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The 2015 Cincinnati Reds Top 10 Prospects

Announcement: For my analysis – including Ranking the Top 250 Prospects, Ranking the Farm systems, and in-depth commentary for over 900 minor leaguers – check out my book, The 2015 Prospect Digest Handbook, now available on Amazon!

 

For an explanation on the CAL, the Comparison And Likeness prospect classification system I derived, click here.

 

 

1.  Jesse Winker, LF

Born: 08/17/93  Age: 21   Height: 6-3   Weight: 210   B/T: L/L                                                         
Top CALs: Aaron Hicks, Estarlin Martinez, Austin Dean, Justin Upton, Andrew Lambo
YEAR Age LVL PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BB% K% wRC+
2012 18 R 275 .338 .443 .500 .943 .162 14.5% 18.2% 146
2013 19 A 486 .281 .379 .463 .841 .182 13.0% 15.4% 138
2014 20 A+ 249 .317 .426 .580 1.006 .263 16.1% 18.5% 160
2014 20 AA 92 .208 .326 .351 .677 .143 15.2% 23.9% 94

Background: After striking gold in the first round of the 2011 draft with burgeoning ace Robert Stephenson, Cincinnati once again hit a homerun in the first round the following year by selecting Winker with the 49th overall pick. Placed on a similar development path as Robert Stephenson, his Futures Game counterpart, Winker, however, had a tale of two seasons in 2014. He started out the year like a bat out of hell, hitting .317/.426/.580 with 15 doubles and 13 homeruns while spending half of his time in the hitter-friendly confines of Bakersfield.

Cincinnati then bumped the lefty-swinging corner outfielder to Pensacola in mid-June and Winker responded by hitting .208/.326/.351 before the lingering effects of torn tendon in his wrist suffered in a car accident forced him to miss the  remainder of the season. Fully healed, Winker tore through the Arizona Fall League, winning the batting title while finishing with a .338/.440/.559 triple-slash line in 19 games.

Projection: I wrote this about the promising outfielder in last year’s books:

“A budding analytic superstar, Winker not only showed a well-rounded offensive approach, but one that’s mature beyond his years. Incredible plate discipline, developing power, and, perhaps the best news, the lefty-swinging Winker has handled southpaws well throughout his professional career, hitting .293/.393/.420 off of them. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him develop into a .300/.400/.500 hitter down the line, capable of 25+ homerun pop.”

The brief, unsuccessful stint he suffered through in Class AA should prove to be nothing more than an anomaly, a minor speed bump. He’s still showing plus-power potential, an above-average eye at the plate, solid contact skills, and an amazing ability to handle southpaws. CAL links him to Justin Upton, which would be his ultimate offensive ceiling.

Ceiling:  4.5-win player

Risk:  Low to Moderate

MLB ETA:  Late 2015/Early 2016

 

 

2.  Robert Stephenson, RHP

Born: 02/24/93  Age: 22   Height: 6-3   Weight: 195   B/T: R/R                                                        
Top CALs: Steve Johnson, Mauricio Robles, Isaiah Froneberger, Omar Poveda, Kasey Kiker
YEAR Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 20 A 77.0 2.57 2.59 11.2 31.3% 2.3 6.5% 0.58 68.1%
2013 20 A+ 20.7 3.05 3.82 9.6 26.5% 0.9 2.4% 1.31 71.4%
2013 20 AA 16.7 4.86 4.65 9.7 24.0% 7.0 17.3% 1.08 73.5%
2014 21 AA 136.7 4.74 4.58 9.2 23.3% 4.9 12.3% 1.19 66.8%

Background: I wrote the following in last year’s book: “One of the top pitching prospects in the game, the Reds placed Stephenson on the fast-track to the big leagues midway through his debut season and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him start the year back in Class AA despite throwing just 20.2 innings in the California League. True ace potential. Big strikeouts. Above-average control. The lone red flag from last season: his HR-rate spiked as he moved up the MiLB ladder.” The big right-hander spent the entire year back in Class AA. And as I mentioned last year, Stephenson battled some longball tendencies, surrendering 1.19 dingers for every nine innings pitched.

Stephenson, along with future big league teammate Jesse Winker appeared in last summer’s Sirius-XM All-Star Futures Game, hurled a career high 136.2 innings, issuing 74 walks and surrendering 18 bombs while fanning 140. His strikeout percentage, 23.3%, strikeout rate, 9.22 K/9, and opponents’ batting average, .218, all topped the Southern League among pitchers with 100+ innings.

