Our 2021 Reds Prospect List, Revisited

Back in December, Eric Longenhagen compiled FanGraphs’ annual Reds Prospect List, identifying 36 noteworthy players in Cincinnati’s system. Here’s an update on the top-ranked players and best performers from that list, along with some previously unlisted prospects who’ve made a case for themselves to be included in lists to come.

Updates on the Top Five:

Perhaps the most notable update for Jose Barrero (formerly Garcia) is in regard to his surname, which he changed last month to honor his late mother who passed away due to complications from COVID-19. On the field, he is still the Reds’ top-ranked player, with a slash line of .333/.392/.515 — good for a 151 wRC+  — at Double A. That’s a vast improvement over his numbers during the shortened 2020 season, when he was prematurely called up to the majors despite never having played above A-ball because of the Reds’ lackluster middle infield options. His strikeout rate is still too high for comfort (20.3%) and comes paired with a similarly unsatisfactory walk rate (8.4%), so his approach is still the order of the day in terms of his development.

Tyler Stephenson, Cincinnati’s no. 2 prospect, has seen a good amount of playing time this season, much of it at first base during the weeks that Joey Votto was on the IL. He has a 126 wRC+ on the season, with a 13.2% walk rate and 18% strikeout rate that are both better than league average, as is his slash line of .270/.383/.418. Despite the important role Stephenson has played, his at-bats are going to take a dip; with Votto back in the lineup, he will be relegated to sharing time behind the dish with Tucker Barnhart.

Hunter Greene was dominant over his first seven starts for Double A Chattanooga, holding opposing batters to a .186 average, posting a 1.00 WHIP and a 1.98 ERA, and striking out a whopping 37% of the batters he faced against an 8.6% walk rate. That performance earned him a mid-June promotion to Triple A, where he made his first start on June 17 against Omaha and gave up three solo home runs in his first inning but settled down over the course of his four innings of work, ending it by striking out the side. Hopefully his jittery opening frame was due to promotion-related adrenaline.

Southpaw Nick Lodolo has gotten off to a hot start in Double A, throwing almost twice as many strikes as balls this year and striking out 45 hitters in 30 innings against six walks along with a 0.90 ERA and 0.83 WHIP. His best outing of the season was 7.1 innings of work against Mississippi, during which he allowed only one hit and one walk and struck out eleven, including Trey Harris, who has one of the lowest strikeout rates in the league, twice. When his backfoot slider is working for him, which it has been so far, it’s deadly against righties. Here’s how it looked against Harris that day:

Rounding out Eric’s top five was 20-year-old outfielder Austin Hendrick, the Reds’ top pick in the 2020 draft. Hendrick’s amateur experience has been full of caveats; he performed very well in high school but did so as an old-for-his-class player in a region (Pennsylvania) where high school ball is a bit less competitive than in other parts of the country. That’s created skepticism regarding his ability to adapt to pro ball. So far at Low-A, he has experienced some growing pains in transitioning to the minors, which you can see in his 37.2% strikeout rate. That said, he’s mitigated that with a 23.1% walk rate, so his overall production has been good enough for a wRC+ of 132.

Other High-Performing Ranked Prospects:

Jonathan India and Tyler Callihan (Nos. 7 and 8, respectively) are on opposite ends of the prospect development spectrum — the latter is in Low-A, the former is an everyday second baseman at the big-league level — but their production has been similar, with each’s wRC+ hovering around 115. They’ve done so in different ways: India walks an impressive 12.1% of the time, and Callihan has kept his strikeout rate under 15%, rarely punching out more than once a game.

On the pitching side of things, both José De León (No. 16) and Graham Ashcraft (No. 22) have struck out more than a third of the batters they’ve faced. Ashcraft has done so at High-A, where over his first eight starts of the season he’s held opposing batters to a .194 average with a 1.06 WHIP. De León, meanwhile, began the season with the Reds, appearing in nine games (two starts and seven innings out of the bullpen). While his strikeout rate was an impressive 36.3%, he also had a bloated 8.35 ERA and 1.80 WHIP, resulting in his demotion to Triple-A Louisville in early May. He struggled in his first two outings in relief, but in his last three appearances, he has struck out eight of the fourteen batters he’s faced, allowing only one hit and issuing only one walk.

Unranked Attention Grabbers:

Alejo Lopez has sizzled to start the season and shows no signs of cooling off. The Rule 5-eligible infielder started the season at Double-A, where he slashed .362/.437/.448 and struck out less than 10% of the time over the course of 25 games. His 154 wRC+ was enough to earn the 25-year-old a promotion to Triple-A, where his numbers have only improved. In 17 games, he’s slashing .403/.500/.629, brought his K-rate down to 6.6%, and increased his walk-rate to 14.5%. That adds up to a staggering 202 wRC+.

