The Cincinnati Reds have some big decisions to make today. They have until 6pm ET to add players to the 40-man roster and keep them protected from the Rule 5 Draft that will take place on the final day of the Winter Meetings in early December.
Players that are eligible for the Rule 5 Draft will be anyone who has reached minor league free agency in their career, or players who were 19-years-old or older and signed in 2020 or earlier, or anyone who signed in 2019 or earlier and are not already on a team’s 40-man roster.
For Cincinnati there are only two players that I think have a better than 50-50 chance of being added to the 40-man roster today. Both of the players happen to be position players, too. And both Rece Hinds and Jacob Hurtubise are also outfielders.
Rece Hinds feels like he’s an absolute lock to be protected. He tied for the farm system lead with 23 home runs this season. In his 461 plate appearances he had 29 doubles, 6 triples, 23 home runs, stole 20 bases, and he hit .269/.330/.536. But those numbers don’t quite tell the whole story. The Reds #12 prospect struggled in the first two months of the season. He then made some adjustments both mechanically and mentally at the plate and he went off over the final four months of the season. Hinds hit .303/.375/.617 from May 26th through the end of the season, and he did so while drastically cutting down on his strikeout rate up to that point.
Jacob Hurtubise, the Reds #24 prospect, had a breakout season in 2023. He split his time between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville. He hit seven times as many home runs in 2023 as he had in his entire career up to that point. Ok, ok, sure he only had one home run in his career coming into the season but it’s still fun to say. To go along with his career high seven home runs he hit .330/.479/.483 with 77 walks, 63 strikeouts, and 45 stolen bases in 455 plate appearances.
For Hurtubise there’s some argument – you can determine how good of one that argument is – that maybe he could struggle in the big leagues because he’s at the bottom tier of exit velocity. While we’re working with some limited data on the public side of things, between Triple-A and his time in the Arizona Fall League he’s got 92 non-bunts worth of batted ball data and his average exit velocity is 81.7 MPH. There were 496 players in MLB in 2023 who had at least 50 batted balls. Hurtubise’s 81.7 MPH average exit velocity would be the second worst out of all of those players. Only Mike Brosseau of the Brewers, who was at 81.3 MPH on his 53 batted balls, would have been worse.
Exit velocity isn’t everything, though. It certainly matters – hitting the ball hard is good. But hitting the ball often matters, too. Hurtubise has generally made plenty of contact. And he also understands the strikezone quite well, drawing walks at a high rate and in 2023 he walked more than he struck out. But that’s just the stuff he does at the plate, and there’s more to his game than just that. He’s one of the fastest players in the organization and as evidenced by what he’s done in his career, can steal plenty of bases. Defensively he can cover you in center, left, or right – though he’s not your traditional right fielder. But he’s got all of the things you look for in a bench outfielder except for power – he can come in and lay down a bunt if asked, he can make contact when asked, he can pinch run for you, and he can play good defense around the outfield.
Maybe Cincinnati takes a risk that he wouldn’t be selected. With Hinds being a lock, or so it would seem, the Reds would have a 40-man roster full of outfielders. Will Benson, Stuart Fairchild, Jake Fraley, TJ Friedl, TJ Hopkins, Nick Martini, and Bubba Thompson are all already on the 40-man. Toss in that Spencer Steer, Nick Senzel, and Jose Barrero are also all capable of playing the outfield and on the 40-man roster, leaving the Reds with 10 capable outfield options before even adding anyone. That’s a large amount of players for just three or four positions (if we include the designated hitter).
The 40-man roster for Cincinnati is currently sitting at 37 players. They’ve got room to add multiple players if they so choose. The question is more about whether or not they will choose to do that.
When it comes to pitchers I think there’s a chance, but a lower end chance, that the club could decide to add Christian Roa or Jose Acuna. Until the team decided to allow Jayvien Sandridge to head to free agency instead of adding him to the 40-man roster last week, I believed that they were going to keep him around. I was wrong on that one.
With Christian Roa, it’s clear that he’s got plenty of stuff. He struck out 170 batters in 120.1 innings this season between Double-A and Triple-A. But he also lacks control. In those same 120.1 innings he walked 91 batters. You could understand both sides of the coin on deciding to protect him. As a guy who has clearly shown he can rack up strikeouts in Double-A and Triple-A as a starting pitcher, a team may think that they could move him to the bullpen and that could help mitigate his control issues as well as increase his strikeouts. At the same time teams may look at 91 walks in 120.1 innings and think that it’s a profile that won’t work at the big league level.
On the flip side of that is Jose Acuna. He’s not yet pitched above High-A and he doesn’t have big time stuff. But he’s solid across the board, has some control, and multiple offerings he can throw for strikes. While he’s been a starter to this point in his career, his lack of Double-A or Triple-A experience almost assuredly means no team will be looking at him as a starter if they select him – at least for 2024. But plenty of teams select pitchers who were starting in the minors and move them to the bullpen with the idea that the stuff will play up and they can better execute on their strengths.
We’ll all find out what the Reds decide to do at some point later today. There are three spots open for additions right now. There are usually some trades around the league on protection day as some clubs are looking to move players they won’t be protecting that other teams could be interested in, and that could change the math if Cincinnati gets involved in something like that. But for now, I’m expecting Hinds and Hurtubise to be added.