Projection: A big time arm that’s coming along at the most opportune team as Cincinnati begins shuffling towards rebuilding/retooling the big league club. As I noted in last year’s book, Stephenson has true ace potential. And while his control/command regressed last season, there’s no reason to believe that it won’t bounce back to his previous career norms next season.

Ceiling:  4.0- to 4.5-win player

Risk:  Low to Moderate

MLB ETA:  2015

 

 

3.  Michael Lorenzen, RHP

Born: 01/04/92  Age: 23   Height: 6-3   Weight: 195   B/T: R/R                                                        
Top CALs: Stolmy Pimentel, Michael O’Brien, Brett Marshall, Alvis Ojeda, Anthony Ortega
YEAR Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 21 A 8.3 0.00 2.38 7.6 21.9% 2.2 6.3% 0.00 100.0%
2013 21 A+ 5.7 6.35 8.18 9.5 20.0% 7.9 16.7% 1.59 79.4%
2013 21 AA 6.0 4.50 6.41 7.5 17.9% 9.0 21.4% 1.50 84.9%
2014 22 AA 120.7 3.13 4.01 6.3 16.7% 3.3 8.7% 0.67 75.0%

Background: An impact bat in each of his three seasons at Cal State, Lorenzen also moonlighted as the team’s closer for his final two years. Prior to the 2013 draft I questioned his potential as an everyday player in the minor leagues, writing: “After slugging 12 extra-base hits in 137 ABs during his freshman year, Lorenzen’s power hasn’t really developed as expected. Rather, it grades out as slightly below-average with the potential to hit double-digit HR in pro ball. One huge red flag that will likely plague the junior at the next level is his plate discipline.”

I did think that his future could be rosier if he converted to pitching fulltime, writing: “He does, however, have a chance to become a dominant backend reliever, striking out 20 and walking just four in 22.2 innings for Cal State.” What I didn’t forecast, though, is that the Reds, who have one successful collegiate-reliever-turned-successful-professional-starting-pitcher conversion under their belt (Tony Cingrani), would grab Lorenzen in the supplemental first round and then transition him into the rotation.

Here’s the most impressive part: Lorenzen basically jumped (successfully) from a part-time collegiate hurler to a good Class AA starting pitcher with just 21.0 innings in between. Last season Lorenzen posted a solid 4.01 FIP with an 84-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Projection: Despite some overall lackadaisical production in Class AA, Lorenzen far exceeded anyone’s expectations and could potentially slide into a #2/#3-type role in the Reds’ rotation in the coming years. He’s likely to see a big spike in his strikeout rate next year as he becomes more acclimated as a starter. He could be big league ready with months.

Ceiling:  3.0-win player

Risk:  Moderate

MLB ETA:  Late 2015/Early 2016

 

 

4.  Nick Howard, RHP

Born: 04/06/93  Age: 22   Height: 6-3   Weight: 215   B/T: R/R                                                        
Top CALs: Tyree Hayes, Hector Corpas, Juan Gonzalez, Yohan Gonzalez, Graham Hicks
YEAR Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2014 21 A 33.7 3.74 4.73 6.2 16.9% 2.9 8.1% 1.07 72.7%

Background: Before Michael Lorenzen there was Tony Cingrani, and now there’s Nick Howard, the University of Virginia power-armed closer. Howard opened his collegiate career as a bit of a long reliever for the Cavaliers, tossing 41.2 innings of impressive ball (2.79 ERA, 37 K, and 12 BB). The coaching staff, momentarily seeing the light, transitioned the big right-hander into the rotation during his sophomore season where he, lo and behold, more than held his own (3.39 ERA, 52 K, and 15 BB). And then, for whatever reason, Howard was pushed back into the bullpen and became a dominant shutdown closer.

Prior to the draft I wrote,

“Again, he falls into that category of very intriguing pitching prospect given his athleticism and lack of experience. Despite that, though, Howard’s shown an incredible feel for the mound, offering above-average control/command and an equally promising ability to miss bats.”

And here’s the kicker, I wrote: “A better version of Michael Lorenzen, Cincinnati’s supplemental first round pick out of Cal State Fullerton last year.”

