Last week the crew at wrote about the five most improved farm systems in Major League Baseball from the start of 2021 through the end of the 2021 season. The Cincinnati Reds were among the teams that jumped the most on the list. When the year began the organization had the 20th rated farm system in baseball, but by seasons end they had climbed to the #10 spot in the rankings from MLB Pipeline.

There are a lot of reasons that it happened. The Reds had multiple high draft picks, giving them a bit of an edge over a majority of the league when it came to simply being able to add higher end talent to the organization. But it also helped that their top prospects not only maintained their prospect status, but improved it.

Hunter Greene returned from Tommy John surgery and dominated Double-A before heading to Triple-A where he was the youngest pitcher in the league and performed at an above-average level. Nick Lodolo battled some blister issues during the year, but when he was on the mound he was filthy and posted a 2.31 ERA in his 50.2 innings. Graham Ashcraft vaulted up the rankings as he put together arguably the best season of any pitcher in the organization while posting a 3.00 ERA between High-A Dayton and Double-A Chattanooga.

On the position side of things the organization saw Jose Barrero improve his stock with a dominant performance in both Double-A and Triple-A throughout the season as he became a Top 50 caliber prospect (and Top 25 in some places), though for the rankings he is no longer prospect eligible. Elly De La Cruz went from virtually unknown to a Top 100 prospect after flashing elite athleticism and tools while also hitting the cover off of the ball for much of the season. Allan Cerda took a big step forward, showing good power out of a centerfielder as he split time between the two teams in A-ball.

While not everything went right for the Reds on the farm in 2021, a lot of things did. That’s especially true at the top end of the system. Toss in that much of the top end of the farm system is also made up of guys that played well in Double-A, Triple-A, or both really helps take things to the next level.

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20 Responses

  1. LDS

    Nice. Now let’s see it translate to the Reds and start winning the big games

  2. Doc

    Did the much maligned front office have anything to do with the improvement? I didn’t see that mentioned in the article.

    • LDS

      More likely the folks they let go over the last couple of months of the season. To give the front office credit is disingenuous in the extreme.

  3. Stock

    What wasn’t mentioned was that the Reds improved this much in spite of the graduations of Stephenson, India, Santillan, Gutierrez and per Barrero.

    My guess is this is easily the best graduation class of 2021. With the quality of this graduation class to maintain your prospect ranking is a huge feat. To improve it as much as the Reds did is fantastic.
    Hopefully this is only the beginning.

    • Matt

      I didn’t think Barrero graduated, but BBREF also lists him as “exceeded rookie limits during the 2021 season.”

      Doug, any clarifications?

      • MBS

        Good a 3 year running rookie campaign is a bit much. Let’s hope they play Barrero as an everyday guy. If he becomes the player we think he is, it will be a big boon for the team. Which ever hole he fills SS or CF, hopefully McLain will be ready in 23 to fill the other.

      • Doug Gray

        Here’s my clarification: By normal standards, Jose Barrero should still be a prospect. He does not have 45+ non-September days in the big leagues. But it seems some places are using the 2020 adjusted number of service time days for his eligibility, which would make him no longer a “prospect”. MLB dot com and Baseball Prospectus, for example, no longer considers him a prospect because of that. I consider him a prospect. Baseball America considers him a prospect. Not sure how Fangraphs will handle that situation yet.

  4. Tom

    And to top it off the Reds will likely get a great player in the draft next year at the 18th pick. Some really great toolsy arms and some very polished bats.

    • Greenfield Red

      Would have gotten a better player with a top 4 pick. The 83 wins last year did absolutely nothing to accomplish the goal of winning the World Series.

      Punishing Milwaukee for hitting India before they hit Castellanos would have helped. Trading NC, who should not have been on the DL at the deadline, would have helped. He was not coming back. Once he got off to a hot start in 2021, he was never coming back.

      This is not 20/20 hindsight. Even though they were in the hunt for the final wild card before the deadline, they were not on a course to a realistic chance to win the WS at any point last year.

      The Reds want to be competitive. They are not interested in the WS. When trades don’t happen because the ownership group “likes” a player, trades don’t happen because 10,000 bobble heads will go to waste, or trades happen overnight when a domestic situation crops up where a top of the line player is traded for nothing, there is proof of what I say.

      The Cincinnati Reds continually prove they are not prepared to make the tough decisions that need to be made to win it all. Makes me care less.

      • Tom

        It’s all true, although I disagree that trading NC would have made sense at all last year. Who would’ve given much up for him if the thought was he was a 2 month rental. Better to “compete”, see what happens (any team can get hot at the right time in baseball), and pickup the comp pick in the 30’s or 40’s in the following year’s draft.

        I’d rather wait out the owners for a year or longer to get a real equitable system in place for the FANS of all 30 teams. One where teams don’t have to be ridiculously tricky and clever with underpaid superstars acquired during a 5-10 year ugly rebuild and then traded much too early for prospects or signed to a deal sure to make most fans hate the day the contract was signed therefore souring them on the player they once loved. It’s all a big waste of energy. Wait it out. Fix it.

      • Greenfield Red

        I think they have a unique opportunity to be really good by 2024… here’s how:

        Trade Castillo, Grey Mahle, and Winker for 6 to 8 top 100 guys and several other high potential guys. That combined with a really strong group of young guys they have now, plus a high end guy they will get by losing 100 games this year will give them a historicaly significant young group. They will also have 10s of millions of bad money coming off. It could be a perfect storm for ling term success.

      • Tom

        Now would be the time to strike in that direction, I agree. To avoid these painful scenarios required of only half the teams who are too “poor” to keep their own stars I would definitely support a 14 team playoff system. Let the top half of the league into the playoffs, anything can happen, Cinderellas will prevail at times, and teams will not have to say “If I can’t expect to win 90 games I have no reason to hold onto these increasingly expensive stars other than to sell bobbleheads”.

  5. James Phillips

    Does make one question, though, why the team got rid of both the hitting and pitching minors heads.

  6. Optimist

    A few comments here looking at structure rather than personnel. I wonder if this is D Williams handiwork developing. Put aside the Moose/Shogo/NickC signings and recall he put in the changes to the farm system, making it much more of a system. Staff turnover is a concern but a well run system even anticipates and accounts for that. The price of one middling FA buys enormous productivity at the lower levels. Hope and expect that they maintain this.

    • LDS

      Castellanos paid off. Moose seemed fair at the time but he’s apparently somewhat fragile. I still think Shogo has more than he’s shown but has gotten the ABs to adjust to the league. And he never will under Bell.

      • Optimist

        Pretty much agree. Moose is the only one I take issue with. Too much and too long for a too old a veteran. I think they learned the Homer lesson and they will learn this one as well.

      • MBS

        I’m not sure that it was a crack on those signings, just saying the most consequential addition DW made was a new minor league structure.

        Also NC was an ok signing. His contract was a win win for him. If he has a great year, he’d becomes a FA and rake in a big contract, if he had a bad year he’d continue to make more money than he ever did. The Reds only benefit was 1 good year.

  7. Optimist

    The system is much more important than 2-4 yr FA deals. That said, they’re not horrible on FA deals – Votto offsets Homer, Nick and Sonny’s extension offset Moose injuries and cost. The problem with the FA deals is they have no room for error – pretty good won’t be enough unless they really expand the budget, which of course . . .

    • Alan Horn

      I agree. Spend some of the savings for an OF replacement for Castellanos, a couple of relievers and some bench help including a backup catcher The outfielder is the most expense, but is a necessity to win in my opinion. Minor league OF help is too far away to help next season.