The Reds Opening Day has come and gone, but there is still another on the horizon. Minor League games officially begin today, April 5th. Going to minor league games gives Reds fans a chance to see some of the Reds best players before they actually play in the majors. Joey Votto, Homer Bailey, and Tucker Barnhart are just a few of the names to start in Dayton and work their way up to the Reds. The Reds minor leaguers this season are some of the best in baseball, as their farm is considered Top 10 in the MLB.
This article will give Reds fans a couple names of players to watch on each team. Some of the names will be more heralded than others. Each player outlined has a future shot to make the Reds, whether as a career starter or just as a role player. So without further ado, let’s begin with the Dayton Dragons.
The Dragons were the first team from the Reds organization to release their roster for the 2018 season. Early analysis is that the team is stacked with hitting talent up the middle and throughout the outfield. Recent drafts have had the Reds prioritize hit tool in their hitters, choosing contact over high upside power. This is not more prevalent than in the hitters that fill out the Dragons roster.
Jeter Downs (MI), Stuart Fairchild (OF), and Miles Gordon (OF) are some of the more heralded hitters to keep your eyes on through Dayton’s 2018. Jose Israel Garcia (MI), on the other hand, is more of an unknown quantity. Scouting reports vary on Garcia’s hit tool, ranging from above average to slightly below average. Gap power is prevalent now, which can turn into home run power as he matures (20 years old). What scouts can agree on, is the above average arm and speed that is prevalent. The Cuban infielder has the potential to be a 5 tool shortstop. He also could flame out without a major league start. Winning these kinds of lottery tickets pushes a team from wild card battlers to World Series champions.
The pitching staff has its share of unheralded studs, along with the most hyped prospect in the system, Hunter Greene. Every MLB fan has heard of Hunter Greene, so the focus here will be on Packy Naughton (LHP). A 9th round pick in 2017, the numbers do not impress from the Virginia Tech days. The numbers that do impress were the stints from his Cape Cod League days. Seven starts in 2016 led to a 1.67 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and a K/9 just a tick south of nine. Packy possesses three off-speed pitches to go with his fastball (curve, slider, and changeup) and increased command of them all as he got to Billings last summer. He may not move as fast through the system as some college pitchers, but he has back half of the rotation upside at least if the command sticks around.
Daytona is home to the Reds High-A team, the Tortugas. The roster assembled has many awesome hitters and top prospects including Taylor Trammell, Tyler Stephenson (assuming healthy) and Dilson Herrera. The pitching staff will be headlined by Texan fireballer Tony Santillan and is filled out with less heralded but productive pitchers.
Two unheralded pitchers to check for in the box scores are Jesse Adams (LHP) and Scott Moss (LHP). Adams was an elite reliever for the Dragons last year, racking up 83 K’s in 70 IP’s. Ohio born, Adams kept a WHIP below one, a tool that could see him fit into a major league bullpen if the command keeps up each level in a couple years.
Moss did not put up a lot of stats in college due to being injured his first two years. The Dragons used him as a starter last season and all he did was strikeout 156 batters in 135 innings. Moss led the Reds system in wins (13) and was sixth in ERA (3.45). The Reds are taking it slow with Moss, despite him being 23 years old already because of the injuries. If Moss builds on his successful 2017, then there will be a rotation spot in the future for him.
The hitter to keep your eye on in Daytona is Taylor Trammell (OF). A two-sport athlete in high school, Trammell started slowly in Dayton but as the season wore on he put on a hitting clinic. Trammell finished the season with a .281/.368/.450 slash line, 13 home runs, and 41 SBs. If Trammell carries that momentum forward this season, he has the potential to be a 20 home run 30 stolen base threat from centerfield. Fantasy baseball players salivate over Trammell’s tantalizing upside and Reds fans should be no different. Already sitting in top 100 prospect lists, Trammell is the heir apparent to centerfield in the not too distant future.
