Breaking Down Cincinnati Reds' Top 10 Prospects to Start the 2014 Season

Kyle NewportFeatured ColumnistApril 2, 2014

Breaking Down Cincinnati Reds' Top 10 Prospects to Start the 2014 Season

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    Michael Keating

    Baseball fans are focused on star players in the major leagues now that spring training is over, but the Cincinnati Reds have some prospects who could turn some heads this season.

    Most of the team’s top prospects are working their way through the lower levels of the minor leagues. However, there are a couple of players who could make an impact in the majors in 2014.

    Everyone in baseball knows about Billy Hamilton. He has been one of the Reds’ top prospects for a while now, and he will get a chance to play every day in the majors this year. The speedster is the team’s top position prospect, so he will be the player to keep an eye on.

    This year’s list will have a drastically different look than last season’s. A few of the Reds’ most recent top picks are new to the list, and some players dropped off the list after disappointing seasons in 2013.

    Let’s take a look at Hamilton and the other top prospects at the beginning of the 2014 season.

    *All stats are via MLB.com

No. 10: C Tucker Barnhart

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    2013 stats (Double-A): 98 G, .260/.348/.348, 3 HR, 19 2B, 1 3B, 44 RBI, 45 BB, 57 K

    2014 spring training stats: 10 G, .278/.316/.389, 0 HR, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 5 K

     

    After Ryan Hanigan was traded in the offseason, Tucker Barnhart’s role in the organization became more prominent.

    He put up decent numbers in Double-A last season. He did a little bit of everything on offense, which is what the Reds need. His ability to make contact is key. Knowing the strike zone is a big plus for young players, and Barnhart has shown that he can be patient and swing at only strikes.

    Even though his numbers last season didn’t jump out, Barnhart was impressive during spring training. The numbers he put up this spring should have the club confident that he can contribute at the major league level this year if needed.

    Nobody expected to see Barnhart in the majors before September this year, but he could find himself in Cincinnati given the team’s injury situation at the position. Starting catcher Devin Mesoraco is dealing with an oblique injury. Mesoraco's injury has forced the Reds to bring up Barnhart and let him back up Brayan Pena. Barnhart likely won't see much time on the field, but the time that he is in the dugout will serve as a learning experience.

No. 9: RHP Ben Lively

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    2013 stats (Rookie): 12 GS, 37 IP, 0-3, 0.73 ERA, 21 H, 0 HR, 49 K/12 BB, 0.892 WHIP

    2013 stats (Low Single-A): 1 GS, 4 IP, 0-1, 2.25 ERA, 2 H, 0 HR, 7 K/1 BB, 0.750 WHIP

     

    One of the most impressive young pitchers in the system is Ben Lively. 

    The right-hander made his professional debut in 2013, and he was nothing short of spectacular in his first season with the organization. If there was ever an argument to be made that a pitcher's record is meaningless, Lively is the perfect example.

    The 22-year-old was sensational last season. In 41 innings over 13 starts, he posted a 0.88 ERA and a 0.878 WHIP. He showed outstanding control. The pitcher struck out 56 batters and walked only 13 hitters. That's pretty impressive for a pitcher's first season.

    Lively will now get a chance to prove that he can carry that success over to a new season. He's got a fastball, changeup, slider and curveball. His heater isn't good enough to blow hitters away, but it looks like he has a good feel on how to use all of his pitches.

No. 8: RHP Nick Travieso

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    2013 stats (Single-A): 17 GS, 81.2 IP, 7-4, 4.63 ERA, 83 H, 7 HR, 61 K/27 BB, 1.347 WHIP

     

    Nick Travieso hasn't shot through up the system like some of team's recent top draft picks, but he is slowly making progress.

    The Reds' first-round pick in 2012 has had some mixed results early in his career. He has a career 4.65 ERA and a 1.315 WHIP in 102.2 career innings pitched. On the plus side, he has averaged only 2.8 walks per nine innings and is allowing 0.9 home runs per nine through his first 25 professional starts.

    Travieso has a lot of potential. The 20-year-old has a fastball that sits around 94 to 95 mph and can touch 99 mph. He's also got a slider and changeup in his arsenal.

    Although there's not much pitching depth in the higher levels of the Reds' system, there's no need to push Travieso. The right-hander was drafted out of high school, and he is still adjusting to professional hitters.

    Travieso has the stuff to be a solid pitcher in the majors. Now, he has to learn how to use it efficiently and effectively.

No. 7: RHP Carlos Contreras

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    2013 stats (High Single-A): 18 GS, 90 IP, 5-7, 3.80 ERA, 70 H, 9 HR, 96 K/41 BB, 1.233 WHIP

    2013 stats (Double-A): 8 GS, 42.1 IP, 3-2, 2.76 ERA, 36 H, 2 HR, 26 K/21 BB, 1.346 WHIP

    2014 spring training stats: 4 G, 3.1 IP, 0-0, 2.70 ERA, 2 H, 0 HR, 3 K/1 BB, 0.900 WHIP

     

    Early in his professional career, Carlos Contreras didn't look like he was ever going to be among the team's top prospects. However, he has put up some good numbers in recent seasons.

