Reds in the AFL

The Arizona Fall League is now in action and Cincinnati has eight prospects participating. Atop the group is Michael Lorenzen who has been a frequent recipient of promotions in his brief professional career since the Reds drafted him this year.

Every team will have players in various fall leagues and the most visible of them is the Arizona Fall League. It is the only one held in the mainland US and each team will supply six to eight players to field six teams of thirty. This fall eight Cincinnati prospects will continue the action with the Glendale Desert Dogs: Michael Lorenzen, Drew Hayes, Jamie Walczak, Chad Rogers, Tucker Barnhart, Travis Mattair, Ryan LaMarre, and Yorman Rodriguez.

Reasons for the players selected vary. Most of the players are coming off season in AA or higher but each team can have up to two below that level. One obvious reason is to gain extra experience during the offseason. Some may be trying to play catch-up after missing time to injury, or in Walczak's case missing games after testing positive for a banned substance. Many may be auditioning for a spot on the 40-man roster next spring and in the Reds case all AFL participants except for Lorenzen will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft.

The first player to gain attention from the Reds' list is Lorenzen who had done nothing but climb during his brief time in the organization since they selected him with a competitive balance pick between the first and second rounds in this year's draft. The Desert Dogs are his fifth team since leaving college at Cal St. Fullerton this spring after debuting with the Arizona League Reds before quickly moving to Billings, Dayton, and Bakersfield before seven appearances with AA Pensacola. He was originally drafted as an outfielder but immediately following his selection there was speculation that the Reds were more interested in him as a pitcher.

There was some talk about developing Lorenzen at both positions but as of right now any work in the outfield has been put on hold as he's only made one minor league plate appearance. If he indeed returns to continue working his way up the system out of the bullpen then that likely means that Cincinnati projected him as a lock-down closer to justify investing such an early selection on a reliever and his rapid ascent supports that assumption. He finished with an overall flat-three ERA over 22 appearances since entering the organization.

Reliever Hayes also pitched in the AFL last season before returning for another tour at Pensacola and struggling with command all year. His stats went the wrong direction the second time around in the Southern League and his ERA shot up two runs per nine innings to 5.43. Lifetime he's issued almost five walks per nine over the four professional seasons that followed since Cincinnati drafted him out of Vanderbilt.

Rogers has risen steadily in the Cincinnati system over the past few seasons since the Reds obtained him with a late-round selection out of junior college. Last season he was solid after returning to Pensacola and kept a 2.20 ERA before a promotion to Louisville in the midyear. That rose to 4.22 over twelve starts against higher level hitters in AAA where he is expected to begin next season. Last year Tony Cingrani plus the five starters on the opening day roster provided all but six of the Reds starts and that group figures to comprise the rotation again in 2014. Rogers could work himself into a position of being the first one called should they need additional help similar to what Greg Reynolds did this season.

Walczak started 2013 at Bakersfield and didn't allow an earned run over eight appearances, earning a promotion for his AA debut in June. While at Pensacola he kept a sub-four ernie over 24 appearances. He's been used out of the bullpen nearly all of his professional career over the past five seasons. He brings a low/mid 90's fastball with a solid curve and the Reds are hopeful that he'll be able to reduce his walk frequency which has been above 4.5 per nine innings over his minor league career.

Barnhart remains the top catching prospect in the Reds system and projects as a Ryan Hanigan-type, solid defense behind the plate and strong on-base skills to offset an absence of power offensively. He struggled after a midseason promotion to Pensacola in 2012, but seemed to take the next step in his return there this season by hitting .260 AVG/.348 OB. That performance should get him a debut at Louisville to begin next season and the inside track on Corky Miller's job as the organization's third catcher.

Rodriguez is a safe bet to remain on the Reds 40-man after completing his most impressive season since the Reds signed the high-profile foreign free agent out of Venezuela as a teenager. 2013 was his fifth professional season and he spent a generous portion of it in AA where he held his own as a 20 year-old. The Reds have been high on this prospect ever since signing him with a $2.5 million bonus and they haven't been bashful about advancing him whenever he's shown a hint of readiness. That will likely continue as they get nearer to finding out what type of return they will get on their initial investment five years ago.

Mattair also played in the AFL last year following a season where he was a leading run-producer at Bakersfield after the Reds obtained him in the Rule 5 draft. Things were more difficult for him in AA this season, but he overcame a horrible April to end up hitting .242 with thirteen homers. His most impressive month was July over which he hit .330 in 26 games. There are currently multiple third base prospects in the Reds system, but no clear cut leader at the top of the pipeline. Mattair might have a chance to make it to AAA in 2014 and make a claim on that spot.

LaMarre is coming off a bit of a disappointing season over which is production at the plate declined during his second season at Pensacola. Cincinnati was probably hoping for more from the former second round draft selection who had a cup of coffee at Louisville at the end of the season. He did double his home run total to ten and he's still only 24 years old. His situation might be a bit of a head-scratcher as the Reds plan for next year. They'd certainly like to keep him in the system, but may not be able to do it without using a spot on the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.

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