Cincinnati Reds Prospects off to the Hottest Starts This Year
The Cincinnati Reds farm system isn't exactly flush with top-tier talent—the organization boasts just two Baseball America top-100 prospects—Robert Stephenson (No. 19) and Billy Hamilton (No. 43). However, there a number of mid-level prospects with the potential to make big gains in 2014.
Some of those prospects are off to tremendously hot starts, and we'll profile them here. A lot of the names in this piece may not be immediately familiar to the casual fan. But several of them could become household names for Reds fans, with four to six having the chance to creep into mid- or post-2014 top-100 rankings.
We'll kick things off with one of the Reds' two first-round picks from the 2013 MLB draft, Michael Lorenzen.
All stats are current through play on May 1, 2014 and are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Michael Lorenzen, RHP
2014 Stats: 5 GS, 2-1 W-L, 28.2 IP, 1.88 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 5.7 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 2.25 K/BB, 7.8 H/9
Michael Lorenzen was drafted out of Cal State Fullerton with 38th-overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft. The then 21-year-old was fast-tracked through the system and covered four different minor-league levels—Arizona Rookie League, Single-A, High-A and Double-A.
Last season, Lorenzen worked solely as a reliever. This year, the 22-year-old has functioned in a totally new role as a starting pitcher.
Lorenzen has been significantly more efficient in 2014, walking just seven percent of the 114 batters he's faced, compared to the 13.7 percent rate he posted last season.
His strikeout rate has dipped, but that's to be expected given his new role. Even if the experiment fails, and Lorenzen flops as a starter, the team has an outstanding fallback option given his history as a reliever, both with the Reds and in college.
Nick Travieso, RHP
2014 Stats: 5 GS, 3-1 W-L, 29.0 IP, 1.55 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 1.2 BB/9, 5.75 K/BB, 7.1 H/9
Selected out of the Florida prep ranks with the No. 14 pick in the 2012 MLB draft, Nick Travieso was pegged with high expectations. Unfortunately, over his first two seasons, the young righty was unable to live up to them.
Through 2012 and 2013, Travieso had a disappointing 4.65 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP over 102.2 innings pitched.
This year, however, Travieso has shown vast improvement in both his strikeout, walk and hits-per-nine ratios and it's translated into stellar numbers across the board. Over five games, Travieso owns a 3-1 record with an ERA of 1.55.
The 20-year-old has done an outstanding job of limiting balls in play, striking out a solid 21.2 percent of opposing batters. That, combined with Travieso's downhill throwing plane, has resulted in below-average contact. If it continues, his allowance of just 7.8 H/9 would represent the lowest total of his career over a full season.
Travieso has shown a lot of improvement, and it appears as though he is back on track to becoming a potential No. 2 or No. 3 starter.
Donald Lutz, of
2014 Stats: 18 G, .370/.418/.726, 5 HR, 2 3B, 7 2B, 13 RBI, 15 R, 0 SB, 14:5 K/BB
Donald Lutz has had an up-and-down ride through the Reds' minor league system. As recently as 2012, Lutz was heralded as one of the top hitters in the organization, flashing above-average power from the left side of the plate.
In 2013, Lutz was hampered by injuries and mustered only seven home runs, 12 doubles and 30 RBI over 229 at-bats with Double-A Pensacola.
This season, upon his reassignment to Double-A, Lutz has taken the league by storm. His robust .726 slugging percentage and 1.144 OPS lead the Southern League, and his five home runs are tied for second. Lutz also finds himself among the league's top 10 in batting average, on-base percentage, triples, doubles and runs.
Lutz is the closest thing the Reds have to a big league-ready bat. If his early-season performance is any indicator, it won't be long before the Reds call upon him to fill a spot on their big league roster.
Kyle Waldrop, of
2014 Stats: 28 G, .391/.443/.527, 2 HR, 0 3B, 9 2B, 13 RBI, 20 R, 4 SB, 26:10 K/BB
The final surprising member of this list, Kyle Waldrop, has not only had one of the hottest starts of any position player in the Reds' system, but also of any player in the California League.
