6 Reds prospects on the rise

October 18th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Mark Sheldon’s Reds Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Each week in October, we will be looking back at both the season that just ended and ahead to the offseason. This week: the Minor Leaguers.

The Reds’ player development system underwent a significant upgrade during the 2022 season. Around the Trade Deadline alone, Cincinnati traded five players and received 11 prospects in return.

According to MLB Pipeline, the Reds’ Minor League organization jumped to being ranked No. 4 in baseball in August, up from 15th in the preseason.

Three players who forced their way onto the radar in 2022 

1. LHP Andrew Abbott  
Ranked No. 10 in the organization, the 23-year-old Abbott posted a 0.67 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in his first five games with High-A Dayton before a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga.

A strong control pitcher when he’s on, Abbott didn’t fare as well at the next level, as his walk rate nearly doubled and strikeout rate decreased slightly. In 20 starts for Chattanooga, he had a 4.75 ERA and 1.37 WHIP.

2. 3B Christian Encarnacion-Strand  
The Reds were very pleased to acquire Encarnacion-Strand from the Twins in the Aug. 2 trade for Tyler Mahle. The 23-year-old, ranked No. 14 his new organization, showed he can continue to both get on base and hit for power when he batted .304 with a .955 OPS and 32 home runs in 122 games combined at High-A and Double-A. That included seven homers in 35 games with Chattanooga.

With 137 strikeouts and 40 walks this year overall, plate discipline will be a point of improvement next season.

3. RHP Joe Boyle  
With triple-digit velocity, Boyle has shown the ability to rack up strikeouts -- but also walks. Ranked No. 22 in the organization, the 23-year-old had a 2.86 ERA in 23 games for Dayton and Chattanooga with 46 hits, 83 walks and 153 strikeouts in 100 2/3 innings. He profiles as a reliever for the big leagues but could still factor as a starter if he can cut down on the walks.

Two possible breakout players to watch in 2023 

1. INF Matt McLain 
A wrist injury cost McLain a month in 2022, but he’s been making up for lost time by playing in the Arizona Fall League. Ranked No. 5 in the organization, and No. 73 overall, the 23-year-old batted only .232 but hit 17 homers in his 103 games for Chattanooga.

During Spring Training this year, McLain impressed with his quick glove and overall defensive skills. Taken as a shortstop 17th overall in 2021, he could still play there in the big leagues, but there’s now plenty of competition, as the Reds have at least four other coveted shortstop prospects. It’s possible McLain may play either second base or third base if he reaches the big leagues next season.

2. INF Spencer Steer 
Reds fans already got a good look at Steer, the organization’s No. 7 prospect, who came with Encarnacion-Strand from Minnesota in the Mahle trade and was the only Triple-A level prospect acquired in all of Cincinnati’s summer trades. Steer hit a homer for his first big league hit in his Sept. 2 debut but struggled more than he’s used to over the final month of the season while batting .211 with a .632 OPS in 28 games.

Steer got all of the big league firsts out of the way and should come to camp competing for a spot in the starting lineup. He plays every infield spot and could wind up as a super-utility type of Major Leaguer.

One big question for next season

Will Elly De La Cruz reach the big leagues in 2023?
Ranked No. 1 in the organization, and No. 14 overall, De La Cruz has shown five tools and lot of success. In 120 games combined for Dayton and Chattanooga, the 20-year-old batted .304 with a .945 OPS, 28 homers and 47 stolen bases. He also struck out 158 times with 40 walks, which indicates more seasoning is needed.

Fans have already been clamoring for De La Cruz to get to Cincinnati, but general manager Nick Krall and the organization plan to be more deliberate.

“De La Cruz has played two months above A-Ball. Let’s be realistic about where he is. He is a very good talent,” Krall said. “But whether he’s ready for the big leagues or not is a whole different story. Let’s continue to have him develop and gain experience."