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Season Recap: the 2018 Louisville Bats

It was a rough season for the Reds AAA club.

Louisville Slugger Goes Pink for Mothers Day Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

As a rebuilding squad, the Reds roster in 2018 has generally consisted of younger players. Indeed, their average batter age is one full year younger than the league average, and the seventh youngest in all of MLB. Sure, there’s been a Phil Gosselin here and a Cliff Pennington there, but for the most part, if the Reds deemed a minor league player as close enough, he’s probably spent some time on the roster.

Even as Homer Bailey and Matt Harvey have gobbled up a ton of starts this season, it even true for the pitching, as they boast the fourth youngest pitching staff in all of baseball.

The Reds have a good farm system but, as of this year, it seems as though the major prospects are still a bit away or have spent significant time with the big league club this season (we’ll get to the obvious outlier later).

What this does, of course, is deplete the talent of the AAA squad, and that’s been on full display for the Bats this season. At some point in time this season, the Bats have lost the full time duties of Jesse Winker, Dilson Herrera, Phil Ervin, Brandon Dixon, Alex Blandino on the hitting side. On the pitching side, Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson are the most notable to bounce back and forth a bit from LOU to CIN, but Tyler Mahle was promoted and spent most of his 2018 season on the Reds after spending some time with the Bats last season, and there’s been an ever rotating cast of bullpen arms passed around.

At some point in this belabored intro, I probably have to question whether or not the talent that the big league club pilfered from their farm is actually all that impactful, especially in the case of some of the pitchers. I say that it is, because despite guys like Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed continuing to get knocked around at the MLB level, they put some some numbers in AAA. As Dilson Herrera rots on the end of the Cincinnati bench, he batted an .832 OPS for the Bats this season.

What it means when they get called up, then, is Some Guys have to fill out the roster, especially if actual impact prospects aren’t ready yet. And thus is somewhat the story of the Louisville Bats.

Louisville Bats

League: AAA - International League (West Division)
Manager: Pat Kelly, Dick Schofield
Record: 61-76 (last in the West Division)
Runs Allowed: 627
Runs Scored: 576


Bats PA leaders

Blake Trahan 510 0.245 0.327 0.302 0.629 2 49 104
DJ Peterson 453 0.277 0.322 0.462 0.784 16 25 117
Gabby Guerrero 432 0.292 0.326 0.475 0.801 17 23 97
Josh VanMeter 362 0.253 0.309 0.464 0.773 11 28 73
Mason Williams 356 0.280 0.341 0.418 0.759 6 29 57

So, this is basically what I’m talking about. Blake Trahan has been on the radar as a fringey prospect for some time now. He’s a master defender, but he’s really never hit at all. He’s still only 24 years old, but what he did at the plate this year is basically what he’s always done at the plate; a respectable batting average, a lowish OBP, and absolutely no power to speak of.

It’s possible he’ll stay around the Reds organization for a while due to the defense, though. As stacked as the Reds seem to be up the middle, they really don’t have a real backup shortstop to speak of. Trahan can play that at a high level right now. So unless they continue the Nick Senzel Experiment at SS next Spring (they won’t) or trust Alex Blandino’s new knee ligaments to hang onto the job part time, Trahan may have a path to the club.

If I’m being perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure who DJ Peterson is, but he got a lot of run in Louisville this year. He’s a former top prospect for the Seattle Mariners, and played mostly corner infield for the Bats this season. The Reds claimed him off waivers last September and played all season for Louisville. He played well enough, I suppose, but obviously there’s not a clear need for him in Cincinnati. He could be back with the Bats next season.

I think Gabriel Guerrero is the most interesting name on this list, though. Obviously, he’s got the baseball pedigree as the nephew of Hall of Famer Vlad Guerrero and cousin of uber prospect Vlad, Jr. Gabby hit pretty damn well himself this season with an OPS over .802. We’re getting a glimpse of him in Cincinnati right now, and a think I didn’t know he could do is, apparently, play centerfield. I don’t know if he’s particularly good at it, but he got some run out there in Louisville. I think it’s obvious from the numbers above that he’s got a lot more swing and miss to his game than you’d like. But it appears he can hit for quite a bit of power. If that’s the case, AND he can play centerfield... that’s going to make his odds of getting a real spot in Cincinnati a lot easier.

The obvious name not mentioned here is the Reds number one prospect, Nick Senzel. Senzel got 139 PA in 2018, all with Louisville. He mashed, of course, but missed around a month with another bout of vertigo (an ailment he suffered with in 2017, as well), and then his season ended all the way with a broken finger that required surgery. It sucks quite a bit, but it’s not like he would’ve turned Louisville into a playoff team or anything. Chances are, he would’ve been in Cincinnati at some point this season.

What they do with him next season is definitely something to watch.


Bats pitching leaders by IP

Jose Lopez 141 4.47 1.298 7.5 2.6
Justin Nicolino 134.1 4.69 1.459 5.8 2.3
Robert Stephenson 113 2.87 1.159 10.8 4.5
Cody Reed 105.2 3.92 1.325 8.9 2.6
Brandon Finnegan 67.2 7.05 1.921 7.6 5.3

Jose Lopez is a name that I thought, going into 2018, might end up getting into the Reds rotation this season. Lopez was pretty fantastic across A+ and AA in 2017, holding a sub-3 ERA and near 9 K/9 across both levels (though the walks ticked up in Pensacola). Unfortunately, he struggled in Louisville for reasons that are immediately clear to me. But he just turned 25 years old in September and he’s just in his first year on the 40-man roster, so there’s time to get it figured out. Hopefully he’ll find something in the offseason and next Spring and push for a place on the club. God knows they could use another useful arm.

Justin Nicolino was brought into be depth. He is, technically, but woof.

We know the other names, but...

Let’s talk about Brandon Finnegan

It’s been a really weird and strange Reds season, but I think the single most dumbfounding thing to me is what has happened to Brandon Finnegan. I don’t know that there was anyone on the pitching staff that was particularly inked into a spot, other than maybe Homer Bailey’s contract and a healthy Anthony DeSclafani. But, of the half dozen guys, Brandon Finnegan was the surest bet.

Even if you weren’t as optimistic about Finnegan’s starting future as I was, the floor was a high leverage reliever at the Major League level. 2017 was a disaster due to injury. He got hurt again in Spring Training but, supposedly, he was back for the majority of 2018.

Instead he was an unmitigated disaster not only at the Major League level for a short time, but especially at the minor league level. He lost his spot when the Reds surprisingly traded for Matt Harvey, but I think we all figured he’d get another shot in 2018. He didn’t, obviously, because he was horrible. 7+ ERA at a level he’d never really had to play before (because he’d never needed to). He walked guys at a 5+ per nine rate. He was hit all over the yard. Nobody is fooled.

I have a lot of guesses about Finnegan, very few of which I’m comfortable putting into print because I’m not into being an armchair psychologist. I also suspect that he’s not actually back from the 2017 shoulder injuries, or, worse, he’s completely broken all together. It’s one thing to be bad and get replaced on the roster. It’s another thing to be bad and get replace and then continue to get worse in a level that you’ve always been better than.

It’s maddening for fans, obviously, but the implications for the Reds are huge. It looked like they may have had a legitimate middle of the rotation starter for a couple of years. That looks like it’s gone completely up in smoke. For a team as pitcher needy as this one, they couldn’t really afford that development.