The Cincinnati Reds have won at least 90 games three times in the last four years, and a big part of the success has been drafting and developing talent such as Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Homer Bailey. However, keeping the talent at home has been costly for a middle-market team, and a farm system that was loaded a few seasons ago is becoming a bit thin as the Reds try to continue to contend in a suddenly loaded NL Central. Keep in mind that not one of Cincinnati’s minor league affiliates finished with a winning record last year, so there is no denying the lack of overall talent in the lower ranks. That being said, the Reds do have a couple of strong prospects waiting in the wings, especially when it comes to pitching. With that in mind, here is a closer look at the top prospects in the Reds organization and when they might be making an impact.
Robert Stephenson (SP)
Drafted in the first round in 2011, the right-hander was a high-upside pick that has shown signs of paying off for the Reds. Armed with a plus fastball by MLB standards and an above average curveball, Stephenson climbed to Double-A at the end of last season. At every stop, he has been able to average more than a strikeout per inning, and his stuff is proving to be that of a legit power pitcher. The Reds have understandably treated the 20-year-old with kids gloves thus far, but his performance in Double-A this year will give a much better indication of when he will be reaching the majors and what he will be when he gets there. At the very least, Stephenson appears to have the stuff to succeed and become the top-end starter Cincinnati was hoping for. However, he has to work on his command and likely won’t get a chance to show his stuff in Cincinnati until 2015 at the earliest.
Nicholas Travieso (SP)
Travieso was Cincinnati’s first-round pick in 2013, and the Reds took a chance on the right-hander straight out of high school because of his long-term upside. After all, his fastball has been clocked at 97 mph, and his hard slider with late break is an excellent No. 2 pitch. Travieso’s changeup is a work in progress, as is his command in general, but his smooth, repeatable delivery bodes well for his chances of developing consistency on the mound. Last year, Travieso went 7-4 with a 4.63 ERA, but with just a year of Class A ball under his belt, he is definitely a couple of years away from making any type of impact in Cincinnati. That being said, it is easy to understand why the franchise is high on a 20-year-old with a fastball that approaches triple digits. The best case scenario is that Travieso develops a third pitch and becomes a top-end starter in the majors. At worst, his fastball and slider should be enough to make him a contributor out of the bullpen.
Jesse Winker (OF)
Drafted at the end of the first round in 2012 because of his smooth stroke at the plate, Winker’s bat hasn’t disappointed. He finished third in both batting average and OPS in the Pioneer League, and last year, he hit .281 with 16 home runs and 76 RBIs in 112 games with Dayton (Class A). Winker’s speed is average at best and he won’t be winning a Gold Glove, but he shows every indication of becoming a quality bat for the Reds. Granted, he doesn’t show 30-homer power, but he has a chance to be a quality run producer in the majors as soon as next season. With the likes of Chris Heisey and Ryan Ludwick currently on a roster that strikes out a lot, Cincinnati needs outfield depth and quality at-bats in a bad way. Winker’s steady bat is going to get a chance to shine for the Reds sooner rather than later, and of all Cincinnati’s top prospects, he has the best chance to make a substantial impact for fantasy owners in the relatively near future.
Phil Ervin (OF)
Cincinnati snagged Ervin at the end of the first round in last year’s draft. In college, he played centerfield at Samford, but he made the switch to a corner outfield spot in his first year of Class A ball with the Reds, hitting .349 in a brief stint with Dayton at the end of last season. Overall, Ervin doesn’t jump out in one particular area, but he is solid across the board both at the plate and in the field. His speed is probably his best asset at this point, but he also has enough offensive upside to bat near the top of a major league lineup someday. The bottom line is that Cincinnati has been searching for a reliable third outfielder for the last several seasons, and Ervin was drafted to fill that need. It will likely take a couple of years for Ervin to develop, but he has enough tools to get a shot at filling the void eventually.
Michael Lorenzen (SP)
Lorenzen was drafted in first round of the 2013 draft, and he is arguably the most interesting of Cincinnati’s top prospects. At Cal State Fullerton, Lorenzen was both a quality outfielder and stellar closer, and for now, the Reds plan to let him continue to be a two-way player in at least some capacity. That being said, his primary focus will be pitching where his fastball and hard curve should allow him to make an impact out of the bullpen within a year or two. The real question for Lorenzen is his ultimate career path. He has just 21.0 innings under his belt in the minors, but if he thrives as a pitcher, he could be a potential closer for the Reds down the road. If he struggles, he could switch gears and try to make it as an outfielder a la Rick Ankiel. Either way, Lorenzen is a player blessed with a lot of physical tools that will be given every chance to find a role.
David Holmberg (SP)
He was originally a second-round pick of the White Sox in 2009, and after getting traded to the Diamondbacks as part of a deal involving Edwin Jackson, the lefty was traded to Cincinnati this offseason as part of a three-team deal. Holmberg has four pitches that he can throw for strikes, including an above average changeup and sinking fastball. He also has solid command. Holmberg was impressive in the minors last year, posting a 2.75 ERA in 157.1 innings. He made his major league debut last August, struggling in lone start for Arizona. Holmberg may not have the upside of some of Cincinnati’s younger prospects, but he is ready for the big leagues right now. Cincinnati’s current rotation features an oft-injured Johnny Cueto as well as two starters in Mike Leake and Tony Cingrani that are not locks to repeat last year’s success. Holmberg’s stuff is that of a No. 3 or No. 4 starter rather than a future ace, but the Reds may need another quality arm in 2014. If he ends up with a spot in Cincinnati’s rotation, he could have some value as a spot starter in fantasy leagues when the matchups are favorable.