The Dragons will open a 14-game Arizona-based spring training schedule on Thursday when they meet Burlington at the Reds Minor League complex in Goodyear. On April 1, the 25 players assigned to open the season with the Dragons will arrive at Dayton International Airport. They will practice at Fifth Third Field on April 3 and 4 and then open the Midwest League season on Thursday, April 5th in Bowling Green, Kentucky against the Bowling Green Hot Rods. The Dragons home opener is Saturday, April 7 when they host Bowling Green at Fifth Third Field at 7:00 p.m. Single-game ticket sales for 2018 Dragons games will begin on Wednesday, March 14.
This is part four of an eight-part series previewing the 2018 Dragons. Players listed here are candidates for positions on the 25-man Dragons season-opening roster.
This preview is an unofficial projection of possible roster candidates. Minor League rosters are not established until April 2. Spring training variables including performance, injuries, trades, and additional player acquisitions will impact the roster accordingly.
Click links on each name for career stats and player information.
Candidates: Jeter Downs, Carlos Rivero.
If you knew nothing about the individual players but wanted to predict which member of the Dragons had the best chance of reaching the Major Leagues, history would indicate you should pick the shortstop. This is probably true for most Minor League teams because the shortstop is typically the most versatile player on the field, but it has been especially true in Dayton. The list of Dragons shortstops who have reached the big leagues is an impressive one. In fact, the Dragons had a run from 2005-2011 in which every starting shortstop reached the big leagues, although some, like Todd Frazier and Billy Hamilton, played shortstop in Dayton and a different position in the Major Leagues. The list from 2005-2011 included Frazier and Hamilton as well as (in chronological order) Paul Janish, Adam Rosales, Chris Valaika, Zack Cozart, Miguel Rojas, and Didi Gregorius. Since then, Zach Vincej, the Dragons 2013 shortstop, has added his name to the big league list.
The shortstop position in 2018 figures to be very strong again, with highly-regarded prospects Jeter Downs and Jose Garcia in the picture. 2017 Dragons shortstop Carlos Rivero is also a candidate for a utility role. Garcia was profiled in our preview of second baseman, where he may slide if Downs remains at shortstop. It is also possible that Downs may move to second and Garcia could play short.
Jeter Downs was drafted by the Reds in the supplemental first round in 2017. The supplemental first round is a group of extra draft picks sandwiched between the first and second rounds that are awarded to smaller market or smaller revenue teams for competitive balance purposes. In 2017, there were six of these extra picks between the first and second rounds, technically known as Competitive Balance Round A. There is also a Competitive Balance Round B, which are extra picks between the second and third rounds. In recent years, the Reds have drafted Jesse Winker, Michael Lorenzen, and Taylor Trammell in that supplemental first round. All played for the Dragons. In 2017, they had the second pick of this extra round, the 32nd overall pick in the draft, and they selected Jeter Downs.
Jeter Downs was born in the nation of Colombia and is named after Yankees legend Derek Jeter. His family moved to Miami Gardens, Florida, where his older brother, Jerry, was drafted by the Red Sox in 2015 and has played three years in their organization. Jeter emerged as one of the top high school prospects in the state of Florida and was named a 2017 2nd Team High School All-American.
When the Reds drafted Downs, their scouting director, Chris Buckley, described him to MLB.com writer Mark Sheldon as "very advanced with his bat. Even though he's in a high-school uniform, he's a little more like a college player. He's very, very advanced."
Baseball America ranks Downs as the second best infield prospect in the Reds organization, behind only #1 prospect Nick Senzel. They list him as the #11 prospect overall in the Reds system. Their scouting report says "his potentially plus bat is his best tool, with gap to gap power…he has good motions and hands at shortstop, with enough arm to stick there."
Downs played at Billings after being drafted by the Reds in 2017 and served as the Mustangs lead-off hitter. He opened his professional career with an eight-game hitting streak and hit safely in 11 of his first 12 games, batting .310 with a pair of home runs. He went through a lengthy slump that dropped his batting average to .227, but he improved over the final 19 games, batting .381 during that stretch, to finish the year at .267 with an on-base percentage of .370. He added six home runs and stole eight bases in 50 games.
Downs is ranked as the #8 prospect in the Reds system by MLB.com and #9 by Fangraphs. He should rank among the top prospects in the Midwest League in 2018 with the Dragons.
Carlos Rivero joined the Dragons in mid-July in 2017 and served as the club's starting shortstop the rest of the season and into the playoffs. He started all six playoff games at shortstop after playing in 38 games during the regular season. Rivero played strong defense at shortstop, but he struggled as a hitter. He batted just .180 with no home runs and posted a .503 OPS.
Rivero opened the 2017 season at Billings before joining the Dragons and played in 21 games with the Mustangs, batting .250 with no home runs. In four years in the Reds organization, Rivero has a career batting average of just .211, but he does provide strong defense and can serve as a backup to Downs and Garcia at second or shortstop and probably play some third base if needed. Rivero is 20 years old and a native of Venezuela.
Next up: Third Basemen
For Dragons 2018 season ticket information, call (937) 228-2287.
Jeter Downs photo attached courtesy of Billings Mustangs.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.