The minor league camp is just getting into full swing but the minor league rosters will not be set and finalized for a few weeks. The 25-man major league roster is nearly set, lacking just 2-3 relievers and 1-2 utility infielders. Nick Senzel will make the 25-man roster; it’s just a question of how soon.
Now is a good time to look at those prospects that we feel face particularly important seasons. Everyone will have individual opinions about which ones and why. Hunter Greene, Jonathan India and JT Friedl represent the three key 2019 Cincinnati Reds prospects for short term and long term impact. Those are my who. Now for my why…
Hunter Greene was promoted to the Midwest League (A) Dragons for the 2018 season. He had a tough month in April (14.63 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, 1.105 OPS) but also some bad luck (.708 BAbip). Although Greene maintained a high walk rate (6.75/9 innings), he also struck out a whopping 19.13/9 innings during April. The numbers indicate that Greene really suffered from the classic ‘hit ’em where they ain’t’ syndrome. After April, Greene righted the ship (3.13 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .297 BAbip, 2.54 BB/9 innings and 10.74 BB/9 innings). Unfortunately his final 3 starts averaged only 2.2 IP. After his 7/26/18 start, Greene was shut down with a UCL sprain in his pitching elbow. The injury was treated with rest and rehab during the off season.
All reports have been rosy for Greene, who is expected to be fully ready for ST and the 2019 season. I look for Greene to begin the season at Florida State League (A+) Daytona. A strong early season should allay any fears regarding his elbow. This could also set the stage for a possible midseason promotion to Southern League (AA) Chattanooga.
I also look for the Reds development staff to closely monitor Greene’s innings pitched to allow a full season of starts during the 2019 season. With a lack of accumulated innings, I believe a 2021 major league appearance for Hunter Greene is a reasonable goal, but he could immediately step into a top-of-the-rotation role as early as 2021.
Jonathan India played through the college world series last season after the rule 4 draft. He then headed to Appalachian League (rookie) Greeneville after just a short respite while negotiating his contract. He also played at Pioneer League (rookie) Billings and Midwest League (A) Dayton, totaling 44 games and 184 plate appearances. India struggled with his hit tool (.240 AVG), especially against right-handed pitchers (.211 AVG). To his credit, India maintained very good plate discipline (.380 OBP) and good power (.193 ISO). Physical and emotional fatigue could certainly have contributed to his struggles last season.
I look for India to begin the season back in Dayton with positive results. That could lead to a possible midseason promotion to Florida State League (A+) Daytona. After a token look at shortstop in 2018 and a fresh start to the season, I hope that the Reds development staff will continue with a serious look at key defensive positions for India, besides just second base and third base. Hopefully the Senzel lesson has yielded some positive impact regarding the organizational intent to establish more defensive flexibility for those athletic, high-upside hitting prospects.
India could join Greene at the Major League level in 2021, but with Eugenio Suarez and Senzel as likely fixtures for second base and third base, India may need a defensive position to play. The Reds likely have just one more top-ten rule 4 draft selection (2019) in their hip pocket. It is imperative that the Reds organization maximize all of their high draft choices from the 2015-2019 rule 4 drafts.
TJ Friedl’s saga represents a modern-day baseball fable. As a talented college player who slipped through the fingers of every MLB organization, Friedl fell in the Cincinnati Reds collective lap. Sheer luck provided a classic event of being in the right place, at the right time and under the right circumstances.
The Reds have a plethora of young outfield prospects headed by Taylor Trammell and Jose Siri. Of those young outfield prospects, only Friedl achieved any success in the upper minors. During 2018, Friedl hit .284/.381/.384, including a half season at AA where he hit .276/.359/.360. This takes on significant importance with an anticipated 60% turnover in the Reds outfield in 2020, including center field.
Friedl lacks power (career .118 ISO), but provides good contact (career 17.5% SO rate), very good on-base skills (career .374 OBP) and experience in center field with excellent speed but a below average arm. Without a starting outfield replacement, specifically center field, available for the 2020 season, the Reds must seek an external starting outfield replacement. Phillip Ervin could possibly fill a corner or utility outfield role. Scott Schebler could possibly fill a center, corner or utility outfielder role. Nick Senzel becomes the heir apparent at second base when Scooter Gennett becomes a free agent. Friedl could fill the vacancy in center with solid defense and speed at the top of the lineup combined with good on-base skills.
I look for Friedl to improve his offense at AA early in the 2019 season followed by a midseason promotion to AAA with similar success. Friedl may not provide a long-term solution in center. As a one-year, short-term option making league minimum, he could prove very valuable.
Now It’s Your Turn
Who are your key 2019 Cincinnati Reds prospects? Why do you view their success in 2019 as key elements to the short-term or long-term success of the Cincinnati Reds? There are no right or wrong answers, just your opinions and reasons. I’m anxious to hear from you.