TDG’S Triple Play: Cincinnati Reds!
The Triple Play is back for a fifth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Jose Barrero, Age: 24, Position: SS
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
Jose Barrero has battled and battled and battled. He defected from Cuba as a teenager. He lost his mother to COVID-19 during the 2021 season. He broke his hamate and missed time at the start of the 2022 season. He saw his organization acquire not one, but two young shortstops when moving their biggest trade chip (Luis Castillo) at the deadline. Through all of this, he has battled his way back up to the major leagues. It hasn’t been pretty, but I think we need to cut the guy some slack.
No Hamate, Jose!
In Spring Training of 2022, Barrero went down with a sore wrist that was eventually revealed to be a hamate bone injury. This particular injury has always been synonymous with a drop in power, but recent trends have proven that to be inaccurate (see: Giancarlo Stanton, Matt Olson, and José Ramírez, respectively). There are several mitigating factors at play here, though, that complicated the situation and resolution. Barrero first reported discomfort in his wrist at the end of last year, but then trained through it during the off-season and lockout. It wasn’t until the lockout was over in March that the true nature of the injury was discovered. There’s no telling what other damage and bad habits could have come from that diagnostic delay. Barrero’s path was derailed and never got back on track. After multiple seasons where he shredded the minor leagues, he has sputtered in Triple-A this year to the tune of a .209 batting average and nine home runs in 55 games.
Overcoming Barriers to Success
Barrero entered 2022 as Baseball America’s top ranked prospect in the Reds’ farm system, the 33rd ranked prospect in all of baseball. Prospect growth isn’t always linear, but this certainly should’ve been a huge year for the young shortstop. Instead, he was overshadowed by the emergence of phenom Elly De La Cruz (see Bob’s write-up below). The Reds also added to their middle infield depth pretty heavily at the trade deadline with Noelvi Marte, Edwin Arroyo, and Spencer Steer. Coupled with a decent performance out of 2021 first-round pick Matt McLain, Barrero might have gone from the clear cut shortstop of the future to (at best) fifth on the organization’s depth chart in a matter of a few months.
So why should we be worrying about a player who hasn’t produced and doesn’t appear to have favor with his own team? Because talent like he’s shown in the past typically doesn’t just disappear. He will only be 24-years-old on Opening Day next year, so there’s plenty of time left for him to regain his stature before entering his prime. There are many, many paths to success for Barrero. Even if he can’t overcome the other players that Cincinnati invested in at shortstop, he has previously shown a propensity for excellent defense in center field. And if that doesn’t pan out, there are 29 other teams that I’m guessing would be willing to take a chance on a young hitter with good power that can play solid defense at shortstop. And I think that fits the bill for someone I’m willing to keep on my roster to let them try and prove it next year.
Alexis Diaz, Age: 25, Position: Relief Pitcher
Analysis by: Brian Shanks
Drafted in the 12th round of the 2015 MLB Draft from Juan Jose Maunez High School in Puerto Rico, Alexis Diaz has spent his entire career in the Reds organization. After being drafted, he was placed at the Reds organization in the Arizona Fall league compiling 13 innings pitched, a 1.39 ERA to go along with 11 punch outs. 2016 saw Diaz hit the 60-day injury list, I can’t find any info on the exact injury, but he did not register any innings pitched.
In 2017 the Reds elected to have him repeat the AZL where he registered a 4.94 ERA to go along with 40 strikeouts. From 2017-2019 the Reds were treating him as a traditional starter and the numbers show it just wasn’t the place for Diaz to shine. His ERA came down to a nice 3.02 in 2018 but ballooned to 5.19 in 2019.
Skipping 2020 the Reds chose to stick Diaz in Double-A and also move him to a relief role. Pitchers are tricky, putting it mildly, to evaluate and if you really want to jump down a rabbit hole, trying to evaluate relief pitching is darn near impossible. A key stat I like to look at though, for starters and relievers, is the Strikeout per 9 or K/9. Diaz had a minor league K/9 at 11.98 but when he was sent to the bullpen in 2021 it jumped to 14.88.
Yes, a Reliever!
