Donnie Joseph leads the way with this group of players now that Brad Boxberger is with a new team. Joseph has some of the best stuff of the relievers with an above-average fastball and a plus slider from the left side. He had put up dominating numbers coming up until the 2011 season when his inability to control his slider finally caught up with him. The pitch has very good movement and as a result often runs out of the strikezone. More advanced hitters were able to lay off of it and sit on his fastball, which led to more hits allow and more walks while seeing a drop off in his strikeouts. If he can control his slider a little bit more, he will return to his dominance as his two pitch combo is among the best around.
Nick Christiani showed good success in Carolina this year, but did have some struggles once he got to Louisville. Never a big strikeout guy, he relied on a good ability to throw strikes, a moderate amount of strikeouts and plenty of groundballs. The walk rate went from outstanding to merely solid and his strikeout rate nearly dropped in half. He did improve his rate of groundballs though. His stuff is solid and can play in the Majors if he can fix his control some and his relative closeness to the Majors ranks him here.
Amir Garrett is next on the list and could rank higher if this were an overall prospect list because of the chance that he has to start, but for now I feel more comfortable listing him with the relievers due to his inexperience with pitching and his basketball career that will keep him on shorter seasons than other guys. His fastball is among the best in the system from the left side and he showed a feel for a curveball, though it is a very inconsistent pitch. He is incredibly raw, but with his stuff and athleticism he has a huge upside even if he remains in the bullpen.
Jeremy Horst was removed from the Reds 40 man roster this winter and no one claimed him, which surprised me some. While his stuff is more average than anything else, he throws strikes and has always had good results. This season he posted an ERA under 3.00 in both Louisville (51.1 ip) and Cincinnati (15.1 ip). The year before he posted a 2.62 ERA between A+, AA and AAA. The results have always been there, but there aren’t many teams who seem to find a ton of value in him despite the success. I think he will eventually find his way to the big leagues to stay though, he is good enough to be in a big league bullpen.
Andrew Brackman has arguably the best stuff of any of the relievers on the farm. He has a fastball that he can run into the high 90’s at times, though lately he has been working with a cut-fastball in the 90-93 MPH range and he also brings an above-average to plus curveball with him. However, he has struggled greatly to throw strikes since his days in college. When he is able to throw strikes, he can be a dominating pitcher but far too often he can’t find the strikezone with any type of consistency. I would look for him to spend part of the season with Louisville unless he has a good spring training in the control department, in which case he will likely break with the Reds.
Chris Manno was acquired at the trade deadline and has been absolutely dominant in his career since being drafted in 2010 by the Nationals. For his career he has a 1.26 ERA in 78.1 innings between Rookie, Low-A and High A with 129 strikeouts and 31 walks. His stuff is not as good as his results have been, with an average-ish fastball and a strong change up. He gets good deception with his pitches though and knows how to attack hitters well. He also throws a slider, though it is behind his other two pitches. Dayton has a slew of relievers that helped take them to the postseason. Drew Hayes has an above-average fastball and a strong slider and posted a 1.35 ERA in Dayton over 60 innings with 89 strikeouts and 27 walks. He could be a guy they move quickly in 2012. Chad Rogers has similar fastball velocity, working 92-95 though he wasn’t able to post the kind of numbers that Hayes was. Rogers had a 2.99 ERA in 69.1 innings with 72 strikeouts and 24 walks. Blaine Howell also spent the entire year in Dayton, posting a 1.91 ERA in 66 innnings with 67 strikeouts and 31 walks. His fastball is slightly above average and he also brings a curveball and change up to the table. Daniel Wolford was another guy who dominated out of the Dayton bullpen with a 1.46 ERA in 67.2 innings with 76 strikeouts and 23 walks. He has an above-average fastball and a potentially above-average curveball to his name. Alejandro Chacin put up dominant numbers out of the bullpen for the Arizona League Reds as an 18 year old. He posted a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings with 7 walks and 34 strikeouts. His fastball is average, but he has a very good change up to work with. His teammate Christopher Joyce combined for a 1.37 ERA in 19.2 innings between the Arizona League Reds and Billings with 7 walks and 23 strikeouts. His stuff is more on the average side of things, but his numbers clearly warrant mentioning him. James Allen was simply dominant with the Mustangs in his 28.2 innings pitched where he posted a 1.26 ERA with just 5 walks and 39 strikeouts. Allen throws an average fastball with good sinking action and he has a solid slider.
Then there are a slew of guys who are currently starting who may wind up in the bullpen as potential relievers. Tim Crabbe is currently starting, but has spent some time relieving as well. He has two above-average pitches and had very good numbers during the 2011 season. Josh Ravin has the stuff to start or relieve, but has battled control at times. When he is on, he can dominate, but he also gets hit around a lot when he can’t find consistency. His stuff could be a late inning reliever though if he can throw strikes. Tony Cingrani is coming off of perhaps the single most impressive season I can recall from a new draftee. He posted a 1.75 ERA with 80 strikeouts and just 6 walks in 51.1 innings thanks to an above-average to plus fastball as well as a solid change up and slider. There are still a lot of scouts who think he winds up as a reliever, though I was impressed with the reports I got on him with hopes to remain a starter. Josh Smith was arguably the best starter in the full season for the Reds farm, but he is a back end of the rotation type of starter who out of the bullpen has strong stuff that plays up quite well.
I would give this group a strong B grade, and it would have been a B+ with Boxberger still around. There is a ton of strong arms in the system, but the B grade remains due to the lack of them in the upper minor leagues who are also polished. Losing a guy like Boxberger isn’t as bad as some thought (though I am sure you guys weren’t among them since you follow the system closely) given how many outstanding arms there are in the system that rival what he brought to the table. He was a little more polished and ready than some guys, but his talent wasn’t something we didn’t have in the system as this list of guys all show. We have plenty of relief depth and there were plenty of guys I could have added to the conversation but simply began running quite long.
If you missed any of the other positions or want to re-read any of the articles in this series, you can check them out here.