The Cincinnati Reds have had the same center fielder since the 2014 season. That was the year that Billy Hamilton took over the position when Shin-Soo Choo left via free agency after his one outstanding year with the organization. With that has come incredible defense and outstanding base running. But it’s also come with a .248 batting average, a .298 on-base percentage, and a .334 slugging percentage. That’s among the worst hitting lines in baseball since he made his debut. Hamilton will also be a free agent following the 2019 season. The organization may not necessarily need a replacement today, but they are likely to need one in the near future.
In Triple-A there were three players that split the time in center field. Beau Amaral, Darnell Sweeney, and Phillip Ervin all started 40-43 games at the position. Amaral was released in July. Sweeney is a fringy candidate defensively in center, but he can handle the spot as a back up option. At the plate he hit .281/.355/.420 after coming over from the Dodgers organization midseason. Phillip Ervin was covered in the corner outfielders write up, but more so because it seems the Reds believe him profile better there than in center.
In Double-A Pensacola most of the time in center was handled by Gabby Guerrero, but he profiles more as a corner guy and was covered in that write up. When looking at Daytona, the Tortugas saw three players see time in center for at least 20 games. A fourth guy projects as a possible center fielder, too. Mitch Piatnik, TJ Friedl and Daniel Sweet all remain in the organization. Jonathan Reynoso, who started 23 games in center, was a free agent after the season.
Mitch Piatnik saw the most playing time among the group in center. He played in 78 games and is a strong defender with plus speed. He struggled in a big way at the plate though, hitting just .176/.223/.256 with 120 strikeouts and just 13 walks. Daniel Sweet only started a handful of games in center during the year, and he’s actually spent most of his career in left, but could profile as a center field option. He’s got the speed to handle the position, even though he hasn’t played there much. In 2017 he hit .270/.372/.325 with 22 steals. The switch hitter showed a solid average and he got on base a lot. There isn’t much power in his game though.
TJ Friedl began his season in Dayton and put together a very strong first half. With the Dragons he hit .284/.378/.472 with 14 steals, 29 walks and 46 strikeouts in 66 games. He slowed down offensively in the second half with a promotion to Daytona. In 48 games before suffering a thumb injury in August that ended his season, he hit .257/.313/.346. His plus speed plays well on the bases, and he can handle center fine. At the plate he’s probably not as good as he showed in Dayton, but better than he showed in Daytona. Friedl has a quick bat and has more pop than his size would suggest.
When the season began in Dayton three guys shared duties in center. Previously mentioned TJ Frield shared time with Jose Siri and Taylor Trammell. It wasn’t long though until it was just Siri handling the duties in center. He projects as a plus defender in center with plus-plus speed and athleticism. At the plate he had one of the best seasons in the farm system. He hit .293/.341/.530 with 24 doubles, 11 triples, 24 homes, 46 steals. If there’s a concern with Siri it’s in his strikeout-to-walk ratio, where he had just 33 walks and 130 strikeouts on the season in 129 games played. With the best set of tools in the entire Reds organization, the upside is sky high. But he will need to improve his strikeout-to-walk ratio as he moves forward to reach that ultimate potential. A thumb injury suffered in the first spring training game will hold him back this spring, with a timetable still unknown for his return.
Taylor Trammell spent most of his season playing in left field, and there’s a chance he could outgrow the speed needed to play center. For now, though, he’s fully capable of handling center with plus speed and good range. His arm is below-average, but is strong enough for center. At the plate he had a well rounded season, hitting .281/.368/.450 with 24 doubles, 10 triples and 13 home runs. He also added in 41 stolen bases and 71 walks to go with 123 strikeouts in 129 games played. There’s more power to come down the road for Trammell, and he’s got one of the higher upsides of any Cincinnati Reds prospects.
