The Rule 5 draft is a month away, taking place on the final day of the Winter Meetings in the second week of December. But teams have to make their decisions on adding players to the 40-man roster to keep them from being eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft on November 20th. That’s next week. Today we’re going to take a look at the prospects that play on the infield – including catchers – that the Cincinnati Reds should be considering adding to the 40-man roster rather than take a risk that another organization could select them.
Who is eligible this year? The short answer is any player drafted or signed in 2015 or earlier, and all college draft picks from 2016. There’s always a loophole or two – such as a player on their 2nd contract being eligible – this can sometimes happen if a player has their original contract voided and they re-sign. It’s not a common occurrence, but it does indeed happen. As far as I know, that isn’t the case for anyone this year for the Reds.
The Cincinnati Reds currently have three catchers on the 40-man roster – Tucker Barnhart, Curt Casali, and Kyle Farmer. While Farmer isn’t likely to be more than the third option in most cases, he does give you that extra depth at the position. And the Reds are heavily rumored once again to be going after Yasmani Grandal in free agency. That could leave Cincinnati with plenty of options at the big league level.
This feels like a pretty safe addition to the roster, right? Former 1st round pick who has performed all the way up the ladder, topping out in Double-A last season. Tyler Stephenson hit .285/.372/.410 last season with Chattanooga – posting a 131 OPS+ for the Lookouts. He then hit .353/.421/.549 in the Arizona Fall League following the year over his 51 at-bats. Behind the plate he still shows off plus arm strength, and he’s shown improvements in just about every area back there in the last two years as he’s been able to remain healthy and get the repetitions needed behind the dish.
It seems less likely that Hendrik Clementina gets added. He’s only played as high as Advanced-A, and he hit .249/.296/.411 there this past season. It’s tough to imagine that he’d help much in 2020 at the big league level for a team. But catching is a spot where teams are always looking for something, and for Clementina – he’s got something – big time power potential. There’s some work that needs to be done, both at the plate and behind the plate, but the power is real. We’ve seen teams take far lesser catchers in the Rule 5 draft before and keep them around all year despite not providing anything. And with rosters expanding to 26 players in 2020, teams can certainly “hide” players easier than before. If a team believes in the power and thinks they can develop something else with time – it’s not crazy to think Clementina could be selected.
The First Baseman
The Reds have first base locked up for a few more years with Joey Votto‘s contract running through at least 2023. But it’s unlikely that he’s going to both remain 100% healthy moving forward, and be capable of playing 145 games a year, too. Even first basemen get dinged up. In 2019 when Votto got a day off he was spelled by Josh VanMeter, Kyle Farmer, and once by Brian O’Grady among the players returning.
Free agency was there for the taking for Ibandel Isabel, but he quickly re-upped with the Reds last week. He did sign a minor league deal, meaning unless the Reds change their mind in the next week-and-a-half and add him to the 40-man roster, he’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft. What is apparent for everyone to see is the power for Isabel. It’s off the charts good….. when he makes contact. He’s hit 28, 36, and 26 home runs in the minor leagues over the last three seasons. He’s led the league in which he’s played in home runs each of the last two seasons – including this year when he only played in 91 games.
For a team that’s looking at Ibandel Isabel there’s going to see a true power bat and hope they can work with him enough to cut down on the 42% strikeout rate that he had in Double-A this past season. With rosters being at 26 players you may be able to carry him on the bench and pick and choose the spots and times to use him a little easier than you would have in the past. If you squint hard enough you may think “Joey Gallo” with huge power and huge strikeouts.
The Cincinnati Reds are currently looking at Freddy Galvis as their starting shortstop in 2020. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily their plan. Rumors have been swirling for a while that they are interested in Didi Gregorius in free agency. Things are certainly up in the air moving forward at the position.
In the summer of 2016 the Cincinnati Reds spent a whole lot of money to sign Cuban shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez. The selling point was that his defense was gold glove caliber. The counter point was that basically no one thought he was ever going hit. He had hit .265/.301/.284 in his only season in the Cuban National Series as a 20-year-old. He played in 84 games and had a grand total of four extra-base hits that didn’t include a home run.
Since joining the Reds he’s hit a little better than that. But not by much. His career professional line is .252/.302/.310. He’s hit a total of five home runs in 313 games. In 2019 he had his best year. At Double-A Chattanooga he hit .286/.325/.347 in 104 games. His average was the best of his career at any level. But he still doesn’t walk much, and he has absolutely no power to his game at all. He moved up to Triple-A for the final month. With a juiced baseball he hit .169/.261/.221. Rodriguez is currently in the Dominican Winter League where he’s hitting for a .309 average, but he’s got just one extra-base hit – a double – in 19 games played.
His defense is good, but it hasn’t quite lived up to the gold glove caliber reports. His bat is a little better than it was in Cuba, but in 2020, not 1962, a player who has absolutely no power at all is a tough player to carry on a big league roster. There’s a lot of money tied up in Alfredo Rodriguez because of the signing bonus, and subsequent penalties paid because you signed him – but on the field, there’s not much reason to suggest he would be selected by another team.
The remaining names
There are a few former Top 25 prospects here that will be eligible, though not likely to be selected. Catcher Chris Okey and first baseman Gavin LaValley will both be draft eligible if left unprotected. For Okey, there’s not much reason on the surface to think he’d be protected, or selected. Since being drafted in 2016 he’s posted a career .590 OPS at the plate, hitting .201/.273/.317, and he’ll turn 25-years-old in December. But he’s also a catcher. And he’s a catcher that’s viewed to be a quality defender. As a former 2nd round pick, perhaps someone believes there’s untapped/undeveloped potential at the plate and could be willing to give it a look during spring training to see what they can do.
For Gavin LaValley the chances seem small as well. He’ll turn 25 a day before Okey does – but unlike the catcher, LaValley has hit a little bit since he was drafted. On the surface his .254/.339/.396 line in Chattanooga this year wasn’t much. But the park didn’t exactly help hitters and that was actually good for a 117 OPS+ this year. As a first baseman, though, to catch on with a team you’ve probably got to show a plus skill somewhere, and while there’s some raw power in his bat – it’s not at the level of the previously mentioned Ibandel Isabel. And the current performance, while solid in Double-A, is a tough sell to carry as a first baseman only on a big league roster.
Sometimes it only takes one scout believing in someone and selling the pick to their team. The Cincinnati Reds remain the gold standard for a true what-the-heck Rule 5 pick of all time, though. In the 2007 Rule 5 draft they selected Sergio Valenzuela, who was coming off of a season where he posted an ERA of 7.00 in A-ball between two stops where he gave up 102 hits and walked 37 batters, hitting 12 more, and only had 38 strikeouts in 72.0 innings. Not only did he not make the Reds team out of spring training, he literally never pitched in affiliated baseball again. In 2008 he pitched in the Mexican Pacific League. Now 34-years-old, he’s still playing in Mexico.
The original version of this article was missing the write up on Alfredo Rodriguez.