A comprehensive look at my Top 25 prospects (and others to watch) in the system at year end, along with where I'd project each prospect to begin 2014:
GRADE A [Top 25 prospect in the game; future All-Star potential]
1. Robert Stephenson RHP AA – The biggest pitching phenom the Reds have had at least since Homer Bailey. Maybe ever. Could likely arrive in Cincy sometime in 2014 and be penciled into the 2015 rotation. Only downside was some late season control problems that hit after the promotion to Pensacola, where he should start again in 2014.
GRADE B [Top 100 prospect in the game; future major league starter]
2. Jesse Winker OF A+ - While these four OF could be ranked in any order, Winker has the longest professional track record of being an impact hitter. While he’s drawn comparisons to Jay Bruce, who drew comparisons to Larry Walker, Walker may actually be a better comp for Winker – albeit with less power.
3. Phil Ervin OF A+ - The Reds most recent first rounder had a nice debut season, and should build off of that success alongside Winker in Bakersfield next year. Ervin could challenge Hamilton for the starting CF job in 2015 or 2016, or he could slide over to RF and be the heir to Jay Bruce once his contract is up. He and Winker are really "2A" and "2B" on my list- could make an argument for either one to be higher than the other.
4. Billy Hamilton CF AAA – 2014 will clearly be a make or break year for Hamilton, who’s bat was called into question with a rough first half of 2013. If he hits well in the spring, Hamilton could be roaming CF in GABP by Memorial Day, if not sooner. On the flip side if he struggles, he could toil in Louisville all year and lose a considerable amount of his perceived value.
5. Yorman Rodriguez OF AA – 2013 was a coming out party of sorts for the Reds most prized international hitter, and he’ll look to build on that success and continue refining his topflight tools in 2014. I would start him in Pensacola early next year, but give him a bump if/when Hamilton goes to Cincy, and Ryan LaMarre could slide over from RF to CF in Louisville.
GRADE C [The next 20- these guys’ rankings are relatively interchangeable, but all carry some trade value]
6. Michael Lorenzen RHP AA – The 2013 draftee moved fast, but not fast enough to make his Cincy debut as some had predicted. He’ll head to the Arizona Fall League next month, and with a strong showing, could compete for a big league bullpen spot, but I might let Corcino and/or Rogers take those spots and have Lorenzen refine his craft in AA and AAA for the first half of 2014. He could be the heir to Aroldis Chapman on the backend of the pen, and will likely make his big league debut at some point next season- the timing of which may depend on Broxton's health, amongst other things.
7. Nick Travieso RHP A+ - Travieso continues to be somewhat of an enigma, alternating terrible starts with flashes of brilliance. He is still a long ways from Cincy but has the talent to one day make it there. Hopefully he can maintain some consistency in Bakersfield next year and increase his K rate.
8. (tie) Dan Corcino and Chad Rogers RHP AAA/Cincy – The two pitching prospects both profile to above average middle relievers (and occasional spot starters) at the big league level in the mold of Sam LeCure. While the first half of the year was a nightmare for the former top prospect Corcino, he showed resilience. Still though, while these two don’t have the upside of some of the guys on this list, I expect both of these guys to make an impact in the Cincinnati bullpen in 2015, if not at some point next season.
10. Tucker Barnhart C AAA – The heir to Ryan Hanigan, Barnhart will be backing up Devin Mesoraco in Cincy at some point in 2015
11. Seth Mejias-Brean 3B/C A+ – The biggest riser on the chart also provided the biggest surprise of the end of the season, with news breaking that the Reds are going to try him out at Catcher. If that doesn’t pan out and he remains at 3B, I’d start SMB in Pensacola next year (and was disappointed that he’s not heading to the AFL). SMB is old enough, has a good enough glove, and has hit well enough to justify skipping a level to Pensacola, and with Tanner Rahier ready for Bakersfield next year, there is no reason to have SMB play out of position like he did for much of 2013. David Vidal will not be an impact major leaguer and he should be platooning with Henry Rodriguez in Louisville next year. However, if he does remain at Catcher, SMB should begin 2014 in Bakersfield but could quickly become one of the very biggest prospects in the system if he can handle the position switch and continue to hit like he did this summer.
12. Ben Lively RHP A+ - Another big jumper (or early riser), Lively was straight dominant in Billings after being drafted in the 4th round out of University of Florida. He could be the new Tony Cingrani, who took a similar path (dominated in Billings and skipped to A+) a couple years back. I’ll admit, I wasn’t thrilled with the pick at the time but so far he has looked very strong.
13. Junior Arias CF A+ - The toolsiest player in the system (although Yorman Rodriguez may disagree), Arias had a breakout first half in Dayton after struggling the last few years. I’d let him realize some success in Bakersfield before giving him a midseason bump to Pensacola next year (which would allow Ervin to slide over to CF and let Jeff Gelalich regain a starting spot in the OF).
14. Tanner Rahier 3B A+ - As redsof72 said, people would think of Rahier quite differently if he would’ve put up a .900 OPS in Billings this year, as he would have likely done had he remained there all year. The glove and power are there, although he had some trouble getting on base this year in Dayton. I’m excited to see what he can do next year at Bakersfield.
15. Amir Garrett LHP A – Tantalizing arm, frustrating intangibles: many have said if he just dedicated himself to baseball, he’d be one of the top prospects in the system. As it stands, he’ll probably need to spend more time in Dayton next year, as he was all over the place (literally) this year, despite showing flashes of dominance.
16. Jose Ortiz C A – Could be a guy to watch. If he can replicate the skills he’s shown in short season ball, both on the offensive and defensive side, he could be a fast riser up this list. As it stands now, he doesn’t have anyone of note standing between him and Barnhart on the organizational depth chart (although I wouldn’t write Joe Hudson or Daniel Paula off completely).
