Rounding out or previews of the Reds’ minor league auxiliaries, today we look at the AAA Louisville Bats. If this rebuild is going to crescendo when and as plan, there’s a few fellas on this here squad that will be making that happen.
The Headliner: Nick Senzel
Senzel is the crown jewel of the Reds impressive farm system. He is the top prospect in the organization and a top-ten prospect in all of baseball. And if things turn out a certain way, he won’t be playing in Louisville all that long.
There are zero questions or concerns about his hitting. He has superior pitch recognition and plate discipline to go with good power. When the Reds selected him #2 overall in the 2016 draft, he was considered by most to be the best and most advanced bat in the draft. When he does make it to Cincinnati, there is little question that he will hit. There is, however, about where he will play in the field.
In his three years at the University of Tennessee, Senzel spent most of his time at third base. Same goes for his first two seasons in the Reds organization. However, Senzel played quite a bit of shortstop and second base in spring training this year. With the breakout and subsequent long-term contract extension of Eugenio Suarez, the Reds seem to have the hot corner covered. So word is that Senzel will primarily play second for the Bats. With Scooter Gennett not far from free agency and Jose Peraza by no means cemented in the starting lineup, Senzel could be a Red before you know it.
That’s gonna be a lot of fun to follow.
Interesting Arms: Robert Stephenson, Jose Lopez, and Jimmy Herget
Robert Stephenson has been a pitching prospect with the Reds since 1982. Could this be the year he finally breaks out?
Nah, but srsly. Stephenson was drafted in the first round way back in 2011. Other notable players selected in the first round that year include Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer, Anthony Rendon, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, George Springer, Jose Fernandez (Lord have mercy), and Sonny Gray. Plenty of folks have given up hope on the kid, but it is worth remembering that he is only 25 years old. He isn’t young anymore, but he is by no means old and done for. He finished the 2017 season very strongly for the Reds and will absolutely be back up with the big club before too long. Though he isn’t technically a prospect anymore (largely due to that successful stretch late last summer), he’s still basically a prospect. To me, anyway.
Jose Lopez is in many ways the antithesis of Stephenson. Before last season, he was a non-prospect whom most Reds fans, even earnest farm hands like yourself, couldn’t pick out of a lineup. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2014 draft and he put up respectable-but-not-incredible numbers in his first few seasons. With a decent fastball that sits in the low 90s and a good curveball, he projected as a middle reliever at the big league level if he was to make it at all.
He broke out last season though, posting a 2.57 ERA over 147 innings between A+ and AA. While his stuff isn’t overwhelming, he gets outs and doesn’t give up runs. And that’s, like, good or something. He came in at #16 on the RRCPR.
Jimmy Herget was a starter for three seasons at Chris Welsh’s (Hi, @thinkpitch!) University of South Florida but he has pitched exclusively from the bullpen with the Reds. All he has done is cut up some bustas the whole time. He has a superior strikeout rate (11/9), a respectable walk rate (3.3/9), and is stingy with the hits (just 7/9). He has everything you want from a bullpen fireman.
Other Fellas You Will Certainly See in Cincinnati This Summer:
Brandon Dixon and Alex Blandino
Dixon is the third unheralded position player (after Peraza and Scott Schebler) the Reds got in return for Todd Frazier back a few years ago. He was one of the very last guys cut before the end of spring training. He made quite an impression down in Arizona, clubbing baseballs like a Make-a-Wish kid on ecstasy. He’ll start in Louisville, but his respectable power and his defensive versatility (he plays second, third, and in the outfield) will have him earning a spot on the Reds’ bench before too long.
Blandino is a lot like Stephenson, I think. He is also 25 and he was also a first-round pick (in the supplemental round back in 2014). He feels like he has been around forever, though. After a poor showing in the 2015 Arizona Fall League led to a pitiful season in AA in 2016, Blandino was more-or-less written off as a prospect. He turned it around last year though, hitting an .835 OPS across AA and AAA. He kinda gets lost in the shuffle with the dozen or so other infielders the Reds have right now (he can handle second and third and cover shortstop in a pinch), but he will almost certainly make his major-league debut this year at some point.