McLain leads talented group of Reds in AFL

October 19th, 2022

If there’s a mantra that describes Matt McLain, he described it simply during Arizona Fall League Media Day:

“Have fun, work hard and play baseball.”

McLain, the Reds’ No. 5 prospect and No. 73 overall, is no stranger to competition, having grown up in a baseball family. His brother, Sean, was a fifth-round selection by the Dodgers in the 2022 Draft, and his other brother, Nick, transferred from Matt’s alma mater of UCLA to Sean’s of Arizona State to continue his career on the diamond.

So the Reds ramping up their organizational depth chart with shortstops to provide elevated competition is nothing new to Matt, who has embraced it his whole life.

McLain, playing in his age-22 campaign this past season, was elevated directly to Double-A Chattanooga after just 29 games at High-A Dayton. As much as anything, the promotion was more a vote of confidence in the 2021 first-rounder’s talent; over 103 games, he slashed .232/.363/.453 with 17 homers and 27 stolen bases with the Lookouts.

“It was a good challenge,” McLain said of the year at Double-A. “Obviously, it’s a big change from High-A -- a lot of people say that’s where the biggest jump is, in the Minors at least -- and it definitely was.

“I learned a lot at Chattanooga; great group of coaches, great group of guys. I learned a lot about my game and how it relates to pro ball compared to college baseball, and I felt like I made some good adjustments, but I [still] got a lot to make.”

McLain is joined on the Glendale Desert Dogs by Noelvi Marte, who headlined the club’s return at the Trade Deadline in the deal that sent Luis Castillo to Seattle. Also coming to the Reds’ organization alongside Marte was Edwin Arroyo, who slots in as Cincinnati’s No. 3 prospect. Then there’s Elly De La Cruz, who took the Minor Leagues by storm in 2022, cranking 28 homers and swiping 47 bags while delivering a .945 OPS.

The quartet all boast shortstop as their primary defensive home. Having talented players will be vital to the Reds’ current strategy of focusing on a youth movement, with all four ranked inside of MLB Pipeline’s Top 75 prospects. But while McLain has seen the early reps at shortstop during the Fall League (with Marte at the hot corner), he has boasted a team-centric approach as it pertains to his journey to The Show.

“I can play anywhere, it doesn’t really matter,” McLain said. “I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win and get to the big leagues and help the team win up there.

“I like shortstop a lot, but I can play anywhere.”

Reds hitters in the Fall League

Noelvi Marte, SS/3B (No. 2): The highest-ranked prospect on the move at this year’s Trade Deadline (No. 17 overall), Marte joins a vaunted bunch of shortstops in the Reds’ pipeline. Marte’s power is his most exciting attribute, even as he continues to have room for growth following a 19-homer campaign across 115 games at High-A this season. Turning 21 years old during Fall League play, the added month of game action will allow the star of Spain’s national team to prove that he can handle the rigors of an extended year. While he had only played shortstop professionally prior to arriving with Glendale, the club appears committed to giving him as many third-base reps as he can handle during the fall circuit.

Rece Hinds, OF (No. 18): Power is the backbone of Hinds’ game, both with his bat and his throwing arm. Hampered by a malady of ailments since the start of his pro career, Hinds is the perfect AFL candidate after being limited to just 79 games this past year. Ascending as high as Double-A, the 22-year-old swatted 12 home runs and stole 15 bags across three levels in 2022, all while learning the intricacies of playing the outfield.

Reds pitchers in the Fall League

Christian Roa, RHP (No. 30): A second-round choice in the 2020 Draft out of Texas A&M, Roa has shown flashes of starter potential in his first two pro seasons with a mid-90s heater, two breaking pitches and a changeup that profiles as his best offspeed offering. He posted 10.1 K/9 IP across 17 starts at Dayton this past year, before an impressive three-start showing with Chattanooga (17 IP, 2 ER) to close the season.

Jake Gozzo, RHP: A converted outfielder from his collegiate days at Oklahoma Baptist, Gozzo has a live arm that the Reds dreamed on when signing him as an undrafted free agent. His heater sat in the upper 90s during the summer, reaching as high as 98 mph. The 25-year-old is in his second season of pitching in any capacity, making the Fall League a terrific proving ground. Gozzo is armed with a high-80s slider, which aided him in posting a 3.95 ERA across 25 appearances for Dayton this past season.

Sam Benschoter, RHP: The Reds banked on Benschoter’s velocity playing up in pro ball when they signed him as an undrafted free agent in July 2021, despite having logged a 6.97 ERA over three seasons at Michigan State. The righty displayed an ability to miss bats this season, racking up 13.6 K/9 IP across four levels. Working with a mid-90s fastball and mid-80s offspeed stuff, the 24-year-old is looking to garner innings under his belt following a truncated opening to his pro career.

Vin Timpanelli, RHP: Cincinnati sent velo to Glendale in spades. Timpanelli fits the bill with a heater in the upper-90s that helped him compile 79 strikeouts in 47 2/3 frames between Dayton and Chattanooga. Now it’s a matter of honing his stuff, as the 24-year-old walked 40 batters in that same span. Yet another undrafted free agent, Timpanelli will look to use the Fall League as a means of putting himself on the club’s radar heading into 2023 after early-season struggles at Double-A had him repeat High-A.