Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Reds.
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Reds have been mostly an afterthought in the National League Central for the past four years. They haven't won more than 76 games in a season and haven't come closer than 12 games to a Wild Card berth.
Meanwhile, the Cubs, Cardinals and Pirates all have made multiple postseason appearances and the Brewers vaulted back into contention in 2017, missing the playoffs by just one game. But Cincinnati is getting closer to relevance.
• Reds Top 30 Prospects list | Q&A with Taylor Trammell
:: MLB Pipeline Spring Training reports ::
The Reds have graduated a slew of young pitchers to Great American Ball Park during the last two seasons, most notably Luis Castillo and Amir Garrett, and the farm system is just getting started. Farm director Jeff Graupe says Cincinnati has more talent in the Minor Leagues than it has at any time since he joined the organization as a baseball operations assistant in 2006.
"I think for where they are, we're deeper than we've ever been," Graupe said. "It's tough when you look at what Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto and Jay Bruce turned out to be. But at the same time, if you compare guys when they were in the Minor Leagues, it's comparable and we have more depth now."
No. 8 in MLB Pipeline's latest system talent rankings, the Reds have one of the best hitter/pitcher prospect combos around in third baseman Nick Senzel and right-hander Hunter Greene, their last two first-round selections. Outfielder Taylor Trammell also has an ultra-high ceiling, while outfielder Jesse Winker and righty Tyler Mahle are ready for full-time duty after getting callups in 2017.
There also are plenty of additional talents up the middle, including second baseman Shed Long, shortstop Jeter Downs, center fielders Jose Siri and Stuart Fairchild, catcher Tyler Stephenson. Tony Santillan and Vladimir Gutierrez give the Reds two more power righties behind Greene.
As exciting as all the depth, and what it could mean for Cincinnati's future, may be, the upside of Senzel and Greene could be more impressive. And that presents some development challenges for 2018.
Senzel is better than expected, which is saying something considering that he was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 Draft. He has solid or better tools across the board, and after hitting .313/.393/.514 in his two years as a pro, there's not much left for him to prove except maybe to get some Triple-A experience for experience's sake.
But Eugenio Suarez hit 26 homers while manning the hot corner for the Reds last year, so Senzel will indeed head to Triple-A to start the season. To keep things interesting, he'll play some shortstop to see if that might be a realistic option. He played there briefly in college at Tennessee.
"The bat is his carrying tool, but it's really, really easy to lose how good an athlete he is," Graupe said. "He's a plus runner with a plus arm, a very good defender. He's a really well-rounded player. He's a lot of fun to watch. He's super-driven and task-oriented, and that's kind of why we're testing out shortstop.
"You're looking for obstacles to put in front of these guys to see how they react. We're looking to create a moment of adversity so they can grow. Nick has really matched or exceeded every expectation, so we're going to have him climb the defensive spectrum and see how he does at shortstop. Every time we've created a growth opportunity for him, he has performed."
With Greene, the No. 2 overall choice last year, the Reds must walk a fine line between keeping him engaged, while not putting too much on his plate. He may generate 100-mph fastballs more easily than any teenaged pitcher ever has, but he also was handled extremely carefully as an amateur. He pitched just 28 innings as a high school senior and 121 in four years as a prepster, so he's probably going to get more down time in 2018 than he would like.
"This year is really all about transitioning to pro ball," Graupe said. "Obviously, we want our guys to go out and perform and learn lessons every day. From my seat, it's all about creating a plan to maximize his value to Cincinnati. The goal is to have him pitch deep into the season and experience the end of the season. Even if he's not pitching, to experience what fatigue is like at the end of the year."
Brandon Dixon may not have made MLB Pipeline's Reds Top 30 Prospects list, but he was the talk of Cincinnati's big league camp in the early going. He led the Reds with three homers and seven RBIs after nine games while playing all four infield and outfield corners. Acquired along with Jose Peraza and Scott Schebler from the Dodgers in the December 2015 trade that sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox, Dixon has hit 16 homers in each of his two seasons in the organization and has the pop and versatility to perhaps earn a bench role.
Though position players aren't scheduled to arrive to Cincinnati's Minor League Spring Training until Tuesday, 19 of them came to Goodyear in January for a strength camp. Graupe said the Reds have been very pleased with what they've seen from Cuban shortstop Jose Israel Garcia, who signed for $5 million last June and will make his pro debut this year.
"He's really embraced the weight room and all of the cultural assimilation things you have to focus on with first-year Cubans," Graupe said. "He's really taken to that, which should free him up to do the physical things he'll need to get ready for the season, rather than throw it all on him at once. He's put on 15 pounds. He's a very good athlete."
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.