After a tough 2014 campaign, the Reds now face a pivotal 2015 season. The National League Central has become one of the most tightly contested divisions in baseball and it is not going to get any easier for the Reds in the coming years.
The Cardinals, well, are the Cardinals and are going to be competitive for the foreseeable future. The Pirates have quickly become one of the most stable organizations in the National League after years of futility. The Cubs are prospect rich, have money to spend and appear to be on the verge of sustained success. And the Brewers were in first place in the division for 149 days last season, from April 5 through August 31.
Meanwhile, the Reds had their worst year since 2008, limping to a 76-86 record and fourth place finish in the division. Joey Votto missed 100 games, Jay Bruce had a down year and Billy Hamilton struggled mightily in the second half en route to the Reds worst offensive season in more than 30 years. When it was all said and done the Reds scored just 595 runs, the third fewest in 2014.
The Reds pitching staff was league average last season, but Walt Jocketty, the Reds’ General Manager, was forced to trade Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon in the offseason to alleviate a tough contract situation. Johnny Cueto, Latos, Mike Leake and Simon are all due to become free agents after the 2015 campaign and Jocketty had to decide who he was most interested in keeping long-term. The reality was that the Reds would not have had the funds to retain all four–it’s going to be tough enough to retain both Cueto and Leake as it is–so he decided to get something in return for Latos and Simon rather than lose them to free agency in 2016.
So, with all that said, 2015 could be a year of soul-searching for the Reds. As the NL Central becomes increasingly competitive the Reds will have some tough decisions to make regarding the team’s future. Do they stay-the-course and commit to their in-house talent in an effort to extend their competitive window? Or do they look to trade aging assets if they are not competitive at the trade deadline?
Fortunately for Jocketty, those decisions do not need to be made today and, in large part, will be made by the performance of his team. The Reds outlook for 2015 is murky, and uncertainty at the major league level means this is a critical year for the Reds’ player development affiliates, especially Louisville.
Former Bats RHP Dylan Axelrod, LHP Tony Cingrani and LHP David Holmberg are competing with Cuban signee RHP Raisel Iglesias, 24-year-old RHP Anthony DeSclafani (acquired from Miami in the Latos deal) and two veteran non-roster invitees, LHP Paul Maholm and RHP Jason Marquis, for the last two spots in the Reds rotation and maybe one spot in the bullpen.
Regardless of which players land the final spots on the Reds pitching staff, the Louisville roster will have a lot of near major league ready talent. That is the point of Triple-A after all, but it will be important for the Reds’ player development staff to figure out just how close these players are to being every-day major leaguers.
Obviously the minor league rosters will not be set until early April, but there will surely be some intriguing names in the Bats Opening Day lineup. Some top prospects, like RHP Robert Stephenson and OF Jesse Winker, may follow in the footsteps of the Bats’ new manager, Delino DeShields, and make their way from Pensacola to Louisville at some point this season.
Cactus League play begins on Tuesday, March 3 and it is already clear that this is an important year for the future of Reds. You better believe that Jocketty and his staff will be watching the Bats closely in 2015, and you should too.
Baseball America released their top 100 prospect list last night on MLB Network and as expected some Reds were on that list. There were really no surprises as right-handed pitcher Robert Stephenson and outfielder Jesse Winker made the list. The name I was hoping to see did end up making it and that is right-handed pitcher Raisel Iglesias.
My piece this morning talks about Raisel Iglesias so if you want analysis on the Cuban signee, you can read that here as he ranked #58 on their top 100, the third Reds player on the list. As for Robert Stephenson Baseball America tabs him as having the best fastball and curveball in the system and is #23 on their top 100.
One strong statement J.J. Cooper makes is this:
A member of an excellent 2011 high school pitching class that included Jose Fernandez, Dylan Bundy, Archie Bradley, Daniel Norris, and Henry Owens, Stephenson has arguably the best pure arm strength of that group though he has moved more slowly up the ladder than some of his peers.
Stephenson isn’t the perfect pitcher, no one is, and his flaws showed in 2014. He was still shoving at 99 mph at times, but his numbers didn’t reflect that. He led the Southern League in strikeouts (140) and second in opponent average (.224), but his main flaw was that he led the league in home runs allowed (18) and walks allowed (74) which led to the second worst ERA in the league (4.74).
Cooper goes on to say that their is nothing wrong that experience can’t fix and I agree 100 percent. He is still young and was a high school draftee. He has plenty of time to develop and become a better pitcher. He will most likely spend the first part of the season at Pensacola, but we could see him in Louisville quickly if things go as planned.
