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A Deeper Look at the Reds

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The Reds are the offseason darlings. How are they long term?

Cincinnati Reds v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Quick intro: this post is designed to take a comprehensive look at the state of a team’s organizational depth. It will give you a better idea of the team’s depth in 2020 specifically and how well they’re prepped beyond 2020 as well. Hopefully anyway. At the beginning of the month, I looked at the Cubs and last week I came away unimpressed with the Brewers. Next week I’ll look at the Pirates, and depending on how long the season is delayed, I may even move to other NL teams! I mean what else I’m supposed to write about?

Catcher

29-year-old Tucker Barnhart signed a 4 year deal before the 2018 season, extending his stay in Cincinnati a year longer. He would have been a free agent after the 2020 season and instead, he’ll be a free agent after 2021 and that’s if the Reds reject the 2022 option. It’s a strange extension given he’s never had more than 1 WAR in a season (which was of course in 2017). His backup is Curt Casali, who has outplayed Barnhart the last two seasons in 494 less PAs.

Knocking on MLB’s door is Fangraphs #73 overall prospect Tyler Stephenson. There is a strangely high amount of catching prospects in the NL Central. The Cubs, Cards and now Reds all have top 100 catching prospects, and catching is by far the biggest strength of the Brewers system. Stephenson spent all of 2019 in AA and had his professional best 130 wRC+ there. Francisco Pena - yes the former Cardinal - appear to be his backup in AAA for now.

Stephenson is really all they got prospect-wise at catcher. Jay Schuyler had a solid 103 wRC+ at Single A, and I don’t know if it’s a reflection that they don’t think he’s going to stick at catcher, a belief in his bat, or a bit of both, but he has mixed his time at catcher with starts in the outfield. 2019 7th rounder Eric Yang had a fantastic 135 wRC+ in the rookie Pioneer League last season. His 22nd birthday is next week.

First Base

You think of 1B with bad contracts, and Joey Votto is behind a few names, but the back half of his contract could be as brutal as the others. He’s getting paid $25 million for the next four seasons with a $20 million club option that carries with it a $7 million buyout. He’s already 36 and is coming off a 0.7 fWAR season. ZiPS foresees a return to average (2 WAR), but gives him a 0.3 WAR projection by 2022, which imagine if he doesn’t live up to his 2020 projection.

Not like anybody is knocking on his door in the meantime though. You have to go all the way to High A to find the first prospect, and he’s not really a prospect. Matt Lloyd was a 15th rounder last year who was above average in limited time at both a rookie league and Single A. He’s already 24, so I see no reason why they won’t continue being super aggressive with him.

Second Base

Mike Moustakas finally got the payday he has searched for after two years of one-year deals. He is once again slotted as the 2B, and this time it seems a bit more likely to stick. Moustakas, in limited sample, didn’t see much of a dropoff at 2B defensively last year and Eugenio Suarez is the 3B so I doubt he’ll move to 3B in the middle of the year (which happened because Travis Shaw fell off a cliff). Now whether that’s a good idea, who’s to say? Certainly is if Moustakas only played the Cardinals.

As to who plays when Moustakas sits, it’s hard to say. Last year, catcher Kyle Farmer played more games at 2B than he did at catcher, which is why I didn’t mention him at catcher. Nick Senzel was a 2B prospect but played all of last year in the outfield, although with playing time at more of a premium, I’m sure he’ll step in if Moustakas ever gets injured. In the minors, there’s... not much either. Christian Colon is in AAA and a 27th rounder will be in AA. I assume they will not be calling up a 2B in the event of an injury, but playing Farmer or Senzel and calling up someone else.

Third Base

Eugenio Suarez is annoyingly good and also has an utterly insane contract. I’m sure it made more sense at the time. He was coming off a 3.9 fWAR season and he didn’t get anywhere near that the year before, but then he has since followed it up with 3.9 fWAR and 4.5 fWAR. He is signed for five more years with a club option. He’s getting paid $9.5 million this year and it maxes out at $11.3 million. Backing him up is Farmer again, although I suspect an injury to Suarez will put Moustakas back at 3B. 25-year-old Josh VanMeter played in six games at 3B, but Suarez started 158 games here last year so not a whole lot of extra playing time.

