It appears that when the Red Reporter prospect evaluators take a look at their prospects, one aspect stands out ahead of all others:
Christian Encarnacion-Strand and his 32 homer campaign have rocketed into the #5 overall spot on our 2023 Community Prospect Rankings, as he earned a plurality of the voting despite stiff competition from several other qualified candidates. His pop will likely get tested with AAA Louisville to begin the 2023 season, and if it continues to play there, he’s got the inside track to be a boppin’ corner infielder for the Reds as early as mid-2023.
On to the voting for spot #6!
Brandon Williamson, LHP - 25 years old
2022 at a glance: 4.11 ERA, 9.0 K/9, 5.6 BB/9, 1.56 FIP in 122.2 IP split between Chattanooga Lookouts (AA Southern League) and Louisville Bats (AAA International League)
Pros: Four-pitch mix with deceptive fastball that works well up in the zone to 96 mph; lanky lefty delivery; sweeping 12-6 curveball
Cons: Lost command in a bad, bad way in 2022, with walks an issue as he failed to find the strike zone with consistency
The most visible piece of the deal that sent Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez to the Seattle Mariners, Williamson comes with all the tools in the world. He’s a 6’6” lefty who was teammates at TCU with Nick Lodolo and, if you squint, there are plenty of comps between the two.
While Nick is already excelling in the bigs, however, Williamson is in need of refining his delivery and command, as that’s what has held him back so far. If he gets it back, though, he’s got all the makings of an impact starter for the Reds as soon as this year, and is the most ready-made big league arm in the system at the moment.
Matt McLain, SS - 23 years old
2022 at a glance: .232/.363/.453 with 17 HR, 27 SB in 452 PA with Chattanooga Lookouts (AA Southern League)
Pros: Natural defender with good instincts, and enough athleticism to stick at short for now; solid hit tool with more gap power than outright; advanced approach at the plate
Cons: Tools and performance didn’t exactly line up in 2022; posted just a .697 OPS in Arizona Fall League showcase
Matt McLain came to the Reds as a 1st round pick out of UCLA, and did so with the reputation of a pretty well-formed product: good hitting, advanced approach at the plate with good strikezone recognition, doubles power, and polished defense. That was all on display in his brief 2021 stint with High-A Dayton, and the stage was set for him to move quickly from there.
2022 was different, however. Not bad, per se - he walked 70 times in 103 games and showed much more pop than many expected with 17 HR - just different. He seemed to abandon some things in search for more pop, and hit just .232 with 127 K in that time - a K-rate spike of nearly a full 8%.
With it, I think he gave a lot of folks the uncertain thought of wait a second...who is the real Matt McLain? For someone who’d been such a purported ‘known quantity’ for so long, that’s tough for many to digest, hence why he’s in a bit of prospect-ranking limbo. How he turns the corner in a 2023 season that will begin with AAA Louisville will shed a ton of light on what the Reds really have in him.
Chase Petty, RHP - 20 years old
2022 at a glance: 3.48 ERA, 8.8 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.17 WHIP in 98.1 IP split between Daytona Tortugas (Class-A Florida State League) and Dayton Dragons (High-A Midwest League)
Pros: Rare combo of fastball that flirts with triple-digits and the ability to still hit the strike zone; developing slider with potential to be a devastating secondary offering
Cons: Third pitch (changeup) needs improvement; ‘max-effort’ delivery potential might limit his workload
Petty, the prize of the deal that sent Sonny Gray to Minnesota, was a 1st round pick of the Twins back in 2021 and has the talent to warrant it, in hindsight. He topped out at 102 mph in high school with his heater, and while he has scaled that back a bit as a professional the arm talent is clearly there.
On top of that, the impressive overall first season he produced in the Reds system came as a 19 year old, and while in High-A Dayton for the final third of the season he was over 4 years younger than the average player in the league. Clearly, the Reds trust his stuff, and while he’ll need a better third offering to truly convince us he’ll be able to stick it out as a starter long-term, the idea that he’ll be able to further refine that pitch given time is absolutely there. Honestly, his proximity to the big leagues - 2025 is likely the earliest we’ll see him - is the only thing that’s denting his overall status, in my mind.
Spencer Steer, IF - 25 years old
2022 at a glance: .274/.364/.515 with 23 HR, 30 2B in 492 PA split between Wichita Wind Surge (AA Texas League), St. Paul Saints (AAA International League), and Louisville Bats (AAA International League); .211/.306/.326 with 2 HR in 108 PA with Cincinnati Reds
Pros: Average to above-average just about everywhere, with solid plate discipline, decent pop, and enough defense to play all over the infield
Cons: If you’re a glass-half-empty kind of person, you just read his Pros and saw nothing jump off the page
Is Spencer Steer the next Todd Frazier? Can cover SS if need be, but pretty competent defending all over the place on the dirt. Can bonk some homers, though ‘homer bonker’ isn’t exactly what you think of when you first see him. Does just about everything well and, in a pinch, is the perfect player to slot-in as a replacement part so the whole machine doesn’t skip a beat.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
The parallels are certainly there, and that’s a good thing for Steer. Frazier, after all, had a helluva big league career even if he did block every single person who ever existed on Twitter. Steer’s skillset seems quite similar in that he can hit for decent enough average, doesn’t strike out at an alarming rate, has solid pop, and owns a glove that’ll play anywhere. The only thing that could spell for him, of course, is landing at #2 on the depth chart everywhere because he can instead of ever winning spot #1 anywhere. At worst, though, that’s the kind of good utility player all good teams have, though it does look like he’ll get a shot to show he’s an everyday 3B beginning on Opening Day this year.
Connor Phillips, RHP - 22 years old
2022 at a glance: 3.78 ERA, 12.3 K/9, 5.4 BB/9, 1.17 WHIP in 109.2 IP split between Dayton Dragons (High-A Midwest League) and Chattanooga Lookouts (AA Southern League)
Pros: Elite stuff, Trackman darling; Swing and miss stuff with three-pitch mix
Cons: Control issues, especially once he reached AA
The late-announced piece that made the trade of Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker to Seattle slightly more palatable, Phillips certainly is the exact kind of arm that makes teams invest in pitching coaches. Arms like his simply don’t come along super often, but carving his precision down to being measured in centimeters instead of meters seems to be the work in progress.
His fastball can touch 98 mph, he’s got a big bender of a curve that’ll freeze anyone on its day, and a slider that’ll tempt even the best hitters to swing over it and out of their shoes. Of course, there are also days where it’s obvious early that he’s missing his spots, at which point opposing hitters know to simply take their pitches and eventually first base.
Keep in mind that Phillips just turned 21 years old a month into the 2022 season, and after switching organizations and earning a promotion to AA Chattanooga was nearly 3.5 years younger than the average batter he faced there. The hope is that the Reds and their pitching gurus can harness his ability, and if so they’ll have a gem of a pitcher for the future of their rotation.
Who is the #6 prospect in the Cincinnati Reds system?
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