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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Prospecting Reds Hitters with Steamer

As I did last year, tonight I'm reporting on preseason projections for the Reds' Top Prospects.  I find this to be a useful way to follow the progress of Reds prospects, since I do not track most of them closely from season to season.  Since Oliver doesn't seem to be readily available, I've switched to using Steamer this year.  While it does not provide baserunning or fielding projections, it provides deep projections throughout the minor leagues and seems appropriately conservative with prospects.  Reds Prospect rankings are based on this.

Caveat: No matter what the system, projection systems are NOT the ideal method to evaluate minor league players.  Scouting-based approaches work better, period.  But I can't scout.  And blending projections with top prospect lists was something that I took to doing when I was into fantasy baseball a few years ago.  If nothing else, it's place to start when trying learn players.  Keep in mind that all numbers below are projections for what the player would do in the major leagues.  In most cases, that's not relevant to what they'll do in the minors this season.  But it gives you an idea of how well they have developed to this point.

Age-24 Players

Graduating from this cohort last year was Billy Hamilton, and Tucker Barnhart seems just about ready to assume his career as a backup major league catcher.  He will probably never be much of a hitter, but he'll field well enough to be a valuable bench player.

Seth Mejias-Brean had another nice first half in Bakersfield last season, but struggled a bit when promoted to Pensacola.  If he can make the adjustment this year, he could be in Louisville by mid-summer.  I don't know if he will be a starter, but he could be an intriguing utility bat that provides nice on-base skills as early as next season.

Age-23 Players

Kyle Waldrop was the Reds' minor league hitter of the year in 2014, building upon what was already an impressive minor league resume.  He has shown good doubles power, some home run power already, makes contact well enough, and is on pace to reach AAA this year.  If only he were a bit more patient.

Chad Wallach was recently acquired in the Mat Latos trade, and has shown outstanding plate discipline skills so far.  I understand that his defense is well behind his offense, but I would like to see the Reds be fairly aggressive in promoting him this season given the state of his bat.

Age-22 Players

Yorman Rodriguez finally reached the big leagues last year as a 22-year old.  The astonishing thing about him is that since arriving in AA in 2013, he seemingly has learned to take a walk (9.4% BB last season).  His strikeouts were also down a bit (23%).  If he can keep his patience while improving his contact rates even more, or while showing a bit more power, he still can take a legitimate step forward.

2013's first-round draft pick Phil Ervin had a miserable season last year.  Injuries might have played a role, and it's worthwhile to remember how high we were on him this time last season.  I'm sure he'll repeat Dayton; let's all hope he has a big season.  Wouldn't it be strange for the one Reds' first round bust in recent years to be a college position player?

Alex Blandino is interesting to me, because it seems like Reds fan-prospect guys are more down on him than the national prospect guys.  That rarely happens, especially with an offense-oriented middle infielder.  Yeah, he probably won't stick at shortstop.  Nevertheless, he is showing decent power, which was the big concern on him when he was drafted out of Stanford.  I like him a little bit.  And quit it with the Chris Valaika comps, people.

Age-21 Players

Not surprisingly given his performance, level, and age, Jesse Winker has the best hitting projection of any Reds prospect.  That said, Steamer also still seems to think that he could use some more development time in the minor leagues.  I'm hearing that he is likely to start the season in AA, though I think we'd all be surprised if he's not at least in AAA by midseason.  If the Reds tank and they flip Marlon Byrd at the trade deadline, would you bring up Winker if he's mashing?  Or do you try to hide him until May 2016 to keep him longer?

Aristides Aquino is rose quickly in the prospect rankings this year on the back of his strong showing in Billings, but he still has yet to play over rookie ball.  I'm finding myself intrigued by Carlton Daal as the only middle-infielder not named Alex Blandino in the Reds system to make a top-prospect list, although Kiley McDaniel, at least, doesn't seem very impressed by his defense.

Jose Ortiz is a guy I keyed in on last year as being an interesting hitter out on the fringe.  For some reason, however, he didn't get a lot of playing time in 2014.  I haven't seen any reports of injury.  When he played, he didn't hit very well, but he didn't play a lot.

Age-20 Players

Drafted in the fourth round last year out of Carl Albert High School in Midwest City, Oklahoma, Gavin LaValley had a nice year for Goodyear before a short stint in Billings.  He'll be just 20 years old this year, but his performance was enough to vault him onto all but one top-xx Reds prospect list in my sample.