Stock Up, Stock Down for Cincinnati Reds' Top 10 Prospects in Week 2

Tyler DumaFeatured ColumnistApril 18, 2014

Stock Up, Stock Down for Cincinnati Reds' Top 10 Prospects in Week 2

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    Tony Gutierrez

    The minor league season is well underway, and some of the Cincinnati Reds' top prospects are off to impressive starts.

    The team graduated a number of top prospects from 2006-10, and trades for players like Mat Latos, Shin-Soo Choo, Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton. Gone are the big-time names like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Yonder Alonso and others, but guys named Stephenson, Hamilton and Winker have stepped in nicely to fill the void.

    The team has done a fantastic job of drafting over the past 4-5 seasons though, and the team's top-10 prospect rankings are flush with young pitching. In addition to those young arms, the system features a few outfielders who could turn into second- or first-division regulars at the big league level.

    Over the course of this article—the first of multiple updates that will be provided over the 2014 season—I'll familiarize you with the team's top-10 prospects—as ranked in my pre-season top-10—and give you a recap of their most recent week's work. This week (Week 2), we'll look at games played between Apr. 11-17, 2014.

    So, let's kick things off with a third-year professional, and former first-round pick, Nick Travieso.

     

    All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and are current through play on Apr. 17, 2014.

    Again, this article focuses only on games played between Apr. 11-17, 2014.

10. Nick Travieso, RHP

1 of 10

    Last Week's Stats 

    1 GS, 1-0 W-L, 5.0 IP, 1.79 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 10.7 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 6.00 K/BB, 5.4 H/9

     

    Analysis

    Coming out of the Florida-prep ranks, Nick Travieso was one of the more highly touted high school arms in the 2012 MLB draft. In his first two seasons, the 20-year-old struggled with his command—largely the result of some laziness in his lower-half—and left the ball up and out over the plate far too often.

    This year though, Travieso was re-assigned to Single-A Dayton—the level at which he finished in 2013—and he's been quite good through his first two starts. Over 11 innings pitched, the young righty owns a 2.45 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and ratios of 7.4 K/9, 0.8 BB/9, 9.00 K/BB and 8.2 H/9.

    Travieso has stifled opposing batters, and that was true of Week 2 as well. In his lone start for the week, Travieso earned a win on five innings of work in which he allowed one earned run on just three hits and a single walk while striking out six.

    Travieso could be fast-tracked in 2014—somewhat similar to the way in which top-prospect Robert Stephenson was last year—and starts like these will go a long way toward reclaiming his top-prospect potential.

     

    2014 Stats

    2 GS, 1-0 W-L, 11.0 IP, 2.45 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 0.8 BB/9, 9.00 K/BB, 8.2 H/9

     

    Stock

    Up

9. Ben Lively, RHP

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    Last Week's Stats 

    2 GS, 2-0 W-L, 11.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.55 WHIP, 13.1 K/9, 0.0 BB/9, INF K/BB, 4.9 H/9

     

    Analysis

    The Reds' top-10 is loaded with pitching prospects, and Ben Lively is off to the hottest start of all of them. A fourth-round pick out of UCF in last year's MLB draft, Lively has moved quickly through the system and earned himself an early-season assignment to High-A Bakersfield on the back of his impressive 2013 performance.

    Through his first three starts, Lively has posted some incredible numbers including a 0.53 ERA and a 0.41 WHIP. On top of that, the 22-year-old has averaged 12.2 K/9 without having walked a single batter over 17 innings pitched.

    Lively has allowed just one single earned run in 2013, and it came in the form of a home run in his first start of his 2014 campaign.

    This week, Lively made two starts. Over said two starts, Lively went 11 innings, allowing a 0.00 ERA, a 0.55 WHIP and averages of 13.1 K/9 and 4.9 H/9. Lively didn't allow a single walk over Week 2, and his impressive command helped hold opposing batters to a .158/.158/.211 slash line.

    Though it's impossible to expect him to hold his current pace over the entirety of the 2014 season, Lively has gotten off to an amazing start and looks like a possible top-five prospect by season's end.

