The Reds can boast a fair number of really talented prospects right now. Nick Senzel, of course, is no longer a prospect, but he headlined numerous prospect lists coming into the season. Taylor Trammell, Hunter Greene, Jonathan India, Tyler Stephenson, and Tony Santillan are top 100 guys in all of MLB (more or less). At this phase of the rebuild, things are going pretty much to plan: all of those guys (aside from Greene) have advanced to the high levels of the minors and are (in theory) very close to stepping into roles on the big-league squad.
Except that they’ve all played some relatively uninspired baseball this summer. Trammell, though never known as a world-class thumper, is slugging only .344. His contact rate has suffered, too, as he’s only batting .237. The walks are there because elite discipline never slumps [Votto 3:16], but his total OPS is about 100 points off where I’d want it to be. Greene, as you know, hasn’t thrown a pitch because of surgery on his elby bone.
Jonny “Basebollywood” India was recently promoted to AA Chattanooga, which is really impressive considering this is his first full season in professional baseball. But as an advanced bat drafted out of college, it’s not like it is other-worldly or anything. And he struck out quite a bit in Daytona, which you don’t like to see.
Tyler Stephenson, the Reds’ first-round selection back in 2015 when this whole rebuild was still branded a reboot, has advanced just about exactly how you would expect a catcher out of high school to advance. He’s winning some praise for all the complicated and taxing shit catchers have to do, and he’s hitting a little bit, too. But he’s not the heir to the Throne of Bench (yet).
Santillan has had a bit of a setback this season at Chattanooga. He has always had an elite fastball, but he has had trouble taming the thing at times. It looked like he was starting to get the better of it last season, but he’s walking 4.5 hitters per nine innings in 2019. And worse, he’s giving up a hit every inning.
Look: this is not intended to piss up the respective ropes of these kids. They’ve all faced some trials in their first exposure to advanced professional competition, which is not to disparage them in any way. Going from A-ball to AA is like going through baseball puberty: weird shit can and will happen to you. Only the really special ones, like Mike Trout, make the transition without experiencing the intense humiliation of getting a boner/period in the middle of science class.
So the Reds’ top prospects aren’t tearing up the minors this summer. However, if you go down the list a little bit, you’ll find an intriguing young player who is doing some intriguing shit.
Packy Naughton came into the 2019 season as a mildly interesting left-handed starter. John Sickels gave him a C+ but he didn’t make the top 20 on his list. MLB.com slotted him at no. 20 and said this:
A ninth-round pick in 2017 out of Virginia Tech who tended to be a bit too hittable during his college career, Naughton had an up-and-down first full season of pro ball with the Reds. While he finished second in the organization in strikeouts and capped off his year with a good start up a level in the Florida State League playoffs, the left-hander gave up more hits (168) than innings pitched (154) in the Midwest League.
Naughton can be prone to creating his own big innings with one mistake. He often fought his delivery, causing his stuff to not be as sharp. That was particularly true of his breaking ball, which can get caught between a curve and a slider. He needs to rely on movement, deception and command because of his lack of plus stuff, starting with an 87-94 mph fastball that can sneak up on hitters due to his deception, but often lacks movement. He might need to pick one breaking ball to help define it better and give him a third solid pitch, behind his above-average changeup. He goes right after hitters and fills up the strike zone (2.0 BB/9 in 2018).
Naughton finished off his first full season much more strongly than he started it. His ceiling might be limited, but if he can carry those adjustments over, he has the chance to be a No. 5 type starter or an effective middle reliever.
So basically his stuff is pedestrian and he doesn’t get the most of it. That’s a damning-to-hell kind of scouting report for a pitcher to get, isn’t it?
He has turned on this summer though, that’s for sure. Just last night for the Lookouts, Packy threw seven solid innings, giving up a lone run on a walk and five hits. For the season, he has thrown 117 innings split about evenly between A+ Daytona and AA Chattanooga. He has an ERA around 3.00, a K/BB around 3.4, and most impressive, he has giving up only six home runs.
His best pitch is his changeup, his secondary offering after his good ol’ fastball. His breaking ball is still a work in progress, but most importantly, he has the thing that is most difficult for a young pitcher to develop: control. He is succeeding and excelling because he is able to put his pitches where he wants them and he avoids hard contact and walks. That all sounds a bit tautological to me, as that’s pretty much what every pitcher is always trying to do all the time. He has been good, is what I’m saying.
He may not be the most talented player on the Lookouts’ roster right now, or even the fifth-most talented. But right now, in the summer of 2019, Packy Naughton is succeeding where those more talented fellas are struggling. I’m not yet prepared to call him The Next Big Thing, but I am interested in seeing where he goes from here.
Also, and most importantly, his name totally whips ass. ‘Packy Naughton’ sounds like a teenage Irish street goon in Once Upon a Time in America or Peaky Blinders or Gangs of New York. I half-expect him to whip a switchblade from his back pocket and scar a batter’s cheek with his gang symbol. Or soak the opposing clubhouse in kerosene and light a match just to send a message. And he looks like a total goober, which is my favorite ballplayer profile. He looks like Hunter Pence with a name of a Daniel Day Lewis character. That’s allllllll right by me.