Gone from ‘prospect status’ are the likes of Jonathan India, Tyler Stephenson, Jose Barrero, Vlad Gutierrez, and Tony Santillan, each of whom donned the jersey of the Cincinnati Reds for enough time during the 2021 season to graduate to the ranks of Big Leaguers.
That’s a tremendous amount of talent that moved up to the top level of the system since we last ran our Community Prospect Rankings. That kind of matriculation would have, in many years, left a pretty desolate farm system in its wake. Despite the overall frugality of the team’s ownership to augment what’s still around at the big league level, however, the front office and scouts deserve a good bit of credit for making sure there’s actually still a whole lot of excellent, excellent talent on the Reds farm.
Today we begin to sort through the best of the best of those farmhands as we attempt to determine which one is worthy of the #1 overall spot in our 2022 CPR. To the candidates we go, with their listing in absolutely no particular order so as to (ideally) not have us sway your selections.
Elly De La Cruz - SS/3B (19 years old)
2021 at a glance: .296/.336/.538 (.874 OPS) in 265 PA split between AZL Reds (Rookie League) and Daytona Tortugas (Low-A Southeast League)
Pros: Legit five-tool upside, elite power/speed combo with chance to stick at SS, switch-hitter, plus fielder
Cons: Swing and miss concerns (31.0% K-rate at Daytona), low walk rate (4.8% at Daytona)
There were few prospects at any level in any system that had a rise up future depth charts the way that De La Cruz did last year. After a promising (yet mostly punchless) debut in 2019 as a 17 year old in the Dominican Summer League after signing for a modest $65K, his entire 2020 campaign was lost as the pandemic shut down all minor league games. When he made his debut in 2021 at the Reds Goodyear complex, though, he quickly began to turn heads with his tremendous physical skills.
He’s got an incredibly long way to go to fine-tune those skills, of course, but remains one of the best young, raw talents to come through the system in years. The Reds decision to promote him to Daytona early on in 2021 suggest they’re willing to move him quickly, though, and I fully expect him to electrify the crowds in Dayton to begin 2022 in a fashion that could even see him reach Chattanooga by year’s end, too.
(Also, his birthday is January 11th, so happy birthday, Elly!)
Nick Lodolo - LHP (23 years old)
2021 at a glance: 2.31 ERA in 50.9 IP (13 GS) split between Chattanooga Lookouts (AA South) and Louisville Bats (AAA East), 78/11 K/BB, 0.967 WHIP
Pros: Three-pitch mix (fastball, slider, change), elite control of the strike zone, unique release point with 6’6” frame
Cons: Just 69.0 total IP as a professional, blisters and shoulder fatigue shut him down in 2021
As the ‘Cons’ mention above, it feels as if we’ve rarely actually seen Lodolo despite knowing him as the club’s 1st round pick. That’s an odd backdrop considering he’s been so well regarded for so long - he was an unsigned 1st round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates back in 2016 before opting to attend TCU for college, showing he’s been very well on the radar for many teams for 6+ years already.
That’s what happens when you’re a long, lean lefty with a 96 mph fastball and the ability to locate it, and other pitches. So despite his limited showings at all levels of the minors, he’s continued to put on display all of those traits, along with some elite-level swing and miss stuff, too.
He’ll be 24 years old in February, and all signs point to him being a big part of the Reds plans at the big league level early and often in 2022, especially given the departures in the rotation since the end of the 2021 season.
Hunter Greene - RHP (22 years old)
2021 at a glance: 3.30 ERA in 106.1 IP split between Chattanooga Lookouts (AA South) and Louisville Bats (AAA East), 139/39 K/BB, 1.17 WHIP
Pros: 104, 105, 137, 158 mph fastball, athleticism had him considered a 1st-round talent as a SS coming out of high school, plus slider, strikeout ability
Cons: Just 179.0 IP at the professional levels, 13 HR allowed in 2021
Like with Nick Lodolo, the combination of the lost 2020 season and injury have helped keep Greene something of a secret to those who wish to watch him since he was drafted with the 2nd overall pick out of high school in the 2017 MLB Draft. Of course, his ability to hurl a baseball 105 mph off the mound has kept him front and center in the dreams all of us have for where this franchise might go.
Finally healthy after Tommy John surgery and finally with a minor league slate in which to participate, Greene blew past AA competition over 7 starts (1.98 ERA, 60/14 K/BB in 41.0 IP), reaching AAA as just a 21 year old last season. He ran into some dinger issues at that juncture - including four solo-shots allowed in a single game - perhaps the lone real blemish on his ledger to this point.
Still, the stuff is as elite as it gets, and since he’s now fully healthy and flinging it again, it’s no surprise to see him listed back among the game’s top overall prospects by most everyone who provides such rankings.
Matt McLain - SS (22 years old)
2021 at a glance: 1.013 OPS in 47 G with UCLA prior to being drafted, .283/.389/.462 in 126 PA split between AZL Reds (Rookie League) and Dayton Dragons (High-A Central)
Pros: Strike-zone recognition, high-contact, improved fielding paired with solid arm that should let him stick at SS long-term, plus speed
Cons: Average power
McLain is the latest 1st round pick by the Reds, and is also the latest 1st round pick by the Reds who was formerly a 1st round pick by someone else - this time, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who selected McLain 25th overall in 2018 only to see him choose to attend UCLA instead.
Though there are often iffy connotations when calling someone a ‘high floor’ prospect, if you ascribe to that kind of label, McLain is pretty much it. He’s a known quantity at this point, and is very good at the aspects of his game that are his focal points. He is not a power hitter now, nor will he ever truly be one, and that’s a fault that he’s managed to make moot with his ability to hit the ball gap to gap, take balls when thrown them, and make play after play at SS.
That’s got great value, of course, and the Reds will likely move him quickly through the ranks in expectation of it continuing.
Who is the top prospect in the Cincinnati Reds system?
This poll is closed
Elly De La Cruz