Pensacola Blue Wahoos
Double-A is often where prospects prove if they truly have the skills to make the MLB. College players tend to face their first true competition, as the major baseball conferences compare to playing in High-A. High schoolers who are prominent in the system tend to make Double-A around their age 22 season. This year is no different as the Reds have a fair number of players looking to take the next step and prove they have what it takes to not be written off.
The pitcher Reds fandom should keep their eye on is Vladimir Gutierrez (RHP). Another Cuban prospect, Gutierrez spent his first year in the system pitching at Daytona. Vladimir’s time may be described as inconsistent from start to start. The pitch mix consists of an above average fastball and curveball, with an average changeup to complement those two pitches. Gutierrez conjured up an 8.2 K/9 last year, with his fastball peaking at 98 mph.
Gutierrez was shut down in August last season as fatigue led to an innings limit. The Reds will give him every opportunity to become a starter with a devastating fastball. The more likely outcome, however, would be the chance to be the Reds’ second Cuban missile as a high upside closer.
Shed Long (2B) is a name Reds fans may start getting really excited about in the short term. A catcher turned second baseman, Long raked in Dayton in 2016 before moving up to Pensacola by the end of the 2017 season. Looking at his batting average for Pensacola last season, one would assume that Long struggled mightily in his first go around. In reality, Long increased his walk rate to an insane 11.9% and decreased his strikeout rate to below 20%. The argument can be made that Long was more unlucky than anything, as his BABIP was almost 100 points lower than it had been in both Dayton and Daytona.
Shed Long can be a cornerstone 2B, who regularly puts up 2017 Scooter Gennett numbers and ten steals to boot. The downside is he may be a surplus prospect depending on where Nick Senzel ends up in the Reds infield. Shed Long will be a major league regular, it is just a matter of whether it is on the Reds, or on another team via trade.
If you would like to know more about Shed Long, C. Trent Rosencrans wrote a nice long piece detailing Shed’s childhood and minor league career to date.
The Reds Triple-A team is loaded up with role players and Nick Senzel. Most of the players on the team do not expect to make major contributions to the Reds roster in the foreseeable future. The best pitchers on the squad are three relievers and Robert Stephenson. The rest of the rotation is just there as depth in the event of injury a la 2017. The same thing could be said for the hitters not named Senzel.
There are still players to highlight on this team though, starting with Brandon Dixon (INF). Dixon arrived and was put in Pensacola after the 3-team trade that sent Todd Frazier to the Dodgers. Very unheralded and unknown, Dixon was considered a throw in to accompany Jose Peraza and Scott Schebler. Ever since the trade, all Dixon has done is hit.
Between 2016 and 2017, Dixon has averaged 16 HR’s, 16.5 SB’s, and a .262 AVG. Dixon will strike out, there is no doubting that, as his K% has been above 25% both seasons. The man can slot into left field, third base, first base, and second base with relative ease. Reds fans will be ecstatic to have Dixon be a utility defender and the first bat off the bench in the near future.
Pitching-wise, the Bats rotation leaves much to be desired. Instead, this article will focus on Jimmy Herget (RHP), who has quietly become the Reds best relief pitcher prospect. Herget’s pro comparison is Steve Cishek and that is pretty apt. Herget has a funky sidearm delivery, with an arm slot that Herget changes ever so slightly each pitch. Herget will also incorporate different shimmies and hold his leg longer to try and throw off a hitter’s timing. The fastball-slider combo delivered a 13.35 K/9 in Double-A for Herget before dropping down to 7.79 K/9 in Triple A.
Herget will need a little more seasoning as the Bats closer. Keep an eye on his K/9 at the beginning of 2018, because if he gets that back to elite levels, then he will have hitters scared. The ceiling is high for him, as he could be groomed into a future Reds setup man. Reds fans got a taste of Herget during spring training, where he showed he could hold his own. It is only a matter of time before Herget makes his major league debut in the Reds bullpen this season.
Sam Auricchio Twitter: @SamAuricchio
Featured image courtesy of mlb.com
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