The Reds had arguably the best bullpen in all of baseball during the 2012 season. With it appearing that Aroldis Chapman will move into the rotation, it is likely to take a step backward but should still remain a strong point of the team.
There isn’t really a for sure top relief prospect in the system, but there is a rather clear top group of prospects at the reliever position. Drew Hayes was a part of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos bullpen who had a majority of this top group in it. He finished the season with a 3.41 ERA in 63.1 innings with 64 strikeouts and 38 walks. The walk rate was rather high and will need to improve to be a quality reliever at the Major League level, but he has an above-average fastball and slider that can get Major Leaguers out. Curtis Partch began the season in the starting rotation but made his way to the bullpen where he posted a 3.01 ERA in 65.2 innings with 25 walks and 66 strikeouts. Partch has plus fastball velocity and a slider in the mid to upper 80’s. A late addition to the bullpen in Pensacola was Josh Ravin, who missed roughly half of the season while on the disabled list and he didn’t perform too well in the regular season, though he showed strong stuff. He went out to the Arizona Fall League where he then pitched quite well, controlling the strikezone and throwing a fastball in the 97-99 MPH range that touched 101. With Ravin the question has always been about control rather than stuff. If he can consistently throw strikes, he has back end of the bullpen stuff. Pedro Villarreal pitched out of the rotation, but likely has a future in the bullpen where he has above-average velocity and an above-average slider. The last guy who belongs in this group is Carlos Contreras who spend his season in Dayton and Bakersfield where he posted a 3.12 ERA with 20 saves in 60.2 innings to go with 24 walks and 63 strikeouts. He has above-average to plus fastball velocity and a change up with above-average potential. All of these players are now on the Reds 40-man roster with the exception of Drew Hayes, who hasn’t needed to be added due to a lack of service time yet.
The next group of guys may not quite had the arms as the above group but are prospects worth noting. Rounding out the rest of the Pensacola bullpen was Justin Freeman who put up strong numbers with a 2.91 ERA in 68 innings with 16 saves to go along with 16 walks and 68 strikeouts. He has a solid fastball and a strong slider to go along with good control. Chris Manno spent his season with Pensacola and posted a 3.78 ERA in 50 innings with 22 walks and 51 strikeouts. He shows average to slightly above-average velocity and mixes in a good change up. Brian Pearl spent the second half in the Blue Wahoos bullpen, though he did struggle after dominating in Bakersfield. His fastball is mostly average, working in the 89-92 MPH range and he mixes in a breaking ball that is an average pitch, but does flash itself to be stronger at times. Mark Serrano rounds out the Blue Wahoos bullpenners. While he is an older prospect, turning 27 in September, he put up a 3.95 ERA in 93.1 innings with 30 walks and 95 strikeouts. He has a fastball in the low 90’s and an above-average slider.
In non-Pensacola relievers to keep an eye on are two guys who were starters, but project better as relievers. Josh Smith has spent some time in the bullpen as a pro and his fastball worked in the 92-94 range with an above-average curveball. Daniel Renken started all season, but has more of a bullpen look to him. As a starter he throws 87-90, though his mechanics are unorthodox and add good deception. He mixes in a quality change up as well.
Then there are several relievers in Low-A and rookie ball who showed something as well. El’Hajj Muhammad and Carlos Gonzalez worked well out of the Dayton Dragons bullpen. Mo Wiley, Carlos Ramos, Alejandro Chacin and Jose Amezcua looked strong in the Billings Mustangs bullpen. Abel De Los Santos, Jackson Stephens and Michael Salter showed off in the Arizona League reds bullpen.
The Reds don’t have a premiere relief prospect at this point, though they do have several premiere arm strength guys. There is a ton of depth at the position, though there should be as relief pitching should generally speaking, be easy to come by. With a slew of guys in the upper minor leagues who could all be Major Leaguers mixed in with a bunch of guys at the lower levels who you can say the same thing about I would give the position a grade B. The lack of a premiere reliever and questions around some of the better arm guys keeps it from being higher.
For other articles in the State of the Farm series, click here.