Tuesday was a good day on the backfields for someone like myself who was looking to get eyes on as many new players as possible. The AZL/Billings group played a game against themselves and I had a chance to see about 10 guys I had never seen in person before play in an actual game situation. The Dayton group had a few pitchers and several position players that I was seeing in person for the first time as well. Today though, I wanted to focus on three guys in particular, all from the Dayton group, that jumped out: Pitchers Jose Lopez and Ariel Hernandez, and outfielder Narciso Crook.

Narciso Crook

I wrote about the outfielder five weeks ago in the Top Prospects series and he was just outside of the rankings. If you’ve read anything I’ve written on Crook before you know that he’s got plenty of tools but that he’s a bit raw in his plate approach and how often he can use the tools at the plate. Last season he walked just 15 times and had 103 strikeouts – a ratio that simply won’t work for a successful hitter. As the season in 2015 progressed, his ratio of strikeouts to walks did improve, going from 58-to-6 in the first three months of the year to 45-to-9 in the last two. Neither is strong, but there was some improvement and it led to better hitting numbers overall as well, posting a .747 OPS compared to a .573 OPS in the first three months.

While it’s only been two games this spring, what I’ve seen from the 20-year-old outfielder has been impressive. He hits the ball very hard, which I already knew from watching him play last season. But what has stood out is his ability to recognize offspeed stuff better this spring. He’s stayed back, adjusting to and then hitting offspeed stuff that he would have swung through or made weak contact on last season. If Crook is able to improve his pitch recognition and draw more walks/cut down on the strikeouts, the tools at the plate are going to begin to play up to their raw scouting grades and he could put up some strong offensive numbers. He could be the breakout prospect of the year if the ability to adjust to offspeed pitches he’s shown over the last two days carries forward with him this season.


Jose Lopez

Entering this season I have Jose Lopez ranked as the Cincinnati Reds 19th best prospect (in the article linked he’s list as 16th, but was bumped down after some trades were made), so I obviously had liked what I had seen on video and had good reports. Yesterday though, was the first time I had a chance to see him in person and it was a good showing.

He was working in the low 90’s with his fastball on the day, showing good armside run with the pitch. It also showed some sinking action at times. He mostly worked with his breaking ball as his second offering and it showed itself as an average pitch most of the game, but flashed an above-average one a time or two as well.


Ariel Hernandez

The Reds picked up Ariel Hernandez in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft this past offseason. He was originally signed by the Giants and spent parts of five seasons in the Dominican Summer League or Arizona League – and it wasn’t pretty. He didn’t pitch in 2014 and began the 2015 season pitching in the Frontier League (independent baseball) before signing on with the Diamondbacks, pitching in their short-season Hillsboro bullpen where he posted a 6.04 ERA in 22.1 innings with 21 walks and 32 strikeouts.

I was watching the Daytona game, but saw that a new pitcher was entering the Dragons game and I couldn’t quite see who it was so I walked over to the field and saw the last name Hernandez on the jersey. It wasn’t a name that I recognized, so I began to watch him warm up. After two pitches I found someone to ask who it was. Then the inning started. Explosive fastball. Nasty breaking ball. 95 MPH. 95 MPH. 97 MPH. Nasty breaking ball. It was unexpected, and incredibly impressive to see.

He just turned 24-years-old and he’s never thrown a pitch in full season ball, struggling mightily to throw strikes throughout his career. The odds suggest that guys like this don’t ever figure it out (he had 21 walks, two hit batters and 11 wild pitches in 22.1 innings in 2015 at the rookie ball level). With that said, his arm is as impressive as I’ve seen this year in terms of pure stuff. Despite the poor numbers throughout his career, you can certainly understand why the Reds picked him up in the offseason. Watch the video to see what he’s got – and just note that the noise made was not from me, but from a scout who was watching the game beside me.


12 Responses

  1. James Kalat

    What is the rule on the AAA phase of the Rule 5 draft? Does it mean the player must stay through the year at AAA or higher?

  2. The Duke

    Eh, Narciso Cook and Ariel Hernandez were definitely not who I had in mind. Doesn’t matter how nasty your stuff is if you can’t throw it for strikes. Cook flashed last year, but he had a long way to go. It would be a quantum leap forward if he put it together this year (not that I’d have a problem with that). I’ll gladly eat crow if I’m wrong, but I’m not holding my breath on either this year.

  3. lollipopcurve

    Tremendous stuff, Doug — thanks.

    Will be looking forward to seeing where Hernandez is assigned.

  4. Krozley

    O’Grady has cleared waivers and is offered back to the Angels. They have 3 days to decide if they want him back. Be nice if the Reds could keep him in the minors, but for now another spot is cleared on the 40-man (I’m going to guess filled by a free agent). Hayes, Mattheus, JC Ramirez, and Villarreal sent down along with Holt. Price apparently wants to keep 8 relievers to start, so I’m curious how that will work. Maybe Disco is sent down until he is ready to pitch, hopefully on the 10th.

    • Norwood Nate

      From what I’ve read 35 remain in camp. Bailey, Lorenzen, Moscot, Lamb, and Skipworth will all start the year on the DL/injured. Duran will serve his suspension. That leaves 29 guys.

      Iglesias, DeSclafani, Simon and Finnegan will all be on the team as starters (leaving one spot open in the rotation for now). Melville is the remaining starter in camp.

      Duvall and DeJesus were told they made the team, add Barnhart to the mix and that’s 10 position players (along with Mes, Votto, Phillips, Cozart, Suarez, Hamilton, Bruce).

      Price says he’s going to start with 8 relievers. Hoover, J. Diaz, Cingrani, Cotham, Ohlendorf, Sampson, Wood, and D. Diaz are the relievers left in camp. That’s 8. There are no other relievers in camp.

      The remaining 2 (due to 8 man bullpen) bench spots would come down to Cave, Rodriguez, Schebler, Peraza, Pacheco, and Cabrera. There could be another bench spot if the Reds don’t carry 5 starters off the bat, in the instance that a minor league guy is called up to make a spot start. But it looks like the remaining cuts will come from this group. Cabrera likely won’t make it as a 3rd catcher and Pacheco would need to be added to the 40-man. On the other side the Reds may lose Cave or YRod if they don’t make the team.

      It will be interesting to see how these final spots are filled.

  5. M

    see where Villareal and Hayes were farmed out while Wood is still there. They should not play Spring Training games if that is the way the decision makers think.

    • Champ Summers

      Pretty sure Wood has a major league contract and that’s the real impact for the decision makers. They can always call up the other two if wood flames out early and often. Wood has shown some improvement. Feel free to correct me if I’m off on the contract status.

    • HavaKlu

      To me, this is about the front office saving face over ” their” acquisitions of Wood and Cotham—-I mean what does Drew Hayes have to do to get a shot? And Villareal proved his worth with his flexability last year.

      • AlphaZero

        It has everything to do with limited roster spots and roster construction, and it has nothing to do with saving face. Do you really think the average fan even knows that Cotham was a small part of the Chapman trade or that Blake Wood is in camp on a major league deal? I’d also like to point out that Cotham has posted some really nice K/BB numbers despite the mediocre results. And yes, Wood has been bad, but do we really think Hayes is the answer? Look at Hayes’ minor league numbers. The control isn’t there, and a few innings of ST isn’t enough to convince me otherwise. He’ll need to show significant improvement over a couple months in AAA in order to get his shot.

    • Troy

      Yea that was nasty! Let’s hope Mr. Hernandez finds the strike zone this year