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Cincinnati Reds 2021 Top MLB Prospects Chat

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Following the release of today's Reds Top 10, J.J. Cooper answered questions below. 

Jason (NY):

     Hey JJ! Thanks for taking the time to chat. This feels like one of the more jumbled Top 10s so far, in that there doesn't seem to be any clear tiering. I think you could argue that any of the top 5-6-7 players could be the Reds' No. 1 prospect. Did you get any clear separating factors in your conversations/reporting? Where would you put the top tier or two? And how many of these prospects would you expect to crack the Top 100?

J.J. Cooper: That's a very perceptive interpretation in my opinion. I could (and at some point in the process did) construct a case for ranking each and every one of the top 7 prospects as the No. 1 prospect in the system. I think No. 8 on this list is the first prospect who didn't have a clear case to be No. 1. I would say there are no top tier prospects at this point in this system. No one here is a Top 25 or Top 50 prospect in the game right now. Everyone has some warts that keep them from that level, either based on a lack of production so far, injuries or being too far away from the majors. That said, there are a whole lot of prospects in this Top 10 who could be Top 25-50 prospects at some point. Austin Hendrick and Rece Hinds have all-star potential. If Nick Lodolo goes out and has a follow-up to 2019 that is anywhere close to that kind of performance (and does so with solid stuff), he could be a top 50 prospect. If Hunter Greene comes back, gets on the mound and starts dominating Double-A hitters, he could be a top 25 prospect. A lot of what I'm saying for the top 7-8 on this list can also be said about prospects who are in the top 20-25. The Reds have taken some big swings in the draft in recent years. Not all of those will work out (they never do) but it does give them a whole lot of players who could be more than just useful role players.

Justin (Tucson, AZ):

     Over/under of 81 games played by Tyler Stephenson in 2021? The projected lineup has him at 1b. Is this just an idea with an ageing Votto, or has he actually been taking reps at that position?

J.J. Cooper: I wanted to find a way to get him onto the future lineup. Stephenson has work to do defensively at catcher and his bat is basically MLB ready, so I could see him DHing some (if the NL has the DH) but eventually also getting some work at 1B to keep him in the lineup on days he's not catching. I think the Reds are hoping that Stephenson will eventually be the team's full-time catcher. Supplanting Tucker Barnhart in that role will be tough however, because Barnhart is such a good defender that it will be hard not to pale in comparison when working with pitchers. As far as over/under. I will say over, because I expect that there will be a DH in the NL in 2021.

Mike (Honolulu):

     Do you hope/expect Jonathan India to make the majors in 2H 2021? "He could make his big league debut in 2021." Could or should or ????

J.J. Cooper: Right now it's could because unless the Reds make further moves or have injuries, the simple question is where? If Eugenio Suarez is on the Reds roster, he's the everyday 3B unless he's hurt. If Mike Moustakas is on the Reds roster, he's the everyday 2B unless he's hurt. Those are India's two best positions. Injuries do happen and the Reds have already made moves so it's possible that further trades could happen. But right now, I don't see a clear path to India getting regular at-bats. Without such a role, it's hard to say he would be better served sitting on the Reds MLB bench rather than getting consistent work in AAA.

Mike (Honolulu):

     [No question here -- but that's a great leadoff question for the chat -- kudos!]

J.J. Cooper: It was a fine question wasn't it. Well done Jason from NY.

dave (grayson, ga):

     What do player development people think of the elimination of short season leagues? High-ranked players often struggle jumping from GCL/AZ to low-A. How is a lesser-regarded player going to handle such a big jump? Multiple years in complex leagues?

J.J. Cooper: A number of them I have talked to are not happy. (Another number of them I have discussed it with have been let go because there are coaches being let go since there will be further teams that need coaches). That said, we have to also understand that our perceptions of the past may cloud our judgements of what we perceive about the future of player development. There is no guarantee that low Class A (as we've previously understood it) is going to be the same level of competition in future years. Maybe teams approach low Class A differently now, pushing a less experienced level of player to that level (the players who would have gone to short-season ball in the past). If that's the case, then the problem solves itself. Or more likely, it is going to mean that teams will shy away from taking second-tier high school prospects in the draft and push those players to JUCO and four-year colleges. That may be bad for baseball as some of those players will opt to not play baseball going forward. Baseball's development system is unique in that it has offered paths for players to play pro ball as a teenager and develop without heading to college (and also if you sign internationally) or to go to college and join the development system later. As I see it, pushing players to go to college only works if you have ways they can do so with full scholarships. That is currently true at the JUCO level but not for four year colleges. Everyone I talk to wants to figure out ways to avoid multiple years of playing at the complex, as that is seen as a very difficult experience that often takes the joy out of playing baseball.

