FOX Sports MLB Analyst
FOX Sports’ 26-and-under power rankings are a new twist on classic prospect ratings. Yes, prospects are important, but with all the game-changing young talent already available, farming systems alone cannot tell the whole story. So let’s take a deep dive into each one MLB club, ranking them all by players in an organization who start their season 26 or younger, from the bigs to the farm. Every weekday until March 24th, we’ll be counting down from last to first.
number 14 Cincinnati Reds
Total score for 26 and under: 18 (out of 30)
The Reds were one of several teams (Cubs, Marlins, Athletics) whose appearance in the expanded 2020 postseason was a misleading representation of the direction the organization was actually headed. Despite winning 83 games in 2021, the most since Cincinnati’s last full-season playoff appearance in 2013, the Reds decided to tear it all down. Over the past year, they’ve traded away nearly every veteran of value this side of Joseph Daniel Votto for a horde of high-end prospects. The Reds must now manage to develop all of their acquired talent into valuable big leaguers if they are to have any chance of challenging St. Louis soon, let alone Milwaukee and the ascendant Cubs.
While every trade has understandably grabbed the headlines, the Reds have quietly assembled a nice core of homegrown players who are already having success at the MLB level. It’s this group that earned them an overall rating right in the top half of the league and features several players poised for bigger breakouts in 2023.
Major League Position Players: 5 (of 10)
Labeling Jonathan India’s 2022 campaign as a sophomore slump may be generous, as the 2021 NL Rookie of the Year posted a woeful .705 OPS and worryingly poor defensive metrics at second base. A hamstring injury clearly hampered him for much of last year, so there’s reason to believe he can return to the lineup in 2023. If not, there’s no shortage of outfielders flying through their league system minors eager to get their jobs in the short term.
Injuries also torpedoed what could have been a big coming-out party for catcher Tyler Stephenson, who was hitting .319/.372/.482 in July when his 2022 season was cut short by a broken collarbone right that required surgery. Receivers who can legitimately track are immensely valuable players, and Stephenson has shown the rare ability to produce at an above-average clip relative to all hitters, not just his defensive linemates. The challenge now will be to keep Stephenson on the field for as many games as possible, even if that means giving him plenty of reps at first base and DH.
Another name to watch here is 24-year-old outfielder Will Benson, acquired from the Guardians in a trade last month. Benson is the epitome of the “first guy off the bus” phenomenon, as his towering presence on the field and in the batter’s box has been his calling card since being drafted in the first round of 2016 out of high school. It’s been a slow climb in the minors since then, but he made impressive strides in 2022, lowering his strikeout rate to a reasonable 22.7% in Triple-A after whiffing nearly 30% of the time in each previous season
Those adjustments didn’t translate to his first MLB pitch in 2022, but it was just 61 plate appearances and Cleveland couldn’t afford to give him enough playing time to figure it out in the midst of a career postseason He may start the year in Triple-A, but don’t be surprised if he returns to the big leagues and hits real time with the Reds sometime in 2023.
Major League Pitchers: 6 (of 10)
Lost in all of last season’s losses was the fact that Cincinnati had several of the best rookie pitchers in the entire league: three of the top 7 by bWARin fact: closer Alexis Diaz, triple-digit heat trader Hunter Greene and shortstop Nick Lodolo.
When your older brother Edwin is the best closer in the world on a 100-win team, it’s no big surprise that 10 saves for the 100-loss Reds went largely unrecognized. But Alexis was downright nasty in 2022, striking out 32.5% of the batters he faced and allowing a lower BAA (.129) than every MLB reliever not named Ryan Helsley. Diaz’s 1.84 ERA wasn’t too shabby either.
Greene has been famous for so long that his rookie year hardly felt like an introduction. The heater is as advertised, checking in faster than any other starting pitcher not named Jacob deGrom. The problem is, this heater can still be absolutely crushed by the best hitters in the world, especially when his command is inconsistent and his slider is often the only alternative. That led to a bit of a gopher ball problem for Greene in 2022, as he allowed 1.72 HR/9, the fifth-highest mark among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched. Still, the talent here is overwhelming, and any progress Greene makes in terms of command or finding a third pitch will go a long way toward reaching his ace potential.
While not as hyped as even one of the previous 10, Lodolo just went about his business in his first crack at MLB hitters and found much more consistent success than Greene. His 3.66 ERA was 22% better than the league average, and the whiffs (131 in 103.1 IP) were also plentiful, thanks to a balanced three-pitch mix led by his trademark curveball that it is absolute hell for left handed batsmen. He’s not quite Chris Sale, but there’s a really special combination of angle and unique stuff that will no doubt create nasty batting for hitters for years to come.
