The Cincinnati Reds player development staff has been the butt of jokes over the years. Some of it warranted, some of it not. Where the jokes have mostly come from is the lack of development of starting pitching. Unfortunately, that’s still a bit of an issue. I’ll go to my grave willing to fight that despite Luis Castillo arriving in the organization with a few starts in Double-A that the Reds absolutely developed him. They took a guy with some potential and turned him into an All-Star and borderline Cy Young contender. It didn’t all happen in the minors, but some of it sure as heck did.

But enough about that little rant, let’s talk about today. Let’s look at the Cincinnati Reds from just last night. Aristides Aquino is literally doing things in the Major Leagues that no one else has ever done. Phillip Ervin homered. Josh VanMeter had another multi-hit game. Now rewind to a year ago. Were any of those three players remotely in your mind as players that would be helping the Reds in the future?

Let’s work backwards here. Phillip Ervin spent about half of the year in the Major Leagues last season. He played in 78 games and had a .728 OPS. Overall his bat was slightly below the league average as he posted a 94 OPS+. It was last season that he really took a step forward in the minor leagues, though.

After years of being solid, but unspectacular where he couldn’t hit for any average, but drew enough walks to have a solid on-base percentage and just enough pop to make pitchers respect him, he started showing a different version of himself. He had 202 plate appearance in Triple-A Louisville in 2018 with an .864 OPS. And that was before the switch to the MLB baseball. That has continued into this season. While it’s likely that he’s playing over his head a little bit right now in the Majors – he is being platooned and that’s letting him play to his strengths and avoid some of the weaknesses. Right now he’s got a .355/.415/.589 line with 14 extra-base hits in 118 plate appearances.

Josh VanMeter joined the Reds as a player to be named later in December after the Reds made a Rule 5 Draft selection for the Padres in 2016. In 2017 he was solid, but unspectacular in Pensacola where he hit .255/.326/.352 (worth noting that their home stadium kills power to right field, so lefties usually struggle to show power there). Last season started out better in Pensacola and earned him a promotion to Triple-A Louisville. That’s when the changes really started to take place.

This season has seen Josh VanMeter embarrass pitchers in the International League to the tune of a .348/.429/.669 line. That earned him a call up or three along the way, and it seems he’s up for good at this point. Through 53 games in Cincinnati he’s hitting .283/.377/.472. Since he’s been getting more regular playing time in his most recent call up – over the last five weeks – he’s hitting .323/.397/.600 in 73 plate appearances for the Reds.

And then there’s Aristides Aquino. The outfielder is just killing the baseball. He’s doing what you’d expect him to do if you sent him to play on the Miami-Hamilton baseball team. Except he’s doing it in the Major Leagues. He’s played in 11 games this season for the Reds since his call up. And he’s hitting .429/.474/1.143. He’s hit eight home runs, which if we include his one game last year, is a Major League record for most home runs through the first 12 games of a players career. Aquino, unsurprisingly, won the National League Player of the Week Award for his efforts.

While it’s crazy to think that specific part of his play is going to last, he’s taken things to another level this season. Last offseason the Reds removed Aristides Aquino from the 40-man roster, which allowed him to become a free agent. They re-signed him immediately to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. He was coming off of back-to-back years in Double-A where he had struggled. The 2018 season was better than the 2017 campaign, but even in the 2018 season he posted a .240/.306/.448 line for the Blue Wahoos.

The Reds worked with him in spring training to change his mechanics. And to say that it had a positive impact would be an understatement. In 78 games for the Triple-A Louisville Bats this season he hit .299/.356/.636 with 28 home runs. And then he has come out and just torched Major League pitching through the first two weeks of his call up this season. He’s sitting at 36 home runs this year between his two stops and he’s played in all of 89 games.

These three guys have all been difference makers this season. And all three of them have been in the organization for several years (or longer). None of them have recently been considered “top prospects” – though there was a time a handful of years ago that both Phillip Ervin and Aristides Aquino were Top 10 prospects in the Reds organization. Still, there was  along time between when that was and where we are today. What these guys have developed into should be credit to the player development staff. It should be a credit to the players themselves, too. They’ve been able to not only take the advice shared with them along the way, but try to and actually implement the changes. And then go out and rake.

Now let’s work on that pitching development…..

38 Responses

  1. JG

    Sorry if you’ve addressed this before, but out of curiosity, how realistic is it for VanMeter to play SS close to everyday? It probably depends on just how good the bat really is, but if he actually is something like a .270/.350/.450 hitter long-term or better (which might be a stretch…), do you think that would be enough to make up for any defensive shortcomings there?

    Thanks much for all the great work you do!

