Re-Ranking the Cincinnati Reds' Top-15 Prospects Following the 2014 MLB Draft

Tyler Duma@@TylerDuma_BRFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2014

Re-Ranking the Cincinnati Reds' Top-15 Prospects Following the 2014 MLB Draft

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Reds had a chance to re-tool their farm system last week, and with the 2014 MLB draft in the rear-view mirror, it appears they have done just that. 

    The team added three prospects to their top 15 via this year's draft, including a starting pitcher and two first basemen, one of whom has the potential to slide over to shortstop if he can increase his arm strength.

    A quick look at the system shows that the Reds are pitching heavy, with nine of their top-15 prospects being solid rotation possibilities. Despite the loss of top prospect Billy Hamilton to the big league team, the next-best represented position in the system is still the outfield, where three of the Reds' top-five youngsters reside.

    The Reds' system doesn't have the impact players needed to rank it as one of the elite systems in the game. However, they do have enough talent waiting in the wings to rank in the middle of the pack.

    For a reference point, you can visit my pre-season rankings to see how things have changed, as this half-season of play has given me additional time to examine and reconsider my initial rankings.

    So, let's get started.

     

    All stats are current through play on June 10, 2014 and are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.

15. Taylor Sparks

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    Position: 3B

    DOB: 4/3/1993 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 210 pounds

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Second Round, 2014 (UC Irvine)

    ETA: 2017

     

    Scouting Report

    The first of three 2014 draftees to crack the list, Taylor Sparks presents the Reds with an interesting set of skills.

    The 21-year-old is a good hitter and flashes a plus hit tool at times. In addition, his raw power suggests the potential for 20-plus home runs per year at maturity, but his, at times, overly aggressive approach at the plate could hinder his ability to tap into that power.

    The former UC Irvine slugger was a strikeout machine last season, as he whiffed at a 23.7 percent rate in 2014.

    Defensively, Sparks is above average in all respects, and his arm grades out as a near-plus tool.

    If he's able to tone down his strikeout rate and increase his plate discipline, the Reds could have one of the biggest steals of the 2014 draft class.

     

    Projection: Second-division regular

    Risk: High

14. Daniel Corcino

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 08/26/1990 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 5'11", 210 pounds

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: N/A

    ETA: Late 2014

     

    Scouting Report

    Daniel Corcino's build, and even his stuff, used to earn frequent comparisons to Reds' right-hander Johnny Cueto. However, after a horrendous first season at Triple-A Louisville in 2013, the 23-year-old has displayed a lot of flaws in his game. 

    Corcino's 5.1 BB/9 last season tied for the worst mark of his professional career, and he set a new low in strikeouts per nine as well (6.3 K/9). Corcino's real undoing, though, was the result of a ghastly 1.2 HR/9.

    Corcino's fastball is a plus offering. The young righty can run, sink and cut his low-90s fastball, and his changeup and slider give him two more average pitches.

    This season, Corcino has made some improvements, but it's difficult to tell whether those have come as a result of his adjustment to the level of talent—as he is now in his second year at Triple-A—or whether he's fixed some of the mental and mechanical issues that plagued him last season.

    Corcino's stuff still has the ability to play as a mid-rotation starter, but his command issues are still a major concern.

     

    Projection: No. 5 starter

    Risk: Medium

13. Nick Howard

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 04/06/1993 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 215 pounds

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First Round, 2014 (University of Virginia)

    ETA: 2017

     

    Scouting Report

    The Reds may have jumped the gun a little when they selected Nick Howard with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft. Even so, the 21-year-old has an intriguing pitch arsenal and the stuff to become a very good mid-rotation option come 2017.

    Howard, a 21-year-old righty, worked as a reliever with the University of Virginia, but given his draft slot it appears as though the Reds will attempt to convert him into a starter (a la Tony Cingrani and Michael Lorenzen).

    Howard works with a plus-plus power fastball that tops out in the high-90s with great life. His breaking ball flashes plus at times, and if he can increase the consistency of his release point, Howard has the makings of a dynamic 1-2 punch in his repertoire. 

    Howard's changeup is below average, and its' development into an average offering will determine whether or not he sticks in the starting rotation.

    In a worst-case scenario, the Reds can fall back on Howard becoming a high-leverage reliever, as his fastball can flirt with triple digits out of the bullpen. That fastball combined with his curveball could make for one of the better two-pitch combinations among Reds relievers.

     

    Projection: No. 4 starter

    Risk: High

12. Sal Romano

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 10/12/1993 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 250 pounds

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: 23rd Round, 2011 (Southington HS - Conn.)

    ETA: 2017

     

    Scouting Report

    Sal Romano, a 6'4", 250-pound righty out of Southington High School in Connecticut, clocks in at No. 12 on the list.

