The corner outfield spots in Cincinnati may be open in the near future. While Jay Bruce is under team control for several more seasons, Ryan Ludwick is only under control through 2014 and is coming off of an injury that has left plenty of players as a shell of their former selves.
Corner outfield is one of the stronger positions for the Reds throughout their system. Three guys at the top of this list will find themselves among the Cincinnati Reds top 10 prospects in Yorman Rodriguez, Jesse Winker and Phillip Ervin. Those three have separated themselves from the rest of the players at the position.
Yorman Rodriguez finished his season in Double-A for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos and put together his best season in several years. A 5-tools player, he began to make strides in areas of weakness at age 20. Rodriguez is already on the 40-man roster and is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League. There are still some concerns at the plate where he has some swing and miss to his game. While he can still play center field, he many see him as a future right fielder where his arm plays very well at the position.
Jesse Winker spent his entire year playing for the Dayton Dragons where he hit .281/.379/.463 with 63 walks and 75 strikeouts as he showed off an advanced plate approach. With above-average power potential Winker could bring a lot of value with his bat where he should be able to hit for average and power while also drawing plenty of walks. Defensively he finds himself as being viewed as a left fielder as a teenager and is expected to remain at the position in the future where he will likely be an average defender.
Phillip Ervin, much like Yorman Rodriguez, can still play in center field but is viewed by some as a future right fielder. Defensively he should be an above-average defender in right field with a good arm as he gets more comfortable with the position in the minor leagues. Offensively he brings an advanced approach to the plate, which can be seen by looking at his .331/.425/.564 line that he posted in 2013 as he split time between the Billings Mustangs and the Dayton Dragons. Ervin drew 25 walks and struck out just 34 times in 200 plate appearances, again showing an advanced plate approach. On the bases, while he didn’t show plus speed, was very good as he stole 14 bases in 15 attempts.
In Louisville there were three guys who split most of the corner outfield time. All three players were a bit older with Felix Perez, Denis Phipps and Josh Fellhauer. All bring something to the table but profile better as extra outfielders on a Major League bench. Felix Perez brings good defense and a little bit of pop to the plate. Denis Phipps can cover all three outfield spots and is a plus defender in the corner outfield spots. At the plate Phipps has some power in his bat and brings a little bit of speed as well. Josh Fellhauer has a strong plate approach and hits right handed pitching quite well, though he does struggle against lefties. Like Phipps he can cover all three outfield spots and is above-average in the corner spots.
Down in Pensacola Donald Lutz, Theo Bowe and Bryson Smith took up a lot of the corner outfield time aside from the previously mentioned Yorman Rodriguez. Lutz spent a lot of the season on the bench for the big league club and didn’t get into a groove when he did make it back to playing every day. He is a solid defender in left field with big power. Theo Bowe isn’t your prototypical corner outfielder, but he can use his plus-plus speed well to track down anything hit into the gaps and he can also play center field. His speed would also be quite useful off of the bench. Bryson Smith can cover all three outfield spots, but his range plays well in the corners. His season was cut short with a broken leg as he made a play at the wall. At the plate he brings a high contact rate that helps him hit for a good average.
Bakersfield had some talented corner outfielders on their roster with Kyle Waldrop, Juan Silva and Juan Duran. Waldrop had an up and down season and is still rather young. A good left fielder, Waldrop brings some power to the plate where he hit 32 doubles and 21 home runs for the Blaze in 2013. He has some plate discipline problems that he will need to work on as he moves forward though. Juan Silva was the 4th outfielder to begin the year with the Blaze, but he worked his way into the lineup when Yorman Rodriguez was promoted and went on to hit .271/.386/.414 with 61 walks and 76 strkeouts. Silva brings an advanced approach to the plate and gap power to go with good speed. Juan Duran, at this point in his career is a corner outfielder in name only. He has one of the best arms in the system, but he is a poor defender at this point in time. At the plate he has made strides forward but still has a very high strikeout rate that must come down. He has true plus power in his bat, but his inability to make consistent contact holds that back.
In Dayton Jeff Gelalich spent time playing in right field, opposite of Jesse Winker all season. He is a solid defender in the corner spots but he really struggled at the plate in 2013 as he hit .245/.331/.300 in 518 plate appearances. Hitting just one home run during the season despite being 22-years-old is a big concern. He brings a solid plate approach to his offensive game and he runs the bases well.
The rookie levels had some toolsy players in the corner spots. Gabriel Rosa struggled somewhat at the plate, hitting .211/.327/.339, but he made big strides in his plate discipline and showed off several above-average tools during the season. Aristides Aquino began his year in the Arizona League but finished with the Mustangs in Billings. Aquino hit well in Arizona but struggled in 15 games with the Mustangs outside of his 3 home runs. Aquino showed off some big tools as well, though his strikeout-to-walk ratio will need to improve moving forward. Kevin Garcia can play center field but spent more time playing in the corners as he split time between the Arizona League and Billings where he hit a combined .309/.383/.447 with 23 walks and 28 strikeouts as he showed a good approach at the plate and some gap power in his bat.
The Reds also made two international signings of note of outfielders when they signed Cuban outfielder Reydel Medina for $400,000 and Mexican outfielder Sebastian Elizalde. Medina has above-average speed and brings good bat speed and raw power to the plate. Sebastian Elizalde played briefly in the Mexican League in 2013as he hit .328/.361/.448 with 5 walks and 28 strikeouts in 123 plate appearances.
This may be the Cincinnati Reds strongest position in the minor leagues. The Reds have three premiere prospects at the position with Yorman Rodriguez, Phillip Ervin and Jesse Winker all being eligible. There are some toolsy guys in rookie ball and the full season teams all had guys who could provide depth in various forms as potential 4th and 5th outfielders depending on what the team is looking for at the time. With depth, premiere prospects and several wild card toolsy prospects the corner outfield spot gets the highest grade in the series so far and likely the highest grade I will be handing out in the series.
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