Stacked with infield prospects, Reds have 'good problem'

March 7th, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Reds' farm system could very well be called “The Greatest Show on Dirt” these days. Eight of the system’s Top 10 prospects -- including all four on the Top 100 Prospects list -- are infielders. Four of the 10 still call shortstop their primary position, which does present a challenge of who to play where and when.

“It's a problem, but it's a good problem,” Reds senior director of player development Jeremy Farrell said. “We don't know how it's all going to shake out come the season. But we're working through having discussions on options and ways to get everybody the reps they need at the positions that we foresee them playing in the future with a priority on getting their everyday at-bats.”

There already was a good amount of homegrown infield depth here, with top prospect Elly De La Cruz (MLB's No. 10 overall prospect) a 2018 international signee and Matt McLain coming via the first round of the 2021 Draft as potential middle infielders, not to mention 2022 draftees Cam Collier (No. 69 overall prospect) and Sal Stewart at the hot corner. Then the Reds added even more talent via trades at last year’s Deadline, with Spencer Steer the likely starter at third in the big leagues and Christian Encarnacion-Strand another corner infielder, both of them coming in the Tyler Mahle deal.

The high-end talent came from the Luis Castillo trade with the Mariners. That brought in a pair of Top 100 infielders in Noelvi Marte (MLB's No. 29 overall prospect) and Edwin Arroyo (No. 44 overall prospect), who are Nos. 2 and 3 on the Reds’ new Top 30 list.

“It's exciting,” Farrell said. “Not only the trades last year that brought in the talent, but what international and amateur scouting have done over the past couple of years, and the ability to supplement with those trades. We're really excited about ’23; just the physical presence of these players, the natural ability -- we’re excited for this year.”

Both Marte and Arroyo had to make some serious adjustments quickly. Arroyo scuffled post-trade, trying to do a bit too much after he arrived. Marte was asked to slide over to third during his time in the Arizona Fall League. Now having an offseason and coming to camp, they get to start things fresh and Farrell says the club can already sense a huge difference.

“You can just see it on their faces from the day they reported here, they're more comfortable,” Farrell said. “You think about a young player, trying to establish his roots with his initial organization. And then all of a sudden, what is a shock to him, he's traded. There are tons of emotion, so them settling in, understanding who's who, knowing their teammates … I think we're going to see better versions of them just because they're more comfortable here.”

Marte has been making a strong first impression as a member of the 40-man roster in big league camp. While the 21-year-old didn’t seem thrilled in the AFL about the defensive move, he’s embraced it more now and the Reds have been clear with him that even though his primary focus is to adjust to third base, he still will see time at short, with how rosters shake out at each level once the 2023 season gets underway. It’s a conversation that every infielder in the system is being forced to have, with most outside of the organization seeing third as the best fit for Marte and Arroyo being the more natural shortstop.

“He understands that, as we've talked with all of our infielders -- especially after we acquired all the shortstops last year -- you may be asked to learn a new position, a secondary position,” said Farrell, who knows the two former Mariners will likely always be tied together because of the trade. “That doesn't mean that we as the Cincinnati Reds think that you're not going to help us in the big leagues at your primary position. But if you have another way to get in the lineup, that's best for everyone.”

Camp standout: Tyler Callihan

A third-round pick in the 2019 Draft, one who received a well-over-slot bonus of $1.5 million to sign, Callihan entered pro ball with what was thought to be a pretty advanced high school bat. He had a solid, albeit unspectacular pro debut that summer, then missed out on a year of reps because of the pandemic and played in just 23 games in 2021 because he needed Tommy John surgery. He did return to collect 328 at-bats across two levels of A ball last year with modest results (.707 OPS), but the continuation of the work he put in while rehabbing post-surgery looks like it's paying off on both sides of the ball.

“He completely remade his body while rehabbing from TJ,” Farrell said. “He’s moving really well at second and has looked good in early live BPs.”

Something to prove: Lyon Richardson

Richardson, the club’s 2018 second-rounder, missed all of the 2022 season after needing Tommy John surgery in September 2021. He hasn’t thrown a competitive pitch since late August of that year, but the right-hander threw so well during instructs that the Reds added him to the 40-man roster rather than leave him exposed to the Rule 5 Draft. Now he wants to show he deserved the spot and that the gains in stuff, with a fastball that was touching 98 mph in bullpen sessions, are legit.

“He attacked the rehab process, used it to his advantage in some ways to focus on his body,” Farrell said. “He’s impressed already in Major League camp being on the 40-man now. Interacting with him and seeing where he’s at mentally, he’s out to prove something.”

Breakout candidate: Austin Callahan

The Reds took Callahan in Round 18 of the 2021 Draft out of Hutchinson (Kan.) CC and he didn’t make much of an impression in the Arizona Complex League after signing. He also didn’t win a job with a full-season club in 2022, having to hang back in extended spring training to figure some things out. He eventually was able to leave Arizona and head to Single-A Daytona, where he played well through instructs, putting a nice up arrow next to his name for 2023.

“He played his way out of extended, forced our hand to get him to Daytona Beach and put up really mature, professional at-bats for the whole time he was there,” Farrell said. “He has ability to play both corners on the infield and was our instructional league MVP. He just kept getting better all year."