Jesse Winker came in at #47 on the list of 100. BA calls him “the best pure hitter to come through the [Reds] system since Jay Bruce.” Winker has the ability to take walks, 54 last season, and hit for power. He hit 15 home runs combined over two levels last season and had 20 two-baggers.
The main thing Baseball America had to say about Winker is his advanced approach at the plate and understanding the strike zone. In my mind he is another Joey Votto type hitter, which I love, but some do not. He can hit home runs but his swing is more geared toward the gap-to-gap doubles that I love to see. BA projects him as an above-average hitter with average power. Put that with the ability to take walks and know the zone and you have an excellent offensive player.
The Reds match up pretty well when it comes to top prospects. The Reds don’t have a ton of top tier prospects like the Cubs and Twins, but the Reds are middle of the pack system wise. They are 16th for the second straight season and ahead of the Atlanta Braves (29), Cleveland Indians (23), Milwaukee Brewers (21) and Tampa Bay Rays (17).
On Wednesday I wrote about the bottom third of the Reds top 30 prospect list from Baseball America and the new players on the list. Today, I will reveal the newcomers from the top 20. A little bit of a longer list, but it will be worth it to read about some of the new players the Reds have soaring through the system. Each player will have analysis that comes from the Baseball America Prospect Handbook.
At #18 is Taylor Sparks. Sparks is a third baseman out of UC Irvine who was drafted in the second round of this past years draft. He is already in the top 20 because of the raw skills he has. The best thing about his game is his athletic ability and plus defense. His range is excellent and it goes well with his quick first step at the hot corner.
Out of all the players the Reds drafted in 2014, Baseball America tabs Sparks as the best power hitter of the group. He swings and misses quite a bit, but when he connects, he has the raw power to make the ball travel. The only downfall is his strikeout numbers. In 55 games and 198 at-bats, he struck out 84 times, to just 31 walks.
Just ahead of Sparks at #17 is Gavin LaValley. LaValley is also a third baseman but can also play across the infield at first base. He was also taken in the 2014 draft, but as a high school player. He just turned 20 in December and has above-average hitting ability according to BA. He has the ability to hit to all fields and shows quick hands, but on the defensive end he struggles. He plays a lot of third base now, but scouts see him moving to first base because of his lack of range at third.
Coming in at #16 is a player the Reds got this winter in a trade with the Detroit Tigers. Jonathon Crawford is a first round draft pick from 2013 out of the University of Florida. He has a plus fastball that sits 92-94 and can touch 96. He has a biting slider that is his out pitch, but the one downfall is if his slider isn’t working hitters can sit on his fastball. His fastball shows downward movement as well. He can possibly make the jump to Double-A Pensacola this season.
The next player at number #13 is a player that if you follow the minor leagues at all you will know his name. Kyle Waldrop had struggled to make a big jump because of his decent outfield fielding ability and pull heavy hitting arsenal. In 2014 he became a more complete hitter, using all fields and knocking around 55 extra-base hits. He shows gap to gap power and not necessarily home run power. It will be key to see if he continues on this new path in 2015.
Alex Blandino comes in at #11 and he is also a 2014 draftee, a first round pick out of Stanford. He made the rare move from third to short out of college into his first pro ball experience. He had some mishaps as expected because of his lack of range, but he can make up for it with an above-average arm. He is a pull-heavy hitter, opening up when he swings and leaves the outside part of the plate wide open. BA sees him being above average hitter, with average power.
We now jump into the top 10, where you will only see two new names, both of them pitchers. The first is Anthony DeSclafani at #6. He came over to the Reds in the trade with Miami for Mat Latos. DeSclafani will fight for a spot in the Opening Day rotation after seeing innings with the Marlins last season. He isn’t an overpowering arm as he sits at about 92-94 with a slider that gets outs. He go to pitch for a ground ball is his two-seam that sits in the low 90′s. He has tried bringing back his curve and working on his changeup. If he can get either one of them to be an even average pitch that he can throw for strikes consistently, he will be a four-pitch pitcher.
The final newcomer to the Reds top 30 prospects by Baseball America is international signee Raisel Iglesias at #2. Iglesias signed a seven-year deal with the Reds starting with the 2015 season. BA sees him in the bullpen to begin to gain arm strength and innings since he didn’t pitch much in 2014. He did throw seven innings in the Arizona Fall League allowing an opponent average of .045. He sits 92-95 and has the ability to throw four pitches for a strike.
Just like Aroldis Chapman his best secondary pitch is his hard slider that he can turn into a curve with a different arm slot early in the count for a get-me-over strike. He, like many Cuban pitchers, changes his arm slot and that is what worries scouts because of his lack of strike-throwing at times.