    Romano's height and build help him generate a low-90s fastball with late life. Unfortunately, that's the only above-average pitch in his repertoire, as his curveball only flashes average at times and his changeup lags solidly behind the other two offerings.

    Romano has a very durable frame that is suitable for a long career as an innings-eater at the big league level. However, like a few other pitchers in the Reds system, the development of his changeup will determine whether or not he functions as a reliever or a starter in Cincinnati.

    The young righty struggled last season in his first full year as a professional. The 20-year-old allowed a 4.86 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP to go along with disappointing metrics, including 4.3 BB/9, 1.56 K/BB and 10.0 H/9.

    Romano has improved upon his disappointing season here in 2014, however. Over his first 13 starts, the Connecticut native boasts a solid stat line including a 3.42 ERA, a 1.32 WHIP and season averages of 8.0 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 3.50 K/BB and 9.6 H/9.

    It's important to note that this is Romano's second season at Single-A Dayton, and he may just be adjusting to hitters at a familiar level. However, it wouldn't be a surprise to look back at this season and call it a breakout year for Romano.

     

    Projection: No. 4 starter

    Risk: High

11. Tucker Barnhart

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Position: C

    DOB: 01/07/1991 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 5'11", 195 pounds

    Bats/Throws: S/R

    Drafted: 10th Round, 2009 (Brownburg High School - Ind.)

    ETA: Made debut on April 3, 2014

     

    Scouting Report

    Tucker Barnhart just misses cracking the top 10 for the second time this season. The 23-year-old profiles as a solid backup catcher and a possible starter if he's able to produce as a hitter.

    Barnhart's defense will always be his calling card. The young backstop receives the ball perhaps as well as any minor league catcher, and his explosive pop-up times, along with his plus arm, have helped generate some impressive caught-stealing numbers as a minor leaguer (42 percent for his career).

    Barnhart's bat is solidly below average, and his severe lack of power is what's holding him back from ever becoming a full-time player at the big league level.

    Barnhart's offensive struggles have continued into the 2014 season, and he's seen his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage drop 72, 98 and 41 points, respectively, since moving up to the Triple-A level.

    Despite his weak offensive game, Barnhart was able to earn himself a call-up to Cincinnati earlier this season, and although he struggled at the plate it won't be long before he gets himself a permanent position on the major league roster.

     

    Projection: Backup catcher

    Risk: Low

10. Ismael Guillon

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    Position: LHP

    DOB: 02/13/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6'2", 210 pounds

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted: N/A

    ETA: 2016

     

    Scouting Report

    Ismael Guillon represents the lone left-handed pitcher on this list.

    Guillon has a three-pitch arsenal, which includes an above-average fastball, above-average changeup and a below-average curve. Guillon's fastball and changeup both have good late life, but he struggles with his command due to a long, exaggerated throwing motion.

    Guillon's command problems manifested in a 7.0 BB/9 last season, but here in 2013 he's shown drastically improved command at Single-A Dayton. Over 61.1 innings pitched, the young lefty boasts a career best 3.5 BB/9 and a sparkling 2.79 ERA, to boot.

    The 22-year-old may end up as a late-innings reliever. However, given the recent improvements shown in his command, I'm slightly more bullish on him and gave him a projection as a No. 4 starter.

     

    Projection: No. 4 starter

    Risk: High

9. Alex Blandino

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    Position: 3B

    DOB: 11/6/1992 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6'0", 190 pounds

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First Round, 2014 (Stanford University)

    ETA: 2016

    Scouting Report

    The Reds first-round selection in the 2014 draft, Alex Blandino figures to be a quick mover. The 21-year-old was a three-year-standout at Stanford, and in 2014 led the Cardinal in home runs, RBI, total bases and slugging percentage.

    Blandino was one of the most polished bats in the 2014 class. The young third baseman has outstanding plate vision and a well-leveraged swing, and he is capable of producing 20-home-run seasons at maturity should he tap into his raw power.

    Blandino is a cinch to stick at third base, and if he shows a little bit of improvement in his arm strength, he may be able to slide over to shortstop, where his bat would profile as a major asset. Blandino has good plate discipline, and his defense is about as well-polished as you could hope for in a recent draftee.

    He could be ready as soon as the fall of 2015, but we'll call it 2016 to be safe.

     

    Projection: First-division regular

    Risk: Medium

8. Ben Lively

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 03/05/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 190 pounds

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: Fourth Round, 2013 (University of Central Florida)

    ETA: 2016

     

    Scouting Report

    Ben Lively, a 22-year-old starter with the Reds' High-A affiliate in Bakersfield, comes in at No. 6 on the list.

    The young righty boasts a four-pitch mix, including an above-average fastball with late life, an average slider and curve and an average changeup. Lively's slider has the potential to be a second above-average offering, and its development will play a big role in where he will eventually slot in the Reds rotation.

