Cincinnati Reds: Playing Pre-Deadline Trade-or-Keep with Top Prospects
The team is built on its starting pitching, which currently boasts the No. 4 ERA in baseball at 3.26.
Its reliever corps, however, has been suspect at best—at least prior to the eighth inning.
Cincinnati's bullpen is 9-12 with a No. 24 ERA of 3.96. That, of course, reflects a lot of Triple-A names pitching in the absence of key bullpen members early on. Still, the bullpen has been less-than-reliable for the majority of the season.
Then there's the offense: Is it good or bad?
The Reds are No. 10 in the National League in runs scored overall, but they were No. 3 in the month of June. Guys like Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier are trying to make the offense talk a moot point with their performances.
So what will they do at the deadline?
Their farm isn't exactly bursting with MLB-ready talent, but the organization has some coveted pieces that could be dealt for more talent for the second-half push.
Here are the Reds' top-five prospects, and whether the Reds should keep or trade them by the deadline.
All stats and rankings courtesy of BaseballAmerica.com unless otherwise noted and are current as of July 9, 2014.
Yorman Rodriguez: Trade
Yorman Rodriguez was ranked as the Reds' No. 5 prospect after the 2013 season.
He has had a decent minor league run but is struggling of late. With Double-A Pensacola, he's hitting just .242 with an OBP of .298 in 71 games. He also has just five home runs and 24 RBI in that span.
His BABIP is .306 per Baseball Prospectus, so there is definitely potential with Rodriguez. Also, Rodriguez was named Baseball America's best outfield arm at the end of the 2012 season.
But the Reds already have Billy Hamilton occupying center field, and Jay Bruce owns right field for the foreseeable future. With Jesse Winker recently listed on Baseball America's Top 50 prospects, he might be the heir to the long-vacant left field throne.
Because of this, the Reds should shop Rodriguez to see if his potential can buy them some assistance for the 2014 campaign.
Jesse Winker: Keep
As illustrated, Jesse Winker is probably the long-term goal for the ever-tumultuous left field spot and is showing a lot of promise in the minor leagues.
In just 19 games and 71 at-bats with Double-A Pensacola, Winker is only hitting .225 but has an on-base percentage of .341.
Before being promoted from High-A Bakersfield, Winker hit .317 and knocked 13 home runs, 15 doubles and 49 RBI in just 53 games of work. His OBP there was .426.
Because the Reds are actually in need of his services at the MLB level—even though Winker probably has a while until he's ready—the money the Reds have tied up in guys like Bruce, Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Homer Bailey, gives them a need for cheaper options going forward.
Winker just might be a good one.
Phillip Ervin: Trade
Outfielder Phillip Ervin was a first-round draft pick, taken No. 27 overall by the Reds in 2013.
The slugger showed real promise with Low-A Dayton in 2013, hitting .349 and working an OBP of .451 in just 12 games of work.
This season has been a little different.
Ervin is hitting just .226 through 82 games played this year with Dayton, and his OBP is just .297.
While this by no means indicates Ervin can't be a great MLB player one day, the fact remains that the Reds may already have the future outfielder they need in Winker.
Consequently, the Reds should try to move Ervin for either pitching prospects or infield prospects—or possibly supplemental assistance for the rest of the Reds' 2014 MLB campaign.
Billy Hamilton: Keep
Billy Hamilton is doing to expectations what Godzilla does to Tokyo.
The Reds' 23-year-old starting center fielder and leadoff man is having a season unlike anyone could have predicted. His .280 batting average is No. 3 on the team.
In the last 30 days, Hamilton is hitting .325, tied with Mesoraco for highest on the team (excepting Tucker Barnhart, who only has two at-bats). His .417 slugging percentage on the year is well above the National League average of .385.
Needless to say, Billy Hamilton is going nowhere soon—he has become pivotal to the success of this team, even more so now that Votto was placed on the disabled list Tuesday, per ESPN.com.
They have reported the star first baseman will be limited for the remainder of the season, but that "The Reds have said they'll try to keep him in the lineup as much as possible as the season continues."
As such, the offense will have to come from elsewhere, including Hamilton.
Many people—including me—feared Billy Hamilton wouldn't be able to replicate the success of Shin-Soo Choo. But as Cincinnati Enquirer beat writer John Fay reports, Choo finished last season No. 23 in the National League in WAR.
Right now, Billy Hamilton is No. 25.
Robert Stephenson: Keep
He's having a decent year with Double-A Pensacola: He's 4-6 with an ERA of 3.97 through 18 games, 17 of which he started. He also has 93 strikeouts in as many innings pitched.
His minor league career numbers are 14-17 with a 3.37 ERA and a WHIP of 1.20 across stints in rookie ball, Low-A, High-A and Double-A.
While the rankings are great and his performance has been good, these aren't the reasons the Reds cannot part ways with their top prospect.
They can't trade Stephenson due to the likelihood of losing one of three starting pitchers: Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos or Mike Leake. Each will have to be extended soon, and with the money the Reds have tied up in other big names, it's unlikely they'll be able to keep all of them.
That means Stephenson's trajectory becomes crucial.
Remember: This is a team built on starting pitching, and for the Reds to ensure prolonged success, the club must maintain its core of exceptional starting pitching. Stephenson would be an obvious replacement should the Reds lose one of their top pitchers.