    Contreras struck out 122 batters in 26 starts between two levels last season. He still has to work through some control problems (21 walks in 42 innings in Double-A), but he continues to make steady progress.

    The right-hander has good stuff. He has a lively fastball that sits in the mid-90s, and his changeup figures to be an above-average pitch. His slider continues to improve, which is part of the reason he has looked better in recent years. Contreras' stuff is there, and now it's all about putting it together at the higher levels. 

    The 23-year-old is still a young pitcher. With the progress he has shown the last two seasons, there is plenty to like about him as he continues to work his way through the system.

No. 6: RHP Michael Lorenzen

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    2013 stats (Rookie): 1 GS, 1 IP, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 H, 0 HR, 1 K/0 BB, 1.000 WHIP 

    2013 stats (Low Single-A): 9 G, 8.1 IP, 1-0, 2 SV, 0.00 ERA, 7 H, 0 HR, 7 K/2 BB, 1.080 WHIP

    2013 stats (High Single-A): 5 G, 5.2 IP,  0-1, 2 SV, 6.35 ERA, 6 H, 1 HR, 6 K/5 BB, 1.941 WHIP

    2013 stats (Double-A): 7 G, 6 IP, 0-0, 4.50 ERA, 6 H, 1 HR, 5 K/6 BB, 2.000 WHIP

    2014 spring training stats: 3 G, 3.1 IP, 5.40 ERA, 5 H, 1 HR, 2 K/0 BB, 1.500 WHIP

     

    Michael Lorenzen pitched at four different levels in his first professional season, and there were mixed results.

    The good: He averaged 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings. The bad: He walked 13 batters in 21 innings, and his WHIP rose as he went up through the system.

    Cincinnati wanted him to turn into a starter after closing in college. However, he made only one start last year. The Reds picked him in the first round of 2013, so they have high hopes for him.

    In his first consistent time as a starter, Lorenzen took part in the Arizona Fall League last year. The results weren't pretty. He went 0-3 with an 11.42 ERA and a 2.37 WHIP in six starts. His control was a big issue. Not only did he allow 29 hits, but he also walked 12 batters and struck out only five hitters in 17.1 innings pitched.

    Transitioning to a starter has been an adventure so far, but the 22-year-old still has plenty of time to grow.  

    Lorenzen has a fastball that can touch 99 mph, and he has a curveball that figures to keep hitters honest. Now that he is expected to be a starter, the right-hander is going to have to work on developing his changeup.

     

No. 5: OF Yorman Rodriguez

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    2013 stats (High Single-A): 63 G, .251/.319/.470, 9 HR, 20 2B, 4 3B, 35 RBI, 6 SB

    2013 stats (Double-A): 66 G, .267/.329/.385, 4 HR, 15 2B, 2 3B, 31 RBI, 4 SB

    2014 spring training stats: 13 G, .182/.273/.217, 0 HR, 2 2B, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 10 K

     

    Yorman Rodriguez impressed last season, so he is one of the position players to keep an eye on in the minors this season.

    The 21-year-old has the makings of an impact hitter. He has good power and has a .259 career average in the minors. That's nothing special, but he has adjusted at the plate in recent years. After seeing his average drop in 2012, he was able to bring it back up last season—including to .267 in 66 games at Double-A last season.

    Like many powerful hitters, Rodriguez struggles with plate discipline. He struck out 153 times and walked only 47 times in 129 games in 2013.

    Cincinnati sent him to the Arizona Fall League to get some more experience. He hit .271 with four home runs and two doubles in 22 games in the league. He led the team with 13 runs batted in. Those numbers made it appear that he was ready for a shot with the big league club.

    Unfortunately for him, Rodriguez didn't have a very good spring at the plate. He struck out in nearly half of his at-bats. His numbers were helped by a two-hit game in his final appearance.

    Rodriguez continues to work on improving at the plate, and he has good speed that will allow him to take extra bases. His strong arm will help any defense, and he will likely be a corner outfielder when he reaches the majors. The 21-year-old has a lot of raw potential, so now it's on him to live up to his potential.

No. 4: OF Jesse Winker

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    2013 stats (Low Single-A): 112 G, .281/.379/.463, 16 HR, 18 2B, 5 3B, 76 RBI, 6 SB, 63 BB, 75 K

    2014 spring training stats: 3 G, .250/.250/.500, 0 HR, 1 2B, 0 RBI

     

    No player turned more heads in the Reds system in 2013 than Jesse Winker. The youngster has a chance to be the team’s best offensive prospect since Jay Bruce.

    Winker came on strong last year. He looks like he has the potential to be a five-tool player in the majors, and he should only get better as he continues to adjust to professional baseball.

    The outfielder has the rare combination of average, power, speed and plate discipline. The stolen bases aren’t indicative of his speed, but the triples certainly stand out for a middle-of-the-lineup hitter. Many power hitters these days chase pitches out of the zone. That isn’t Winker’s game.

    His 2013 season was something to watch. He put up incredible numbers, and now everyone will be watching him to see how he follows that up.

