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2023 Cincinnati Reds Top 10 Prospects Chat

JJ Cooper hosted a chat about the Reds system. You can read the transcript here.

J.J. Cooper: Hey everyone. Welcome to the Reds chat. Thanks for coming out as I take a nice break from finishing my second to final Prospect Handbook team (Twins) and get ready post-chat to finish writing the rest of the Reds chapter (prospects 11-40) for the book.

Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):

    So what's your guess as to the number of Red's prospects that end of in the Baseballamerica list of top 100 prospects?

J.J. Cooper: Steer ranks seventh on the Top 10 and he's been in the Top 100 at various times, so I'd say seven is probably the ceiling. I'd also say three or four are no-doubters, so the range is probably from four to seven.

Jeff (Idaho):

    Elly sure seems like an electric player - a la Fernando Tatis Jr. With the hit tool and plate discipline concerns, do you see him more as a Mike Cameron type (.250 hitter but with good power and speed)? At his age and playing at (and excelling at) advanced levels, there is still time for the discipline to catch up, correct?

J.J. Cooper: Ah, this is the question of the 2023 Reds offseason and the Reds chapter of the Handbook and something I've been mulling a lot and trying to talk about with as many smart people in baseball as I can. Logically, De La Cruz's strikeout rate has to improve or he's going to struggle in the majors. It's hard to find MiLB prospects who struck out 30% or more in a season who went on to have significant MLB success. But it's not that easy when it comes to De La Cruz. For all his strikeouts, he's yet to struggle. It's hard to get dramatically better at a flaw that isn't coming back to bite you. Normally a 31% K-rate like De La Cruz had last year would mean you hit .220-.240 at best and it serves as a wake-up call. De La Cruz is the only hitter to qualify for a batting title and hit over .300 in 2022. That combo almost never happens, but there are few players like De La Cruz. It's quite possible that he will steadily improve his contact rate, and if he can even cut it to 26-27% that would make him a star, much like Tatis. If he doesn't? Well it could still become a fatal flaw. If you are looking for examples of players who strike out a ton but still are productive in the majors, Teoscar Hernandez is a useful analog for De La Cruz. Hernandez strikes out around 30% a year, which has limited his on-base percentage and reduced his impact, but he's still a very valuable player despite too many Ks. That's a potential outcome for De La Cruz if he doesn't improve at his one glaring flaw.

Perplexed (Cascadia):

    Can you help me understand why Cam Collier isn't more highly rated? It seems incontrovertible that he had the most advanced stateside performance of any 17 year-old hitter since Harper. Who cares if he has to stand in RF to do it?

J.J. Cooper: That's a pretty self-selecting group isn't it? It's a group of two with him and Bryce Harper who have jumped to junior college at such a young age, so by your metric he also had the worst "most advanced stateside performance by a 17-year-old hitter" in junior college since Harper did it. Collier is an impressive hitter, but as good as his season at Chipola was--he was the second to fourth most productive hitter on his Chipola team--it wasn't in the class of what Harper did, and his brief stint in the Cape Cod League was only OK. He's generally viewed as a quality bat with long-term position questions. That makes him a top 100 prospect, but he's going to have to hit in the minors to go from top 100 to top 25 prospect with that profile.

Rob (Alaska):

    Obviously the big question about Elly De La Cruz is can he limit the strikeouts. I'm curious more generally, though, if you're a team with a player who has that flaw, what type of instructional regimen do you put in place to address it?

J.J. Cooper: It kind of depends on what exactly is the issue. These are some examples I know from talking to hitting coaches. Say a hitter has trouble swinging under high-carry fastballs at the top of the zone. You can work on a teaching cue that has them emphasize getting on top of those pitches (or trying to hit the top of the ball). And you can further work on it by using balls that are "livelier" than standard baseballs to get hitters to recalibrate their brains to expect to see those pitches drop less than their eyes are currently expecting. Trouble chasing sliders away. A similar approach can be taken. Have the hitter stand in against a machine that mixes fastballs in the zone and sliders away to get them to recognize the differences. Or have them take live batting practice against pitchers who keep trying to get them to chase sliders off the plate. None of these are easy fixes, but there are techniques to attack these kind of flaws.

Warren (New London):

    I'm a Jay Allen fan, but I was still surprised to see him in the projected 2026 lineup after an underwhelming season. Should I infer that he's not very far away from the top 10? There's a lot to like with the athletic ability and patience, but how confident are you that the bat will come along? How would you compare him to Taylor Trammell, who hit much better at the same stage?

J.J. Cooper: He's not that far from the Top 10, but on top of that, as you have recently read, the Reds are shopping for outfielders. There are no outfielders in the Reds Top 10 and there are no current Reds MLB outfielders who project to be there in 2026. In other words, it's a lot easier for an outfielder to crack that future lineup than a shortstop prospect. Comparing him to Trammell, you'd have to say he's not that level of prospect at this point because Trammell had a better track record of production. But sometimes development paths can speed up, so that doesn't mean he can't catch what Trammell has turned into.