    Lively started the 2014 season on an epic tear. Over his first 10 starts, the UCF product posted a 1.03 ERA and a 0.74 WHIP with per-nine ratios of 10.8 K/9, 1.3 BB/9 and 5.3 H/9.

    Lively has struggled more recently, allowing four, five and four earned runs, respectively, in his last three starts. His 2.28 ERA leads all California League starters with at least 10 starts, though, and his 10 wins lead the entire league.

    Though he's hot right now, he's likely to wind up as a No. 4 starter at the major league level based on his average pitch arsenal and above-average command.

     

    Projection: No. 4 starter

    Risk: High

7. Nick Travieso

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 01/31/1994 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6'2", 215 pounds

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First Round, 2012 (Archbishop McCarthy High School - Fla.)

    ETA: 2016

     

    Scouting Report

    Last season, Travieso's performance had me question whether or not he might be better suited as a reliever. The young righty showed signs of wear, and his fastball velocity was down from his debut season.

    This year, however, Travieso's fastball has been much better and sits in the low- to mid-90s, and he has the ability to ramp it up into the high-90s. His slider flashes above average, but he's inconsistent with the pitch and, at times, it flattens it out, severely limiting its effectiveness.

    The development of his changeup will determine whether or not he can stick in the rotation, as he'll need a third pitch of at least average value in order to stick as a big league starter.

    This season, Travieso has shown improvements across the board. The 20-year-old, in his second full season at Single-A Dayton, owns a 3.29 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and season averages of 6.9 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 4.17 K/BB and 7.8 H/9.

    Travieso is right on track to fill his potential as a mid-rotation starter, but should he falter he has a great future as a late-inning relief option.

     

    Projection: No. 3 starter

    Risk: Medium

6. Yorman Rodriguez

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 08/15/1992 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6'3", 195 pounds

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: N/A

    ETA: Mid-2016

     

    Scouting Report

    Yorman Rodriguez's drop would be a lot more pronounced if not for the graduation of top prospect Billy Hamilton. Rodriguez has all the tools to be a top-50 prospect, but the 21-year-old is radically inconsistent at the plate and lacks the ability to make consistent contact.

    Plus speed, plus raw power, above-average defense and an above-average arm should make Rodriguez the No. 2 prospect, but the young outfielder strikes out at a ridiculous rate (27.5 percent in 2014 and 26.4 percent for his career).

    This year, Rodriguez's strikeouts have caught up with him again, and that's evidenced by his .236/.276/.322 slash line. Rodriguez's stat line has taken a major hit this year, and he boasts just seven extra-base hits (two home runs) with 12 RBI, 18 runs scored, four stolen bases and a 50/10 K/BB.

    Rodriguez has been extremely disappointing this year, and his stock is about as low as it has ever been.

     

    Projection: Second-division Regular

    Risk: Extreme

5. Carlos Contreras

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 01/08/1991 (Age: 23)

    Height/Weight: 5'11", 205 pounds

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: N/A

    ETA: 2015

     

    Scouting Report

    Carlos Contreras slots in as the organization's No. 6 prospect, thanks in part to a plus fastball, an average changeup and an average slider. The 5'11", 205-pound starter doesn't really have the build to maintain a mid-90s fastball over the course of an entire game, leading to the conclusion that he may be better suited for bullpen work.

    Either way, Contreras has potential. The 23-year-old could slide in to the Reds' bullpen right now, but the team is more interested in allowing him to continue his tenure as a starterat least until the experiment fails or he reaches the big league rotation.

    This year, Contreras has has worked as a starter at the Double-A level. Over six appearances—three starts—the young righty has allowed a 3.45 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP to go along with per-nine ratios of 12.1 K/9, 5.2 BB/9 and 7.5 H/9.

    Contreras has dealt with some injuries this season, and that has severely limited his usage rate for the 2014 season—just 15.2 innings pitched to this point. These injuries could prove costly for Contreras, as there are several pitchers in the organization who are capable of jumping him in the rankings and sending him to the bullpen permanently.

     

    Projection: Late-inning relief

    Risk: Low

4. Michael Lorenzen

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 01/04/1992 (Age: 22)

    Height/Weight: 6'3", 195 pounds

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First Round, 2013 (Cal-State Fullerton)

    ETA: 2015

     

    Scouting Report

    Michael Lorenzen, a 6'3", 195-pound right-hander, is another prospect making the jump over Yorman Rodriguez. This 22-year-old righty was drafted in the first round out of Cal-State Fullerton in 2013, but he was immediately limited to relief duty with the Reds.

    Lorenzen went on to impress at four separate levels last year, ranging between the rookie Arizona League and Double-A.

    Lorenzen's success came primarily through his utilization of a plus-plus fastball which sits in the mid- to high-90s. The pitch features late life and pairs well with his plus curve ball.

