Lyon Richardson just turned 24 years old, comes with the pedigree of having been a 2nd round draft pick who could throw 100 mph, and just put up a 2.15 ERA in 15 starts at the AA level in 2023. It’s almost as if he’s one of the absolute best pitching prospects around...if you conveniently ignore that he ran out of gas down the stretch and got completely shelled in his first taste of the big leagues.
Richardson was on a strict pitch count last season as he finally returned to the mound from Tommy John surgery. In 2024, he’ll be entering the season after a fully healthy offseason for the first time in years, and the expectation is that he’ll have more stamina to take the next step for the Cincinnati Reds.
Will that be in the rotation at Louisville to start the season? Or, will the Reds look at his two plus offerings and elite stuff and say man, he could be a wipeout reliever right now?
Either way, he’s #15 on this year’s Community Prospect Rankings, and I’m expecting big things from him in 2024.
On to the voting for spot #16!
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 - 20 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.
Mat Nelson, C - 25 years old
2023 at a glance: .229/.340/.437 with 21 HR, 6 SB in 413 PA split between Dayton Dragons (High-A Midwest League) and Chattanooga Lookouts (AA Southern League)
Pros: Plus power and control of the strike zone; solid receiver behind the plate with plus arm
Cons: Not exactly a polished defender; still ample swing and miss at the plate
Nelson’s a wild card add here as the position he plays might deserve to be higher on the rankings than the prospect himself.
Wait a minute. Did Mat Nelson, a former 1st round pick, hit .295/.386/.549 with 9 homers over his final 140 PA last year, a stretch that included a promotion to AA Chattanooga?
He did! He really did!
Nelson’s overall body of work at the plate showed a much needed advancement last season, and if you’ll recall, it’s not at all odd for catcher development through the minor leagues to take a lot longer than for other positions. They are asked to do so damn much more than just hit, after all, and you may remember that Tyler Stephenson slugged .385 at A-ball, .392 at High-A, and just .410 at AA before finally busting into the big leagues, too.
Nelson may not have the upside that he once did at age 25, but he pretty well hit his way into being the next catcher up if things go well, or go sideways elsewhere, on that depth chart this year. If his breakout continues, that may even be a good thing.
Who is the #16 prospect in the Cincinnati Reds system?
This poll is closed