Amarillo (Cincinnati):

    The Reds had several top 30 prospects have poor years at the plate in LowA Daytona. Edwin Arroyo, Jay Allen, Daniel Vellojin, Mat Nelson, Austin Hendrick, and Tyler Callihan to name a few. What do you make of that? Should I be worried about Collier, Stewart, Balcazar, Jorge and others starting at Daytona this year?

J.J. Cooper: I think you are failing to fully appreciate how depressed the offensive environment is in the Florida State League these days. I'm not saying every one of those hitters had good years, but Allen and Callihan were both above league average in their offensive production. The average FSL hitter hit .233/.327/.361 last year. The FSL doesn't just sap power, it's saps batting averages as well.

Lloyd (Lakewood):

    Austin Hendrick and Jay Allen were taken early in the last couple of years, and have to be considered disappointments since they’re not in the top ten. What foes this say about the Reds scouting department, and Cam Collier’s chances?

J.J. Cooper: I think it's fair to say Hendrick has been a disappointment since he's so far struck out at unsustainable rates, even if he has shown some power. As the last pick in the first round in 2021, I think that might be a little harsh for Allen. He looks like a big leaguer and maybe a pretty useful one. At pick #30, that's not a terrible return. Anthony Volpe will change this before too long, but the last No. 30 pick in an MLB draft to produce 2.0 bWAR over their career is 2006's Adam Ottavino. You'd need to go back to Brian Jordan and Travis Fryman, both whom were picked in the 1980s, to find a star picked at pick No. 30. And just to prove I'm not relying on a fluke, let's move up to pick 29. The last true star picked at No. 29 is Adam Wainwright, who is finishing up a great career. The last true star to be picked with pick No. 31? Greg Maddux, although Shane McClanahan may have something to say about that. This is hopefully a useful reminder that drafting is really, really hard, especially once you get out of the top 10/15 picks.

Schottzie (Cin City):

    thanks for the chat, JJ. I know the projected lineups are just supposed to represent possible alignments, but I noticed that #8 Sal Stewart is lined up as DH while #7 Spencer Steer isn't featured at all. Can you shed some light on why Steer got the edge in the Top 10 but not in the 2026 lineup?

J.J. Cooper: Because he's a middle infielder whose value is in part tied to his defense. Sal Stewart projects as a better hitter than Steer, which is good because when it comes to defense, arm and footspeed, Steer tops him in all three categories. This is a projected lineup over-loaded with shortstop types and lacking in corner bats.

Mike (Hazard, KY):

    How does this Reds Top 10 compare to Reds Top 10s of the past 10 yrs?

J.J. Cooper: Interesting question. And considering my first Reds Top 10 and Top 30 for BA was before Jay Bruce was drafted, one I'm excited to dive into. 2022: Hmmm. This one is closer than I expected. Having Lodolo-Greene and De La Cruz near the top, it's hard to ignore how good the pitchers have already been. Advantage, 2022 because of the pitchers 2021. Lodolo-Greene are on this list as well, but it's before they established themselves as upper-level pitching prospects and the depth even in the top 10 was much less. Clear advantage, 2023. 2020. Greene-India-Lodolo-Stephenson is a great top 4, but the depth again is nothing like this year's. Slight advantage. 2023. 2019. We're going on what we thought then, not what we know now. Senzel was a top prospect before all the injuries derailed him. But I'd still go with this year's Top 10 because Elly > Senzel and the back of the 10 is better. 2018. Many of the same names we've been talking about including Hunter Greene and Stephenson as well as Senzel and Jose Siri, but this adds Tyler Mahle and Jesse Winker. Slight edge 2023. 2017. This was a thinner group. Stephenson is on here, and this was Cody Reed at his peak value, but 2023 is far ahead of this group. 2016. Seven pitchers in a top 10 is always a risky sign. Some future regulars here in Stephenson, Mahle and Winker, but clearly 2023 is better than how this would have been perceived at the time. 2015. Seven of the top 8 are pitchers. Several of which (Iglesias/Lorenzen/Garrett) ended up productive relievers while others (Nick Howard, Nick Travieso) didn't make it. 2023. 2014. Billy Hamilton and Tucker Barhnart make appearances. This was the Reds system in a dip. 2023 runs away with this one. I'm going to cheat and also include my favorite Reds Top 30 I ever did. 2008 1. Jay Bruce 2. Homer Bailey 3. Joey Votto 4. Johnny Cueto 5. Drew Stubbs 6. Devin Mesoraco 7. Todd Frazier Also on the list Chris Valaika (13), Zack Cozart (18), Travis Wood (21), Adam Rosales (22). Clear advantage, 2008.

