Evaluating the Development of the Cincinnati Reds Top 5 Prospects

Tyler Duma@@TylerDuma_BRFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2013

Jul 21, 2013; Scranton, PA, USA; Louisville Bats Billy Hamilton (6) looks to score from second base during the first inning against the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders at PNC Field. The Bats defeated the RailRiders 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Reds don't have significant depth in their minor league system.

The farm was pretty well-raided in order to bring in players like Mat Latos, Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall. Additionally, former top prospects like Todd Frazier, Zack Cozart and Devin Mesoraco have since joined the big league team, leaving the system rather thin and void of top-tier prospects.

In recent years though, the Reds have done well to replenish the farm system and several big name prospects could join the team as soon as next season.

The top prospects in the Reds system are very young, in fact, the average age of the club's top-10 prospects is under 21 years old. Even so, this is a talented group of young prospects who could develop into game-changing players at the big league level.

The top-five players in particular feature a good mix of positional and pitching talent capable of filling out an already solid roster.

In this article, we'll highlight the development of each of these young prospects in an attempt to see how their once-raw tools have developed into skills that will translate well when they reach the Queen City.

We'll kick the list off with the first of two Florida prep products, and a batter who could be a major cog in the Reds future plans.


5. Jesse Winker

Outside of the most devout circles of Reds fans, Jesse Winker was a relative unknown heading into the 2013 season. Winker played just 62 games last year in his professional debut, but it was enough to garner significant attention within the organization.

Winker slashed .338/.443/.500 with the team's rookie affiliate in the Pioneer League. In that time, he compiled 228 at-bats to go along with 24 extra-base hits (five HR), 35 RBI, 42 runs scored and a sparkling 50:40 K/BB ratio.

Winker's season boosted his stock, earning him the No. 11 spot on the team's top-20 prospects list.

This year though, Winker has taken off and showed an impressive mix of tools. Over 108 games played, the 19-year-old boasts a solid .281/.377/.468 triple slash with 39 extra-base hits (16 home runs), 76 RBI and 68 runs scored.

Winker has developed an impressive hit tool. By the time he reaches the major league level—most likely in 2015—Winker could challenge Joey Votto for the team lead in batting average.

Winker has been playing left field, a position that suits him well given his lack of plus-speed and a plus-fielding tool. However, his weak arm could be somewhat troublesome. Luckily for Winker, he has the power to stick at a corner outfield position.

Winker has been solid in left field, but the outfield has become a gridlock in recent years as we'll see with the addition of our next prospect during the 2013 amateur draft.


4. Phil Ervin

Phil Ervin has had very little time to actually progress with the organization. Seeing as he was drafted back in June, we're watching the earliest stages of Ervin's development as a professional.

Though he's played just 46 games with the organization, Ervin has been nothing short of outstanding. In said 46 games, Ervin owns a .331/.425/.564 slash line with 21 extra-base hits (nine HR), 35 RBI, 34 runs scored and a 34:25 K/BB ratio. The 21-year-old has also impressed with his speed, swiping 14 bases thus far.

What's impressive about Ervin's season is that his performance has actually picked up since being promoted from the team's Pioneer League affiliate.

After 34 games, the Reds chose to push Ervin and promote him to Low-A Dayton. The young outfielder responded in just the manner that any organization would hope for, by going off on an absolute tear.

In just 12 games, Ervin has staked himself out to a hot start, posting a higher batting average and OBP than he did in the Pioneer League. Ervin's plate discipline has been one of the biggest parts of his hot start with the club.

Over 34 games in the Pioneer League, Ervin recorded a 24:17 K/BB ratio, roughly 1.4 strikeouts per-walk. In his 12 games with Dayton, that rate has dipped to 10:8, roughly 1.25 strikeouts per-walk.

According to the team's official site, Ervin has reached his ceiling in terms of fielding ability. He's able to get a good jump on the ball, but his speed, and the fact that Winker has basically locked down left field, are keeping him in center.

Only time will tell whether Ervin can stick at the position, but the No. 1 prospect on this list might make things even more complicated.


3. Nick Travieso

Nick Travieso is in a spot similar to those of our previous two prospects. Having been drafted just last season, the 19-year-old has had little time to work through the farm system.

The young right-hander has made just 18 appearances between 2012 and 2013, and although his overall numbers are underwhelming, he's still just a 19-year-old being pushed through the system at a relatively brisk pace.

In 18 career starts, Travieso owns a 5.07 ERA with a 1.36 WHIP and per-nine ratios including 6.8 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 2.38 K/BB and 9.4 H/9.

Travieso's downfall has been his ability to limit the long ball. Over 81.2 innings pitched, the Florida prep product has allowed 10 home runs, which averages out to about 1.1 home runs per-nine innings pitched.