    Lorenzen's changeup is still a work in progress, but his other two pitches were enough to convince the organization that he could work as a starter. The club chose to move forward with those plans and plugged him into the rotation at the Double-A level.

    The California native has been outstanding in his new role, allowing a 2.41 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP over his first 71 innings (13 starts). In addition to a solid ERA and WHIP, Lorenzen has maintained season averages of 6.0 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 2.24 K/BB and 7.7 H/9.

    Lorenzen's value has spiked this season due to his new and more valuable role as a full-time starter.

     

    Projection: No. 3 starter

    Risk: High

3. Jesse Winker

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 08/07/1993 (Age: 20)

    Height/Weight: 6'3", 210 pounds

    Bats/Throws: L/L

    Drafted: First Round, 2012 (Olympia High School - Fla.)

    ETA: Fall 2015

     

    Scouting Report

    I never make the same mistake twice. After ranking Jesse Winker as the team's No. 6 prospect prior to the start of the 2014 season, the 20-year-old clocks in as the team's No. 3 prospect here at the mid-season mark.

    Winker gets a boost from the system's loss of top prospect Billy Hamilton but also for the fact that he has outperformed Yorman Rodriguez by leaps and bounds.

    Winker has a picture-perfect left-handed swing plane with enough leverage to produce 20-plus-home-run seasons. He has exceptional bat-on-ball skills, enough so that he could be a perennial .280-.300 hitter at the big league level.

    Winker isn't overly athletic, and he figures to be a left fielder with, at best, an average arm.

    This year, Winker has made major strides toward solidifying his prospect status, slashing .308/.410/.538 over 50 games played. In addition to his gaudy slash line, the Florida native boasts impressive counting stats, including 10 home runs, 15 doubles, 41 RBI, 36 runs scored and a 43/35 K/BB.

    Winker is flat-out raking, and he is on pace to shatter his career highs in home runs, doubles, RBI, runs scored, walks and total bases.

    The good news for Reds fans is that he'll be ready for big league action in the fall of 2015.

     

    Projection: First-division regular

    Risk: Medium

2. Phillip Ervin

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    Position: OF

    DOB: 07/15/1992 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 5'11", 190 pounds

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First Round, 2013 (Samford University)

    ETA: Late-2014

     

    Scouting Report

    Phillip Ervin clocks in as the team's No. 2 prospect. The 21-year-old was selected in the first round of last year's amateur draft and was promptly assigned to the club's rookie affiliate in the Pioneer League, where he promptly earned a promotion to Single-A Dayton.

    Dayton proved easy for him as well, but this year it's been a different story. Back in Dayton to start the year, Ervin has struggled to get going, slashing .223/.288/.326 with three triples, a home run, 13 doubles, 28 RBI, 29 runs scored and 17 stolen bases.

    Ervin has a thick, muscular build, and it helps him generate surprising power, as he has the potential for 20-plus home runs at maturity. In addition to the power, Ervin has near-plus speed, an above-average hit tool and above-average defense.

    Whether Ervin sticks in center field remains to be seen—his build may cause him to loose speed as he reaches maturity—but he has enough of an arm to play either corner outfield position.

    Ervin may be struggling this season, but the Samford University product has all the tools to make an All-Star Game or two during his big league career.

    Projection: First-division regular

    Risk: Medium

1. Robert Stephenson

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    Position: RHP

    DOB: 02/24/1993 (Age: 21)

    Height/Weight: 6'3", 195 pounds

    Bats/Throws: R/R

    Drafted: First Round, 2011 (Alhambra HS - Calif.)

    ETA: Late-2014

    Scouting Report

    Robert Stephenson, the 21-year-old righty out of Alhambra High School in California, takes his rightful place as the Reds' top prospect in this list.

    Stephenson uses relatively easy throwing motion to generate a fastball which sits in the 94-99 mph range, occasionally reaching triple digits. His curveball is a second plus pitch and features true 12-6 break with big swing-and-miss potential.

    Stephenson's third offering, a changeup, is significantly less polished. The pitch does function as an average offering, though, and has the potential to be a third plus weapon. Stephenson's arsenal gives him the potential to be a true No. 1 starter. 

    The three-year-professional had a standout season at High-A Bakersfield in 2013, and although he struggled upon being called up to Double-A, Stephenson has come back strong this season. Over 12 starts (13 total games), Stephenson boasts a solid stat line including a 3.49 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and season averages of 9.4 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 2.26 K/BB and 6.7 H/9.

    Depending on the situation the team finds themselves in come the trade deadline, they may look to sell off one or more of their starting pitchers. With a void created in the starting rotation, Stephenson could be ready to fill in as soon as August.

     

    Projection: No. 1 or 2 starter

    Risk: Low