Tyler Callihan (#11?):

     How far off was Tyler Callihan from making the top 10? He was lauded for having an advanced hit tool as a prep bat in the 2019 draft. Was he invited to the alternate site this summer? How did he look?

J.J. Cooper: A little further than No. 11. Callihan was a late addition to the alternate site and then was at instructional league. From all of our reporting he struggled there, especially defensively. This was a very weird year and it's difficult to find the precise calibration of both using/reflecting what we learned in 2020 in these rankings without overreacting to small sample sizes and a non-traditional development path. So his struggles are reflected in the rankings, but only to a smaller degree than we would if someone struggled in their first full year of full-season ball.

Doug (Chicago):

     Outside of Jose Garcia, it seems the Reds have really been struggling to develop/scout IFAs effectively. Is there any reason for hope that they might be able to turn that around soon?

J.J. Cooper: So I assume for your purposes Raisel Iglesias is too far back to count. In 2016-2017, the Reds signed Jose Garcia (made the majors, now their No. 1 prospect by our rankings), Vladimir Gutierrez (just off the top 10) and Alfredo Rodriguez (who has not really worked out). Those signings put the Reds in the penalty box which meant they were very limited in what they could sign in the next two signing periods. They have some interesting lower-cost signings from those years (most notably Allan Cerda) but under the old international system if you spent big one year, you were going to spend very little for the next two seasons.

Dave (WA State):

     Do you think Hinds’ bat is far enough ahead of his glove to move him to RF earlier rather than later, or is his prospective value at 3B too much to give up on?

J.J. Cooper: Depends on the team's desires and Hinds' as well. No one I talked to put Hinds chances of sticking at 3B at zero. But when you talk to scouts with other teams who watched him at instructs, you heard a lot of how he looks like he will be a really good RF down the road. There is more value at 3B than RF if he keeps working at it, but team needs end up altering plans as well. Nick Senzel ended up playing where he did in part because of the veterans who were established ahead of him. I remember watching Joey Votto play a pretty plausible LF in Triple-A because they might have needed to have him break into the majors in the outfield.

Gregg (Oakland):

     Hello JJ! The Reds signed a Cuban player named Michel Triana Moret for over $1M. Can you tell us more about the player and what the Reds liked about him?

J.J. Cooper: He has a chance to hit for power with better feel to hit than a lot of sluggers. He's a big guy, but his feet work pretty well, so he's not just a big stiff. I just want to see him get a chance to play some actual games. He has gotten work in the Tricky League, but he didn't get to come to instructs because of visa issues. His last official game came when he was an 18-year-old. He'll be a 21-year-old when next season begins.

Alex (OH):

     The Reds have really targeted athletic prep position players the last few years in the supplemental 1st and 2nd rounds (Trammell, Downs, Siani, and Hinds). After working at the alternate site, are the Reds encouraged that his hit tool can continue to progress and eventually become an average hitter? Or is he destined to he a .250/25 HR guy?

J.J. Cooper: I assume you are asking about Hinds (as Trammell and Downs have been traded and Siani isn't a power hitter). There were a lot of positive signs from Hinds' work at the ATS and instructs. He showed an ability to make adjustments and got up to speed against way more advanced pitching at the ATS. That then helped him respond to have a monster instructional league. Nowadays, I think if you could be comfortable Hinds will hit .250, you'd sign up for that and be thrilled. This is a hitter with 30+ home run power. He could hit .230 and if he draws some walks, with his power he'd be a productive big leaguer.

Matt (OH):

     Thanks for the chat J.J. More of a big picture question, but how would you evaluate the Reds' window of competitiveness? Do they have enough upper-level guys to supplement the big league team? The cost-cutting this winter has me worried and wondering if we're approaching yet another period of transition.

J.J. Cooper: This is the question I've been mulling over without a clear answer. This is a team that in some ways is clearly built to win now. Signing Mike Moustakas and signing Nick Castellanos last year are moves you make to win now. But at the same time, they have made moves this offseason to cut payroll that feel much more like moves of a team who sees their window being a few years off. My best answer I can give is they are trying to thread a tricky needle. Everyone else in the division is also retrenching financially to some extent. They are trying to win now, and they have enough on hand to potentially do so if their lineup improves in 2021. They do have some young MLB ready contributors in Stephenson, Antone, India and maybe not-so-far-behind Lodolo. Nothing so far indicates that they see this as a closed window and a long-term rebuild, but it's also hard to look at this team right now and see a World Series champ in the next 2-3 years either.

effram (NYC):

     How do you evaluate prospects when there wasn't a minor league season last year?

