Been an odd stretch for the red legs. Yasiel Puig. Trevor Bauer. Nick Castellanos. A couple sell-offs. Joey Votto the constant: a Jon Snow meme made incarnate on the baseball field. Brandon Drury and Raisel Iglesias and Jonathan India and Sonny Gray and Fidel Castro and Eric Davis and Pete Rose and Luis Castillo and why the fiery red hell is Hunter Strickland pitching with a lead in the ninth?
It’s complicated, I guess. They’ve taken some big swings. And mostly missed. Fun that they tried for a while. Not sure what to make of their current direction. Solid pieces in place with Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Alexis Diaz and more. Some impact talents on the way. A few interesting in-betweeners at the big league level. You have to squint a little, but you can see a path back to relevance for the Reds, which is really all you can ask for on the downside of an unsuccessful cycle.
1. SS Elly De La Cruz | 21 | AA | 2023
In his 2023 Fantasy Outlook for Jordan Walker, Grey refers to meta-human type athletes as Lab Babies. Next year, if he’s still eligible, that post is reserved for E to the DLC: Lab Baby. Prospect Thanos. Inevitable. Only thing between him and that kind of shine is a 2023 debut. The strikeouts and the Reds’ general level of competitiveness could conspire to delay his arrival, but if he does make the leap, we’ll want him on our redraft squads. The power and speed are elite, and I’m way less worried about the strikeouts (158 in 120 games) than what I’ve seen in some other prospect portals because I think the quality of contact is so extreme they barely matter until proven otherwise. De La Cruz is a switch-hitter at 6’5” 200 lbs who explodes his hips through the zone from both sides of the plate. Like Aaron Jude and Oneil Cruz before him, he doesn’t have to square up a pitch to send it seven rows deep. It’s unique. It’s uncanny. It helped him slash .304/.359/.586 with 28 home runs and 47 stolen bases in 120 games across two levels.
2. SS Noelvi Marte | 21 | A+ | 2024
Marte checks in at 6’1” 181 lbs but seems to be filling out in a hurry, just to the eye test. Next time we get a fresh weigh in, he might clear two bills. The power is plus-plus, and he controls the strike zone well for someone his age and level, posting a 13.5-to-18.3 percent walk-to-strikeout rate in 30 games for the High-A Reds. He’d posted a 10.7-to-21.3 percent rate in 85 games for Seattle before coming over in the Luis Castillo trade. Could be a sign he’s on an upward trajectory in that area, and he’s got the talent to sort of choose the type of hitter he wants to be. His big leg kick is changing shape here and there over the years as he navigates that path.
3. 3B Cam Collier | 18 | CPX | 2025
A sturdy left-handed hitter with big-league bloodlines, the 6 ‘2” 210 lb Collier represented huge value for Cincinnati with the 18th pick in this year’s draft. Other clubs were reportedly scared off by signing bonus demands, but that’s an old story that gets older every year. Take the best players you can get, especially early, and let the chips fall where they may. Collier rewarded the Reds with a silky smooth transition to pro ball, slashing .370/.514/.630 with two home runs in nine complex league games.
4. SS Edwin Arroyo | 19 | A | 2025
A 6 ‘0” 175 lb switch-hitter, Arroyo started the season hot in his full-season debut, boosting his prospect stock so much he became a crucial piece in the Mariners’ trade for Luis Castillo. I’m pumping the brakes here ever so slightly because Seattle is an excellent hype man for its minor leaguers. Arroyo’s plus hit tool could help everything else play up, but the rag ball and dissolution of the shift obscure Arroyo’s future value a bit in my opinion.
5. SS Matt McLain | 23 | AA | 2023
The 17th overall pick in 2021’s draft, McLain scuffled for the first time in a long time this season but still posted a 116 wRC+ despite hitting .232 thanks to a 15.5 percent walk rate and .221 ISO. He struck out a lot more than he ever had: 127 times in 103 games. McLain struck out 34 times as a Junior at UCLA in 49 games and just 24 times in 29 games at High-A last season. I’m curious to see what kind of player he becomes. I suspect he could trade some power to bring that rate closer to 20 percent, but that may not be his best path, considering where he’ll play his home games. He smashed 43 extra base hits and swiped 27 bags and delivered a better than average offensive season despite a fairly aggressive timeline. I doubt he’ll remain at shortstop given the bevy of options this team has at the position. Spent a lot of last season at second base, and Elly De La Cruz played some third base. I’d probably go with DLC at short because I like the dynamic but tall, big-armed shortstop taking away soft-liner singles. Had become one of Tatis’ trademarks. Would just let his athleticism eat a lot more than third base would.
6. 3B Christian Encarnacion-Strand | 23 | AA | 2023
A fourth-round pick in 2021, Encarnacion-Strand popped 32 homers across two levels last year, continuing Minnesota’s tradition of churning out high-quality hitters with fringey defensive skills. Great work by the Twins to turn a 4th round pick into shares of Tyler Mahle within one calendar year, and good work, too, by the Reds for taking this gamble on a fast riser who slashed .304/.368/.587 in his first full season as a pro.
7. RHP Chase Petty | 19 | A+ | 2025
The 26th overall pick in 2021, Petty pitched well in his debut season, firing 98.1 innings across two levels and logging a 3.48 ERA and 1.17 WHIP for his efforts. His fastball sits comfortably in the mid-90’s deep into his outings, spiking up near 100 at times. So far, he’s been able to dominate with mostly the fastball, sprinkling in a dynamite slider for wipeouts. Despite the tough home park, the Reds feel like a good landing spot for his development. Director of pitching Derek Johnson has a talent for teaching off-speed functionality. Petty could make the Tyler Mahle trade look brilliant all on his own.
8. OF Jay Allen II | 20 | A+ | 2025
I suspect we can all empathize with a human having a tough year. I’m not sure what the work-a-day equivalent is to slugging .324 across a full season (91 games) would be, but I can certainly relate to husting your butt off just to keep pace with expectations, and Allen stole 43 bases to keep it pushing this year. The Reds have been incredibly aggressive with him, promoting him to High-A although he slashed .224/.359/.332 in 73 Low A games. You wouldn’t know it from the numbers, but Allen is a big dude: 6’2” 190 lbs, and his raw power is plus. I just hope the club slows him down enough to find it. The line tells the story of a battler, making mechanical trades to tread water against older competitors.
9. IF Spencer Steer | 25 | MLB | 2022
Spencer steered clear of one crowded infield in Minnesota but wound up in another, but he’s not a low man on the totem pole here like he would’ve been there. The Twins had little incentive to rush him into the lineup, but Cincinnati will certainly want to see what their Tyler Mahle trade has wrought. On the field, the 5’11” 185 lb steer is a little like Matt McLain without the speed. He can hit, and his above-average power is a great fit for the park. He hit 25 home runs in 134 games across three levels last year, and a 20 homer type ceiling is within reason for his rookie year if he gets enough playing time.
10. SS Victor Acosta | 18 | CPX | 2026
As you can tell from the blurbs, much of this system is built from the 2022 deadline purge. Acosta was the return from San Diego for Brandon Drury’s bounceback season. A 5’11” 170 lb switch-hitter, Acosta features plus speed and developing plate skills. He posted a .348 on base percentage against older players but struggled to make much impact, slugging just .360 in 42 complex league games. His upside is enticing, but I’m in wait-and-see mode in dynasty leagues.
Thanks for reading!
I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.