Brother to current Mets closer Edwin Diaz, Diaz made the major league ball club out of the gates in 2022 and he is quickly becoming one heck of an asset. In the 47 games that Diaz has played in he has pitched 49.1 innings with a 1.82 ERA, 4-2 record, 67 strikeouts, 13 holds and six saves, and an eye-popping WHIP of 0.91!!! At 25-years-old and just beginning to figure out his pitches and Major league bats, I am climbing onto the bandwagon. That being said be very careful how patient you are with a reliever.
The Reds are a disaster, but the future could be fun with this pitching staff, though the bats and fielding may hinder some of the golden arms this system has. For now, Diaz is exactly what I would be looking to add on an up-and-coming team or a late round pick in a redraft league. We have a saying in my hometown league “Holds win titles.”
Elly De La Cruz, Age: 20, Position: SS/3B, Level: Double-A
Analysis by: Bob Cyphers
The Cincinnati Red organization is budding with talented prospects after this year’s trade deadline; however, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write about Elly De La Cruz. I can recall several nights where my nightly Twitter feed scrolling was taken over by highlights of massive home runs with headlines of “He did it again!” and “What can’t he do?” De La Cruz has been rising fast on dynasty rankings, reaching top-10 status on several lists after mid-season updates. At 6’5″ and 200 pounds, the 20-year-old has all the tools to be an absolute fantasy stud in the future. Coaches and scouts around the league continue to rave about the skillset De La Cruz possesses and shows off every time he steps on the field. They alternate between remarking over the lasers off his bat from both sides of the plate and his seemingly unlimited range and arm strength splitting time between shortstop and third base.
Looking at just 2022, De La Cruz has already conquered High-A, played in the MLB Futures Game, and is currently tearing it up in Double-A. Again, this is all in his age-20 season, meaning he is doing all of this while considerably younger than the average age of the level. Through 425 plate appearances, he is slashing .308/.362/.618 with 27 home runs and 36 stolen bases. That stat line clearly speaks for itself, but if we have some fun and project out to 600 plate appearances we find totals of 38 home runs and 50 stolen bases. Just to put it into perspective, the only recent season remotely close to this pace was 2019 Ronald Acuna Jr. with 41 home runs and 37 steals. Obviously, this is a simplistic approach for projecting a stat line, but it’s effective in portraying the potential De La Cruz possesses.
You may be thinking what a lot of people are thinking at this point, that De La Cruz is a “can’t miss guy!” He has off-the-charts power with speed to match and contributes high-level defense. While all of this is true, the 30/40 (present/future) score for his hit tool is unnerving. The present grade of 30 represents a hit tool that is “poor, but not unplayable” and the future grade of 40 is “below average.” To understand why his hit tool is graded so low, look no further than his strikeout percentage. De La Cruz sports a 30+ percent strikeout rate, showing that his bat contains a lot of pop but also a lot of swing and miss.
Might Want to Take it Off Cruz Control
The one wart on Del La Cruz is his strikeout rate, which has been over 30 percent at each level of the minors since coming state-side. Yes, I admit I am focusing on the one flaw you can find on his Fangraphs page, but it’s one of the most concerning for a young player. I know he is young, and he has plenty of time to improve, but he has been advancing so quickly simply due to his exceptional natural talents that his plate skills have not yet affected his success. I don’t want to make it sound like I am questioning the work ethic of De La Cruz. I have actually read statements from coaches around him that he takes advanced scouting reports very seriously and works hard to learn and never gets beat the same way twice. I am simply saying he is advancing very quickly through the minor leagues despite not showing any improvement in his strikeout rate. Perhaps he will find the time to work on this part of his game in his remaining time in Double-A and Triple-A, but heading into a major league debut with a 30 percent strikeout rate is less than ideal. History shows us that strikeout rates do not typically decrease when a prospect gets the call to The Show, it increases. Suddenly that 30 percent rate you could live with becomes 35 or 40 percent and forces a player to the bench or back down to the minors.
