We probably should have been a bit suspicious of what ESPN's Keith Law thought about the state of the Cincinnati Reds prospect cache when he ranked their system a rather mundane 17th in baseball yesterday, but after the release of his overall Top 100 prospect list today, it's plain to see why he feels as such.
Law's Top 100 has just a pair of Reds farmhands included, with Jesse Winker checking in at 40th and Robert Stephenson barely cracking the Top 50 at 49th, and if the two clear beacons in the system aren't thought of any higher than that, it's hard for the group as a whole to conceivably climb the charts any higher. Stephenson was obviously knocked by the poor command he displayed in Pensacola this year, while Winker was routinely praised for his offense while being knocked for his defensive positional limitations.
(Speaking of which, it should be noted that position obviously played a huge part in where Law ranked prospects, as the Top 10 is packed with prospects who project to play the most difficult defensive spots on the diamond. Five future shortstops, one catcher, and one centerfielder were included in the Top 10.)
On Winker, Law says "he's probably an 18-22 homer guy with a .400 OBP in the major leagues, someone who'll be discussed as one of the toughest outs in baseball," which seems like rather high praise for a player he ranked at 40 purely because he'll be restricted to LF. Being a LF hasn't kept guys like Alex Gordon, Starling Marte, or Matt Holliday off the top of the WAR leaderboards in recent years, and it's especially odd to see him ranked nearly 30 spots before, say, Joey Gallo, who Law suggests is rough enough on defense to potentially have to end up as a 1B. Odd ranking aside, it's obvious that Law is impressed with Winker's skill set and projectability, as he wasn't even ranked on this list last season.
As for Stephenson, Law cites his #1 starter upside and plus fastball & curve, but crushes his delivery & poor change-up, suggesting that there's a reasonable doubt as to whether he'll end up as more than a bullpen arm - a "dynamite" one, at that. The questions about Stephenson's delivery are the first I've really noticed, as it pretty blatantly contradicts what Baseball America called "a rather straightforward delivery," one "that isn't as erratic as many young fireballers" back in April of last year. Law dropped Bob Steve to 49th after having him 29th last season, and ranked him as just the 17th best RHP (and 23rd best P prospect overall) on this list.
Michael Lorenzen did not make Law's list despite being held in pretty high regard by most every prospect evaluator in the business, but these are the breaks. Here's to hoping Law's way underrating what the Reds have down on the farm, and that some of the toolsy youngsters he referred to in his franchise rankings push his hand by the time he puts out his rankings in 2016.