The Cincinnati Reds sent eight minor leaguers to the Land of the Endless Strip Mall last month, tasking them with joining the Peoria Javelinas of MLB’s Arizona Fall League and improving upon their overall skills. This particular set of players was different than the groups sent in prior years, as the 2016 crop featured no former 1st round draft picks and nary a Top 100 overall prospect. Instead, it was chock full of players with a few years of MiLB experience already under their belt who will be angling for coveted 40-man roster spots in the coming months as the Reds near a bit of a roster crunch prior to December’s Rule 5 Draft.
The Javelinas have put 11 games in the books so far, and they’ve done so with an impressive 8-1-2 record to date - the best of the four teams in the AFL’s Western Division. With that in mind, it’s somewhat predictable to hear that the majority of the eight junior Reds have been playing quite well.
Pitchers Evan Mitchell and Barrett Astin have each tossed 6 innings and allowed just a lone earned run to help pace a pitching staff that boasts an impressive overall 1.17 WHIP. Mitchell, 24, was a 13th round pick out of Mississippi State back in 2013, and the righty posted a tidy 2.87 ERA in 62.2 largely relief innings between high-A Daytona and AA Pensacola in 2016. Astin, who turned 25 over the weekend, was a 2016 Southern League All Star with AA Pensacola, sporting a stellar 2.26 ERA in 103.1 IP while repeating that level after a disappointing 2015 campaign with the Blue Wahoos. 24 year old lefty Seth Varner has also tossed 6 innings for Peoria, those coming in a pair of starts after having thrown 134 solid, yet unspectacular innings with Daytona earlier in the year.
Perhaps the most intriguing arm the Reds have on display in the AFL is Nick Routt, however. He’s old for the competition at 26, but he’s also fresh off his first full year of being used exclusively as a reliever since short-season rookie ball after being drafted in 2012, and the results he had over the season were largely impressive. Overall, he posted a 1.98 ERA in 50 appearances between AA Pensacola and AAA Louisville, and while his AA numbers were far and away better than his AAA ones (thanks in large part to a bout of wildness after the call-up), his AFL numbers seem to suggest he’s righted the ship with his command. In 4 appearances from the pen he’s tossed 5 innings of 2 H, 0 BB, 5 K ball, though he has allowed a dinger in that time.
On the offensive side, Chad Wallach likely leads the name-recognition portion of the group, and he’s in the midst of his third tour through AFL ball. Acquired from the Miami Marlins in the same trade that netted Anthony DeSclafani, Wallach has shown impressive OBP skills through the minors, but the catcher has also dealt with multiple nagging injuries that have sapped otherwise promising seasons. The 24 year old hit .240/.363/.410 at Pensacola this year, but he missed over a month mid-year with a hand injury and was therefore up for some additional fall league seasoning. So far, he’s hit .304/.360/.522, again flashing the OBP skills he’s somewhat known for. Joining him as a player acquired from outside instead of the draft is IF Brandon Dixon, who hit .260/.315/.434 at Pensacola in his first stint in the Reds’ organization after coming over from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Todd Frazier megadeal. The 24 year old owns a solid .804 OPS in early AFL action. 1B Brian O’Grady was a somewhat late addition to the Reds’ AFL contingent, and the team’s 8th round pick from the 2014 Draft out of Rutgers has 3 hits in his first 15 AB.
Off to the hottest start of all the team’s minor leaguers is SS Zach Vincej, the slick-fielding SS out of Pepperdine who took home a Minor League Gold Glove Award this year for his fantastic glovework, as Doug Gray detailed last month. Vincej, 25, hit .281 with a .708 OPS in 399 AB for Pensacola this year, and so far the hot-hitting finish he had to his AA season has carried over into AFL play as he owns a .318/.348/.682 early line. He’s already cracked a pair of dingers, too, which is surprising given that he hit only 3 during the entire AA campaign.
AFL play runs through November 17th with the Championship Game scheduled for November 19th in Scottsdale. Considering how well the Javelinas have been playing to date, we’ll check back again on them soon.