This week we are going to be taking a look at the shortstop position on the farm for the Cincinnati Reds. With the position seemingly up for grabs in the big leagues, it’s a spot not only of importance because of the position being valuable but because Cincinnati needs to find someone they can count on to play there moving forward. In the 2022 season the team mostly went with Kyle Farmer early on before going with Jose Barrero down the stretch, but Barrero’s struggles at the plate leave him among a group of prospects that will still be attempting to established their role in the future.
With the release of the 2023 Cincinnati Reds Top 25 Prospect List last week we can pretty much call things as they are – shortstop is the best position on the farm. Three of the top four, four of the top six, and seven of the top 25 prospects are shortstops, and two other guys that aren’t listed as shortstops can play there in a pinch if you wanted them to. It’s as deep of a position as I can recall in the now 17 years that I’ve been covering the Reds farm system.
We are going to start all the way at the bottom level of the farm system and look at Ricardo Cabrera. The Reds top international signing back in January, Cabrera was arguably the biggest international signing of a non-Cuban player in a decade plus. He was rated as the #3 prospect in the class according to MLB Pipeline among all players, not just the Reds. He had a slow first three weeks before turning things around and hitting .314/.403/.461 over the final eight weeks of the season. Not only did he start turning things around offensively, but his defensive miscues began to improve as the season went along as well. He will enter the 2023 season as the Reds 12th ranked prospect.
Moving up a level, Leonardo Balcazar got the majority of the playing time at shortstop in Goodyear at the Reds complex in Arizona. The 18-year-old performed well at the plate during the 2022 season. In his 42 games he hit .322/.411/.476 with 13 stolen bases in 14 attempts. He showed a good walk rate, but did have a high strikeout rate that you would like to see improve as he continues to move up. Defensively he had some struggles, making 12 errors and posting an .886 fielding percentage – though he has all the tools to remain at the position in the long run. He came in at #22 on the just updated Reds prospect list.
Another player that saw action in Arizona with the Reds was Victor Acosta. He didn’t join the organization until the trade deadline when he came over from the San Diego Padres. Acosta was one of the top international signings in the 2021 signing period and played in Arizona at the Padres complex level before the trade. In his 42 games between the two complex stops the 18-year-old hit .237/.348/.360 with 21 walks and 37 strikeouts.
The numbers for Acosta don’t jump out at you. But the scouting reports are good and project him to be a future big leaguer who can play in the middle infield with a chance to hit enough to be an every day caliber player.
While he didn’t begin the season with the Reds, Edwin Arroyo would be the next shortstop on the totem pole within the organization. He was acquired at the trade deadline in a deal with the Seattle Mariners and spent his season in Single-A Modesto and then after the trade with Daytona in Cincinnati’s farm system.
Arroyo had a breakout season. Drafted in 2021 he was known more as a defense-first shortstop, but the then 18-year-old went out and hit .293/.366/.480 during the 2022 season and vaulted up prospect rankings as an all-around shortstop who can hit, field, and run (he also had 27 steals in 33 attempts in 2022). He was rated as Cincinnati’s 4th best prospect last week.
At the next level is another shortstop that the Reds acquired at the deadline and even in the same trade as with Arroyo, Noelvi Marte. He’s hit well everywhere he’s been – he posted an .883 OPS in the DSL, then in 2021 he put up an .825 OPS between Modesto and Everett. In 2022 he began the year in High-A Everett and put up an .825 OPS there before he was acquired at the trade deadline and then headed to Dayton where he put up an .840 OPS in 30 games before the season ended. He also has stolen 17, 24, and 23 bases in his three seasons as a professional.
Until he was sent to the Arizona Fall League following this past season he had never played anywhere but shortstop. He played third base out in Arizona, but that was more so to get him experience elsewhere on the field than a situation where the organization doesn’t believe he can play shortstop. Marte was the Reds 3rd best prospect in the latest rankings.
Another shortstop who was in High-A this season worth talking about is Jose Torres. A strong defender, he split time at the spot in the first half of the year with Elly De La Cruz (more on him later). Torres wasn’t consistent during the year, having up and down months and finishing with a .665 OPS that included 13 home runs and 25 stolen bases in 107 games played. Still, he’s a good defender with a chance to hit enough to be a starting caliber shortstop if he continues to develop.
At the Double-A Level there were two guys that saw action at the shortstop position and wound up as top 10 prospects in the organization after the year was completed. We’ll start with Elly De La Cruz, who began the year in High-A Dayton. The organization’s player of the year, De La Cruz crushed the ball for the Dragons, hitting 20 home runs and stealing 28 bases in 73 games while posting a .968 OPS. After the Futures Game he moved up to Double-A Chattanooga and didn’t let up as hit clubbed another eight home runs, stole 19 more bases, and posted a .910 OPS in 47 games.
The numbers don’t tell the entire story with De La Cruz, though. He’s perhaps the most electrifying player in the minors. His power and speed combination is wild. He stole 47 bases in 120 games and also hit a 491-foot home run after getting to Double-A this season. There’s a reason he’s the Reds top prospect and one of the best prospects in all of baseball.
In the first half of the year it was Matt McLain getting a majority of the time at shortstop for the Lookouts. In the second half, after De La Cruz arrived, McLain began to split action at the position and when he wasn’t at shortstop he was over at second base. McLain had a strange season of sorts. He didn’t hit for much average, posting a .232 mark. What he did do was walk 70 times in 103 games to give himself a .363 on-base percentage, hit for plenty of power with a .453 slugging percentage, and he stole 27 bases in 30 attempts.
Trey Faltine was selected in the 7th round of the 2022 draft out of Texas. While there he showed big time power as a junior, but also had a bunch of strikeouts. In 22 games after signing he hit .246/.407/.393. He’s got speed and he can play a quality defensive at shortstop to go along with his power. The strikeouts are a big question mark that he’ll need to try and answer moving forward.
Miguel Hernandez didn’t have a good year when you look at how things broke down. After two weeks with Louisville to begin the year he broke his hamate and missed the next two-and-a-half months. When he returned he was sent to Chattanooga where he remained for a little over a week before heading back to Louisville. His return didn’t last long as three weeks later he injured his knee and missed the remainder of the season. He’s a good defender, and he was just 23-years-old last season, but his bat probably needs to max out for him to be more than a utility player.
Without question this is the strongest position on the farm and it’s a strong farm. There’s a legitimate shortstop prospect that should start at every single level of the organization in 2023 and there might be more than one at a stop or two. The top prospect in the organization is in this group. So is the third rated prospect. And the fourth. And the sixth. You get the point.
A+. There’s just so much quality depth here with tons of upside throughout the entire list. There is an argument to be made that there are seven future big league starters within this group. It’s mind boggling the amount of depth that’s at this spot.