     

    2014 Stats

    3 GS, 3-0 W-L, 17.0 IP, 0.53 ERA, 0.41 WHIP, 12.2 K/9, 0.00 BB/9, INF K/BB, 3.7 H/9

     

    Stock

    Up

8. David Holmberg, RHP

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    Last Week's Stats 

    1 GS, 0-1 W-L, 0.1 IP, 150.00 ERA, 21.21 WHIP, 0.00 K/9, 25.0 BB/9, INF K/BB, 150.0 H/9

     

    Analysis

    The Reds nabbed David Holmberg in exchange for veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan during the 2013-14 offseason. The 22-year-old lefty immediately slotted into the team's top-10 prospects, and looked like he'd be the next call-up in the event that the Reds suffered an injury to a member of the big league starting rotation.

    Unfortunately, for both the Reds and Holmberg, neither of those two assumptions have looked great thus far.

    Over two starts at Triple-A Louisville, Holmberg has gotten absolutely rocked, allowing a 13.50 ERA, a 2.44 WHIP and ratios of 6.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 2.00 K/BB and 18.6 H/9. This week, Holmberg did nothing to write the ship, and only contributed to his early-season struggles.

    In his lone Week 2 start, Holmberg went just one-third of an inning—yes, one-third—struck out no one, and allowed six earned runs on six hits—one was a home run—and one walk. Holmberg was terrible against Toledo, and a few more starts like this could severely damage his stock within the Reds organization.

     

    2014 Stats

    2 GS, 0-2 W-L, 5.1 IP, 13.50 ERA, 2.44 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 2.00 K/BB, 18.6 H/9

     

    Stock

    Down

7. Carlos Contreras, RHP

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    Last Week's Stats 

    1 GS, 0-1 W-L, 5.0 IP, 5.36 ERA, 1.40 WHIP,  K/9, 5.4 BB/9, 1.67 K/BB, 7.1 H/9

     

    Analysis

    In 2013, his first full season as a starter, Carlos Contreras made a name for himself with the Reds' High-A and Double-A affiliates. Over 26 starts, the then-22-year-old allowed a 3.47 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP to go along with ratios of 8.3 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 1.97 K/BB and 7.2 H/9.

    This year, Contreras began the season with an assignment to Double-A Pensacola—the same level he was playing at the end of 2013. The 23-year-old has made just three appearances—two starts, but the results have been encouraging, to say the least.

    Contreras made his second start in Week 2, and suffered his first loss of the season at the hands of the Rays' Double-A affiliate in Montgomery. Over five innings pitched, the Dominican Republic native allowed three earned runs on four hits and three walks while striking out five.

    Week 2's lone start was Contreras' worst of the season, but if three runs over five innings is his worst start, the young righty may find his way to Cincinnati as soon as September 2014.

     

    2014 Stats

    2 GS, 1-1 W-L, 12.0 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 12.8 K/9, 5.2 BB/9, 2.43 K/BB, 6.0 H/9

     

    Stock

    Even

6. Michael Lorenzen, RHP

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    Last Week's Stats 

    1 GS, 1-0, 6.2 IP, 2.70 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 5.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 2.00 K/BB, 5.4 H/9

     

    Analysis

    The Reds hit the jackpot in the 2013 MLB draft. The team took Ben Lively—profiled earlier—with their fourth-round pick, Phillip Ervin—who we'll see a little later—in the first round, and Michael Lorenzen with their supplemental pick—38th overall—in the first round.

    So far, Lorenzen has made a solid case to be considered the best pick of the lot. Over 24 total appearances—three starts—Lorenzen owns a 2.34 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP, and averages of 7.5 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 1.93 K/BB and 7.3 H/9. 

    Lorenzen worked across four minor league levels last season, starting with the team's rookie league affiliate in the Arizona League and ending with Double-A Pensacola. Lorenzen struggled in Pensacola, but you'd never know it from watching him this year.

    The 22-year-old is adjusting to life as a starter this season, and although he's new to the role, he's flashed some serious potential in his new role. In Week 2, Lorenzen made just one start, but the young right-hander went 6.2 innings pitched and allowed just two earned runs on four hits and two walks while striking out four.

