Player development is arguably one of, if not the most important thing that a Major League Baseball organization. Being able to develop players, then get them into the Major Leagues and get that production rather than have to spend the money in free agency to get it can be a big advantage for a team. There are several systems out there that try to place value on prospects, and Major Leaguers, in terms of value. The team at Driveline Baseball did the research on all prospects that were signed/acquired by Major League teams from 2012-2019 and determined how much value was generated by those players. The results for the Cincinnati Reds was not what any Reds fan would like to see.
You can see the entire chart at the link above, and there’s a ton of information beyond that inside the article. If you’ve got time, be sure to go read it. But here’s the top three teams and the bottom three teams in Major League Baseball from 2012-2019:
The Cincinnati Reds aren’t the worst, but they have been very close to it. The White Sox have been an absolute disaster by this study, nearly TWICE as bad as the Reds, who were 28th. But back to the Reds – they’ve gotten a significant amount of negative value from their developmental side. With trades that haven’t produced the expected value, to draft picks that haven’t produced the expected value – it’s been a very tough stretch.
The 2012-2018 Drafts
It’s not realistic to have much value in either direction from the 2017 or 2018 drafts. They are simply too recent to swing it. But going back to 2012 we can see where some of the value went. Nick Travieso was the teams 1st round pick and unfortunately he’s yet to reach the Major Leagues as he’s dealt with a shoulder injury that occurred when he was having success in Double-A. Jesse Winker and Jeff Gelalich were also supplemental 1st round picks that season. Winker has found some success in the Major Leagues, but he’s only just now played in a full season worth of games at the big league level (157 for his career as I type this).
The 2013 draft saw the Reds have two first round picks. They selected Phillip Ervin and Michael Lorenzen. Six years later both have Major League experience – though Ervin has a negative WAR for his career and is back in Triple-A. Lorenzen is coming out of the bullpen, and in 2019, playing some defense in center. The next year had two more 1st round picks: Nick Howard and Alex Blandino. Howard came down with a case of the yips, then had arm injuries and hasn’t made it past Double-A, where he did have some success last season. Blandino is currently recovering from ACL surgery, and has played in 69 games at the Major League level.
The next season the Reds spent their 1st round pick on Tyler Stephenson. He’s in his age 22 season and just getting started at the Double-A level. Nothing wrong to this point here, but as a high school pick he wasn’t going to reach the Major Leagues as quickly as some college players may have. In 2016 the Reds took Nick Senzel. The pick seemed great at the time, and when he’s been on the field, it’s looked even better as Senzel’s performed at a very high level. But due to a combination of injuries and what seems blatant to everyone, some service time manipulation, he has not yet played in the Major Leagues.
Picks made in 2017 and 2018 shouldn’t really have the expectations of being contributors. The above information looked only at 1st round picks. And while there’s tons of evidence that second round picks shouldn’t really be expected to be future big league contributors based on the entire history of the draft. Still, the Reds have had some real struggles in that stretch with their second round picks. The six picks in the second round from 2012-2016 were Tanner Rahier (released for off the field issues), Kevin Franklin (released), Taylor Sparks, Tony Santillan, Tanner Rainey, and Chris Okey.
The first two players failed to make it to Double-A. Taylor Sparks and Chris Okey have both struggled mightily to hit since being drafted. Tanner Rainey has reached the Major Leagues, throwing 7.0 innings for the Reds last season before being traded to the Nationals in the offseason for Tanner Roark. Then there’s Tony Santillan, who has worked his way up to Double-A before his 22nd birthday and is currently a Top 100 prospect in all of baseball. He’s the only prospect of the group that ever made the Cincinnati Reds Top 10 Prospect list over the years.
With prospects like Nick Senzel and Taylor Trammell likely to reach the Major Leagues soon, the following paragraph is likely to change. But the Cincinnati Reds have gotten one signed draft pick from 2012-2018 to provide more than 2.0 WAR for their career – Michael Lorenzen. They have only gotten 1.0 WAR from two other players – Ben Lively, who never threw a pitch for the Reds (1.7 WAR) and Tyler Mahle. One season at a league-average level is worth 2.0 WAR. The player that’s provided the most WAR of any Reds draft pick in that span is from Andrew Benintendi, who was drafted in the 31st round in 2013 but was unsigned and went to college and was later drafted and signed in the 1st round by the Boston Red Sox. He’s provided them with 7.3 WAR. The Reds draft picks that have been signed in that span have combined for 3.7 WAR. Seven drafts and 3.7 WAR – total. Matthew Boyd, unsigned as a 13th round in 2012, has also provided more WAR for his career than the entirety of the players drafted and signed by the Reds – he’s provided 4.0 WAR in his career.
