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Friday, March 11, 2016

Prospecting Reds Hitters with Steamer

This is my annual look at projections for Reds top prospects.  As with last year, I'm using Steamer projections, which estimate a player's production if they were to play in the major leagues this year.  Most of the players below will not play in the big leagues this season, but it still provides some indication of current expected performance level.  I find it a useful exercise.

New this year, I've added Reds players who are no longer "prospects" because they do not have rookie eligibility, but are within the same age range as the players listed below.  Often times, we get really excited about 24-year old "prospects" who are just arriving in The Show, even though there are established big league players already on the roster of the same age as the new guys.  

As I've done before, we'll group them year by year.  Today we'll look at hitters, and the next time we'll look at pitchers.

Age-25 Players
Scott Schebler was acquired in the Todd Frazier trade.  He just arrived in the big leagues last season, but it's worth remembering that he is the same ages as both Billy Hamilton and Tucker Barnart.  Schebler does grade out as having a better bat than either of those two, primarily due to his substantial power.  But while Schebler players corner outfield, as has some questions about his defense, Hamilton and Barnhart are considered plus (if not elite) defenders at a premier defensive position.  As a result, Hamilton and Barnhart are both projected as providing value, while Schebler projects as a replacement player.  Seems about right.

That said, I don't really have a problem with Schebler getting a decent chunk of at-bats in left field.  I don't really see a better option, and a Duvall/Schebler platoon has at least some potential to provide decent pop.  If the dice roll the right way, there's a scenario in which they could even provide something close to league-average production.

Age-24 Players
I think this one's really interested.  With Zack Cozart apparently healthy, Eugenio Suarez is moving over to third base to replace Todd Frazier.  Suarez wasn't embarrassing at shortstop, but his -13 run UZR rating indicates that a move down the defensive spectrum is a good idea.  The Fan Scouting Report on Suarez rates him as having good arm strength, reactions, and first steps, but below-average hands, and well-below average throwing accuracy.  Hopefully, moving to third base will help, provide he can get those throws on the mark from across the diamond.  In any case, Suarez rates as a solid player, right around league average.

Rating above Suarez in 2015 value, however, is Eric Jagielo.  Steamer, at least, thinks that Jagielo's power will play just fine in the majors, and soon.  As I said in my piece on the Chapman trade, Jagielo has hit everywhere he has played thus far, despite the critics of his swing.  Maybe pushing him to start in AAA isn't such a bad idea after all?  It's worth noting that ZiPS isn't nearly as high on Jagielo as Steamer is.  There's something about him that makes me think of Will Middlebrooks (I suppose that's not the most ringing endorsement).

Kyle Waldrop was getting a lot of attention this time last year, but ended up having a miserable season that was plagued by injuries.  His projection certainly would indicate that more time in AAA is needed before he's ready; like scouts have been saying all along, Waldrop may be most likely to provide value as a bench bat with power, rather than in a future starting lineup.

Age-23 Players
Alex Blandino seems to polarize prospect writers.  Many early on didn't like him because of concerns about how the slap-oriented Stanford hitting approach.  He probably isn't going to stick at shortstop.  Nevertheless, he's performed well so far in his career.  He did see his production drop a bit in the second half while in AA, but a closer look indicates that some of that might have been due to bad BABIP luck.  He did, after all, maintain his strikeout rate and actually improve his walk rate in AA.  I've always liked him.  He's not particularly young, though, and he may not be a top-tier prospect, but there's a universe out there in which he turns into a Neil Walker-type (although Walker had played a full season at AAA by Blandino's age).

Yorman Rodriguez has been on the Reds' prospect list forever and ever.  But now there is a problem: he's out of options, but he's probably not ready for the majors yet.  His been transitioning away from CF over the past year, he still tends to be aggressive and prone to a strikeout, and doesn't have a ton of power to make up for it.  There's a decent chance that the Reds could lose him at the end of spring traning if they try to sneak him through waivers.  The question is whether that's really all that big of a deal.

Finally...sigh...Phillip Ervin.  Ervin keeps flashing occasional excellence, and scouts like his tools.  But he just can't seem to put it together.  He should begin the season in AA.  Of concern, in my view, was a trend toward moving him out of center field last season.  If he can't play center, then the requirements on his bat become that much greater.  Never say never with former top prospects, but I'll just say that this would be a good year for Ervin to turn his career around.  

Finally, Jake Cave was a rule-5 selection this year.  He doesn't project any better than Ervin, although he's probably a better defender.  Still, he doesn't seem like the best use of a roster spot, as much as it might be fun to keep him.

Age-22 Players
Jesse Winker is the Reds' best position prospect.  He already projects to have above-average walk rates, an acceptable strikeout rate, and to hold his own if promoted this season.  Odds are that he'll have to wait until later this summer to arrive in the majors, or even until next year.  But he recovered nicely from an early-season swoon last year, and all indications are that he'll be a solid big-league hitter when he arrives.  If his defense can rate out as at least average in the corner, and if he can add some power, he could be cornerstone piece of the next good Reds team.  If not, he should at least be a useful second-division starter.  And second-division fits the Reds nicely right now...

Jose Peraza is the prize of the Todd Frazier deal.  I wish I could be more impressed.  No power, doesn't walk, and a non-elite glove.  His supporters point to Dee Gordon.  I hope they're right.

Age-21 Players
Gavin LaValley hit #10 on some lasts in last year's offseason.  2015 didn't go as well as the previous years did, and he has yet to show much home run power in his first few seasons.  But his K-BB% rates are pretty good (career ~10% walk rate, ~20% K rate), and he's young.  He should be headed to high-A this year

Age-19 Players
2015 1st-round pick Tyler Stephenson had a nice debut season last year.  While he only hit a single home run, he showed good K-BB% rates and slugged out 15 doubles.  Catching prospects take a while to develop, sometimes, and if Devin Mesoraco is indeed healthy, the Reds can afford to be patient with him.

I will say this: I have a blanket worry about catching prospects anymore.  I used to be so excited about the notion of developing a good-hitting catcher, and the Reds certainly have had some success with that approach (Mesoraco, Grandal, Hanigan, LaRue for a few years, etc).  But catching is a brutal job, and it can wear away hitting talent (see Mauer, Joe).  If someone's bat is ahead of his glove, I'd be sorely tempted to find them another position while they're young, and try to fill in catching holes with guys like Welington Castillo.  It always seems like there are decent catchers available for close to the league minimum.