     

    2014 Stats

    2 GS, 2-0 W-L, 13.2 IP, 1.32 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 6.6 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, 5.00 K/BB, 5.3 H/9

     

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    Up

5. Jesse Winker, OF

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    Last Week's Stats 

    6 G, .370/.469/.556, 1 HR, 0 3B, 2 2B, 6 RBI, 8 R, 0 SB, 8:5 K/BB

     

    Analysis

    Though the guys ahead of him may have some more exciting tools, Jesse Winker is the best hitting prospect in the Reds system. Through his age-18 and age-19 seasons—2012 and 2013—Winker appeared in 174 games and worked to a stellar .301/.402/.476 slash line with 21 home runs, eight triples, 34 doubles, 111 RBI and 115 runs scored.

    Winker can flat out hit, and although he failed to crack the .300 batting average mark in 2013, he put together an outstanding season including 16 home runs, 76 RBI and a 75:63 K/BB ratio.

    Winker was handed a rather ambitious assignment in 2014, jumping directly to High-A Bakersfield after only a single season at Single-A Dayton. However, despite playing against older competition—Winker is nearly three years younger than league average—the 20-year-old outfielder is off to an incredibly hot start.

    In Week 2, Winker kept his hot streak going. Over six games, Winker put up a gaudy .370/.469/.556 slash line with one home run, two doubles, six RBI and eight runs scored. Winker's impressive command of the strike zone was also on full display, as the Florida-prep product walked five times in comparison to just eight strikeouts.

    If he keeps up his current pace, Winker will shoot up prospect boards, and could be in Cincinnati as soon as next season.

     

    2014 Stats

    14 G, .339/.418/.554, 2 HR, 0 3B, 6 2B, 16 RBI, 15 R, 1 SB, 11:8 K/BB

     

    Stock

    Up

4. Yorman Rodriguez, OF

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    Last Week's Stats 

    6 G, .227/.261/.364, 1 HR, 0 3B, 0 2B, 3 RBI, 4 R, 2 SB, 14:4 K/BB

     

    Analysis

    Of all the Reds' outfield prospects, Yorman Rodriguez has the best tools and the highest ceiling. Depending on how well he matures, Rodriguez could be a perennial 20-20 threat, and a possible 30-30 threat in his physical prime.

    Unfortunately, a lot goes into Rodriguez reaching his full potential, including the improvement of his pitch recognition and bat-on-ball skills. To this point in his career, Rodriguez owns a 26.3 percent strikeout rate, and it's kept him from getting on base, and also from showcasing his raw power.

    Last year, however, Rodriguez made some huge strides at the plate and logged his best season to date. Over 129 games played, the then-20-year-old managed a .259/.324/.427 slash line with career high marks in home runs, doubles, RBI, runs scored and walks.

    Though he had a great season, Rodriguez still struck out at a 27 percent clip, and that trend has carried over into 2014.

    Rodriguez's early-season numbers—displayed below—are troubling. However, like the next player on our list, he looks like he's slowly—emphasis on the word "slowly"—starting to come out of his early season funk.

    In Week 2, the 21-year-old worked to a .227/.261/.364 triple slash with one home run and one RBI. Rodriguez's strikeouts were still startlingly high though, and you can look no further than his ghastly 45.5 percent strikeout rate—10 strikeouts in 22 plate appearances.

    It's odd to see Rodriguez struggle so mightily at a level in which he's already played, but at just 21 years old, there's a lot of time for the young outfielder to iron out the wrinkles in his game.

     

    2014 Stats

    12 G, .200/.260/.267, 1 HR, 0 3B, 0 2B, 3 RBI, 4 R, 2 SB, 14:4 K/BB

     

    Stock

    Up

3. Phillip Ervin, OF

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    Last Week's Stats 

    6 G, .208/.296/.250, 0 HR, 0 3B, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 3 R, 1 SB, 4:1 K/BB

     

    Analysis

    After being selected with the 27th overall pick in the 2013 MLB draft, Phillip Ervin absolutely tore up the Pioneer League (Rookie League) and Single-A Dayton. Over just 46 games played, Ervin compiled 21 extra-base-hits—nine home runs and 11 doubles—to go along with 35 RBI, 34 runs scored, 14 stolen bases and a 34:25 K/BB ratio—10:8 K/BB at Single-A.

