationals’ all-star rotation. And looking at Houston’s stacked five, the Nationals might rather have a proven starter like Homer Bailey than count on Voth to maintain this year’s numbers or count on Fedde in a playoff scenario. If I were Washington, I would hold onto Voth, but there’s enough of a chance that the Reds should push to bring him into fold.
Deal: Voth, PLTBNL for Bailey, Stephens
Reach: Kolby Allard, Atlanta Braves
Honestly, given Voth’s start to 2018, he should probably be the reach and Allard should be the realistic deal but I believe Allard will be more difficult to pry off the Braves. The Braves No. 6 prospect, but their fifth-best pitching prospect, Allard dropped on Top 100 board from No. 22 to No. 56 this year because of injury concerns and a soft fastball. (Side note: The Braves system is unreal.) However, Allard has consistently posted solid numbers at every level he’s started, with his first three starts at AAA no exception.
Allard doesn’t have high strikeout numbers but won’t walk that many batters and keeps the ball in the yard. With their trove of pitching prospects, the Braves can stand to move one and still field an entire rotation of studs. What the Braves do need though is a second young outfielder to take over for Nick Markakis next year. While moving Jesse Winker is out of the question, it might not hurt the Reds to send Taylor Trammell to Atlanta. I think this deal beyond favors the Braves, but I would still pull the trigger because Allard could be a rotation rock behind Castillo and Mahle for years.
Deal: Allard for Taylor Trammell
Deep Cut: Jorge Alcala, Houston Astros
I’ll keep this one short because right now, Alcala is nothing more than a future closer, but boy could he be good. 21 years old with a fastball that can hit 102, Alcala needs a single secondary pitch before he can even approach being a quality starter. He’s got an electric arm though and has shown success at A and A+ even if he has struggled at AA so far. Definitely worth the flyer, especially if the Reds end up moving Raisel Iglesias this year.
Deal: Alcala, PLTBNL for Scott Schebler
Realistic: Dylan Cozens, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies should not move Dylan Cozens, let me preface with that. They don’t particularly have a position of need, and while they also don’t have anywhere for him to play, better to have prospect depth than not. But this is where the magic of a closer like Raisel Iglesias enters. Hector Neris ain’t a bad option, but he’s not a shutdown guy either. Push come to shove and the Phillies are looking at a wild card spot? Iglesias for Cozens makes a lot of sense.
So who is this guy? He’s the prototypical three-outcome player; Joey Gallo in the outfield. Right now he’s slashing .246/.385/.489 with seven of his 15 hits going for extra bases. And even with all his size and power, Cozens has wheels too, stealing six bags already this year. After hitting .210 last year, the Phillies have worked with him to make more contact. It hasn’t paid off yet, with Cozens sporting a 34.6 K% but that shouldn’t be too much cause for concern given his plate discipline and power. Just imagine if the Reds can replace Duvall with Cozens, subbing a power-sapped corner outfielder for one who hits long balls in abundance.
Deal: Cozens for Raisel Iglesias
Reach: Willie Calhoun, Texas Rangers
The Rangers top prospect, Calhoun hits, hits and hits some more. He’s expected to be a middle of the order bat for years, but the Rangers are content to leave him in AAA for now, even as he describes that treatment as “a slap in the face.” Calhoun hit 31 homers in a full season at AAA last year, while keeping his K% down around 10%. He’s a rare power hitter who makes good contact, and the Rangers are in all likelihood going to hang onto him.
Not in the hunt this year and with plenty of holes around the diamond, the Rangers shouldn’t move Calhoun unless they get a serious long-term haul back. For the Reds, that means moving young, controllable arms the Rangers could count on to replace their aging rotation. For the right price, any player is up for sale, though this reach feels like the most outlandish of the three.
Deal: Calhoun for Tony Santillan, Rookie Davis, Keury Mella
Deep Cut: Desmond Lindsay, New York Mets
The Mets No. 7 prospect, Lindsay’s ceiling is an All-Star centerfielder, but lingering hamstring issues and a lack of in-game power limit the most optimistic realistic projections. What Lindsay has shown is stellar plate discipline, walking around 15% clip and keeping his strikeouts around 20%. The latter number did leap up to 30% last year, so there may be some cause for concern as Lindsay moves past A+, but the young outfielder is so athletic that he could be worth the risk.
Deal: Lindsay, Ali Sanchez (Mets No. 27 prospect, C) for Homer Bailey
The likelihood of any of these deals happening is more or less a toss up: I’m not in Dick Williams’ head and he sure as heck doesn’t listen to my advice. But the takeaway here should be that the Reds should absolutely move Scott Schebler and Homer Bailey should they keep producing, and they should do so for quality, not quantity.
Taylor Trammell should be on the block as well if a big league prospect is on the table, otherwise the Reds should hold him as tight as possible. Keep an eye on Cozens, Voth, and Chang in the coming months — they could be headlining various deadline deals. Just maybe don’t count on the Reds to be involved.