      • JG

        Ah, okay; I saw on BBRef he had played a little bit of SS in the minors and read he profiles as someone who could play at most spots in a pinch, so I wasn’t sure to what extent he could hang there. Thanks for the response!

  2. Bromleyjake

    Assuming that Aquino’s Babe Ruth impersonation ends at some point, what would be a realistic expectation from him next year. Even if he was to turn into a strikeout machine, I don’t see how you could expect anything less than 30 bombs a season after seeing the in-game power this year. As the fourth best offensive player on the team, that wouldn’t be all that bad.

    • Oldtimer

      George Foster took a while to develop. He got better in 1974 then much better in 1975 through 1981 as a Red.

      • Oldtimer

        Specifics. Foster played in MiLB in 1968, 1969, and 1973. Split MiLB and MLB in 1970 and 1972.

        Fair in MLB in 1971 and 1974. Really good in 1975. Great in 1976, 1977 and on through 1981 as a Red.

        Yahtzee!

  3. Jon Ryker

    With a swing as compact as Ervin’s, it always seemed obvious to me that he’d hit. he needs to play more.

    I propose they deal Suarez in the offseason…they’ve got several guys who need playing time who could play 3rd, and India coming. They would get a massive haul for Suarez, given his talent, age, and contract.

    • SaveTheFarm

      Where’s the thumbs down button on this thing?? I don’t think any of the guys you mentioned can put up numbers like Suarez and he’s almost a steal with that contract. I vote NO!

      • RojoBenjy

        Trading Suárez would be a bold and brilliant move if they get a great return.

      • Colt Holt

        They should listen to offers on every player. If the values other teams see in Suarez and Castillo are similar to what Fangraphs trade value series shows, they should be Reds for a long time. If someone is calling to offer Fernando Tatis Jr plus, either could be Padres fast!

      • TennRed

        Agree, and when’s the last time Reds actually won a trade were they try to get a “haul” as someone mentioned. IF, Cincy could move Suarez for a very similar (skill/cost) LHH player, it MIGHT be worth trading him?:? Reds really need a young – solid LHH player. This idea that they will bring in 5 All Stars for one player just doesn’t work for any team let alone the Reds.

    • Alex Reds

      Depends on the return, and it’s only worth it if it’s a starting pitcher. If Suarez can get you Casey Mize, Ian Anderson, Forrest Whitley, Nate Pearson, Jesus Luzardo, (Nick Lodolo), Matt Manning, DL Hall, or Mitch Keller; or a top 50 MLB starter with years of cost control – then trade Suarez.

    • Bromleyjake

      So we are going to trade away our team’s best offensive player? Is this how mediocre teams become contenders?

      • Jon Ryker

        They become contenders by trading from depth to fill needs. Van Meter, Senzel and Farmer can all play 3rd base. They don’t have a leadoff hitter. They don’t have a 2 hitter. You can’t ever have enough pitching. And they’ve got a bunch of young outfielders they need to play and sort out.

        Suarez is a really good player who’s going to get better and is under a very affordable contract. They will get a LOT for him.

      • Alex

        I’m against trading Suarez. Senzel, farmer are all decent players that maybe can improve and become better but none of them are Suarez. Suarez is a leader on this team and is one of the last guys I’m thinking of trading. We could get some prospects for him but that doesn’t always work either. We got great value for the cueto trade but everyone always thinks we got robbed since the return players haven’t planned out yet

  4. RandyW

    I would counter with these top 5 draft picks going back to 2013. Kevin Franklin,Mark Armstrong,Ben Lively, Nick Travieso, Jeff Gelalich, Tanner Rahier, Dan Langfield, Nick Howard,Alex Blandino,Taylor Sparks,Wyatt Strahan,Gavin Lavalley; Blake Trahan,Miles Gordon; Chris Okey,Cash case,Jacob Heatherly,and Bren Spillane. They’re drafting and development has been a disaster. Ervin a success story? He was drafted number one in 2013. Aquino is 25. They released and resigned him and all the credit has been given to an asst hitting coach that was signed this year. They same could be said for VanMeter. Hopefully, going forward the new pitching and hitting coaches will develop players for the future.

    • Doug Gray

      I’d counter with: Go look at the expected career value for players taken at every last one of those spots.

      And that it’s crazy to try and say the development team shouldn’t get some credit for Aquino or VanMeter, who made changes as Cincinnati Reds minor league players. How on Earth are you trying to take that away here?

      • RandyW

        The Reds have an entire development team that works with the minor league teams but Aquino specifically gives credit to Donnie Ecker of the major league staff who worked with him in spring training. Ervin never hit in the minors but since coming to the majors has shown great improvement. I’ll give credit to the major league staff for sure and hopefully their guidance will filter down to the minors for years to come. But let’s not forget I hope Aquino,VanMeter, and Ervin are for real but we are talking very small samples here.