Amarilo (Cincinnati):

    9 of your top 10 Reds prospects were acquired in the last year since the 2021 season ended. Would you say that is more because the Reds received full value in trades made, or is that more an indictment on the prospects that were already in the organization?

J.J. Cooper: This is what a top 10 should look like if you trade away Tyler Mahle, Luis Castillo, Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker and others in one year. If the players who came back in the Castillo and Mahle deals didn't bump other players out of the top 10, those would be bad trades. They were a front-line starter (Castillo) and a solid mid-rotation arm with multiple years left before free agency (Mahle). Those should bring back premium prospects in return.

Dan (Indiana):

    Based on Elly Dela Cruz’ poor fielding percentage, wouldn’t it be wise for them to explore a possible position change sooner than later? No denying his offensive potential, but his fielding is less than desirable on paper. And where will Alfredo Duno potentially rank within their system upon signing?

J.J. Cooper: No. If you told me his range was deficient (it's not), or he lacked the instincts or the hands or the feet for the position (which aren't true), I'd listen. But using fielding percentage as a barometer is a really ineffective tool when talking about young shortstops. Fielding percentages almost always climb as a player matures. At the same age roughly as De La Cruz is now, Javier Baez was posting a .932 fielding percentage with 44 errors. He got better as he matured. Nolan Arenado was regularly a sub-.950 fielding percentage third baseman in the minors. He's never been below .950 as a major leaguer.

Mr. Redlegs (Trapped):

    Any chance for Joe Boyle to start, or is it relief only?

J.J. Cooper: Chance? Sure. Likely? No. Boyle made massive strides in 2022, but he will still need to make 3-4 more strides to get to being a productive, reliable MLB starter. It will be easier for him to hold everything together with his control over an inning or two at time rather than four to six innings.

John (Cincinnati):

    When do you see the Reds promoting De La Cruz? Impact bat right away, correct?

J.J. Cooper: I actually think he needs more time in the minors. He's yet to hit a level where pitchers can punish him for his over-aggressiveness. Maybe Triple-A won't be able to provide that challenge either, but maybe it can, and if so, it gives him a chance to refine his biggest weakness on a much smaller stage where tweaks can be more easily made, refined and adjusted.

Greg (Anaheim, CA):

    How far from the top 10 was McLain and does he project as an every day guy or more of a utility player at this point?

J.J. Cooper: He's not No. 11 if that helps. There are questions about whether he'll be better as a regular or as a multi-positional player. Him and Spencer Steer are actually pretty similar profiles. The difference is Steer tore up the minors last year while McLain struggled.

Matt (Cincy):

    Leonard Balcazar slashed an impressive .322/.410/.476 in his first taste of playing stateside. I know the defense at SS is a work in progress but he seemed to really hit the ground running on the offensive side. How excited are the Reds about his potential? He's listed at 5'10" 167 lbs but his stat line points to someone that's already consistently impacting the ball. Has he gotten bigger than his listed height/weight or is he in the mold of Corbin Carroll who are small but strong?

J.J. Cooper: There's plenty of potential there, but our reports describe him as more of a scrappy play anywhere guy than a fixture at shortstop. He also will have to steadily improve his approach at the plate, but the early returns are good.

Elly De La Cruz (Oneil Cruz's doppelganger?):

    Elly De La Cruz's write-up is eerily identical to Oneil Cruz's. Do scouts see pretty much the same player with Oneil having a slightly better hit tool while Elly gets the edge in speed? If so, is he trending tow adsra low avg/low obp power/speed offensive profile?

J.J. Cooper: It's hard for me to say that Oneil Cruz has a better hit tool than Elly. Elly does strike out a little bit more than Cruz did at the same age, but Cruz was a .275/.341/.458 career MiLB hitter. De La Cruz so far is a .298/.351/.535 career MiLB hitter having played in similar offensive environments. Cruz never had a MiLB season anywhere close to the .304/.359/.586 season De La Cruz just produced. Cruz actually may have a higher top-end speed than De La Cruz, but De La Cruz has better baseball speed. Cruz has never stolen 20 bags in any pro season. De La Cruz just swiped 40 and hit 9 triples. It's the second year in a row he hit 9 triples (in 2021 it was in 61 games). Cruz's career high in triples is 7. He normally hits 3-5 a year. The concern for De La Cruz is he doesn't walk a lot either. Cruz struggled with that early in his MiLB career, but showed some improvement. That's on De La Cruz's to-do list.

J.J. Cooper: So many good questions. I'm sorry I'm leaving so many on the board, but I get into the fixation of giving in-depth answers, and I look up and it's been an hour and a half. I need to get back to writing Reds reports. Thanks again for subscribing and have a great rest of the week.

Elly De La Cruz (Getty Images)

Prospect Report: Elly De La Cruz Walks It Off In Louisville

De La Cruz hit a game-winning home run, Jud Fabian crushed a grand slam and more.

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