The Arizona Fall League has finally unveiled the rosters for the 2019 campaign and the Cincinnati Reds aren’t holding back their position players at all. In total the Reds will be sending eight players, a manager, and a strength and conditioning coach to be a part of the Glendale Desert Dogs. Luis Bolivar, the manager of the Dayton Dragons will serve as the manager of the team. He’ll be joined by Justin Bucko, who serves as the strength and conditioning coach with him in Dayton and who will serve in the same role for Glendale. Let’s take a look at the players that will be representing the Reds this year.
The Cincinnati Reds will be sending four pitchers this season. Jordan Johnson will be the lone starting pitcher that the Reds are sending to the league, though that doesn’t necessarily mean he will be used as a starter. He’ll be joined by relievers Diomar Lopez, Dauri Moreta, and Cory Thompson.
Innings, or a lack thereof, is likely one of the biggest reasons that Jordan Johnson is heading to the Arizona Fall League this year. The 25-year-old began the year in Double-A Chattanooga where he made nine starts. But he was shelved after his May 24th start and didn’t pitch again until July 31st when he began a rehab assignment with the Arizona League Reds. He’s still working his way back, making his last appearance for the Low-A Dayton Dragons on Monday where he threw one inning against Lake County. Healthy again, just being able to get some innings thrown, and a little more experience against higher level hitters will be good to finish out the 2019 year for Johnson.
An interesting pick up for the Reds after spring training, Diomar Lopez was acquired in a trade on April 1st from San Diego. His season began in extended spring training, but he joined the Advanced-A Daytona Tortugas in early June and hasn’t looked back. The right-handed reliever has thrown 41.0 innings and posted a 2.85 ERA in 27 games. He’s allowed just one home run on the season, walked just eight hitters, and the 22-year-old has struck out 52 batters.
Much like Diomar Lopez, Dauri Moreta didn’t begin the season on time. The right-hander joined Daytona on May 3rd. He’s been dominating the Florida State League ever since. The 23-year-old has posted a 2.35 ERA in his 35 appearances this season. He’s thrown 57.1 innings, allowed six home runs, walked just nine batters, and he’s struck out 64 opposing hitters.
Another right-handed pitcher, Cory Thompson will be coming out of the bullpen for Glendale to wrap up his 2019. The former infielder-now-reliever is in his third season on the mound and having arguably his best overall season. He began the season in Daytona where he pitched in 12 games before earning a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga in mid-May. Between his two stops he’s made 42 appearances and thrown 56.2 innings. His ERA sits at 3.49 on the season where he’s walked 18 batters and racked up 51 strikeouts.
The Position Players
The Cincinnati Reds will also be sending four position players to play in the AFL this season. All four of them are in the organizations Top 10 prospect list. Catcher Tyler Stephenson will be joined by infielders Jose Garcia and Jonathan India, as well as outfielder Stuart Fairchild. This is probably the strongest group of position player prospects the team has sent in quite a while.
The Reds top catching prospect, Tyler Stephenson has spent his entire season in Double-A Chattanooga. He’s hitting .280/.372/.409 through 85 games and 347 plate appearances. He’s hit 18 doubles, a triple, and added 6 home runs. Stephenson has also walked 37 times and struck out just 59 times. His .781 OPS is 100 points higher than the league average. Behind the plate he’s thrown out 28 batters, giving him a 28% caught stealing rate. As a catcher he is going to sit with some sort of regularity simply because of the toll the position takes on a player. Getting some extra at-bats with a little bit of time off between the end of the year and the start of the AFL certainly doesn’t hurt.
Perhaps the fastest rising prospect in the organization right now, Jose Garcia is on a heck of a tear in Daytona. During August he’s hitting .383/.427/.585 for the Tortugas in the pitcher friendly Florida State League. Overall on the season his .280/.342/.438 line doesn’t jump out at you at first. But that’s because the context is missing. The shortstop ranks 9th in average, 3rd in slugging percentage, and 4th in OPS in the league. He also leads the league in both doubles (37) and extra-base hits (46).
The Reds 1st round pick, and #5 overall selection in the 2018 draft will be extending his season in Arizona. He began the year in the Florida State League with Daytona. In 87 games he hit .256/.346/.410 before earning a promotion to Double-A. In his 32 games there he’s continued to get on base, hitting .255/.403/.368 while walking significantly more and also cutting down on his strikeout rate. The power hasn’t quite shown up as much as perhaps expected, as he’s hit 18 doubles, 5 triples, and 11 home runs. Two leagues that lean towards pitchers can do that, though.
Another player who began the season with the Daytona Tortugas, Stuart Fairchild hit .258/.335/.440 for Daytona in the first half of the year. That earned the former 2nd round draft pick (2017) a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga where he’s played for the last six weeks. After a slow July he’s picked things up in August, currently hitting .289/.400/.487 with 10 walks and 12 strikeouts on the month. Overall in Double-A he’s hitting .286/.387/.466 in 37 games played. Like Jonathan India, he’s improved both his walk and strikeout rates while with the Lookouts.
AFL changes this year
Unlike in the past, all games are night games this year. The player eligibility this year is also different than in the past. The rules were a lot more complicated prior to this year. Foreign born players who had a winter ball league were ineligible without prior approval. There was a limit on how many players below the Double-A level were allowed per organization. Now anyone in the organization is eligible to be sent to participate, including Major Leaguers (this isn’t likely, though).