17. Kyle Waldrop OF AA – Often overlooked, he may be the best power prospect in the system, especially with Neftali Soto growing out of prospect status. Waldrop could also be considered a poor man’s Jay Bruce – albeit the major league version not the prospect. Would like to see him get on base more if he’s going to have a future as a major league starter (as opposed to a LH power bat off the bench a la John Vander Wal.)
18. Carlos Contreras RHP AA – The pitching equivalent of Waldrop (often overlooked), Contreras had a stellar first year pitching in the beginning of games instead of at the end of them. A case could be made for him to start in Louisville, although there’s no rush IMO – coddle thy pitchers.
19. Ismael Guillon LHP A+ - Still have hopes for him, he’s had an up-and-down year not all that different than Travieso. He is the slightly less talented but more polished southpaw compadre of Amir Garrett. Many believe his future is in the bullpen, but no matter at what point in the game he pitches, the kid has a future- especially if he can harness his control.
20. Jon Moscot RHP AAA – A little known, fast riser from the 2012 draft, Moscot has been everything most people hoped Dan Langfield would be (before he got injured). While he is unlikely to become a rotation staple at the big league level, he could be a good spot starter to have for depth (ie Greg Reynolds).
21. Jackson Stephens RHP A – If Guillon is Garrett’s less heralded, more polished twin (with less upside), Stephens matches that role for Nick Travieso. Drafted in the same draft also out of high school, Stephens is an off-the-radar guy that insiders like. I’d leave him in Dayton to start the year, but he, along with Sal Romano, are two late-round, high school draft picks to watch.
22. Jacob Constante LHP A – The oft-forgotten big signing of the 2012 International FA class, Constante has yet to pitch stateside because of visa issues. I’m excited to see what the lefty can do in either Dayton or Bakersfield next year.
23. Carlton Daal SS A – A little DiDi Gregorious, I’ve heard good reports on the young SS from Curacao. Hopefully he can become the first real SS prospect in the system, because we certainly need one.
24. Avain Rachal 2B A/A+ - Phenomenal plate discipline the last two years in rookie ball, will be interesting to see if the late-round HS draft pick out of Texas can carry his success into full season ball.
25. (tie) Aristedes Aquino, Raul Medina, and Jonathan Reynoso OF A – All foreign-born OF with tools and upside, hopefully one or more of these guys can separate from the pack next year in Dayton. Reynoso is a CF who burst onto the scene once BA put him in their Top 10 prospects for the organization last offseason, although he was somewhat disappointing in Billings this year. Aquino has a prototype body and has hit well in Billings. Medina was the Reds highest profile signing out of Cuba since Aroldis Chapman. All three should be in the Dayton OF (along with Gabriel Rosa) to begin 2014.
HONORABLE MENTION [Just missed…]
1. Juan Silva OF AA – Great production this year, subpar tools.
2. Juan Duran OF/1B AA – Needs to move to 1B. Started to hit well in the last couple months.
3. Drew Cisco RHP A+ - Was a bit disappointed with his consistency in Dayton this year.
4. Sal Romano RHP A – Was very disappointed with his consistency in Dayton this year.
5. Ty Washinton 2B A – Diminutive size makes it hard to project him, although he has produced as a pro so far.
KEEP AN EYE ON (Too early to tell – next year’s Billings Boys)
1. Cory Thompson SS – One of my favorites in the whole organization, I am rooting hard for him. Really hoping he and/or Daal can emerge as SS prospects.
2. KJ Franklin 3B – Came on strong the last couple of weeks. I’d still like to see them try him at Catcher (instead of SMB).
3. Mark Armstrong RHP – Made a late professional debut after being a 3rd round selection from a Buffalo HS, Reds will likely take it slow with this heralded arm.
4. Jeremy Kivel RHP – Another late round HS jewel, he slipped in the draft due to an injury. From all reports, he was the best arm on the AZL Reds this season.
5. Luis Tabata LHP – This year’s Jacob Constante, hopefully he can make his Billings debut next year.
FADED PROMISE (Strong pedigrees with a bad year; could bounce back next year or fall off the map completely)
1. Jeff Gelalich OF A+ - The most disappointing first/sandwich pick in recent memory. Didn't like the pick at the time and like it even less after his pathetic power display in Dayton this year. Even Ryan LaMarre (a better defensive version of Gelalich) had a significantly better first two years of pro ball.
2. Gabriel Rosa OF A - Scouts keep raving about his body, but his results continue to stink. Still young and could put it together at some point.
3. Dan Langfield RHP A+/AA - Injuries have hampered him, but hopefully he can be healthy and bounce back in 2014.
4. Pedro Diaz RHP A - The pitching version of Reynoso - a BA darling with disappointing results this year. Still very young.
5. Mason Felt LHP A - Unfortunate tragic offseason car accident makes baseball obviously and understandably not a top priority. No idea if he has plans to resume his professional career at some point.
STILL IN THE SYSTEM (But no longer prospect status)
1. Neftali Soto 1B AAA
2. Henry Rodriguez 2B/3B AAA
3. Ryan LaMarre OF AA/AAA
4. David Vidal 3B AA
5. Kyle Lotzkar RHP AA
Each of these guys are still around and could still reach the bigs (Soto and H-Rod already have). However, they are getting older, haven't improved much, and some have battled injury problems. As a result, they no longer project to be anything more than backups at the big league level, if they can remain there at all. LaMarre might have the best chance of sticking of the bunch given his defensive value and late season surge, but I've always said he projects to a Heisey type backup at best, and much worse at worst. Soto's power could get him there as a pinch hitter, but he's unlikely to ever be much more (especially in this organization).