Prospects’ Progress: Cincinnati Reds

With the situation being what it is at the moment in Cincinnati, the big club is going to need all it can get out of its current crop of prospects. While a number have begun to climb up the ladder, and a few top talents are moments away from a call-up (hello, Mr. Senzel), there are some promising kids in the lower levels of the organization.

Today, I take a look at a few players with the Dayton Dragons, Low-A for the Reds in the Midwest League.

Dayton Dragons (5-3, third place in the Midwest League Eastern Division)

Yes, it’s very early in the season, and standings mean pretty much nothing at this point, but Dayton’s current roster makes them a team to watch in the MWL.

Jeter Downs (.314, 2 doubles, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 4 runs scored, 3 stolen bases in 8 games) is off to a nice start, contributing in all facets of the game. He’s had at least one hit in six of his eight games, with a 3-5 performance on April 8th against the Bowling Green Hot Rods and a 4-6 outburst against the Lake County Captains, with a homer and two RBI. He had a double in back-to-back games on April 6th-7th, with three steals between the two games.

With this being his first year in full-season ball, look for some early struggles at the plate, with a negative swing in his walk and strikeout percentages (BB% of 12.9, K% of 15.3 in 2017), but he’ll likely start to slowly develop gap power as the year goes on. He’s 19 years old, and thus young for Class-A.

Stuart Fairchild (.333, 2 doubles, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 8 runs scored in 8 games)

The 2017 2nd round pick out of Wake Forest (and my 17th-ranked Reds prospect) is also in his first season of Class-A competition, but he has the tools to at least hold his own at this level. He homered vs the Hot Rods on April 6th, and added another homer, a double, and two RBI on the 12th vs the Captains. Fairchild’s speed will serve him well as he advances up the chain, as will his selectivity and ability to make frequent contact at the plate (BB% of 8.1, K% of 15 in 2017; 35 strikeouts in 204 at-bats).

His line-drive percentage of 26.1% is promising, but he’s been a definite pull hitter since turning pro (43.8% last year, 54.2% so far in 2018), so learning to go the other way with authority could certainly boost his extra-base numbers.

Hendrik Clementina (.500, 3 doubles, 2 HR, 7 RBI in 4 games)

Here’s a guy who likely hasn’t shown up on anyone’s radar since his pro debut in 2014. He’s had moments in the past when he showed a little bit of power (see 11 doubles in 49 games in rookie-league w/ the Dodgers in 2014), but has yet to play more than 51 games in a single season as a catcher with few demonstrable strengths either at bat or behind the plate. However, he cut his K% dramatically, last year (23.6% w/ Ogden Raptors; 14.8% w/ Billings Mustangs), he had 11 doubles and 6 homers in 51 games between the two teams, and does have a .748 OPS in 174 total minor-league games.

This one is a likely reach, I admit, but he’s only twenty years old, and he has experience both behind the dish and at first base. A permanent move to first should be in his near future, especially if he continues to develop power. Might be worth tracking.

Miles Gordon (.200, 1 double, 1 triple, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 10 runs scored in 8 games)

Gordon has made the most of his chances to reach base. While he’s only 6-30 at the plate, he’s also drawn six walks (vs. eight strikeouts) and scored ten runs and stolen five bases in the process. He certainly looked good in his third season of rookie ball (.319, 15 doubles, 5 triples, 8 homers, 37 RBI in 61 games in 2017), and that was also his first time playing more than 31 games since his pro debut in 2015. He stole a base in each of his first three games and has scored at least one run in 7 of 8 games, thus far.

He had a 2-4 performance vs the Hot Rods on the 7th, with a double and triple, as well as the aforementioned stolen base. His steals are just as much a product of his base-running skill as they are of his above-average (though not quite “plus”) speed. Defense is no concern, here, at least not up to this point. Look for him to post double-digit double, triple, and home run totals this season. A total of 45-50 extra-base hits should not be a stretch.

Packy Naughton (2.38 ERA, 11 K in 11 1/3 IP, 3 BB, 13 H)

The bearer of one of my favorite baseball names, ever, Naughton quietly cruised through rookie-level competition in 2017 (3-3, 3.15 ERA in 60 IP, 63 K, 20 BB), and has started out well in 2018. A ground-ball pitcher, Naughton needs a consistent infield behind him; his 4.47 FIP in 2017 is evidence of that. If he can maintain his BB/K ratio and keep inducing grounders, he should post good numbers this year. He is roughly age-appropriate for the Midwest League, but this is his first go-round at this level.

