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2024 Community Prospect Rankings: Blake Dunn is the #14 prospect in the Reds system!

Will he make his MLB debut this year?

St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Aaron Doster/Getty Images

Perhaps no hitter within the Cincinnati Reds system is as polarizing as Blake Dunn, the player you just voted as the #14 prospect in the system.

He hits the crap out of the ball! That OPS! Haven’t you seen those exit velocities?!

He’s so old for his level! And he’s hurt all the time! Didn’t you see where he was drafted?!

If the former was all that mattered, he’d have been in the Top 5 here, there, and everywhere. If the latter was all that mattered, well, he wouldn’t even be on this list at all.

Dunn’s breakout 2023 season set the stage for a pivotal 2024, as he’s set to turn 26 years old in September and has still yet to so much as take the field at the AAA level. Could he really be another TJ Friedl, a guy who fell through the cracks a little on draft day and was overlooked in the minors only to emerge as a potential star in his late 20s?

Man, wouldn’t that be nice!

On to the voting for spot #15!

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.

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.

Victor Acosta, SS - years old

2023 at a glance: .254/.361/.355 with 2 HR, 12 SB in 411 PA for Daytona Tortugas (Class-A Florida State League)

Pros: Switch-hitting SS with average to above-average tools across the board

Cons: Down year in 2023 in terms of power; speed/defense reputation didn’t show up in the 2023 numbers

Victor Acosta was signed by the San Diego Padres for $1.8 million out of the Dominican Republic, but he barely got much time at all within their system before being dealt to the Reds in a deadline deal for Brandon Drury in 2022. He came to the Reds with a reputation as an athletic, defensively gifted SS who could hit from both sides of the plate and carried great plate discipline, and if you squint, you can still see that in there somewhere.

Admittedly, he spent 2023 in the Florida State League, where hitting statistics go to die. Still, his numbers there barely stack up against the rest of the group that plied their trade there, and as Doug Gray of Reds Minor Leagues noted, the numbers tracking his arm strength and sprint speed weren’t exactly stellar, either.

Where does that leave Acosta in the mix, then? Was it simply a down year, or will the glut of SS-capable prospects around his age render him pushed off the position before he can re-establish himself there? Needless to say, it’s a big, big year for him within this organization, and the hope is that his tools will be on display more in a more hitter-friendly environment in Dayton.

Poll

Who is the #15 prospect in the Cincinnati Reds system?

This poll is closed

  • 47%
    Lyon Richardson
    (68 votes)
  • 4%
    Victor Acosta
    (6 votes)
  • 25%
    Julian Aguiar
    (37 votes)
  • 18%
    Leo Balcazar
    (26 votes)
  • 4%
    Sammy Stafura
    (6 votes)
143 votes total Vote Now