Further down in the system is Alex McGarry, who went unselected in 2020’s truncated draft but ended up signing as a free agent with the Reds after graduating from Oregon State. He wasted no time putting up numbers that have accelerated his progress through the minors. He hit four home runs in his first seven games at Low-A, with an 18.8% walk rate to boot, to earn himself a quick promotion. High-A, however, has proven a much more significant challenge; McGarry’s first 21 games in Dayton have been marred by a 41% K-rate and a paltry 3.6% walk rate, and his slugging percentage has taken a dive. It’s not surprising to see a player struggle after a promotion, but this seems like an appropriate test for the 23-year-old first baseman. If he can recapture the electricity he brought with him to Low-A, we can expect to see his name climb the ranks of Reds’ prospect lists to come.





Tess is a contributor at FanGraphs. When she's not watching college or professional baseball, she works as a sports video editor, creating highlight reels for high school athletes. She can be found on Twitter at @tesstass.

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steveo
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steveo

Am I missing something on Jose Barrero, or is an 8.6% BB rate and 20.4% K rate decent at worse? Especially paired with the power he’s been showing. Granted he is 23 in AA, so it’s age appropriate. Not like he’s young for the level or anything, but still.

His babip should be more worrisome (but really not all that worrisome tbh). It’s nearly at .400. That’s probably gonna come down a bit. His line would still be fine if you shaved some of that off.

VinnieDaGooch
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VinnieDaGooch

A high BABIP is actually a good sign for a prospect.

steveo
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steveo

Can you explain? Doesn’t make sense to me. It’s an indicator of luck and how hard a player hits the ball, but no matter how hard you hit the ball, a certain babip is unsustainable.

Pirates Hurdles
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Pirates Hurdles

Babip isnt quite the same in the minors, where elite players hit it much harder than organizational filler versus subpar pitching and defense isnt nearly as good at taking away hits. Top hitting prospects often can post a .400 babip on the way up as they beat up on sub-MLB pitching. .

steveo
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steveo

Well, yeah? But I don’t see how a high babip is actually a *good* sign for a prospect.

Also minor league fields are much worse than major league fields and can create a higher babip. Not much higher, but every little bit helps.

VinnieDaGooch
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VinnieDaGooch

This is obviously a pedantic argument, but high babips in the minors have been shown to have a positive correlation with major league WAR. If you take 2 prospects with equal plate discipline stats in the minors but one guy has a career .300 BABIP and the other is running a BABIP close to .400 odds are it isn’t all luck . The guy with the higher BABIP probably has better contact quality. And even if it was all luck it still wouldn’t make sense to call the high BABIP worrisome. If a guy doesn’t doesn’t have a profile that will translate to the major leagues it isn’t because he has a high BABIP. It is because of other traits that are worrisome like bad plate discipline or contact quality (low ISO for example).

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

This is actually kind of a messy issue. Generally speaking, if you’re looking for predictors of big league success, it would go something like this:
1) Home runs
2) Strikeout rate
3) [big gap]
4) Walks (not higher because of iffy strike throwing)
5) BABIP (not higher because of iffy fielding)
6) [big gap]

#4 and #5 are definitely telling you something, but it’s much noisier than home runs and strikeout rate because some players can feast on mistakes in ways they never can in the majors. So, yeah, high BABIP is way better than low BABIP. It’s certainly not a red flag. But Reds fans should be much more excited about Barrero hitting 5 home runs in 152 PAs (as opposed to 8 in ~450) than about a .386 BABIP.

will1331
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will1331

I mean, would you rather he have a low babip?

steveo
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steveo

No, just means that some of his performance might not be real. Maikol Escotto, a Pirates prospect, is running a .471 babip with a .302/.444/.430 line… In this case, yes, I’d rather have a low babip because it would mean that he isn’t just getting lucky. If he was running a .320 babip or something, then I know in all likelihood his numbers aren’t being propped up by good luck.

Never mind the fact that he’s 19, etc, just using this as an example.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

Yes, you would rather have a low BABIP given the same batting average because it implies you are striking out less, and strikeouts are more predictive of MLB success than BABIP.

No, you would not rather have a low BABIP in general because it could (emphasis on “could”) mean that your contact quality is poor or you’re super slow.

You can address the issues posed by the first one by looking at the K-rate and largely ignoring the batting average. In general, the predictive value of K rates and home runs stand by themselves. The predictive power of walks and BABIP depend on a few other things and should be treated more skeptically. Which is also more or less what you did in your original comment, so you clearly know this, it’s just weird language stuff.

sadtrombone
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sadtrombone

2021 so far has been a massive improvement over his last minor league stop, and at a higher level. In 2019 he looked like a quad-A type; now he looks like a potential big league shortstop. He’s walking more and has quite a bit more power, and the K-rate really hasn’t changed that much. Before he looked kind of like a 45, but a 50 or even 55 seems much more appropriate now. Big jump for him; you could see him back in the big leagues in 2022.

grandbranyan
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grandbranyan

The walk rate is kind of middling, 125th out of 205 qualified AA batters on the FG leaderboards, but Jose’s K rate is the 51st lowest, so pretty solidly above average.