*Editor note – Rudie wrote and submitted this article prior to MLB announcing Sunday night March 15 that newly updated recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) restricting events of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks, and that the opening of the 2020 regular season will be pushed back in accordance with that guidance. Please keep that in mind when reading through this column. Some predicted stats/numbers/timelines may certainly be affected by the late start to the season.
Back in January I submitted a prediction for a Reds prospect as part of a larger “Bold Predictions” post for each team at Prospects1500. My bold prediction was that Tyler Stephenson would become the back-up catcher by late spring/early summer and possibly eat into Tucker Barnhart’s playing time by late summer/early fall. But I thought I would offer up some more predictions specific to the Reds minor league system for the 2020 season, covering my top 10 prospects (my pre-season rankings). Without further ado…
1. Hunter Greene, RHP (A+) – news on Greene’s rehab has been slim, but from little tidbits I’ve been able to glean, things are going well as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery and has been throwing on flat ground over the winter. Most encouragingly, Greene has been making use of DriveLine resources that have come into the Reds system when the team hired Kyle Boddy. My forecast for Greene this year is fairly conservative; the Reds will likely slowly ease him back into pitching off a mound. I don’t expect to see him back in game action until June or July.
2. Tyler Stephenson, C (AA) – as I mentioned earlier, Stephenson forcing the Reds to put him into their catching mix by summer was my “bold take” prediction, and I see no reason yet to back away from that assertion. His defense has taken a step forward, and he’s shown a good feel for hitting with flashes of power.
3. Jose Garcia, SS (A+) – Garcia was putting on a clinic in Spring Training, hitting .300/.304/.800 with 3 home runs and a stolen base in 23 plate appearances. He continues to build off of a successful sophomore season last year where he hit .280/.343/.436 with 8 home runs and 15 stolen bases. That being said, AA is usually where the difficulty level increases for prospects, but I see no reason why Garcia, with his advanced hitting mechanics/approach, can’t continue to keep himself in the conversation as the Reds’ shortstop of the future. I think there’s a good chance we see him playing with the major league club sooner rather than later, skipping AAA.
4. Jonathan India, 3B (AA) – India’s career has progressed at a slower pace than many scouts and prospect analysts had thought, coming off of a hot couple seasons in college. Although he probably won’t reach that lofty ceiling many were predicting (particularly with regards to in-game power), India’s advanced feel for hitting, and his patient plate approach combined with some positional flexibility will secure him a starting role with the big-league club in the future.
5. Michael Siani, OF (A) – I’m expecting an improved offense from Siani this year after his struggles with the bat last season. His glove and arm remain gold-glove caliber and he will be really exciting to watch (particularly from a defensive standpoint) when he gets called up in a few years. He stole 45 bases last year; it will be interesting to see how much of that he does when he reaches the majors, at a time when swiped bags are at an all-time low. I expect that he will start 2020 at A+ and possibly move up to AA towards the end of the year.
6. Shogo Akiyama, OF (MLB) – Akiyama will likely be the Reds new leadoff hitter, based on strong OBP numbers he put up in the JPL (upper 300’s to low 400’s) and David Bell’s comments during spring training praising Shogo’s “get on base by whatever means necessary” approach. I feel Akiyama will do a fine job of setting the table for hitters behind him this season.
7. Tony Santillan, RHP (AA) – All of Santillan’s numbers regressed in 2019, with his career worst K%, BB%, home runs allowed, and swinging strike rate. But when I went back and watched a few starts from last season, he clearly has good stuff; my jaw dropped when I saw the late movement on some of his pitches. I think Santillan rights the ship this season, and he moves up to AAA, with an ETA for arrival in the majors likely in 2021.
8. Packy Naughton, LHP (AA) – my thoughts on the Pack Man have changed since my pre-season top 50 came out back in January. With the benefit of seeing multiple starts from him via MiLB.TV, I’m a bit concerned that Naughton’s delivery is more suited to relief pitching; it’s just too wonky to be repeatable for more than 2 to 3 innings, in my view. His fly ball rate increased in 2019 as did his BB%, with a notable decrease in strikeouts and swinging strikes and his left-on-base percentage. But even if he ends up in a relief role, I think he’ll do fine. I expect we’ll see him in AAA this season.
9. Nick Lodolo, LHP (A) – I should’ve been much higher on him than I was when I put together my pre season top 50. Lodolo has above average command and control with a plus fastball, a plus curveball that sometimes is more of a “slurve”, and a changeup that is a work in progress. Lodolo pitched at A ball last year, but with how advanced he already is, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him in AA this year, with a major league ETA as soon as September (depending of course on what the Reds’ postseason picture looks like).
10. Joel Kuhnel, RHP (AAA) – the hard throwing righty (fastball sits 95 to 97) got the call to help the Reds towards the end of 2019 and while it was a mixed bag, he has historically put up solid enough numbers in terms of strikeouts and LOB% (though still some walk issues at times) that I feel he will be a solid contributor in the bullpen.