      • Doug Gray

        Aquino went to Triple-A and worked his butt off for four months with the staff there, too. Aquino worked his way up to Triple-A for seven years with some of the current staff.

        Ervin? Did you read the article? Ervin started hitting last year in Triple-A. Josh VanMeter? Same.

        And yes, it’s a small sample size in the Majors. All three of them have been hitting well all season long between Triple-A and the Majors. And Ervin and VanMeter were hitting well in Triple-A for all, or most of last year, too.

        The players deserve credit. The coaches deserve credit (both the guys at the big league level, and the ones in the minors). Full stop.

    • Amdg

      Maybe everybody is right?

      This article highlights the Reds developing players they did not draft – And they do that task very well.

      It’s just a struggle at developing the guys they draft – especially pitchers.

  5. Klugo

    I was thinking this same thought the other day. For all the grief the Red’s organization has received for their lack of player development, They are sure looking good right about now.

    • Gaffer

      Let’s not get carried away. I am pretty sure very few other teams would trade their top 25 prospects for ours right now. Sure, we have had a few low end prospects show well over a couple weeks. But it’s not clear they are going to pan out over the next year or so.

      • Pete

        I’m thinking you’re a glass half empty guy. They can only be as good or bad as they can at the moment. So far? I’m exuberant. Yup, all three may turn sour tomorrow but for right now, big thumbs up. Big thumbs up. Life is a journey not a destination.

  6. Franklin Hall

    The results are self-explanatory. It is great to see. I always asked myself, why can’t we get one of these up-and-coming superstars, like Toronto, Houston, Atlanta, or San Diego have been getting. And, just think, Hunter Greene, Odolo, and several others are just a couple of years away. The future sure looks bright!

  7. Cguy

    Call me greedy, but I’m hoping for the same kind of hitting results from Crook, O’Grady, possibly Longhi, & Nay.

    • RojoBenjy

      Ah, that would be really nice. Reds fans could use a little payoff for being greedy.

  8. Justin

    The game is changing, maybe this new approach is helping guys like Ervin, VanMeter and Aquino. I think we need to stop clamoring for everyone to play every day. If we can’t have a superstar lineup like Houston, we need to get creative to get similar results.

  9. Gaffer

    Although I think the Reds development team is not bad, probably at least average, why does about 250 ABs from a few guys mean the development has been so great? Aquino likely will be at best a 2 WAR player but could also be -2 WAR and Van Meter also is less than a sure thing (but with a higher floor). These few weeks feel more like that time with John Nunnally and Chris Stynes a couple decades ago than it does Barry Larkin and Paul O’Neil a decade before that.

    • Doug Gray

      Because right now those 250 at-bats from those three dudes have been incredibly good and helped the Major League team win ballgames.

      • Pete

        Good work Doug and you are absolutely right. There are many a Reds fan that have been so beaten down they don’t trust good news. Hang with ’em, they’ll come around but it’s going to take time. Nice and timely article.

        Now the bad news: O’Grady has been sent down to clear a roster spot for Galvis. We’re still stuck with Peraza and his putrid wRC+ of 66. I pray this was a call from the field not the FO. Maybe Williams told Bell he can keep Peraza, just don’t play him. Ugh!

    • Dollar Bill

      Cool Reds starting outfield of all time

      Young, Frank and Stynes

  10. donny

    I will also add to this article when it comes to the players.
    ‘Knowing that you have a well known pitching coach and batting coach who have had success in the bigs setting the standards for the Reds and the minor league system can really boost a players confidence. What these guys say, the players will anxiously and eagerly want to listen with excitement. So Kudos for the front office in what was the [biggest] move, and that was taking these two coaches away from successful organizations and bringing them to the reds.

  11. kevinz

    The Aquino Story gives me more Hope for Siri. Both had similar seasons in AA.
    Siri is trying to walk more which i think hurting his Overall Numbers for Now.
    I am surprised Doug giving any credit to Aquino since his Potential only a 240 hitter in his eyes jk lol.
    I hope all turn into something small sample size alert hope can make adjustments Daily.

  12. Amdg

    Another way to look at it is how many guys in recent memory struggled when they were here but developed and suddenly became good when they left Cincinnati?

    Not many.

  13. DaveCT

    What I do like this year is that players promoted look ready to play in the ML’s, not rushed. That is a positive sign of development as well.

  14. Justin A. Fortner

    Doug,

    I realize Peraza has had an awful year. But hey he walked tonight!

    anyway, wouldn’t it makes sense to play him at SS every single night. would like to have these higher leverage at-bats because the reds may be faced with idea or releasing him or trying to find a trade partner.

    especially since Galvis coming on board and possibility of acquiring a SS in the offseason.