It’s easy to focus on Top 100 prospect lists and dream about the future of a franchise. True to form, the transition from ‘top prospect’ to ‘big league regular’ often is a straightforward one, and the current Cincinnati Reds certainly display that. Joey Votto, for instance, rose to be the #21 overall prospect in the game prior to the 2008 season, according to Baseball Prospectus, and immediately became an impact player for the Reds. The Reds have also regularly employed the services of former Top 100 overall prospects like Jose Peraza, Billy Hamilton, Devin Mesoraco, Jesse Winker, and Brandon Phillips in recent seasons, with each at least showing flashes of greatness with a floor of being a decent enough contributor.
Right this moment, Nick Senzel looms as the next obvious one of those, a can’t-miss prospect who should slot into the everyday eight in some form or fashion during the 2019 season. Taylor Trammell, too, has pretty well reached that status, though we’re likely looking more to the 2020 season for his debut. But while those two obvious talents continue to get the limelight - and rightfully so - perhaps we’re overlooking a different player on the cusp of the bigs, one who also has ample talent but just hasn’t managed to bedazzle our dreams by cracking a Top 100 prospect list. While the Reds certainly roll out former star prospects at many spots across the diamond, it’s certainly worth highlighting that they also bank on continued solid production from a handful of guys who never made such lofty lists, with the likes of Eugenio Suarez, Scooter Gennett, Tucker Barnhart, and Scott Schebler counted among them - a pair of All Stars, a Gold Glove winner, and a 30-dinger outfield bat.
What if the next one of those guys is already on the 40-man roster? And what if the player on the big league roster who plays his position just so happens to also be the one with the most tenuous grip on his roster spot both for the 2019 season and going forward?
Perhaps we’re just looking right past Jose Siri, and perhaps we really shouldn’t be.
It’s quite easy to point to Siri’s lackluster 2018 season and yawn, his .239/.294/.449 effort in 409 PA split between A+ Daytona and AA Pensacola hardly suggestive of a bank-breaking big league future. It was certainly a far cry from the breakout 2017 campaign that saw him hit safely in 39 consecutive games with Class A Dayton - a Midwest League record - en route to a .293/.341/.530 overall season, one that included 24 dingers, 24 doubles, 11 triples, and 46 steals in 552 PA. That led to him being named the Reds Minor League Hitter of the Year, which is certainly quite the honor.
That kind of production - which included him leading all Reds minor leaguers in slugging percentage - should have been enough to get him on the radar of all Reds fans on its own merit. However, that’s only half the story of Siri’s talent, as he produced those kinds of numbers in his 21 year old season while also playing stellar defense in centerfield, easily one of the most valuable positions on the defensive spectrum. So impressive was Siri’s 2017 season with Dayton that the Reds chose to add him to the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 Draft, as they were apparently worried enough that a big league team would take a flyer on his talent despite not having even reached AA to that point.
With a roster spot in hand, the continued struggles offensively of Hamilton as the Reds everyday CF, no other clear-cut CF prospect ahead of him in the system, and Hamilton’s years of team control dwindling, it was easy to assume at that point that a 2018 season anywhere close to as impressive as Siri’s 2017 season would have him firmly on the cusp of cracking the big leagues in 2019. Of course, just a few weeks after checking in at #6 in Red Reporter’s Community Prospect Rankings, Siri slammed into the CF wall in Goodyear in the first spring training game of the season, wrecking ligaments in his left thumb and sending him to the sidelines for a multi-month recovery process.
When he finally entered A+ Daytona’s lineup on May 9th, he’d been on the shelf for nearly two and a half months, and that paired with the cavernous parks of the Florida State League helped produce quite the slump of a start. In 30 games with the Tortugas, he showed almost none of the power he’d flashed in Dayton, hitting just .261/.280/.395 with a lone homer in 195 largely punchless PA. Still, the Reds promoted him to Pensacola despite the rough start to his 2018 campaign, but the struggles continued there, too, as he hit just .171/.217/.415 through his first 12 games (46 PA).
From that point on, however, things finally began to look more like they did in 2017, and the old Siri - the one with perhaps the best combination of power and speed in the entire Cincinnati farm system - finally began to emerge again. Whether that was due to his thumb finally being healthy, to shaking the rust off after a lengthy rehab, or to the fireworks that coincided with his July 4th turnaround, the Siri that played the final 54 games with an .802 OPS, 9 dingers, 9 triples, 7 doubles, and 13 steals was the one that, for a time, had him penciled in as the CF of the future in Cincinnati. Even with the slow start to his time in Pensacola, the .474 slugging percentage he posted was the highest single-season mark in the seven year history of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos for any player with at least 280 PA, with only Nick Senzel’s 2017 and Kyle Waldrop’s 2014 higher among all players with at least 235 PA in a single season.
That, again, from a plus defensive centerfielder.
The Reds have quite the positional conundrum on their hands at the moment. Senzel, who should be plenty ready to make a run at a big league spot as soon as the cutoff for a seventh season of team control comes around mid-April, is still blocked at both 3B and 2B by Suarez and Scooter Gennett, meaning the idea of a move to the OF has been initially explored. And, as mentioned previously, the most logical on-paper opening in the everyday lineup is in CF, as Hamilton has long struggled and is in his final year of team control. Whether or not Senzel can man CF capably is still an unknown at this point, but is certainly something that the Reds appear to be considering, at least for the 2019 season.
That said, Hamilton is still around at this point, and Gennett - who is also entering his final year of team control - is still no lock to be around long term despite the initial rumblings of a contract extension being in the works. In other words, Senzel could still very well be the 2B of the future in a post-2019 Reds world regardless of where he spends his 2019 season, though that’s getting a bit far down this speculative road at this juncture.
The point is, I think, that we might well be overlooking how Siri fits into the Reds plans both for this year and beyond. It’s likely he’ll get to cut his AAA chops at Louisville to begin the year, where he’ll once again have the chance to show his early 2018 struggles were injury-related, and where he’ll hopefully have his power/speed combo on display. He’s not without flaws, of course - his low walk rates and a strikeout rate that hovers around 25% are likely why he hasn’t cracked any Top 100 lists - but his defensive talent at a premium position and plus raw power and speed give him several skills that might well make him the next under-the-radar prospect to provide real value at the big league level for the Reds.