Some of it has been bad luck. Injuries to Nick Travieso and Nick Senzel has probably led to that total WAR being a little lower than it otherwise would be. Nick Howard getting the yips isn’t something you can foresee. None of that was predictable. Both pitchers looked like Major Leaguers before issues popped up.
The Trades from 2012-2018
The Cincinnati Reds have been involved in a few big trades in this time frame, but two stand out the most. The first one came when the team traded away Johnny Cueto in the summer of 2015 to the Royals. In return they acquired Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed, and John Lamb. The offseason following that 2015 season saw the Reds trade away Aroldis Chapman after a domestic dispute with his then girlfriend. In return for that trade the Reds acquired Eric Jagielo, Caleb Cotham, Rookie Davis, and Tony Renda.
Those two trades netted the Reds seven prospects. Brandon Finnegan has provided 2.1 WAR for the Reds since that trade. The other six prospects have combined for -6.0 WAR. There’s a lot of things going on here, much like the drafting issues. Eric Jagielo was acquired while injured – he had previously had knee surgery and was working his way back. He was never the same hitter once he returned. Caleb Cotham’s arm gave out and he wound up retiring and now works for the Reds. Rookie Davis saw his hip give him issues and it cost him time before he became a free agent this past offseason. Finnegan’s injuries have left his stuff diminished.
That 2015 season was a point where the organization decided to sell off impending free agents. Mike Leake was moved for Adam Duvall and Keury Mella. They have combined for 5.6 WAR in their careers thus far. Todd Frazier was traded to the Dodgers after the season. In return the Reds acquired Scott Schebler, Jose Peraza, and Brandon Dixon. They have combined for 2.5 career WAR to this point.
The next season saw the Reds trade away Jay Bruce for Max Wotell and Dilson Herrera. Both players showed up with shoulder injuries. Wotell struggled to get healthy and was subsequently released after posting an ERA over 10.00 in the Reds organization in very limited action between 2016-2018. Herrera struggled to get his shoulder back to health, but hit well in the minors with the Reds despite that. He wasn’t given much of a chance in the Majors with the Reds and was granted free agency after the 2018 season.
In the 2012 offseason the Reds made a trade to acquire Shin-Soo Choo. In that deal they traded away Top 100 prospect Didi Gregorius. Some guy named Trevor Bauer was also moved in that deal. Gregorius has gone on to provide 16 WAR for his career since then.
Not everything was bad on the trade front, though. Prior to that 2015 season the Reds made two different trades on December 11th of 2014. They moved Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon in separate deals. In return they landed Anthony DeSclafani, Chad Wallach, Jonathan Crawford, and Eugenio Suarez. Three future big leaguers in that group. Crawford at the time was a well regarded prospect but who has had injuries derail his career. The Reds, however, don’t get credit in this study for Eugenio Suarez, who was not a prospect at the time of the trade despite being 22-years-old. With regards to Suarez specifically, he’s developed into a much better player than he was expected to be when he was acquired – and the Reds get no credit here for that.
The biggest mark on the ledger for the Reds, however, comes from the deal the team made on January 19th, 2017. That’s the day in which Cincinnati moved Dan Straily for Zeek White, Austin Brice, and Luis Castillo. It’s still early in the career for Castillo, so he hasn’t made the impact he likely will have if this is revisited in 3-4-5 years. But since joining the Reds he’s already provided 5.6 WAR in what has essentially been 1.5 seasons. And unlike Eugenio Suarez, which has also turned out to be an absolute steal – Castillo was considered a prospect at the time and is accounted for in this study.
The International Signings
This is an area where the Cincinnati Reds have been lacking for a long time. Before the rules changed and every team works on basically the same level when it comes to money that can be spent, the Reds largely didn’t spend what many other teams were spending. From 2009-2014 they didn’t sign a single player for 7-figures that wasn’t signed to a Major League contract (Aroldis Chapman, Raisel Iglesias). Their biggest signing in that span never played in a single game for the organization. Jonathan Perez signed for $825,000 in the 2012 signing period. The pitcher dealt with multiple injuries after signing and never threw a single pitch in a game that counted in the record books.
Things changed in 2015 when the Reds ownership opened up the check book a little bit. That year they signed Cristian Olivo for $1,000,000 and Miguel Hernandez for $600,000. Both players were Top 30 prospects on the international market at the time and it was the first time since the 2008 signings of Yorman Rodriguez and Juan Duran that the team had signed two such players in a given year. To put that in perspective, there was one season in which the New York Yankees signed 10 of the top 30 players.
The next signing period changed things, though. It was the last chance that teams could spend any amount of money that they wanted to. There were penalties for doing so, but teams didn’t think the penalties were harsh enough to stop them from doing so. The Reds tried to take advantage of this and spent nearly $30M, including the penalties, to sign Alfredo Rodriguez, Jose Garcia, and Vladimir Gutierrez.