The good news on that front though is that his HR/9 ratio has dipped slightly over last season—1.0 HR/9, down from 1.3.

Part of Travieso's problems, though, can be attributed to a bout with bad luck. Over his 13 starts this season, he's been pegged with an unfortunate BAbip of .319. To put that in perspective, the MLB average over the last six years is .297. 

Travieso has had some issues keeping the ball in the park, however, if he continues to work on that, his future with the organization could be very bright.


2. Robert Stephenson

We're now getting to two prospects who have actually had time to work through the Reds farm system. Robert Stephenson, and the next prospect on our list, are top-tier prospects and could develop into some of the most exciting players Major League Baseball has to offer.

We'll look at Stephenson first, a player who has catapulted up the prospect rankings. Since 2011, Stephenson has transitioned from being the Reds' seventh-best prospect to their second-best prospect through most of the 2013 season (per Baseball-America.com).

Part of Stephenson's meteoric rise is due to the departure of former top prospects Yasmani Grandal and Yonder Alonso. Additionally, prospects ranked ahead of him pre-2012 include Devin Mesoraco and Zack Cozart, both of whom hold down starting jobs with the big league club.

As long as he progressed according to plan, Stephenson was bound to become a high ranking prospect, but don't take him lightly. This 20-year-old is a big-time prospect.

Stephenson has made the transition from being a top-tier prep pitcher, to a top-10 big league pitching prospect (per MLB.com).

A product of the California prep ranks, Stephenson spent his time in 2011 with the Reds in extended spring training, and never pitched an actual minor league game. In 2012, that changed in a big way.

Prior to receiving an aggressive promotion to Low-A Dayton, Stephenson killed it with the club's rookie affiliate in the Pioneer League.

Stephenson performed rather well for a 19-year-old at that level, working to a 4.19 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP over 34.1 innings pitched.

2013 though is where Stephenson has really come into his own. Stephenson began the year with an assignment to Low-A Dayton, where he posted the best numbers at any level of his young career.

Through 14 starts with Dayton, Stephenson posted a 2.57 ERA with a 0.99 WHIP while averaging 11.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 4.80 K/BB and 6.5 H/9. That impressive showing was enough to earn him a promotion to High-A Bakersfield where he's been equally as good.

Although the strikeout numbers have regressed slightly—9.6 K/9 at Bakersfield—he's exhibited stellar control walking just two batters over 20.2 innings pitched.

Stephenson's impressive showing in High-A was good enough to earn him a promotion to Double-A Pensacola (per Cincinnati.com). Stephenson will make his first start on Aug. 15, where he'll take on the Mississippi Braves (per MiLB.com).

This young flamethrower is on the fast track to joining the Reds as a 22-year-old in 2015 and we can expect big things from him as he continues to progress through the minor league ranks.


1. Billy Hamilton

Billy Hamilton is the most divisive prospect in the Reds system. He also happens to be the player with the best raw tools in the organization and arguably the highest ceiling.

Hamilton has incredible speed and it's easily the best tool in his arsenal. 

The 22-year-old's speed grades out as an eight on the 2-8 scout's grading system, the best in his class. Because of that, and the fact that he doesn't hit for much power, Hamilton should slot in nicely as a leadoff hitter at the big league level.

Hamilton could surprise fans, though, as his power has progressed over his five seasons. His home run totals have increased each season and his slinky 6'0", 160-pound frame could have some additional power in it as he's popped a career-high six home runs through just 108 games.

Hamilton has shown the most progress batting from the left side. Hamilton picked up switch-hitting prior to the 2011 and has blossomed into a serviceable hitter from that side of the plate.

Although he will need to practice to truly master the left side—he's hitting just .254 from the left side this season—the fact that he's been able to pick up switch-hitting this late in his career and excel is nothing short of miraculous.

Hamilton has also transitioned to a totally new position in his time with the Reds.

When he was selected out of Taylorsville High School in Mississippi, Hamilton was a raw shortstop with a decent arm and great range. Unfortunately for the Reds, not only is B-Ham blocked by Zack Cozart at short, he was also unable to put his tools together to work as a consistent defender at shortstop. 

Given his instincts and plus-speed, it was an easy choice to move the floundering young shortstop to center field. 

The move hasn't been completely seamless, and Hamilton's six errors are evidence of that. He is, however, an adept fielder who has picked up the position quickly.

Additionally, Hamilton's arm has translated well to the outfield and he's logged seven outfield assists in 103 games at the position. Hamilton will need to improve upon his ability to reach base consistently—just a .312 OBP in 2013. But even a .300-plus OBP could net him the opportunity for 50-60 stolen bases per-year in Cincinnati.

Expect to see him soon, as he could be added to the 40-man roster for a September stretch run.


All stats come courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted and are current through play on Aug. 14, 2013.

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