Projection: In the analytical conclusion of Howard’s potential I summed it by saying,

“[He’s] poised to move quickly if he remains in the pen, but his 2013 success in the rotation offers a glimpse of some interesting upside as a starting pitcher. Plus, he was rather competitive pitching out of the rotation in the Cape last summer [2013] too, striking out 25 and walking just four in 24.2 innings.”

I noted that Lorenzen could be a reasonable comp in his pre-draft analysis, though I would have graded Howard slightly higher during their respective final collegiate seasons. However, the way Lorenzen took to the rotation in Class AA definitely pushed the former Cal State star ahead.

Ceiling:  2.5- to 3.0-win player

Risk:  Moderate to High

MLB ETA:  2017

 

 

5.  Alex Blandino, SS

Born: 11/06/92  Age: 22   Height: 6-0   Weight: 190   B/T: R/R                                                        
Top CALs: Gary Helmick, Tyler Filliben, Steven Patterson, Tyler Palmer, Jordany Valdespin
YEAR Age LVL PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BB% K% wRC+
2014 21 R 131 .309 .412 .527 .939 .218 12.2% 13.7% 141
2014 21 A 152 .261 .329 .440 .769 .179 8.6% 27.6% 118

Background: Originally drafted by the Athletics in the 38th round coming out of high school, Blandino, after a solid three-year career at Stanford, found his name being called by the Reds in the latter half of the first round last June. After a standout freshman season when he batted .294/.337/.523 in 170 trips to the plate, the 6-foot infielder’s production dipped quite a bit in his follow up campaign (.268/.323/.453), but bounced back in the Cape Cod Summer League (.308/.363/.454) and he carried that momentum into his junior year (.310/.379/.531).

Cincinnati, equipped with the nineteenth and twenty-ninth picks in the first round, grabbed Blandino with their second selection, sent him to the Pioneer League, and moved him from the hot corner to shortstop. He responded well by hitting .309/.412/.527 with Billings and put together another solid stint in the Midwest League upon his promotion, batting .261/.329/.440 in 34 games.

Projection: Prior to the draft I wrote,

“The dreaded ‘Stanford Swing’ aside, Blandino looks like a potential above-average everyday player in the making. He has a pretty good idea at the plate – strong contact skills with a decent eye – to go along with some sneaky power. The problem, however, is that there’s no true standout tool. Solid across the board, yes, but nothing that screams can’t miss.”

That sneaky power played exceptionally well during his debut; he finished the year with a combined .197 Isolated Power. Decent walk rates, hit tool, and a little bit of speed. I was bit overzealous and pegged Blandino as a 3.0 to 3.5-win player, but I’d slightly down grade that until I see how the defense plays at shortstop.

Ceiling:  2.5- to 3.0-win player

Risk:  Moderate to High

MLB ETA:  2017

 

 

6.  Anthony DeSclafani, RHP

Born: 04/18/90  Age: 25   Height: 6-1   Weight: 190   B/T: R/R                                                        
Top CALs: Kyle McPherson, Bryan Woodall, Cory Mazzoni, Randy Wells, Erik Stiller
YEAR Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 23 A+ 54.0 1.67 2.56 8.8 24.8% 1.5 4.2% 0.50 74.4%
2013 23 AA 75.0 3.36 3.19 7.4 20.4% 1.7 4.6% 0.84 74.2%
2014 24 AA 43.0 4.19 3.33 8.0 21.7% 2.1 5.7% 0.84 70.9%
2014 24 AAA 59.3 3.49 3.41 9.0 23.7% 3.2 8.4% 0.30 71.2%

Background: With veteran General Manager Walt Jocketty trying to retool his club’s big league roster – as opposed to undergoing a total rebuilding effort – the Reds acquired the soon-to-be-25-year-old right-hander along with catching prospect Chad Wallach from Miami for the injury-riddled Mat Latos. The former sixth round pick appeared at three levels, making eight initial starts in the Southern League before yo-yoing between Miami and the PCL. Between both upper levels of minors DeSclafani  tossed 102.1 innings while averaging 8.5 strikeouts and 2.7 walks per nine innings to go along with his 3.78 ERA. He tossed an additional 33.0 innings in Miami, where his performance was vastly underrated as his 3.77 FIP was 2.5 runs lower than his actual ERA (6.27).