I consider him a dependable, if not spectacular, starting option going forward, and as long as he remains healthy I see no reason for him to be converted to relief as he advances to the higher levels.

Ryan Nutof (0.00 ERA, 6 1/3 IP, 10 K, 0 BB, 2 H)

Well, now. This 16th rounder out of Michigan is off to a fine start. So far in his very young pro career, it’s a mixed bag; he struck out 30 in 28 2/3 innings in 2017, but while his 4.08 ERA was acceptable, his 22 runs allowed was not. Granted, only 13 of those were earned, but it shows that he was getting hit hard, at times (35 hits allowed), and his 14 walks didn’t help the matter, either. Given that it was his first year in the pros, it’s fair to give him a pass. He struck out five in 2 innings at Bowling Green on the 6th, and three in 1 2/3 of perfect relief on the 10th at home vs. Lake County.

He’s made each appearance on one day’s rest (6th, 8th, 10th, 12th), and has handled it well. Let’s see what he does in this first month of A-ball.

Tyler Buffett (0.00 ERA, 6 1/3 IP, 6 K, 1 BB, 2 R, 0 ER)

A 6th-round pick out of Oklahoma State, Buffett struggled as a starter in his senior year and has thus been converted back to relief where he probably is better off. Showing high-80’s heat with a strong slurvy slider and consistent change-up as a high school junior, Buffett’s arsenal plays up in the bullpen. Sitting around the low 90’s and now utilizing a curveball with occasional change, Buffett posted respectable numbers in his 1st year as a pro in 2017 (3.86 ERA, 34 K in 44 1/3 IP, 11 BB), putting in two runs per appearance, on average. He’s been said to top out around 94 as a senior with the Cowboys, but 88-92 is more realistic.

Oh, and something else interesting about him: he’s a cousin of Warren Buffett. The zillionaire Warren Buffett. So he’s got that going for him.

John Ghyzel (0.00 ERA, 3 IP, 7 K, 2 BB, 1 H)

Here’s a guy who didn’t make my list, because I’m apparently none too bright. A 6’5” righty with a mid-90’s fastball and slider with tight spin should be getting noticed. Ghyzel has the makings of a high-leverage short reliever, but with only 25 pro innings under his belt, it’s pretty early to say how it’s going to go for him. Consistent location of his slider could push him up the ladder quickly, but the Reds do have a number of other good arms in the lower ranks, so there’s no rush. Ghyzel struck out three in 1 IP in his first appearance on April 6th, two more in one inning of relief on the 8th, again vs. the Hot Rods, then two more over one inning vs. Lake County on the 11th. He earned a save for his trouble on the 8th.

Stuff-wise, it would seem his floor is pretty high; short-relief in low-pressure situations at the least. His ceiling could find him closing games at the higher levels, or perhaps even in Great American Ball Park.

Hunter Greene (3 IP, 1 GS, 8 K, 2 R, 5 H)

Holy cow. Greene’s first start went 53 pitches deep, 35 for strikes (66%). This 18-year-old has pitched in a minuscule 7 1/3 innings as a pro, thus far, but the talent is unquestionable; a fastball that tops out at 100+ with a low-80’s slider and a change-up that he’s working out, as well as great defensive skills at shortstop and booming power. Playing in the National League will likely mean he’ll be utilized as both a reliever and a pinch hitter or occasional starter, a la Shohei Ohtani, as well they should.

At 6’4″ with long limbs, Greene looks like a true gunslinger; he knows he belongs, and he has unshakable faith in his ability.
Next up, we climb the ladder to Daytona and take a look at the Tortugas in the Florida State League.
Article featured image of Jeter Downs – photo credit Nick Falzerano, courtesy

Doc Riddle has been writing for sites such as SB Nation's Minor League Ball, Fansided's Kings of Kaufmann, The Crawfish Boxes, and Grading on The Curve, and Baseball Magazine, for the past eight years. He has been a contributing writer and photographer for various newspapers. He has also been a credentialed photographer for the Class-A Lexington Legends since 2015. His primary interest is in those stories not often told, and the lives of athletes away from the ball field. A 20+ year medical background has given him an understanding of the significance of sports-related injuries, as well as how they might affect a player's future performance.

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