Jonathan India is the Reds best prospect at 3B. He was formerly their best prospect period. Fangraphs had him as as the #51 overall prospect in baseball last year, but left him off the list this year. He came in at #100 on ZiPS top prospects in 2020 though. It’s not totally clear to me why he’s fell off the national radar, but he was the #5 overall pick in 2018 and I guess has kind of underwhelmed? But he played pretty good at both stops - High A and AA - last year - with a 15.2% BB rate in AA, but little pop. Even the site Reds Minor Leagues has him as the #7 Reds prospects, and I feel like I am missing something here because I don’t know why he’s fell off so much!

In terms of quietly solid given age, Juan Martinez had a full season at Single A with a 105 wRC+ as a 20-year-old. That’s not quite young enough to be an actual prospect, but notable. The site RML (see above) has 2019 3rd rounder Tyler Callahan as the #10 Reds prospect. He was drafted out of high school and played mostly in the Appalachian League where he was below average, but he mostly held his own at 18.

Shorstop

The Reds have an interesting plan at short. They appear to want to start Freddy Galvis at shortstop, which isn’t typically a great plan for a winning team. Galvis was signed to a 1 year, $5.5 million deal and has only been above 2 WAR once (2016) and he typically and bizarrely gets to play 150 games every year so it’s not from lack of PAs. The latest update on Kyle Farmer is that the Reds brass is feeling good about his ability to play SS, which his defense must be good because his bat sure isn’t. Senzel may also play SS I guess.

The only other SS on the 40 man is Alex Blandino who has an appropriate name for his play. The Reds have a million outfielders and they couldn’t find anybody better to play SS than Freddy Galvis? And uh appear to have very little in the way of a backup plan to Galvis? Sure.

Soon-to-be 22-year-old Jose Garcia is Fangraphs #82 overall prospect and the #2 prospect by Baseball America. He spent all of last season in High A, and hit to the tune of a 131 wRC+. He will presumably spend all of this year in Double A, but he needs to be added to the 40 man roster by the winter of 2020, so it’s possible, he could be added late in the year if the Reds season doesn’t go well (or if their plan at SS doesn’t go well). They drafted 23-year-old Michael De Leon from the Rangers in the minor league portion of the Rule 5. He has spent the last three years in AA, getting better each year, except that his best year - 2019 - was still just a 77 wRC+.

2019 4th rounder Ivan Johnson is firmly in the “kind of a prospect” stage. He had a 104 wRC+ in rookie league last year. He is the #25 prospect by the RML. Reece Hinds was drafted a couple rounds higher in that same draft and is #9 prospect by RML, but he only managed to play in 3 games before injuring himself and being out for the rest of the year.

Outfield

While the Reds infield depth is sketchy at the MLB level past the starters, the same cannot be said for the outfield. The Reds have a bit of the Cardinals problem, in the pure amount of potential major leaguers to choose from, but with some degree of risk of choosing the wrong guys. Unlike the Cardinals, instead of consolidating their OF depth into an area of weakness at another position, they basically caused the problem over the offseason, signing both Nick Castellanos and Shogo Akiyama.

Castellanos is exactly the type of short-sighted move I think the Reds would have been best to avoid, and judging by the way his contract is structured, I’m not sure Reds management disagrees. The contract is structured in such a way that it’s basically a guaranteed failure if he doesn’t opt-out unless he falls in love with Cincinnati or something. He has the choice to opt out after both 2020 and 2021. ZiPS three year projection for him is 1.9, 1.7, and 1.7 and I got to think the Reds are hoping for significantly more than that.