Projection: I kept it short-and-sweet in last year’s book, writing: “Another backend guy, maybe peaking as a fringy #3/good #4. Limited action in the rotation gives him a little more leeway.”  One year later that still sounds about right. DeSclafani show a lively low-90s fastball, low-80s slider, and a hard changeup during his first big league stint. Solid above-average control with a good amount of groundballs should help him in the Great American Smallpark.

Ceiling:  1.5- to 2.0-win player

Risk:  Low to Moderate

MLB ETA:  Debuted in 2014

 

 

7.  Raisel Iglesias, RHP

Born: 04/01/90  Age: 25   Height: 6-2   Weight: 165   B/T: R/R                                                         
Top CALs: N/A

Background: After the smashing success of the franchise’s first Cuban signing – Aroldis Chapman – Cincinnati once again dipped their collective toes into the international free agent waters and signed right-hander Raisel Iglesias following his defection from the communist country. Iglesias signed a lengthy seven-year, $27 million deal with a reported $5 million bonus. Per the usual, Cuban stats are not only incomplete but also hard to come by. According to ESPN.com, Iglesias spent three years pitching for Isla de la Juventud in Cuba’s Serie Nacional. He accumulated with a 3.47 ERA in 88 appearances, all but five coming in relief. And according to Baseball America, during his final season Iglesias posted a 50-to-20 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 53.2 innings.

Projection: A lively-armed reliever that, hopefully, will be given a chance to start (unlike Chapman). He reportedly battled control issues at times during his career.  He has an upside as a backend reliever. As far as working on the rotation, that remains to be seen.

Ceiling:  1.5- to 2.0-win player (reliever)

Risk:  Low to Moderate

MLB ETA:  2015

 

 

8.  Jonathon Crawford, RHP

Born: 11/01/91  Age: 23   Height: 6-2   Weight: 205   B/T: R/R                                                         
Top CALs: Matt Taylor, Harrison Cooney, Matthew Hobgood, Tyler Skulina, Drew Tyson
YEAR Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2013 21 A- 19.0 1.89 2.46 10.0 25.3% 4.3 10.8% 0.00 80.0%
2014 22 A 123.0 2.85 3.88 6.2 17.2% 3.7 10.1% 0.22 75.3%

Background: A couple years back one of the very first articles I penned was titled, New Baltimore Regime Committing Same Old Mistakes. In it I wrote: “They committed the cardinal sin in baseball: The Orioles failed to realize just, exactly, what they have – or had – in [Alfredo] Simon.” It was in response to the team, led by new GM Dan Duquette, waiving the power-armed right-hander instead of someone like replacement level reliever Kevin Gregg.

Now to be fair, Duquette has done a magnificent job captaining the Orioles ship into contention, but it was still a poor decision on the organization’s behalf. Simon, who was eventually claimed by Cincinnati, would go on to appear in the 2014 All-Star game. And now you have to give GM Walt Jocketty double the credit: not only did he wisely claim Simon, but also sold high.

In an early December deal with the Tigers, Jocketty dealt the veteran right-hander for young shortstop Eugenio Suarez, who played around the league average production during his 85-game debut in 2014, and Crawford, a 2013 first rounder out of the University of Florida.

Coming off of his 2012 International Performance of the Year Award for his work with the USA College Team, Crawford looked like a budding front-of-the-rotation arm. But he never did take that final step forward and finished three-year collegiate career on a sour note, averaging 7.14 K/9 and 3.83 BB/9, both marks being the worst of his career.

Detroit grabbed him with the 20th overall pick and after a brief 19-inning debut in the NYPL the organization pushed him up Low Class A last season. He finished the 2014 season with a sparkling – and equally misleading – 2.85ERA and some underwhelming peripherals.

Projection: Prior to the 2013 draft I wrote,

“There’s some upside here given his track record, including his dominant sophomore season as well as his work during the summer. But he’s taken a large step back, developmentally speaking, and one wonders if it’s from a long 2012 season. Unless he can rediscover some of his peripheral-magic, Crawford looks like backend filler, potentially peaking as a #4/#5-type guy.”

 Well, one year removed and he still hasn’t been able to recapture that 2012 magic. The control is solid, though not great. And he’s still not missing a lot of sticks. But he did sport a groundball rate north of 52% last season. Still looks like a fringy big league starter and a move to the bullpen is a very distinct possibility.