J.J. Cooper: It's not easy. Thankfully the Reds had a very well-attended instructional league which meant that we were able to talk to sources out of house (beyond just Reds officials) about what they saw from some of the team's better prospects. We also tried to gather as much information as we could about what went on at the alternate training site. And then we tried to not overreact to all of that information because there have to be some allowances for this being a very weird year that was utterly atypical from a development standpoint. It's tricky but we're doing the best we can to try to gather useful info to help make these lists the best we can make them.

Ted (Dayton):

     Do you think the Reds approach to the draft will change now that Williams is gone?

J.J. Cooper: Not really. There is a new final decision maker who reports to the owner, but Nick Krall was the GM before this change and he's now the GM after this change. Brad Meador was the scouting director before and he's now the scouting director after this change. The Reds do try to land impact talent more than some other teams and that means they will draft with a willingness to assume a little more risk than some other clubs. And that seems to have worked out for them pretty well, even if some of those players ended up getting traded. Taylor Trammell, Josiah Gray and Jeter Downs is a pretty impressive group of players to be taken after the first round.

Garrett (Plainview, Tx):

     How much of this years ratings is based on projections from 2019, how much on what you saw or heard about at the alternate training site?

J.J. Cooper: A lot of of both. We obviously re-ranked pretty significantly from last year's Top 10. Some of that is a function of changing who was putting together the initial rankings (I may rank the list a little differently in some ways than if we gave it to Ben Badler, Kyle Glaser or Josh Norris to rank). But a lot of that is what we know now. At this time last year Tejay Antone didn't throw as hard or as well as he does now. At this time last year, Jose Garcia was three steps away from the majors. At this time last year, Rece Hinds was a slugger with swing and miss issues. That still may be true, but he showed real improvement by all accounts in 2020, even if it was done unfortunately on fields with no fans and in games that didn't count.

Anonymous (Somewhere):

     JJ, sincerely thank you for all the content you guys are publishing despite no minor league season in 2020. I was honestly nervous you guys would have nothing to talk about but you guys have done an amazing job and I hope you're all taking a second to pat yourselves on the back now and then. We're not out of this yet but I'll never forget the dedication you all showed this year! Thanks for keeping me sane

J.J. Cooper: That's very nice of you to say. I remember doing calls in mid-March where I had that fear as well. But it's ended up being a very, very busy year. We all are looking forward and counting down to actual getting back to "normal" but we thank all of you for sticking with us through a very difficult, very unusual year. Thank you BA subscribers for ensuring we can keep doing what we love to do.

Allen (Portland OR):

     Since the NL Central has an automatic to the playoffs, how do the Reds compare to other NLC teams with respect to their current prospects?

J.J. Cooper: Don't hold this too tightly as a definitive ranking as we'll be doing org talent rankings soon. That said, I would say they are clearly ahead of the Brewers, ahead of the Cubs, behind the Cardinals and Pirates. But none of these systems right now stand out to me as a top 5 system.

Jerome (Ontario):

     J.J., thank you for all your reporting on the state of the minors. Now that we know 'The List' what is the next big story facing minor league baseball?

J.J. Cooper: I have a story coming either tonight/tomorrow about Friday's deadline for teams to sign nondisclosure agreements/waive the right to sue to get to the next step of receiving the Professional Development Licenses.

Chris W. (Dayton, Oh.):

     Which prospects outside the top 10 do you think could have a big 2021 season?

J.J. Cooper: It would have been Jared Solomon before he blew out his elbow. Now I'll say Ivan Johnson and Allan Cerda.


     How excited are the reds about landing Hendrick in the draft? Everywhere I read, pods, etc. all have glowing reports on Austin. Maybe a reach here, Kelenic comparable?

J.J. Cooper: He's different than Kelenic to me. Kelenic was a guy in HS who was seen as many a CF who could fit in a corner OF spot if he got slower as a pro. Hendrick's value is much more tied completely in the bat. Much like Jesse Winker coming up was always viewed as a player who would hit and that hitting would be his calling card, Hendrick is a guy who could hit for power and average, but you're not counting on him to provide a lot of value defensively.

J.J. Cooper: I wish I had more time because there are a lot of good questions in here, but I need to file that story I promised you all in this chat. Thanks for coming out and thank you for subscribing.


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