Akiyama is a much less risky proposition, but he doesn’t have any more favorable a ZiPS projection outlook. For his three year deal, he has 1.6, 1.1 and 0.6, but at least with him he’s only getting $6 million and he has higher upside purely because the projections has no MLB data, which naturally makes it less reliable. So those two are certainties to make the roster. Phillip Ervin, out of options and coming off a 102 wRC+ season, seems likely to be the third.

Then? Scott Schebler had an injury-filled 2019, which has led him to a measly 83 wRC+ projection. He’s out of options and they would be smart to move on from him. Jesse Winker does have options but doesn’t seem particularly likely to go to AAA if healthy. Aristides Aquino was an explosive bat who cooled down to a 119 wRC+ last season, but he was batting .077 in spring training and has one option, so he’s definitely targeted for AAA unless injuries happen. They also traded for Travis Jankowski, who has an option left, and drafted Mark Payton in the Rule 5 draft, because good god Reds how many outfielders do you need? Anyway Schebler and Payton don’t seem likely to remain with the team, making this easier.

I have to spend a paragraph detailing the weird, cool story of Reds prospect TJ Friedl. Friedl walked on to Nevada, played sparingly and poorly enough that his manager convinced him to redshirt his sophomore year. Before his junior season, Nevada changed managers and his new manager saw his potential and he gave him a scholarship. He rewarded him with a .401 average. Problem: very few teams realized he was draft eligible since he only played two years, but you simply need to have three years of academic eligibility. One scout realized this (at least), called him up, and Friedl passed since it was a week before the draft and he was blindsided. He made Team USA, and then teams really began to notice, and it was basically a fight between the Rays and Reds, who were the only teams to have any wiggle room in their draft budget. So he signed for a record $732,500 for an undrafted free agent with the Reds. Just awesome story I had to share. Anyway, he looks more like a 4th outfielder to me.

24-year-old Stuart Fairchild is also pretty close to the majors. He’s RML’s #7 prospect. He spent most of the year in High A (130 wRC+) and actually finished the season in AA with a better line (142 wRC+). The Reds traded Tanner Roark last season for RML’s #20 prospect Jameson Hannah, whose most notable prospect attribute is being drafted 50th overall, not his actual play. 20-year-old Michael Siana (#9 prospect by BA) was drafted in the 4th round of 2018, sent to Single A last year, and had a respectable if unexciting 100 wRC+. He’s known for his highlight reel plays so simply playing average at that age is a plus.

22-year-old Mariel Bautista is RML’s #18 prospect. He spent pretty much the whole year in Single A, but disappointed to the tune of an 87 wRC+. 20-year-old Allan Cerda had a 127 wRC+ in rookie league, but it came with a 33.9 K% so he’ll probably not be treated too aggressively. The Reds had a few 2019 draft picks have promising starts: 8th rounder Quin Cotton had a 113 wRC+ in rookie league with excellent plate coverage, 11th rounder Wendell Marrero had a 152 wRC+ basically straight out of high school, and 21st rounder Ashton Creal was only 20 when drafted and had a 125 wRC+ in the AZL last season.

Starters

I’ll give the Reds this. Trading for Sonny Gray and immediately signing him to a 3 year, $30.5 million deal looks genius in hindsight. He also has a 2023 club option. 27-year-old Luis Castillo took the next step in development last year becoming a borderline ace and is only getting league minimum. Trevor Bauer gets a $17.5 million paycheck before hitting free agency, but he certainly had a poor finish to 2020 with the Reds. Rounding out the rotation are Anthony Desclafani, who finally completed his first full season since 2015 last year, and Wade Miley, signed to a 2 year, $15 million deal with a club option.

While that’s a reasonably strong starting five, the real test with starting is who the #6th-8th guys are. The Reds have three starters on their 40 man roster. They traded for former top 30 prospect in baseball Jose De Leon for a PTBNL and cash. He’s 27 and a long way away from being that guy now though, but a worthwhile gamble. Tony Santillan (#6 prospect by BA) repeated AA in 2019 and had worse results for it. And they also added Tejay Antone, who is a non-prospect and 26 already, but posted pretty good stats in the juiced ball AAA last year in half a season.