That wraps up the newcomers into the Baseball America Top 30 prospects for the Reds. I hope you enjoyed learning about these players as much as I did and I recommend the Prospect Handbook for any minor league fan.
Every year about this time publications release each team’s top ten prospects with some analysis on each player. At Baseball America they release a Prospect Handbook each season and this year I was able to get my hands on one. It is 511 pages of prospect greatness, but I will be focusing on the new names into the Reds top 30 today.
More than one-third of the names on the top 30 this season were not on the list in 2014. You will see what number they land at on the list and also a quote from the staff at Baseball America on that said player. Without further ado lets get started.
Coming in at #27 on the list is brand new Red Chad Wallach. Wallach came over in the trade for Mat Latos to the Miami Marlins and has shown good skills in his time in the minors. BA had some good things to say about Wallach, including his ability to be a good game caller. He reworked his swing before 2014 and came back and hit .321 with a .430 on-base percentage.
One spot up at #26 is Tyler Mahle. The seventh round pick in 2013 found immediate success at Billings, but isn’t the type of pitcher to overpower you. He sits at 88-92 with plus control, according to BA. If he can gain “a tick” on his fastball he has the ability to project as a back end starter. He does have plus control, only walking 23 batters in 111 innings the past two seasons since being drafted.
Up the list a bit at #23 is Wyatt Strahan. The 2014 third round pick is in the top 30 for the first time after his first pro season. BA had some good things to say about Strahan as well. “He generates swings and misses with 94-96 MPH fastball up in the zone, but is at his best when he throws a 92 MPH two-seam low in the zone, with plus sink.” When I see the last part of that sentence on a scouting report I get excited because of the ability to throw ground balls. If he’s not a huge strikeout pitcher and relies on balls in play to get outs, the balls on the ground are the best route to go.
This next name, Bats fans will recognize as left-handed pitcher David Holmberg is in the top 30 at #21. He spent most of last season with the Bats, excluding a couple of stints with the Reds. He struggled a bit at the beginning of the season, but came into his own down the stretch and saw success. Holmberg doesn’t throw extremely hard, so he has to rely on his change up to get outs. BA sees him in Triple-A again this season, and as a possible depth option for the Reds. He saw his walk rate go up last year, but not because “he’s lost his feel for throwing strikes, but because his lack of stuff forces him to nibble.” We will see if his conditioning will help his velocity this season and possibly see a few more strikeouts and a lot less walks.
The 2006-2009 Louisville Cardinal third baseman Chris Dominguez has signed a Minor League deal with an invite to Major League camp with the Cincinnati Reds. He has spent the last six seasons in the San Francisco Giants organization after being drafted in the third round of the 2009 draft.
Dominguez’ time at UofL was special, hitting .321 for his career and slugging 61 home runs and 45 doubles. His biggest home run of his college career came against Mississippi State in the College World Series in 2007. Coach Dan McDonnell calls Dominguez the “best UofL hitter ever” and I would have to agree.
He racked up the hardware while at Louisville winning the Big East Player of the Year award twice, Big East Championship MVP and 2009 Sporting News Preseason Player of the Year.
After being drafted by the Giants in 2009 he has spent the last six seasons in the Minor Leagues until this past season when he got a chance in the big leagues. His first hit as a Major League hitter was this rope for a home run against the Padres on September 21.
If Dominguez doesn’t make the big league club out of Spring Training we will most likely see him here with the Bats. A Louisville reunion would be great for the power hitting third baseman.
My name is Robert Davidson and I am one of the Bats’ media relations interns for the 2015 season. I am a senior at Penn State University and am working toward a degree in journalism and a minor in political science.
I am originally from the Cleveland area, and have worked in minor league baseball each of the last three seasons, two as a member of the media and one as a game day staff intern. I moved to Louisville in August and have fallen in love with this town.
I always dreamed of playing baseball professionally, but having Tommy John surgery during my junior year of high school effectively ended my playing days. Pursuing a journalism degree has given me a second chance at a career in baseball. Baseball was my first love and I hope to work in this game for the rest of my life.
But that’s enough about me. I am here to serve you, the fans. This blog is a fantastic outlet for the Bats media team to help the best fans in minor league baseball connect with players, coaches and staff throughout the season.
These are just a few of the projects we are considering for 2015:
- Weekly podcasts (audio or video)
- Coaching or teaching segments where Bats players and coaches discuss the mechanics of the game
- Scouting reports on the top Reds prospects at all levels
- Interviews with players and coaches throughout the season
- Q&A’s with local media and prospect writers
- Weekly notebooks of team news, game summaries and top performers
We would love to hear from you about which projects interest you the most. If there is something else that you would like to see us explore this season just let us know in the comments and we’ll try to make it happen.