Ceiling:  1.5-win player

Risk:  Low to Moderate

MLB ETA:  Late 2016/Early 2017

 

 

9.  Kyle Waldrop, LF/RF

Born: 11/26/91  Age: 23   Height: 6-2   Weight: 216   B/T: L/L                                                        
Top CALs: Christian Marrero, Jeremy Baltz, Brandon Jones, Luis Domoromo, Mikie Mahtook
YEAR Age LVL PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BB% K% wRC+
2012 20 A 469 .281 .344 .418 .762 .137 8.1% 16.4% 113
2013 21 A+ 540 .258 .304 .462 .766 .204 5.9% 22.4% 96
2014 22 A+ 288 .359 .409 .516 .925 .156 7.6% 19.4% 142
2014 22 AA 252 .315 .359 .517 .876 .203 6.7% 17.5% 143

Background: Superficially, it looked like Waldrop had a breakout season in 2013, when he slugged 21 homeruns, swiped 20 stolen bases, and posted a career best .204 Isolated Power. As I pointed out heading into last season, Waldrop’s overall production was actually 4% below the league average mark. It was basically a mirage, one that was Bakersfield-inflated. Waldrop’s production from last season, however, was not an optical illusion.

The former 12th round pick found himself back in the California League, where he hit everything within reach; batting .359/.409/.519 with 20 doubles, one triple, six homeruns, and 11 stolen bases while topping the league average production by 42%, the best mark of his career. Up till that point.

The organization promoted Waldrop to the Southern League in early June and he continued to mash. Over his final 66 games, the 6-foot-2 corner outfielder slugged .315/.359/.517 adding another 17 doubles, three triples, eight homeruns, and three stolen bases en route to posting a 143 wRC+.

Projection: Now that constitutes a breakout year. And now the bad news: not only doesn’t CAL think too highly of Waldrop by linking him to Christian Marrero, Jeremy Baltz, Brandon Jones, Luis Domoromo, and Mikie Mahtook, but he hasn’t solved fellow left-handers yet. Waldrop hit .258/.306/.337 against LHs in 2014 and owns a career .262/.305/.389 triple-slash line against them. He’s a fringy everyday guy, who would likely get exposed in longer stints in the lineup.

Ceiling:  1.5-win player

Risk:  Moderate

MLB ETA:  Late 2015/Early 2016

 

 

10.  Sal Romano, RHP

Born: 10/12/93  Age: 21   Height: 6-4   Weight: 250   B/T: L/R                                                        
Top CALs: Mike Foltynewicz, Jose Urena, Teddy Stankiewicz, Kyle Ryan, Clayton Cook
YEAR Age Level IP ERA FIP K/9 K% BB/9 BB% HR/9 LOB%
2012 18 R 64.3 5.32 4.23 7.3 18.1% 3.2 8.0% 0.14 55.8%
2013 19 A 120.3 4.86 4.61 6.7 16.6% 4.3 10.6% 0.75 64.2%
2014 20 A 148.7 4.12 3.56 7.8 19.9% 2.5 6.5% 0.54 64.0%

Background: Plucked out of Southington HS, home to former big leaguers Carl Pavano and Rob Dibble, in the 23rd round and signed for an above-slot bonus ($450,000), Romano’s production and developmental path mirrors that of former first rounder Nick Travieso, both of whom spent their age-19 and -20 seasons in the Midwest League. Consider their 2013 and 2014 seasons:

  • Travieso: 1 innings,  3.61 ERA,  7.0 K/9,  2.8 BB/9,  and 0.68 HR/9
  • Romano: 0 innings,  4.45 ERA,  7.3 K/9,  3.3 BB/9,  and 0.64 HR/9

Basically, Romano, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, pitched 40+ innings more, posted a slightly better strikeout rate, slightly worse walk rate, but a drastically higher ERA. The biggest difference, however, is their comparables. CAL lists such promising minor league arms like Mike Foltynewicz, Jose Urena, Teddy Stankiewicz, and Clayton Cook for Romano, whereas a bunch of MiLB retreads for Travieso.

Projection: A ceiling that’s probably limited around a #4-type starting pitcher. Romano’s second stint in the Midwest League was far better than the first stint, something that CAL obviously picked up on. Romano’s strikeout rate ticked up, the walk rate dropped, and he posted a career best 3.56 FIP. Not so bold prediction: Romano will fare better in High Class A when compared to Travieso.

Ceiling:  1.5-win player

Risk:  Moderate

MLB ETA:  2017

 

 

 

**All Stats Courtesy of FanGraphs*

 



About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.


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