With Light Tower Power the likes of which we have not seen in the Cincinnati Reds system in some time, Rece Hinds brings at least one tool to the table that may well be the best on the entire farm. As the rest of his game continues to round into form - his defensive position, his contact rate, his health, etc. - he seems poised for a 2024 season that will more mimic how he finished 2023 than how he started it.
It’s that upside paired with his gradual rise to the AAA level that has him firmly in the mix for some big league PA in 2024, too - and that’s surely why he was the next player voted on to this year’s Community Prospect Rankings. He’s the owner of spot #13, with voting for spot #14 ramping up below.
To the contenders!
Lyon Richardson, RHP - 24 years old
2023 at a glance: 3.50 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 100/38 K/BB in 69.1 IP split between Daytona Tortugas (Class-A Florida State League), Chattanooga Lookouts (AA Southern League), and Louisville Bats (AAA International League); 16 ER allowed in 16.2 IP with the Cincinnati Reds
Pros: Fastball that reaches 98 mph mixed with hard slider and developing slow curve; elite swing and miss potential
Cons: Pitch counts and IP limits in 2023 as he returned from Tommy John surgery; shelled in initial cup of coffee at big league level
We’ve seemingly been writing about Richardson forever, the former 2nd round pick having long carried a reputation as a flamethrower who’ll eventually impact the Reds. Tommy John surgery shelved him for all of 2022 after he was roughed up in a 2021 season in which he experienced diminished velocity, and he fell down the top prospect lists as he became something of an afterthought.
He was back in 2023, however, and the stuff he made his name with was, too. He did not pitch deep into games while being held back in his first year back on the mound, but what he showed in short outings looked familiar - an electric fastball and swing and miss stuff that looks like a sure-fire big leaguer. That didn’t translate in his cup of coffee, though, but after a winter finally spent healthy (instead of rehabbing) the hope is that his stamina and endurance will return to match his stuff entering 2024. If so, he’ll firmly be in the mix for IP of some variety with Cincinnati, with the kind of stuff that could lead to some instant success for them.
Blake Dunn, OF - 25 years old
2023 at a glance: .312/.425/.522 with 23 HR, 54 SB in 559 PA split between the Dayton Dragons (High-A Midwest League) and the Chattanooga Lookouts (AA Southern League)
Pros: Plus speed that translates to both plus CF defense and baserunning; developing power; arm that touched 95 mph when a pitcher
Cons: Old for his levels in 2023, in part because he’s been banged up so much that he hadn’t had a chance to show off in a full season and advance earlier
Blake Dunn will turn 26 years old before the end of the 2024 season, and he’s still yet to make it to AAA. He came to the Reds as a 15th round pick who signed for basically the minimum amount he could at that point, what with his status as a college senior out of unheralded Western Michigan University not exactly a huge calling card (with apologies to alums Adam Rosales and Ball Four’s Jim Bouton).
Dunn logged a mere 31 PA in his first full season due to injury, and his second ‘full’ year in 2022 saw him post an excellent .435 OBP between Daytona and Dayton in just 141 PA before, again, injuries shut him down. When he finally stayed healthy enough to log serious PA in 2023, though, he hit the absolute snot out of the ball at both levels where he donned a uniform, pairing that elite zone management with plus pop, top-tier baserunning, and the kind of CF defense that might just carry him to the big leagues even if his bat, for whatever reason, falls off a cliff.
The knocks are easy: he’s old for his level and there simply has to be a reason why everyone else always overlooked him. Unless, of course, they aren’t so easy, and he’s a diamond in the rough who would have always shown out like he did in 2023 if he’d just managed to stay a little bit healthier. If it’s the latter, well, his right-handed bat might well force its way into the Cincinnati lineup at some point in 2024 as a player who bucked the odds and figured out how to make it as a pro just a little bit later than everyone else.
Sammy Stafura, SS - 19 years old
2023 at a glance: .071/.212/.191 with 1 HR, 0 SB in 53 PA with the Arizona Complex League (ACL) Reds; drafted in the 2nd round out of Panas HS (NY) in the 2023 MLB Draft
Pros: We don’t know!
Cons: We don’t know!
Both Devin Mesoraco and Austin Hendrick fall into a similar category as Stafura in that all three were drafted out of northern high schools with high draft picks. The wild card there, of course, is that the seasons are usually plagued by cold, dank weather, and it’s really hard to show out in those conditions - especially when the quality of competition up there isn’t as hyper-aggressive as it is in more temperate climates.
Contrary to the pros and cons listed above, we do know that Stafura is an excellent athlete with developing power, and a hit tool that looks like it should let him smack doubles all over the outfield. His defense is such that he’s projected to stick at SS, too, something that tends to keep guys with more question marks elsewhere higher on these kinds of list. What we also do know, however, is that his extremely small sample of pro ball last fall after being drafted was abysmal, and he’s got a lot to prove heading in to 2024.
For now, we’re trusting that the Reds know what they’ve got in Stafura, and hope that his upside track follows more of the Mesoraco path than that of Hendrick.
Leonardo Balcazar, SS - 19 years old
2023 at a glance: .324/.427/.471 with 1 HR, 2 SB in 81 PA for Daytona Tortugas (Class-A Florida State League)
Pros: Plus hit-tool with ability hit spray the ball to all fields; .392 OBP since signing with the Reds indicative of solid plate discipline
Cons: Tore ACL after just 18 G last season; glovework leaves a little to be desired at short despite good range and a solid arm
In just 380 PA since signing with the Reds, Balcazar sports a tidy .300/.392/.495 line with 11 HR and 23 SB, doing so while flashing enough defensively at short to suggest he’s got a chance of staying there - or at least in the middle infield - long term. He doesn’t project to have plus power, however, and if he’s forced to move down the defensive spectrum that could become a bigger issue.
He showed plus athleticism prior to his ACL injury, and all eyes will be on him in 2024 as he attempts to show that’s fully returned. Given that he injured the knee on the final day of April 2023, there’s a chance he could be eased back into games this upcoming season, so we may have to wait just a little bit longer to see just how well he has recovered.
Julian Aguiar, RHP - 22 years old
2023 at a glance: 2.95 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 138/37 K/BB in 125.0 IP split between Dayton Dragons (High-A Midwest League) and Chattanooga Lookouts (AA Southern League)
Pros: Mid-90s fastball that can run up to 97 mph; above-average slider paired with effective change-up as secondary offerings; career 4.14 K/BB as a pro; generates lots of ground balls
Cons: Slider and curve don’t show too much difference; struggled a bit with move to AA
Signed for a bargain bonus of $125K as a 12th round pick out of Cypress College (CA), Aguiar hardly hit the ground in Reds camp as a guy around whom swirled big expectations. That said, while Cypress is a relatively unknown school to the masses, it has produced big league names you’ll recall like Daniel Ponce de Leon, Rowan Wick, and former (brief) Reds farmhand Brandon Barnes in recent years.
Aguiar backed a solid overall year in 2022 in which he began in Daytona, moved to Dayton, and got shelled a bit by returning to Dayton, and his 2023 was somewhat similar only with higher levels involved. At Dayton in 2023, however, he excelled, and his overall body of work last year showed improvement off his 2022. A similar progression in 2024 would see him in the mix as rotation depth for the big league Reds.
He pounds the zone with at least three different pitches, and while none of them overwhelm hitters, it’s an effective mix that allows him to be pitch efficient, too. He might carry a ‘command more than stuff’ label, to an extent, but rest assured there’s some pretty effective stuff there, too.
Who is the #14 prospect in the Cincinnati Reds system?
This poll is closed