Along with Jose Garcia, Vladmir Gutierrez was one of the big Cuban signings for the Reds in AAA. He got bludgeoned by the juiced ball in AAA last year and is RML’s #14 prospect. The oddly named Packy Naughton (RML #24 prospect) was quickly promoted to AA and doesn’t have bad AA stats but struck out very few hitters. 24-year-old Reiver Sanmartin was a throw-in in the Sonny Gray trade. 7th overall pick in last year’s draft Nick Lodolo pitched in in just 18 innings last year split between rookie league and Single A. His stats: 30 strikeouts to zero walks in 18.1 IP. He’s the Reds #2 prospect and #92 overall by Fangraphs. The 47th overall pick in the 2018 draft is the Reds #17 prospect by the RML site. He recovered from a poor season in rookie league in 2018 to post respectable numbers in Single A.

The Reds number one overall prospect and Fangraphs 77th overall has the Alex Reyes problem. After a strong 18 starts in Single A as an 18-year-old, Hunter Greene tore his UCL. he chose treatment and rehab instead of Tommy John, but by March of 2019, he again injured his elbow. He got TJ this time in April so he’s out for half of this season as well. RML has Noah Davis as the Reds’ #15 prospect, although I can’t figure out why. He’s one of those pitchers who gets drafted injured, so his first appearance was a year after drafted and his 2019 stats aren’t particularly good.

Bullpen

The Reds bullpen appears to be mostly settled. Five players are out of options and can’t be sent down. Of those, they probably wouldn’t consider sending down Amir Garrett, Pedro Strop, or Robert Stephenson. Lefty Cody Reed should prove to be an effective weapon in the bullpen after an injury-plagued 2019. And Lucas Sims, well Sims is probably somebody they wish they had an option for, but he did strike out a LOT of batters last year, which is usually a good sign. Of the players who can be sent down but won’t, there’s Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzon, both with two years to free agency. And now that the signing of Miley has kicked Tyler Mahle out of the rotation, he’ll probably be in the bullpen as well.

If they don’t want to go with Mahle and keep him as a rotation option, they have several bullpen-exclusive pitchers on the 40 man. Former Cardinal Matt Bowman is what I would describe as good bullpen depth, but not necessarily someone you plan on starting the year in the bullpen. Joel Kuhnel is the RML’s #13 prospect, having started 2019 in AA and ending the year in the MLB. They traded for Justin Shafer for cash considerations, but he’s 27 and did not have a good debut season. Ryan Hendrix is another relief prospect - #16 by RML - but he seems to have had an injury-shortened 2019, though his play in AA was dominant. They also claimed 30-year-old Josh Smith off waivers, and he also had very bad 2019 numbers.

They signed... a lot of non-roster guys with MLB experience. Players invited to spring with at least two years of service time: Nate Jones, Brandon Finnegan, Tyler Thornburg, Jesse Biddle, David Carpenter, and Chris Volstad. That’s a combined 30 years of MLB service time between them and that’s not including Sal Ramona who has a year and 100+ days to his name as well.

I did come away more impressed with the Reds than the Brewers, but I can’t honestly put them ahead of either the Cubs or Cardinals. With Jose Garcia probably not ready in 2020, their plan at SS is extremely suspect. And while they have a lot of OF options, most of them are mediocre. They’re the deceivingly mediocre type - huge bats with awful defense tend to seem better than they are - but mediocre they are. They also really need Joey Votto to bounce back because I think two black holes on your infield is asking a bit much of the rest of your team. (That’s unfair. Galvis is not a black hole. But he’s certainly not helping much)

So unless my review of the Pirates totally shocks me, my grading of the NL Central teams

1a. Cards

1b. Cubs

3. Reds

4. Brewers

5. Pirates