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 relief pitcher prospects that the Cincinnati Reds should be considering adding to the 40-man roster rather than take a risk that another organization could select them. We’ve already taken a look at the starting pitchers, the group of infielders and the group of outfielders.
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.
Among the relief pitchers in the farm system, Rule 5 eligible or not, from a pure stuff standpoint, Ryan Hendrix is at the top of the list. Sometimes you will hear that sentence and the one that follows it is that the numbers haven’t matched up with the stuff. For the right-handed Hendrix, that’s not exactly the case. His ERA in four minor league seasons is 2.55 over 132 appearances. In 2018 he posted a 1.76 ERA for Daytona. Last season didn’t quite go as planned. He dominated in April, but was injured late in the month. That led to Hendrix missing much of the season before returning late in the year. He only threw 24.1 innings, but had an ERA of 1.85. He struck out 31 batters with eight walks during the year.
Among the relievers he feels like the one with the safest “add” designation to the 40-man roster. It’s hard to see how the Reds would pass on protecting him. And it’s even harder to see how if somehow they went that route, that the other 29 teams would all pass on adding him to their 26-man roster.
102 MPH. That’s where the conversation should start with Aneurys Zabala. That’s where his fastball will top out. He’s got velocity at the top of the scale. And while everyone seems to be throwing hard these days – he throws harder. With that said, the numbers haven’t really jumped out over his career. Last season he was in the pitcher friendly Florida State League all season and he posted a 5.63 ERA. He had 27 walks and 48 strikeouts – while also hitting 10 batters – in 54.1 innings. Control is a bit of an issue with Zabala.
You can see two arguments here. The first is that a team could see a triple-digit fastball and a pitcher who has historically given up almost no home runs and think they could work with him. On the flip side you could argue that he’s just not ready to help a big league club yet given his performance in 2019.
Standing at 5′ 9″, Connor Bennett certainly doesn’t look imposing on the mound. But as they say, looks can be deceiving. Since being drafted the right-handed pitcher has posted a 2.65 ERA in his 125 appearances – all out of the bullpen. The 2019 season was the best of his career. He began in Dayton before moving up to Daytona in mid-July. He didn’t skip a beat with the promotion. Overall he threw 57.0 innings on the year with a 2.21 ERA in his 48 games. He allowed just three home runs, walked 24 batters (two intentional), and he struck out 88 hitters.
From a numbers standpoint he sticks out as a dominant reliever. He hasn’t yet pitched in the upper levels of the minor leagues, which works against him here. From a stuff standpoint, there’s a give-and-take. His fastball works 92-93 MPH, topping out at 95. That too would work against him given how far he is from the Majors in terms of where he’s pitched thus far. But he’s a guy who’s got an above-average spin rate on his fastball, allowing it to play up a little bit from the pure velocity readout, too. His slider also shows above-average spin.
The numbers are there. The scouting report may play up in a non-traditional sense now that we can put more hard numbers on things beyond velocity. This could be an interesting choice for both the Reds and for other teams if left off of the Cincinnati 40-man roster.
Much like Connor Bennett, it was a dominant year for Dauri Moreta. He spent the entire season in the Advanced-A Florida State League with the Daytona Tortugas. In his 35 games he threw 57.1 innings with a 2.35 ERA. That also came along with just nine walks and he struck out 64 batters. He then went to the Arizona Fall League where he threw another 10.2 innings with three walks and nine strikeouts for Glendale.
The fastball for Dauri Moreta will work 92-95 and touch a tad higher every so often. He also throws an above-average slider. For his career, mostly, he’s shown solid control. But in 2019 he took a big step forward in limiting his walks. He’s got solid stuff, great numbers, and good control. The thing working against him is that he’s never pitched in Double-A or Triple-A. Another interesting choice here for the Reds in what they will do.
Another reliever who spent the entire season in Daytona, dominated, and then went to the Arizona Fall League – Diomar Lopez put together a strong first season with the Cincinnati Reds. He joined the organization on April 1st in exchange for Matt Wisler in a deal with the San Diego Padres. Lopez didn’t join Daytona until June 5th, and his first three games didn’t go as planned – he gave up five earned runs in 5.1 innings and he walked three batters. But from that point forward he dominated the Florida State League. In the remaining 25 games he posted a 1.91 ERA in 37.2 innings with just seven walks, one home run allowed, and he struck out 49 batters.
Like some of the other players mentioned above, the lack of upper minor league experience, or success, works against Diomar Lopez here. He also had some struggles in the Arizona Fall League – giving up 19 hits in 11.1 innings with a 9.53 ERA. But he’s also a pitcher who has showed good control, has three solid pitches, and has been up to 97 with his fastball – though it works a bit lower than that, in the 92-95 range.