I am honored to be a part of this great organization and can’t wait for the season to start. Only 58 days until Opening Night!
In the Caribbean, Venezuela is now in sole possession of first place after a 6-2 win against Cuba on Thursday. Felix Perez collected his first hit of the series, a single, and also walked once. He is now 1-for-10 in the series with a run scored.
Both Venezuela and Puerto Rico will play on Friday. Puerto Rico is still looking to get into the win column in the series, as they see their elimination number fall after every loss. Neftali Soto has had a nice series hitting .455 (5-of-11), drawing a pair of walks and zero punch outs. Ruben Gotay is on the other end of the spectrum, as he hasn’t gotten a hit in 11 chances. He has been on base once in the series.
Friday is a must win for Gotay and Soto’s Puerto Rican squad. As their elimination number dwindles, the pressure begins to rise. For Venezuela, if they win Friday they are in the driver’s seat at 4-0, and go into the weekend atop the standings. It should be a good day of action in the Caribbean.
The 2007 season for Reds outfielder Jay Bruce was an extraordinary one. After spending the 2006 season at Dayton and hitting .290 with 42 doubles and 16 home runs, he was promoted to, the then High-A team in Sarasota. Bruce was only 20 at the time and man was it something special for the first-round pick in the 2005 draft out of Beaumont, Texas.
Bruce played 67 games in Sarasota compiling a .325/.379/.586 slash line. In 298 plate appearances he slapped 87 hits around the park, 27 of them doubles and 11 clearing the wall. He struck out 67 times in his stop in Sarasota, but the power was good enough to overlook the strikeouts. He was promoted to Double-A Chattanooga to see how he would fare there.
Chattanooga was a short stop for him. He played just 16 games for the Lookouts, recording 22 hits, 11 of them for extra bases. He did strikeout 20 times in 74 plate appearances, but again if you can hit for power, you can overlook the strikeouts to a degree. After just 83 games at two different levels, he had made his way to the highest level of the minor leagues.
He had finally made it to Louisville to show what he could do against some of the best talent the minor leagues had to offer. He didn’t shy away as he remained consistent with his production. At 20 years of age, he was seven and a half years younger than the average player in Triple-A.
His average dropped a bit here with Louisville, but he was still providing power, slugging .567. He had just over 200 plate appearances to end the year recording 57 hits in the process. He again showed the extra base hit ability smashing 11 home runs and 12 doubles. He also showed some speed, stretching out two triples.
It wasn’t just about the offense that was impressive for Bruce. He also had a cannon for an arm and had the ability to play center and right field. He played the majority of the time in center field with over 100 games played at the position and totaled 9 assists. He played just 33 games in right field for the entire season, 11 with Louisville. In those 11 games he had two assists and turned one double play in 25 chances.
Overall for the 2007 season he hit .319, with 46 doubles, 26 home runs and also stole eight bags. In the outfield he was rated 22 runs above average combined for both center and right field by baseball-reference. These numbers earned him the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year Award for the 2007 season.
When the 2008 Baseball America prospect rankings were released, Bruce saw his name at the top of the list. He landed in front of current big leaguers, Evan Longoria, David Price, Clayton Kershaw and current teammate Homer Bailey who were all in the top ten. 2007 was a crazy season for Jay Bruce and it is always good to look back at those great Minor League seasons, especially on this Throwback Thursday!
The third day of the Caribbean Series is complete and Neftali Soto continues to hit well for the Puerto Rican squad that doesn’t have a win in three chances. Soto had two hits, walked twice and drove in a run. He reached base in four of his five plate appearances. Even that wasn’t enough to propel his team to the victory, in the 3-2 extra inning loss to Cuba.
His teammate and 2014 Louisville Bat Ruben Gotay still hasn’t gotten a hit in the series. He was the designated hitter on Wednesday to give him a day off in the field and still couldn’t find his stroke. He finished 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Puerto Rico has the day off after playing three straight days and they will be back in action on Friday versus the Dominican Republic.
In the first game Wednesday, Felix Perez and the Venezuelan team moved to 2-0 with a 6-5 win against the Dominican Republic. Perez didn’t have a hit but he did walk and score a run. He has yet to get into the hit column, but he will presumably have another chance today as Venezuela takes on Cuba at noon, Eastern Time.
After his introductory press conference, Nick Curran caught up with brand new Bats manager Delino DeShields. The new Louisville skipper shares his thoughts on being in Louisville, balancing developing players and still winning games, Billy Hamilton, college basketball (in true Louisville fashion) and much more.