When you look at the Cincinnati Reds rosters from 2012-2018 for players that they signed internationally in that time period, here are the names that are included:
- Raisel Iglesias
That’s it. That’s the entire list. Some players that they signed internationally prior to 2012 did show up – Wandy Peralta, Alejandro Chacin, Aristides Aquino, Didi Gregorius, Donald Lutz. But the 2012-2018 international signing periods have resulted in one player reaching the Major Leagues – and it was a player who was signed and ready to pitch in the Major Leagues.
The Cincinnati Reds have been bad at drafting, signing, trading, and developing prospects over the course of this study that extends back to 2012. The data shows that very clearly. The fact that two players they drafted and couldn’t/didn’t sign have outperformed the entirety of every drafted and signed played is almost unbelievable. That since 2012 they haven’t drafted and signed a single player who has turned into either a starting pitcher or starting every day position player is only slightly less unbelievable. I do believe that those things will change as we get further into the future because I’m a big believer in some guys that still haven’t reached the Majors yet. But that’s a very long time to still be able to make those statements.
On the international front, it takes longer to get players from signing to the Majors since 98% of the signings are of players who are 16 or 17-years-old. Still, to go from 2012-2018 and have only one signee reach the Major Leagues isn’t a good sign. From that group there are certainly still legitimate prospects who haven’t reached the Majors yet – Vladimir Gutierrez, Jose Siri, Mariel Bautista, Jose Garcia, Miguel Hernandez, Andy Sugilio, Jonathan Willems, and Michael Beltre are all Top 25 prospects by my rankings. Juan Martinez and Danny Lantigua are also inside of the Baseball America Top 25. It’s tough to say that the 2012-2018 signings have been a failure as a whole – there hasn’t been enough time to truly say that. One of those players turning into an All-Star changes the entire thing. But the results to this point aren’t good.
With the trades, things are certainly a mixed bag. The Cueto and Chapman trades had very different looks at the time. The trade with the Royals was generally seen as a good one for Cincinnati at the time, while no one understood the Chapman trade at the time in terms of talent-for-talent – only that the Reds were selling low simply to avoid the bad publicity that was there for having him on the team after the incident took place. Both, at least to this point, have turned out poorly for the organization. With the Chapman deal there’s nothing to redeem – everyone is gone. The Cueto trade still has Cody Reed and Brandon Finnegan to try and get value out of.
But the Reds hit absolute walk-off grand slams when they acquired Eugenio Suarez and Luis Castillo in separate deals. Suarez has already made an All-Star team. Castillo is looking like a future All-Star, and potentially Cy Young candidate.
The Reds have experienced some bad luck in all of these categories, specifically when it comes to injuries. Some were unpredictable. But when looking at the acquisitions of Eric Jagielo, Max Wotell, and Dilson Herrera – some of them are highly questionable at best given that they were all injured when acquired.
At the end of the day, luck or not, the Cincinnati Reds have been very bad compared to the rest of Major League Baseball in the last seven years when it comes to drafting, signing, trading for, and developing prospects. Everything isn’t lost because of how it looks at this current second. As noted – guys like Senzel, Trammell, Stephenson, Santillan – and the international group spoken of above haven’t reached and produced in the Majors yet and could change the data. But other teams also have prospects that fall into that category of “haven’t reached the Majors yet and could provide more and better data”, too.
This past offseason saw the organization go in a very different direction at the Major League level in nearly every aspect of coaching and big league development. Only one coach remained from the previous staff. And the Reds added multiple new coaches to help further develop at the Major League level. That started late last season in the minors when the team moved now former farm director Jeff Graupe into more of a scouting role. The farm director role he held at the time is now held by Eric Lee, but that’s also no longer the top spot – which is now held by Shawn Pender as the Vice President of Player Development.
That wasn’t the only change, though. Chris Tremie was brought in from the Cleveland Indians to take over as the Minor League Field Coordinator. In the scouting department the team promoted Shawn Pender to the Director of Amateur Scouting – which means that he’ll be running the draft for the organization now. On the international side of scouting Tony Arias moved into a scouting role stateside and the Reds hired Trey Hendricks as their new Director of International Scouting.
This stretch wasn’t good for the organization. And it seems that someone took notice and felt there needed to be changes. And there were changes all over the place within the organization. Nearly from top to bottom, the top people within various parts of the organization were replaced by someone new. Some of the people who were replaced remained in the organization in different roles. Some did not return to the organization. Take that for what you will, but if nothing else, the Reds are trying something different. They are trying something new. The results won’t be apparent immediately – particularly when it comes to development – but it will be interesting to look back in 10 years to see if the changes did indeed alter what had been happening previously.