    Unfortunately for Reds fans, it will be a few years before Winker makes it to the majors—unless he puts up unbelievable numbers and works his way through the system this season. He played for Low-A Dayton last season, so he’s not knocking on the door quite yet.  

No. 3: OF Phillip Ervin

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    2013 stats (Rookie): 34 G, .326/.416/.597, 8 HR, 9 2B, 1 3B, 29 RBI, 12 SB, 17 BB, 24 K

    2013 stats (Low Single-A): 12 G, .349/.451/.465, 1 HR, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 2 SB, 8 BB, 10 K


    Cincinnati's top pick in the 2013 MLB draft brought his bat with him in his first professional season.

    Phillip Ervin was about as impressive as he could possibly be in 2013. He hit for average (.331), got on base (.425 OBP) and showed great discipline at the plate (34 strikeouts to 25 walks). He added nine home runs and 11 doubles in 46 games.

    There's not much more that he can do to impress.

    Ervin isn't expected to be a power hitter. He is looking to hit line drives, not home runs. If the power numbers follow, so be it.

    The 21-year-old showed a lot of talent at the plate. He put up impressive numbers in his first season, and he has the tools to do a little bit of everything on offense. The outfielder showed that he has some pop, the ability to hit for average and use his speed on the bases.

    Ervin's impressive first season has him ranked among the best prospects in the Reds' system. If he continues to put up strong numbers, he's going to work his way through the system quickly.

     

No. 2: CF Billy Hamilton

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    2013 stats (Triple-A): 123 G, .256/.308/.343, 6 HR, 18 2B, 4 3B, 41 RBI, 75 SB (15 CS)

    2013 stats (MLB): 13 G, .368/.429/.474, 0 HR, 2 2B, 1 RBI, 13 SB (1 CS), 2 BB, 4 K

    2014 spring training stats: 18 G, .327/.381/.527, 1 HR, 2 2B, 3 3B, 8 RBI, 9 SB (0 CS), 6 BB, 9 K

     

    No player at Reds' camp had a bigger spring than Billy Hamilton.

    The rookie will have a lot of pressure on him this season, although many people don’t expect more than a .270 average. All he did at the plate this spring was raise those expectations.

    Hamilton got off to a slow start last season in Louisville. However, he was able to make adjustments and get his average up to .256 for the season. When he came up to the majors, he provided an instant spark on the base paths and held his own at the plate.

    Now he will be expected to set the tone for the Reds offense.

    Hamilton came to spring ready to play. His ability to know the strike zone was a big key. Last spring, strikeouts were a big issue for him. This year, he managed to cut down on the whiffs. That will be a big key for him this season.

    Extra-base hits are nice for most players, but Hamilton’s value will be seen just by getting singles. Once he reaches first base, he is going to give pitchers nightmares. He stole 13 bases before being caught in September and was not thrown out in nine attempts this spring. That’s not a bad success rate for his first time in the majors.

    On defense, Hamilton looks like he has adjusted nicely to the outfield. He can cover a lot of ground and has a solid arm. Defense can’t be overlooked, and that’s one area that Hamilton’s game will be strong from the start of the season.

    Cincinnati has to be impressed with what it has seen from the speedster since he was called up last September. If he can continue to swing the bat well and steal at such great rates, Hamilton is going to live up to the hype.

    Hamilton is up in the majors this season out of need. He's not necessarily ready, but he has shown enough that has the Reds confident that he can have some success as their starting center fielder.

No. 1: RHP Robert Stephenson

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    2013 stats (Low Single-A): 14 GS, 77 IP, 5-3, 2.57 ERA, 56 H, 5 HR, 96 K/20 BB, 0.987 WHIP

    2013 stats (High Single-A): 4 GS, 20.2 IP, 2-2, 3.05 ERA, 19 H, 3 HR, 22 K/2 BB, 1.016 WHIP

    2013 stats (Double-A): 4 GS, 16.2 IP, 0-2, 4.86 ERA, 10 H, 2 HR, 18 K/13 BB, 1.800 WHIP

    2014 spring training stats: 3 GS, 4 IP, 0-0, 6.75 ERA, 7 H, 0 HR, 1 K/1 BB, 2.000 WHIP

     

    As the Reds begin to figure out how to handle their rotation for the future, Robert Stephenson will begin to gain more attention.

    The right-hander shot up through the system last season. Some young pitchers struggle with control, but Stephenson was able to throw strikes with great frequency. He had some control issues in Double-A, but that doesn’t appear to be a huge issue right now.

    Stephenson has a ton of potential. His fastball figures to be one of the game’s best, and he has a solid curveball as well. Once he begins to effectively use his secondary pitches, he is going to be a front-of-the-rotation starter for years to come.

    This spring gave the youngster a taste of the big leagues. He didn’t get a lot of action, but it was enough to see how he held up.

    Cincinnati isn’t expected to use him in the majors this season, even with their lack of pitching depth in the minors. Stephenson may be called up in September, but that will depend on how he pitches in the minors throughout the season.

    The Reds will have some decisions to make in the next few offseasons about their rotation. Once they figure out who is part of the team’s future, Stephenson’s arrival date will be clearer.