I was able to catch the Dayton Dragons on their far western swing in the Midwest League when they took on the Burlington Bees last week. This Dayton team — the Reds Class-A affiliate — has talent, but they’re streaky. They won nine games in a row at one point. Then they lost 8 in a row. In Burlington and Clinton, Iowa, they won five straight before blowing a four-run lead to the LumberKings in a loss.
Two players that dominate the conversation for the Dragons are Hunter Greene and Jeter Downs, for obvious reasons. Greene was the Reds top draft pick last year (#2 overall) and was immediately dubbed “The Face of the Reds” by many. Downs is another high draft pick — 32nd overall in that same draft — a shortstop named after Derek Jeter.
But on my trip to Burlington, I requested and got an interview with Stuart Fairchild. Nothing against Green or Jeter. Green has struggled somewhat at Dayton. Jeter has played well, splitting time between shortstop and second base.
I’m neither a scout or an expert, but Fairchild — Cincinnati’s third pick in that 2017 draft — has some potential. The right-handed hitter just seems focused on every at bat, carries himself like a pro, and bats cleanup for the Dragons. “Since game one here, I’ve batted cleanup,” said Fairchild, who is from Seattle but played college baseball at Wake Forest. “I’ve never done that before but I’m fine with it.”
As of this morning, Fairchild is batting .277/.394/.402 with two homers, six doubles, and 21 RBI. He also has ten stolen bases, and has yes to commit an error on the season. “It’s been good so far,” said the Dragon outfielder. “We have one of the best minor league parks in baseball so to come out for every single game you get motivated to play. I’m glad we’re getting some wins after that tough stretch but that happens in baseball. We just want to stay on track.”
Fairchild had a monster junior season for the Demon Deacons leading up to the 2017 draft. “I got the news I was drafted literally thirty seconds after we lost our final game of the season in the (NCAA) Regionals to Florida. So it was a roller coaster of a day. Our season ended but I got drafted in the second round. It was bittersweet.”
Fairchild went off to Billings, a rookie league, last year and batted over .300 for the season. “Going there was more of a mental adjustment because I didn’t know any of the guys. At Wake Forest, I’d formed some strong relationships and had good friends so it was kind of a shock. But once I settled in, everything was fine. It was a good experience in Billings.”
Stuart considers himself a “true” centerfielder although he’s played several games in left field and center. “That’s the position I’m most comfortable with.” I asked Stuart to describe his hitting style to Reds fans. “I’m a gap to gap, line drive hitter more than anything. I have some power. But the big thing over my career is getting on base and getting a lot of hits. I also try to be as consistent as I can be.”
Dayton’s streakiness aside, the Dragons seem to have a solid bullpen, their best starter has been Packy Naughton (3-2, 3.92 ERA) and catcher Hendrik Clementina has been on an absolute terror of late (he was acquired for Tony Cingrani from the Dodgers last season.) and is batting .351/.437/.730 with seven home runs and 24 RBI.
“I know the Reds minor league system is ranked high and it’s good being in it,” said Fairchild. “I think we have a lot to look forward to. In order to have a successful major league team, we need to win at the lower levels, to get players accustomed to winning.
“We need to expect to win.”
Great words to hear from a Reds minor league player. Keep an eye on the Dayton Dragons. I know you will on Hunter and Jeter too. But don’t overlook Stuart Fairchild.
John lives in Galesburg, Illinois and has been a Reds fan all of his life. He is a retired firefighter and a Veteran who served for 32 years but stays active at the local Humane Society. His favorite Reds players include Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, Tony Perez, Eric Davis, and Bronson Arroyo. While writing, he frequently listens to the music of Led Zeppelin and Steely Dan. He is flanked in the photo by ever-loyal “Reptar.”