Waldrop ranks in the league's top 10 in doubles, runs scored and on-base percentage, and his .391 batting average ranks second behind teammate Junior Arias.
Waldrop's success will start to taper off as a .391 batting average is clearly unsustainable. Beyond stating the obvious, Waldrop is due for regression based on the stark difference between his strikeout and walk rates, which sit at and 21.1 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively.
Until he cools off, however, Waldrop is arguably the hottest-hitting prospect in the organization.
Jesse Winker, of
2014 Stats: 20 G, .333/.413/.551, 3 HR, 0 3B, 8 2B, 20 RBI, 18 R, 1 SB, 15:11 K/BB
Though I ranked him behind Yorman Rodriguez—who is off to his own impressive start—in my spring-training prospect rankings, I'm very high on outfielder Jesse Winker. Winker possesses a smooth left-handed stroke and a 6'3", 210-pound frame, which could easily harbor additional power as he reaches physical maturity.
At just 20 years old, Winker found himself at High-A Bakersfield to start the 2014 season, and he's hit the ground running. Over his first 20 games, Winker carries a healthy .333/.413/.551 slash line.
Winker uses the leverage in his swing to produce a solid number of home runs and doubles. If he reaches the the same number of at-bats in 2014 that he did in 2013, Winker is on pace for 16 home runs and a whopping 43 doubles.
That kind of production isn't out of the question for Winker, who logged a total of 21 home runs, 34 doubles and eight triples over his first two seasons (174 games).
Winker is dominating against older competition—2.7 years older on average, according to Baseball-Reference.com—and finds himself within the league's top 10 in batting average, RBI, doubles and slugging percentage.
Winker is off to a hot start. But for anybody who has followed his development since he was selected 49th overall in the 2012 MLB draft, it is anything but surprising.
Ismael Guillon, RHP
2014 Stats: 5 GS, 2-0 W-L, 28.1 IP, 1.59 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 2.58 K/BB, 3.2 H/9
Ismael Guillon would garner consideration as the organization's hottest pitching prospect, if not for the final member of this piece.
Even so, Guillon has been quite dominant in his own right, allowing a 1.59 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP over 28.1 innings pitched at Single-A Dayton.
Guillon is pitching against hitters who are, on average, about the same age as him—per Baseball-Reference.com. Even so, this is his third crack at Single-A after spending late-2012 and all of 2013 with the team, so it remains to be seen whether he can experience sustained success at a higher level.
Should he continue to pitch well, Guillon should join the Bakersfield team in the High-A California League.
Even at an average pace of promotion, we should expect to see Guillon in Cincinnati no later than 2016, maybe sooner if he continues to perform like this. In any event, keep a close eye on Guillon's development, as he's one of the few viable left-handed pitching prospects in the system.
Ben Lively, RHP
2014 Stats: 5 GS, 5-0 W-L, 29.0 IP, 0.31 ERA, 0.48 WHIP, 12.4 K/9, 0.3 BB/9, 40.00 K/BB, 4.0 H/9
Ben Lively is off to an historic start in 2014. Over five starts, the 22-year-old boasts the most impressive stat line of any High-A starter, including a 0.31 ERA and 0.48 WHIP. However, his strikeout and walk rates best display his dominance.
Through 29 innings, Lively has struck out 40.8 percent of the batters he has faced. His incredible control and downright ownership of the strike zone have resulted in a strikeout/walk ratio of 40-1.
One last note on Lively's hot start. Through May 1, Lively carries a 23-inning scoreless streak into his next start. Over that span, he has logged more strikeouts (33) than hits and walks combined (13).
The young right-hander moved quickly last season, covering two separate minor-league levels—Pioneer Rookie League and Single-A—after he was drafted out of Central Florida.
Lively's hot start makes him an early-season candidate for promotion to Double-A Pensacola. Though it is very early in his professional career, if Lively continues to pitch well, he could put himself on the fast track for rotational consideration sometime next year.