Randy Ventura was a late arrival in Dayton. The Reds acquired him from the Atlanta Braves in a trade in early August. The 19-year-old spent most of his time in 2017 in right field, but can play center field just fine and has a strong arm. He shows off plus speed and stole 38 bases between his two stops in A-ball between the two organizations over 121 games played. He hit .290/.339/.342 on the season with 19 extra-base hits. He’s a switch hitter who doesn’t have much pop in his bat now, but could reach low double-digit home run power in the future.
Much like Dayton, Billings had an outfield full of guys that can handle center field. Stuart Fairchild started 43 games at the position, Miles Gordon started in 24, and Andy Sugilio started in 10. Fairchild was the Reds second round pick in the 2017 draft out of Wake Forest. He projects as an above-average defender in center with good range and a solid arm. At the plate he didn’t show the power he did in college, but did hit .304/.393/.412 with five doubles, four triples and three home runs. That also came with 12 steals, 19 walks and 35 strikeouts in 56 games played. There’s more power to his game than he showed that he could tap into in the future.
Miles Gordon had the best season of any hitter on the Mustangs roster in 2017. The 19-year-old Canadian prospect hit .319/.389/.530 with 15 doubles, five triples and eight home runs. That came with seven steals, 27 walks and 55 strikeouts in 61 games played. Defensively he can handle center field just fine, though he won’t stand out like some of his counterparts do.
The other outfielder in Billings was Andy Sugilio. He may be the fastest player in the organization not named Billy Hamilton, routinely posting home-to-first times below 4.0. The switch hitter beat up on Pioneer League pitchers, posting a .345/.390/.472 line in 62 games. He stole 20 bases while also hitting 13 doubles, four triples and three home runs. That also came with 17 walks and just 33 strikeouts. There’s more room in his game for power to come in the future, and he’s one of the more toolsy players in the organization.
As it was with the two levels ahead of it, the Arizona League Reds had several center fielders. Reshard Munroe saw the most action, getting 25 starts in center. Nate Scantlin played 11 games there, with Mariel Bautista and Reniel Ozuna playing in 10 and nine games each. Reshard Munroe was a little old for the level at 21-years-old, but he performed well. In 36 total games played he hit .290/.401/.419 with 22 walks and 28 strikeouts. Nate Scantlin was the teams 15th round draft pick in 2017, but he only had 47 at-bats on the season. He’s an above-average runner, but he struggled at the plate in his limited action during the season.
Mariel Bautista had a nice debut in the United States. The 19-year-old played in 36 total games, hitting .320/.353/.395. That came along with 16 steals in 17 attempts. There’s power potential in his game, though he did go without a home run during the regular season. He will need to increase his walk rate moving forward – he drew just five on the season in 157 plate appearances.
Reniel Ozuna had most of his playing time come in right field, but at least for now he’s capable of handling center. The 18-year-old had a nice debut in the United States, much like Bautista. He hit .288/.351/.398 in 35 games played. He had seven doubles and three triples to go with 11 walks and 30 strikeouts. Ozuna also stole eight bases in ten attempts. Despite not hitting a homer during the year, he projects for good power in the future.
At the upper levels of the Minor Leagues, the Reds aren’t incredibly deep in center field. Guys like Phillip Ervin and Darnell Sweeney could provide some depth, and Ervin could potentially work his way into a starter if he can improve his ability to hit for average. The depth of the position, however, is incredibly strong once you get to A-ball and lower. Six of the players listed here are Top 25 prospects, including two guys that are Top 10 prospects in the organization. Beyond the Top 25 though, there are still several guys who could project as big leaguers if they continue to develop. It’s the deepest position in the organization.
As noted above, center is the deepest position of any in the organization. It’s got plenty of Top 25 prospects and plenty of depth beyond that. I’ll give the position an A-, and the only reason that it’s not an A is because the best prospects at the position aren’t closer to the Major Leagues right now.
Hit Tool | Jose Siri
Power | Jose Siri
Running | Andy Sugilio
Arm | Jose Siri
Fielding | Jose Siri