Top Prospects That Can Get Cincinnati Reds over the Hump Next Season
It was another disappointing postseason for the Cincinnati Reds.
After making the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons, the Reds once again failed to make it out of the opening round, losing 6-2 to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Wild Card Game.
In 2010, the team ended a 15-year postseason drought by winning the NL Central but subsequently dropped three straight games against the Phillies in the NLDS.
In 2012, the Reds, who won 97 games during the regular season, appeared poised for a lengthy playoff run after taking a quick 2-0 lead in the NLDS on the road against the Giants. With one game separating them from an NLCS berth, the Reds unexpectedly lost the next three games at home and were prematurely eliminated from the playoffs—again.
It’s a safe assumption that things will be different in Cincinnati for the 2014 season, because, well, changes are needed.
Although the Reds lack a prospect capable of making an impact out of the gate next year, they do house a few promising young players that could help the team during the second half.
Here’s a look at two Reds prospects that can get the team over the hump next season.
Robert Stephenson, RHP
Few pitching prospects have as high of a ceiling as Robert Stephenson, who was recently ranked as Prospect Pipeline’s No. 13 overall prospect.
Boasting elite arm strength capable of pumping fastballs in the upper-90s and scraping triple digits, as well as a pair of promising secondary pitches in a changeup and slider, the 20-year-old has the makings of a front-line starter in the major leagues.
The right-hander made huge strides toward reaching his potential this past season by excelling at three minor-league levels
Stephenson was assigned to Low-A Dayton to open the season after reaching the level for the first time in late 2012. Though he struggled out of the gate, the right-hander eventually found his groove as the spring unfolded.
Although a minor hamstring injury sidelined the 20-year-old for a month in early June, he still dominated in the Midwest League with a 2.57 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 77 innings. As a result of his success, the Reds promoted Stephenson to High-A Bakersfield in mid-July, where he proceeded to post a 3.05 ERA with a 22/2 K/BB ratio over four starts.
Stephenson received one last promotion in mid-August, with the Reds deciding to move him up to Double-A Pensacola for the final month of the season.
At the time of his promotion to Double-A, general manager Walt Jocketty mentioned they “wanted to fast track him this year,” according to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
While he showed the ability to miss bats at the more advanced level with 18 strikeouts in 16.2 innings, the right-hander struggled with his control and failed to work deep into games, posting a 4.86 ERA over four starts.
Stephenson’s lack of polish is understandable given his age and lack of professional experience. However, his pure stuff is among the best in the minor leagues. While it’s doubtful that the flame-throwing right-hander will spend a majority of the season in the major leagues, his ahead-of-schedule ascent of the Reds’ system has him poised to debut sometime after the 2014 All-Star break.
Billy Hamilton, OF
There may not be a more exciting prospect in the game than Billy Hamilton.
Billy Hamilton took baseball by storm after reaching the major leagues as a September call-up, going 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts before and scoring three runs as a pinch runner before logging his first career at-bat.
The Reds gave Hamilton three starts over the final month of the season to see what he could do, and the 23-year-old responded favorably by batting .500 (7-for-14) with four runs scored, two doubles and six stolen bases in those games.
While Hamilton’s game-changing speed is an obvious asset at any level, the development of his hit tool remains a legitimate concern.
As a switch-hitter, Hamilton has quick wrists from both sides of the plate that allow him to generate above-average bat speed and be short to the ball. However, his overall inconsistency is worrisome; Hamilton struggles to keep his weight back and will lunge at too many offerings within the strike zone. It also prevents him from turning on quality velocity on the inner-half of the plate. And though he controls the zone relatively well, he also makes far too much weak contact for someone who projects as a dynamic leadoff hitter.
In addition to setting a professional record with 155 bases in 132 games across two minor league levels in 2012, Hamilton also made significant strides at the dish, batting .311/.410/.420 with 112 runs scored, 159 hits and a 113/86 K/BB ratio.
Promoted to Triple-A Louisville for the 2013 season, Hamilton regressed across the board as he struggled to showcase the bat-to-ball and on-base skills that made him so effective the previous year. In 123 games before his call-up he batted only .256/.308/.343 with a 102/38 K/BB ratio but still managed to notch 75 stolen bases (in 90 attempts).
While Hamilton flashed his enormous potential over the final month of the regular season, the Reds desperately need him to be something more than a reserve player. The combination of his elite speed and on-field aggressiveness gives him the potential to impact a game in a variety of ways. And if Hamilton can establish himself as an everyday player during the 2014 season, there’s reason to believe that the Reds will feature one of the better offenses in the game.