It is so hard to project the path of a prospect, but I wanted to look for players with minor league stats similar to De La Cruz to get an idea of the player he may become. I took the simple approach of filtering data dating back to 2012, looking for players with a combination of a strikeout rate greater than or equal to 30 percent, a walk rate less than or equal to eight percent, and an ISO greater than or equal to .200 over a minimum of 300 plate appearances. Again, I know this is simplistic, and does not reveal all likely outcomes, but I still think there is value in this quick exercise. The first thing I noticed is that there simply are not a lot of “big leaguers” on the list. This is likely due to the fact most players who strike out this much in the minors are just not successful in the major leagues. For example, there are 18 MLB players with at least 300 plate appearances in 2022 that have a strikeout rate over 30 percent, and only eight of them have a wRC+ of 100 or greater. The next aspect that jumped out to me on my filtered list is that the two most recognizable names are actually legit comparisons for where De La Cruz’s career may land: Adolis Garcia and Tyler O’Neill.
There are not many power/speed combos who strike out in 30 percent or more of their plate appearances, so maybe it should not be a big surprise that this list produced both Garcia and O’Neill but it seems fitting. In 2021, both hit 30+ home runs with 15+ stolen bases while striking out over 31 percent of the time, but O’Neill carried a wRC+ of 144 compared to Garcia’s 99. The largest notable difference was in batting average as O’Neill hit .286 with a .352 OBP, while Garcia only hit .243 with an OBP of .286. Their walk rates were comparable with O’Neill having a slight 2% advantage, but it was still only at 7% overall. Looks like O’Neill had better batted-ball luck with a .366 BABIP compared to Garcia’s .306, which could explain the gap in batting average between the two. Now looking at 2022, Garcia is leading the way with a 112 wRC+ compared to O’Neill’s 89. O’Neill’s season has been plagued with injury, but regardless his average has plummeted (.229) and totals for both home runs and stolen bases remain in single digits. Garcia is one of only two players to reach the 20/20 mark so far this season but is still just above average according to wRC+ due to his low on-base skills. Hitter profiles like these are volatile with prevalent hot and cold streaks that make predicting performance difficult from week to week, month to month, and season to season. Players like O’Neill, Garcia, and De La Cruz are exciting to have on your roster and they can bring significant contributions to counting stats, but they can be a liability for BA (even more so for OBP) and consistency.
Where Will This Cruz End Up?
Elly De La Cruz is the epitome of a boom or bust prospect. The biggest question that fantasy managers face currently is how to handle rostering him. For those who embrace the risk and want to take the gamble that De La Cruz can match all of the associated hype I say, “buckle up and hang on!” But for those who are more risk-averse in their roster management, I say strike while the fire is hot as this is likely the “sell high” point of his career. There is not much higher he can climb up prospect rankings, meaning he can only realistically go in one direction from here. Additionally, a player’s stock can plummet after their MLB debut due to their struggles to adjust to the highest level of competition. At that point, it’s either sell low or ride it out (ask anyone who rosters Jarred Kelenic in dynasty).
So the question is, what would it require in return to trade away De La Cruz? This is an extremely difficult question to answer as there are so many different league dynamics out there, but I will try to offer some words of advice on the matter. Personally, I do not like to make a habit of trading away young hitters for pitchers in dynasty. The only way I would trade away De La Cruz for a pitcher would be if I was getting back a bonafide ace. Everyone has their own opinion as to who qualifies as an ace, so I will leave generating that list up to the individual. Turning to hitters, I would be looking for a top-100 player at a minimum, but they would need to be as close to peak age as possible. Find the owner in your league that is most enamored with De La Cruz and make an offer, aim as high as you dare. Maybe an owner is facing a rebuild situation and is losing confidence that someone like Luis Robert or Bo Bichette or even Fernando Tatis Jr. is not the cornerstone they once believed. It might take more than a one-for-one deal, but perhaps De La Cruz is enough to be the centerpiece in the return. You may have to aim a little lower than these names, but it can’t hurt to try a little “heat check” to test the market.
You can also approach it by looking to swap prospects. If you desire a player with a little bit safer of a floor this could be a good approach as well. De La Cruz is now a known name near the top of enough lists that you can likely swap him for almost any other prospect. I’m not sure he could quite fetch a Carroll or Henderson in return, but most other names are likely attainable. It’s really a matter of personal preference at this point for fantasy managers. You can stay the course and take part in what could truly be a spectacular and special ride with De La Cruz. Or you can cash in and jump ship before the potentially rough waters ahead that may ultimately lead to a shipwreck.