The 2019 season for Alexis Diaz was one that had both good and bad numbers that came along with it. Starting with the bad – his ERA was 5.18 in Low-A Dayton. That’s about where the bad ends, though. He threw 57.1 innings and allowed 52 hits, just four home runs, walked 28 batters, and he struck out 74. The walk rate was a little higher than you want to see, but he countered it with a pretty high strikeout rate and kept the ball in the ballpark.
The secondary numbers are good. From a scouting perspective he’ll throw 91-94, and he was up to 98 during the season. His slider will also show itself as an above-average offering. There’s an upside play here. On the flip side, he hasn’t pitched above Low-A ball, and while the secondary numbers were good – his ERA was over 5.00 as a 22-year-old in the Midwest League.
Here’s a name that everyone is certainly aware of. It’s been a bit of a ride for Brandon Finnegan in his career. He has gone from pitching in the World Series the same year he was drafted in 2014 to barely pitching in 2019 at the Double-A level after working to rebuild his mechanics and trying to get back to where he once was.
After a disastrous 2018 season where his ERA was over 7.00 in both Cincinnati and Louisville, that also saw him lose significant velocity from where he had previously been prior to an injury plagued 2017 season, Finnegan was designated for assignment and cleared waivers following spring training in 2019. He spent the first half of the season working on mechanics and trying to find some of the lost velocity.
And he did. In late July he joined Double-A Chattanooga. The left-handed pitcher appeared in 13 games the rest of the way for the Lookouts with mixed results. Two poor outings crushed his ERA, accounting for eight earned runs in 0.2 innings. In the other 11 outings he gave up just three runs in 14.1 innings In the first seven games he struck out 15 batters in 10.0 innings. But in the last six games he only struck out two batters – with five appearances having no strikeouts at all.
Given how things have played out on the mound for Brandon Finnegan in the last three seasons, it would be a surprise to see him protected or selected by another team. The results haven’t been there. And while he did start throwing a little bit harder in 2019, it still wasn’t back to the range he was throwing early on in his career. A team would have to have a ton of faith that they could turn back the clock 3-4 years – ignoring much of what’s happened since to select Finnegan.
Other names to keep an eye on
Andy Cox is a 26-year-old lefty. After a tough first week of the season (nine earned runs in 2.1 innings), he dominated at three levels. Cox posted a 2.10 ERA in his final 45 games, striking out 71 batters and giving up just 1 homer in 51.1 innings. His fastball only tops out around 93 MPH, though – and given his age, and that he’s only made two appearances in Double-A in his career, he’ll likely go unprotected and unselected.
Tyler Jay came over to the Reds in June from the Twins organization. His numbers in 2019 with Pensacola (now the Twins Double-A affiliate) weren’t great. He walked 19 batters with 27 strikeouts in 28.0 innings. But after arriving in the Reds organization things changed. With Chattanooga this season he posted a 3.03 ERA in 32.2 innings, allowing just one home run, walking 12, and he struck out 33 batters. He’s a former Top 100 prospect, but injuries have sapped his stuff a bit from where it once was. Still, he’s a lefty who has a solid arsenal, was the former #6 overall draft pick in the game (2015), and had some success in Double-A this season.
Jesus Reyes began the year on the Reds 40-man roster. And he saw big league action in 2018, though it was limited to just 5.2 innings. His 2019 was not good – he posted a 5.03 ERA while walking 54 batters, hitting six more, and striking out 64 in 77.0 innings. Control was a big issue for him during the year, and it led to him being designated for assignment mid-season and clearing waivers. Every team could have claimed him if they wanted to, and they all passed. That likely tells you where things sit. With that said, he’s a guy who can throw hard – he’s been up to 98 MPH, and he’s a ground ball machine. There’s some useful upside there if a team believes they can help lower the walk totals.
One final name to keep an eye on would be Carlos Machorro. It’s a long shot given that he’s 22 and has one game above Low-A. He was solid in Dayton in 2019, posting a 3.61 ERA. Over his 42.1 innings he allowed 29 hits, just two home runs, and he struck out 48 batters. But he also walked 22 batters, showing some control issues at times. That said, he’s pitching well in the Mexican Winter League right now, and pitching well. He’s made 11 appearances and allowed two runs in 10.2 innings. He has also struck out 11 batters to go with five walks. The lack of upper level experience is real, but the Mexican League has advanced hitters. At 91-94, touching 96 – the stuff doesn’t leap out at you. But he’s got a good breaking ball to work with. It only takes one scout to like what they see.