The 2008 Chattanooga Lookouts roster is real trip down memory lane for followers of Cincinnati Reds teams of the early 2010s. There’s Travis Wood and Sam LeCure on the pitching staff! Drew Stubbs and Chris Heisey in the outfield! Some guy named Justin Turner at second base! Boy, I bet he never amounted to anything.
But the 2008 Lookouts aren’t notable at the moment for their crop of almost-good outfielders, actually-good pitchers who unexpectedly flamed out around age 30, and a second baseman who probably never became good at anything, who cares, I won’t even bother looking it up. They’re notable because that was the last year that the Reds stationed players in Chattanooga, before the organization moved its AA affiliate to Carolina in 2009 and then Pensacola in 2012.
This year, Cincinnati has returned its AA affiliate to Chattanooga, where local baseball patrons should get a good glimpse at a group of players who could shape the future of the franchise even more than the last group of Reds Lookouts did. Out of the 30 players ranked by MLB Pipeline’s Top Reds prospects list, four of the top 10 and six of the top 15 will begin this season at the AA level.
Far and away the most exciting name on the Lookouts’ pitching staff is Tony Santillan. At 21 years old, the right-handed pitcher and 2015 second round pick finally emerged on a few Top 100 prospect lists this winter after holding a 3.08 ERA in 149 innings across Advanced-A and AA last season, striking out 134 and walking just 38. Santillan made 11 starts in Pensacola last season and showed that he could maintain excellent strikeout and walk numbers (61 Ks, 16 BBs in 62.1 innings), though he had some issues with homers, allowing eight. If he continues to show progress early this year, his stay in Chattanooga could prove to be a short one, with a promotion to Louisville and eventually Cincinnati awaiting.
If Santillan’s time with the Lookouts does indeed turn out to be brief, the team should still have plenty of exciting arms sticking around a bit longer. Scott Moss, a 24-year-old left-hander, enters his third full pro season having posted impressive numbers throughout his career, holding a 3.41 ERA in 306 career innings, with 297 strikeouts and 103 walks. Other arms who have shown recent success in Dayton and Daytona, such as Tejay Antone, Ty Boyles and Joel Kuhnel, will also hope to continue their steady progress through the Reds’ farm system.
This is where Chattanooga will attract most of its attention. Its position players includes an impressive collection of high-end talent, as well as a handful of interesting players who don’t boast the prospect capital of some of their peers but will nonetheless demand the spotlight throughout the season.
In a field of stars, Taylor Trammell stands out the most. The 21-year-old outfielder has landed firmly in the top 20 of several MLB-wide prospect lists this winter, and for good reason. He posted a .781 OPS in the extremely pitcher-friendly Florida State League last year, batting .277/.375/.406 with 31 extra base hits and 25 steals in 35 attempts. He also homered and tripled his way to Futures Game MVP honors in July. After the long-awaited MLB debut of Nick Senzel finally arrives, Trammell will pretty much be The Guy in the Reds’ farm system, especially with the news that Hunter Greene won’t play at all in 2019.
Returning to AA to join Trammell in the outfield will be Jose Siri and TJ Friedl. Siri, the organization’s No. 10 prospect on MLB Pipeline, slashed .229/.300/.474 in 66 games in Pensacola last season, continuing to show advanced power along with a troublesome hit tool that remains challenging to pin down as he enters his age-23 season. Friedl, meanwhile, only bettered his chops as a potential future leadoff bat, hitting .284/.381/.384 with 30 stolen bases in 39 attempts across Advanced-A and AA while playing most of the season as a 22-year-old. The Lookouts’ outfield is going to be very fast, and also probably very good.
The infield doesn’t pack nearly the same prospect punch, but it should still be pretty fun. That’s mostly because of Ibandel Isabel, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound warlock who managed to hit 35 homers in just 104 games in the Florida State League last season. His other offensive numbers weren’t nearly as eye-popping — he batted just .258 with a .338 on-base percentage — but it’s difficult not to imagine his prodigious power making Isabel a fan favorite in Chattanooga. If his hitting skills improve to the point that he doesn’t just look like a Chris Carter clone at first base, he’ll become a favorite of the Reds’ front office, too.
The rest of the infield includes names you’ll recognize, but probably won’t get excited by. Alfredo Rodriguez, the 24-year-old shortstop Cincinnati shelled out $9 million for in the 2016 international signing period, is in Chattanooga to try to improve his career .592 OPS in 186 minor league games. Gavin LaValley is there too, hoping to improve on the .209/.291/.344 line he posted in a full season in Pensacola last season. It will be his third season of AA ball.
Finally, there is the Lookouts’ starting catcher, Tyler Stephenson. Stephenson, 22, was the first round pick of the Reds back in 2015, and after an injury-plagued first couple years of pro ball, he’s impressed enough lately to garner the No. 6 ranking on MLB Pipeline’s Reds prospect list. In 109 games in Daytona last year, he hit .250/.338/.392, showing the kind of rare offensive abilities for a catcher that made the Reds choose him with a first round pick.
The full updated Lookouts roster can be found here. They play the first game of their season on Thursday.