The Cincinnati Reds development crew has long been an area of question in the organization. Much of it began in the mid-to-late 90’s when Marge Schott gutted the scouting portion of the organization. Being cheap, however, didn’t help. Thinking in today’s terms of baseball, the idea that a team would purposefully draft a player in the first round with no intentions of signing them is absolutely bonkers. The Reds however did just that in the 2001 draft, picking Jeremy Sowers 20th overall and choosing to basically pass on paying a signing bonus to a 1st rounder.
After having some success in developing Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, and Mike Leake as pitchers, the team went back to struggling to develop starters – though they did find more success with relievers. Eventually that lack of ability to develop starters led to the hiring of Derek Johnson as the big league pitching coach. And a year later the team went big on the farm, hiring Kyle Boddy to take over as the pitching coordinator – and he’s now the organization’s director of pitching. Not all of the changes have come on the pitching side of things, though. The team has also added a new hitting coordinator in the minors with C.J. Gillman coming on after the 2019 season.
Tejay Antone, the breakout player for the Reds in 2020, had some praise for the organization and their development team on Tuesday.
“I’ve been a part of this organization since I got drafted in 2014 and wow what a difference it is today,” Antone said on twitter. “I can’t thank our front office enough for investing in the development side and being on the forefront of not only technology, but having the right people in place to relay and educate us players about what the technology is saying and how to apply it”
One of the main focuses of Dick Williams when he became the organization’s General Manager was to catch the Reds up to the rest of baseball when it comes to analytics and technology. It was a process that took years, but they got to a point where their analytical department was larger than most in the game. And eventually the stuff they were doing on the farm was above the baseline around the league, too.
“Every year there are new faces on the team and old teammates go to different teams and you begin to hear how other organizations do things a lot of players are begging to be with the Reds because of our player development,” continued Antone. “Just looking back on my own minor league career I can say that I’m not sure if I would have made it to the big leagues if it wasn’t for people like Eric Jagers, Kyle Boddy, and many others. We are doing big things here and I’m proud to put on my jersey each day and learn from the best teammates and the best coaches in the world.”
I’ll quibble over the comment made by Antone that he’s not sure if he would have made it to the big leagues without those guys. I’m certain that they helped him out, perhaps in big ways, but Antone was a guy that had a Major League feel for a while. He has definitely turned himself (along with the help of his coaches along the way) into a potential difference maker in the last year-and-a-half.
What is perhaps most interesting about his comments, though, is the part about how other players want to come to the organization and work with the people that the Cincinnati Reds have put in place. Michael Lorenzen mentioned in an interview the other day that the coaches in Cincinnati know how to get the best from the guys, citing what they were able to do with Robert Stephenson.
“He’s (Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson) going to get the best out of them. You see guys all the time who are struggling with their stuff, or DJ gets a hold of them and they’re like a different pitcher. A lot of the time the philosophy that DJ preaches, and just the guys going out there and believing they will succeed and they have good enough stuff and that plays a huge role in what he says – just being great at what you’re good at. That’s a major, major, major difference from what anyone else teaches, really. A lot of it’s like ‘yeah, you’re good at that, but you’re not good at this, so we want you to be good at this’, but because it looks good in baseball you have to be good at this. You have to throw that fastball down and away. Robert Stephenson was a stud, not because he threw fastballs down and away, but because he threw his slider like 80% of the time and with any other staff would have hated that. But Robert excelled with us because DJ allowed it. I feel like with DJ, Jagers (assistant pitching coach Eric Jagers), with Lee Tunnell (Reds bullpen coach) – they have this master plan where they can piece together any pitcher and they’re going to be just fine.”
Things are just different in Cincinnati, now. The organization looks at things differently, even compared to many of their counterparts in an era where everyone is looking at analytics, and using data, and every organization has high speed cameras. It’s tough to know if the Reds are at the top when it comes to this, but it’s very clear they are among the leaders and no longer looking around with their hands up in the air and wondering what’s going on around the game of baseball.