After slugging his way through Florida State University, Mat Nelson was plucked by the Cincinnati Reds with the 35th overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft. The powerful swing paired with the ability to call a game behind the plate makes him an intriguing prospect in any scenario, but that he’s already turned 23 means he might be the kind we see on a bit of a fast-track should all go well.
That was enough for you, the Red Reporter Community, to rank him #14th on this year’s Community Prospect Rankings. On to the voting for spot #15!
Lyon Richardson - RHP (22 years old)
2021 at a glance: 5.09 ERA in 76.0 innings for the Dayton Dragons (High-A Central League); 91/38 K/BB.
Pros: Mid-90’s fastball, average slider and curve ball that he can throw for strikes when he’s on.
Cons: Velocity has never hit the reported 98 MPH that he threw in high school at the professional level. Has struggled to get batters out in the minors.
Things have been pretty difficult for Lyon Richardson since the Reds took him in the second round of the 2018 draft. He was an athletic, two-way player committed to the University of Florida when the Reds paid over slot value to get him. Mainly known as an outfielder, he was relatively new to pitching when he was drafted and his upper-90’s fastball really impressed scouts. Unfortunately that raw talent hasn’t translated at the professional level.
Richardson has a career 4.88 ERA in three minor league seasons since getting drafted back in 2018. There were some signs of improvement last season, but he still struggled mightily with his command, walking 4.50 batters per 9 innings in 2021. He did improve his strikeout totals, fanning nearly 11 batters per 9 last season, so the stuff is there when he’s on. Hopefully another full season on the mound will help things start to materialize for Richardson in 2022.
Ivan Johnson - SS/2B (23 years old)
2021 at a glance: .264/.367/.451 with 10 HR and 19 2B in 330 PA split between Daytona Tortugas (Low-A Southeast League) and Dayton Dragons (High-A Central League).
Pros: Decent hit tool from both sides of the plate and has some raw power. Defense plays well at both shortstop and second base.
Cons: Strikeout rate of 28% in Daytona and 34% in Dayton after showing a strong ability to make contact in Greeneville.
Ivan Johnson is a 23 year-old switch-hitting infielder who the Reds drafted in the 4th round of the 2019 draft out of Chipola Junior College. After a solid season in 2019, he had to play in the instructional league during the canceled 2020 season. While he showed some upside at the plate with his power and ability to draw a walk, he also struck out a ton. He struck out 100 times in 330 PA (30.3%), up from a K% of 22% in 2019.
Johnson definitely has some upside at the plate, as well. He showed off some decent power numbers, mashing 10 dingers and hitting 19 doubles in those 330 PA. He hits slightly better from the left side, hitting .274/.362/.471 from the left side while hitting .230/.382/.377 from the right side. Interestingly, he put up a BB% of 18.4% from the right side against a 10.8% BB% from the left. He’s an average defender with an arm that can play at both positions, but his range is a little questionable so he may end up at second base in the long term.
TJ Friedl - OF (26 years old)
2021 at a glance: .264/.357/.422 with 12 HR and 15 2B in 448 PA with Louisville Bats (AAA-East), .290/.361/.419 in 36 PA with Reds in MLB debut
Pros: Speed and defense, with just enough arm to make it a pretty feasible CF combination; high contact, ability to take walks
Cons: Lack of hard contact and lots of soft contact
It’s a bit difficult for my old eyes to process that it’s been almost six years since Friedl’s unique journey to the Cincinnati Reds. Despite playing for Team USA and having grades as high as a potential 2nd round pick by some scouts, Friedl’s draft eligibility somehow got overlooked by most all teams in baseball, rendering him undrafted out of the University of Nevada in 2016. When teams across MLB had their eureka moment that he was signable, though, most had already used up their draft bonus pools on their actual draftees, and the Reds - who had nearly a quarter of a million bucks still to allocate - landed Friedl with the best offer.
Since then, Friedl’s performed just fine, though he’s pretty much progressed in a linear fashion - meaning, he had the look of a potentially fine 4th OF slash platoon bat, one who could run the bases well for someone else and make some good plays on defense in the outfield, and that’s still pretty much where he is. He’s not yet faltered from that path, nor has he busted out and left it behind, but it was good enough to get him to the bigs last fall and to have him very much in the mix for an Opening Day roster spot as just that, too. Known quantities have plenty of value, y’know.
Jose Torres - SS (22 years old)
2021 at a glance: .876 OPS in 217 PA with North Carolina State University prior to his selection in the 3rd round of the 2021 MLB Draft; posted .332/.383/.568 in 107 PA with Daytona Tortugas (Low-A Southeast)
Pros: Plus defense at short with excellent arm, absolutely projects to be good enough with the glove to reach the big leagues
Cons: Ample questions about his ability to hit despite excellent small-sample in 2021
Anyone who has followed Cincinnati Reds prospects over the last handful of years knows well the limitations that hitting baseballs in both Daytona and the Florida State League as a whole hold. Heavy moisture in the air and a LF wall that does righties no favors means that, frankly, it’s a haven for pitchers down there. So, when a glove-first shortstop with questions about his bat shows up and bonks baseballs all over the dang place, it’s enough to raise some eyebrows.
Jose Torres is, by all accounts, a brilliant shortstop with the glove. A put him on the big league roster right now for his defense kind of glove-guy. But given that he hardly knocked the socks off the ball while a member of the NC State Wolfpack - his numbers were solid, yet three other regulars on his squad out-slugged him - there will remain questions about whether or not the bat can round out to make him a full-fledged top prospect. He’s not big at just 6 feet and a bit over 170 lbs, but even gap to gap power could see him rise up these rankings in a hurry. My best guess is that the fine folks in Dayton and Chattanooga will get the chance to evaluate that first hand this year.
Which Cincinnati Reds prospect deserves the #15 spot in the 2022 Community Prospect Rankings?
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