That impressive trio doesn’t even include Graham Ashcraft, whose numbers as a rookie hardly reflect the high-octane arsenal he possesses. If Greene’s fastball velocity impresses you, consider this: Only Emmanuel Clase (99.5) and Camilo Doval (99.4) threw a cutter. with a higher average speed than Ashcraft (97.3) in 2022. His cutter and low-90s slugger may never match the punt totals of his rotation mates, but they could be excellent ingredients for a bullpen with a lot of ground ball with the right adjustments to his command and speed. plots
Potential position players: 4 (of 5)
Led by one of the top prospects in all of MLB in Elly De La Cruz, these are the players who will likely define how good the Reds will be in the coming years and how quickly they can get back into contention.
De La Cruz remains by far the most important player in this group, if not the entire organization, moving forward. Despite not being particularly touted as a hitter (he received just a $65,000 bonus when he signed with Cincinnati in 2018), De La Cruz has quickly developed into a spectacular Giant with more speed to boot. Oh, and did I mention he plays shortstop? EDLC is a singular talent whose path to superstardom can only be derailed by his penchant for flipping on almost everything. Even then, he could be good enough to whiff a bunch and still be an All-Star. This is someone you pay money to go see play baseball in person. He’s the type of player the Reds need as much as any organization.
De La Cruz’s star burns bright enough to carry this farm system on his own, but recent trades and drafts have produced some comical depth behind him, especially in the infield. Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand are two first basemen who arrived from Minnesota in the Tyler Mahle trade. Steer has the inside track for the Opening Day third base job, but CES isn’t far behind and offers even more raw power that should play nicely at Great American Ballpark.
Noelvi Marte and Edwin Arroyo led Luis Castillo’s return from Seattle, and each has established a home on top 100 prospect lists. Arroyo may not have the transcendent tools of his new organization partner Elly, but he, too, is a shortstop who just had a monster year in the minors. Marte probably doesn’t last long at shortstop, but he still looks like your prototypical third baseman.
As if all those guys weren’t enough, the Redskins have also spent each of their last two first-round picks on outfielders: shortstop Matt McLain in 2021 and third baseman Cam Collier in 2022.
All of which is to say: Good luck predicting what the Reds’ infield will look like in 2025.
Potential pitchers: 3 (of 5)
Assuming Greene, Lodolo and Ashcraft fill three of the Reds’ rotation spots for the foreseeable future, the latter two spots could be up for grabs for this prospect group sooner rather than later. Brandon Williamson, Connor Phillips and Levi Stoudt arrived via trade from Seattle and each has already appeared in the upper minors. Stoudt may be the closer to the show, having pitched decently well in Triple-A last season, while Phillips has the highest upside but the highest relief risk. Chase Petty and Steven Hajjar have also been added to the system via trade (are you hearing a theme?), each from Minnesota in separate deals.
The 19-year-old Petty is more of the Phillips variety, with big stuff to go along with shaky command, while the 22-year-old lefty Hajjar (a 2021 second-round pick out of Michigan) has more polish but less other way round. Another 2021 second-round pick, Andrew Abbott, is a speedy arm from the collegiate ranks who could get to Cincinnati in a hurry.
None of those guys, though, are remotely as fascinating as a Joe Boyle, who may have produced the most astounding stat line of any 2022 minor league pitcher: 100.2 IP, 46 H, 84 BB, 153 K, 2.86 ERA.
The 6-foot-23-year-old has been one of the hardest pitchers in the world for several years, but his command of the spread limited him to just 32 college starts in three years at Notre Dame, exclusively out of the bullpen. .
The Reds took him in the fifth round of the 2020 draft and decided to let him start, and since then have made enough tweaks to make the dream of Joe Boyle, starting pitcher at least slightly plausible. But even if he ends up back in the bullpen, this huge right-hander has some of the most unbeatable stuff on the planet. We should all hope he can throw enough strikes to become a viable starter, if not a dynamite relief weapon, to watch.
Jordan Shusterman is half of it @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He has covered baseball throughout his adult life, mostly for MLB.com, DAZN and The Ringer. He’s a Mariners fan who lives in the Eastern time zone, which means he loves a good 10pm first pitch. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.
More baseball from FOX Sports:
FOX Sports Top Stories:
Get more from Major League Baseball Follow your favorites for information on games, news and more