    Ervin was re-assigned to Single-A Dayton to start the 2014 season, but has struggled to reach the same level of success he experienced at the level last season. In 12 games played, Ervin boasts a .188/.259/.250 slash line with three doubles, five RBI, four runs scored and just one stolen base.

    Ervin is still struggling, but he's shown some faint signs of life in Week 2. Over six games, Ervin is the owner of a .208/.296/.250 slash line with one double, two RBI, three runs scored, one stolen base and a 4:1 K/BB ratio.

    Ervin leveled out his strikeout rate and struck out at an 14.8 percent rate in Week 2, after striking out at a horrific 40.7 percent rate through the season's first six games. Moving forward, he'll look to keep building upon his moderate success from Week 2, but, for now, Ervin's stock is up ever so slightly.

     

    2014 Stats

    12 G, .188/.259/.250, 0 HR, 0 3B, 3 2B, 5 RBI, 4 R, 1 SB, 15:3 K/BB

     

    Stock

    Up

2. Billy Hamilton, OF

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    Last Week's Stats 

    6 G, .143/.182/.143, 0 HR, 0 3B, 0 2B, 0 RBI, 3 R, 2 SB, 4:1 K/BB

     

    Analysis

    After ripping through the early levels of the Reds' minor league system, Billy Hamilton hit a bump in the road at Triple-A Louisville in 2013.

    Last year, Hamilton struggled making contact, and even more so with getting on base and hitting with any sort of power. Over 123 games played, Hamilton logged a .256/.308/.343 slash line with just 28 extra-base hits.

    Hamilton was working on switch hitting, adjusting to a new position and was also playing against significantly older competition, so there's reason to believe that it was more of an anomaly than a true sign of things to come. Unfortunately, at the big league level, Hamilton has done little to temper the vast levels of pessimism surrounding his offensive game, and, in fact, has shown that those criticisms were well warranted.

    Week 2 is a near reflection of Hamilton's 2014 season as a whole. Over six games, Hamilton managed a mere .143 batting average, with on-base and slugging percentages of .182 and .143, respectively.

    Hamilton failed to log a base hit last week, and paired that with a matching zero in the RBI column as well. The 23-year-old did however manage two stolen bases and three runs scored.

    Hamilton struggled with squaring the ball up for the second straight week—evidenced by his 17 percent strikeout rate and .176 BAbip. The Reds need Hamilton to get on base in order to set the tone for the rest of the offense, but so far, through the early weeks of 2014, that's been much easier said than done.

     

    2014 Stats

    14 G, .170/.220/.234, 0 HR, 0 3B, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 5 R, 4 SB, 11:3 K/BB

     

    Stock

    Down

1. Robert Stephenson, RHP

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    Last Week's Stats 

    2 GS, 0-1 W-L, 6.1 IP, 9.95 ERA, 2.69 WHIP, 4.3 K/9, 12.9 BB/9, 0.33 K/BB, 11.4 H/9

     

    Analysis

    The Reds haven't had a "sure-thing" pitching prospect since pre-2008, when Homer Bailey was the next big thing. As highly touted of a prospect as Bailey was, Robert Stephenson is in that same class of prospects—he ranks as Baseball America's No. 19 prospect this year, and as Mike Rosenbaum's No. 22 prospect here at B/R.

    Stephenson can flat out bring it, and pairs a high-90s fastball with an elite curveball. He has a decent feel for his change, but it's not nearly as developed as his two primary offerings—his fastball and curve. His command isn't as good as some of the pitchers who rank ahead of him on prospect big boards, but it currently rates as an average tool and holds the potential for above-average at maturity.

    After a dominating outing in his first appearance of the season, Stephenson struggled in Week 2, allowing eight earned runs over just 6.1 innings pitched. The 21-year-old suffered from major control issues, and issued nine free passes compared to just three strikeouts over the week.

    Given the fact that it's only his first full season of work at the Double-A level, it's fair to expect that Stephenson will experience periodical difficulties this season. Expect his stock to continue to fluctuate over the early part of 2014 as he continues to feel out a new level of competition.

     

     

    2014 Stats

    2 GS, 1-1 W-L, 11.1 IP, 5.56 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 11.1 K/9, 7.9 BB/9, 1.40 K/BB, 7.1 H/9

     

    Stock

    Down