Today, we look at the potential second basemen for the 2019 Dayton Dragons. Players participated in their first spring training workout on the back fields of the Goodyear Baseball Complex in suburban Phoenix, Arizona yesterday. The first spring game of 2019 in Arizona for the Dragons is March 15 when they meet the Lake County Captains, the Cleveland Indians Single-A affiliate, in Goodyear.
The first appearance in Dayton for the new 2019 Dragons team will come on Saturday, March 30 with the Dragons 20th Season Celebration Game (see more below). The Dragons will open the Midwest League season on Thursday, April 4th against the Bowling Green Hot Rods at 7:00 p.m. Click on these links to view previous previews of Dragons catchers and first basemen.
This is the third of an eight-part series previewing the 2019 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 3. Spring training variables including performance, injuries, trades, and additional player acquisitions will impact the roster accordingly.
The Second Basemen
Click links on each name for career stats and player information.
Candidates: Jonathan Willems, Dylan Harris, Cash Case.
Jonathan Willems is the next potential Dragons infielder in a growing group from an emerging baseball hotbed-the island of Curacao. Didi Gregorius, the Dragons shortstop in 2010 who is now a star with the New York Yankees, was the first. Shortstop Calten Daal and catcher Hendrik Clementina have been more recent Dragons players from Curacao, and Willems hopes to be the next.
Willems certainly has some supporters among those publications that rank prospects (typically, media outlets that rank prospects will select the top 30 in each organization from approximately 200 minor league players in the farm system). MLB.com ranks Willems as the #26 prospect in the Reds system, and their #1 second base prospect with the departure by trade of former Dragon Shed Long. Baseball America ranks him at #30. RedsMinorLeagues.com has Willems at #22, where the author of the site, Doug Gray, mentions that when he visited Greeneville, Tennessee and saw Willems play for the Greeneville Reds last summer, one professional scout told him that he thought Willems was the best prospect in the Appalachian League. Fangraphs does not rank Willems in their top 30 but they list him in a group of honorable mention picks.
Willems is 20 years old and coming off a breakout season with Greeneville, though a late-season slump cut into his final batting average. Through the first 39 of the 55 games that Willems played in at Greeneville in 2018, he was batting .301, though he finished at a more modest .263. After hitting just one home run in his first two season of professional baseball, Willems connected on eight in 2018 in 217 at-bats at Greeneville. He mostly hit in third in the batting order, where most managers put their best hitters.
MLB.com noted that Willems "has a good swing and can make the needed adjustments at the plate. He showed off more extra-base ability with his 13 doubles and four triples for Greeneville in 2018…then impressed in Fall Instructional League action."
Dylan Harris is an interesting story and will also be a candidate for the Dragons second base job after a strong first professional season in 2018. Harris is from Land O' Lakes, Florida, about 20 miles north of Tampa, where he earned numerous prep honors before enrolling at NCAA Division II St. Leo University. At St. Leo, he was the conference Freshman of the Year in 2014, led the conference in hits and batted .366 to earn 1st Team All-Conference honors as a third baseman. As a sophomore in 2015, he was even better, batting .403 while leading the conference in both hits and runs. He struck out only nine times all year in 49 games.
Harris redshirted in 2016, but then came back in 2017 to have an even better year. He batted a phenomenal .448 to win the conference batting title, added four home runs, and stole 15 bases to earn 2nd Team All-American honors as a utility man. He then transferred within the conference from St. Leo to Nova Southeastern University for his senior season and earned 1st Team All-Conference as a first baseman, batting .403 with a career-high 10 home runs and 28 stolen bases. In his only season at Nova Southeastern, he broke that school's single-season record for base hits, and he closed out his career as the all-time hits leader in the history of the Sunshine State Conference.
Despite all of that, Harris was not drafted, but he did accept an offer to sign with the Reds as an undrafted free agent. He was assigned to Billings and spent the summer of 2018 as the Mustangs primary second baseman, also see time at first base. He began his pro career hitting much like he had in college. He had four hits in his second game with Billings on June 28, and three more hits in the next game. As late as August 11, he was still batting .340. He finished the year at .314 with one home run in 61 games. He was the fourth toughest hitter in the league to strikeout.
As a five-year college player, Harris is already 24 years old, but he can play all over the field and most importantly, he has been hugely successful in virtually every season as a baseball player at various places. He has the résumé of a winner.
Cash Case was an extremely highly-regarded high school shortstop in Orlando, Florida who was drafted by the Reds in the fourth round in 2017. As a high school player, Case won one award after another, including Perfect Game 2017 Pre-Season High School All-American, and he was invited to many of the same baseball showcase tournaments as former Dragon Hunter Greene. He had planned to play at Notre Dame before deciding to sign with the Reds.
Through two seasons of professional baseball, Case, just 19 years old, is still making adjustments. He batted just .180 in his debut season in 2017 with the Goodyear Reds in the Arizona League. In 2018, he played for both Billings and Greeneville and batted .253 with one home run in 37 games. Based on his background, Case could be the kind of player that improves quickly once he hits his stride.
The final spring game for the Dragons will be played in Dayton on March 30. The Dragons will host their "20th Season Celebration Game" on that date at 2:00 p.m. at Fifth Third Field. The game will match the 2019 Dragons ("Team 20") against a team of Dragons alumni who are still playing in the Cincinnati Reds minor league system. Individual game tickets for the Dragons 20th Season Celebration Game are available now. Go to daytondragons.com/celebrationgame or Ticketmaster.com. Additional information on the Dragons 20th Season celebration including videos on the 20 Greatest Dragons, special 20th Season merchandise, and Dragons alumni listings is available here: https://www.milb.com/dayton/team/20.
Again this season, all 140 home and road games can be heard on radio on WONE 980 AM and on the internet at wone.com and the Dragons Mobile App. Games can also be heard on HD Radio on 104.7 WTUI HD 2. The Dragons will again televise all Saturday and Sunday home games, plus a few Friday night games, on the Dayton CW.
Previous 2019 Previews:
There is a complete listing of all Minor League players in camp with the Reds here at RedsMinorLeagues.com: https://redsminorleagues.com/2019/02/14/cincinnati-reds-minor-league-spring-training-roster-for-2019/
The complete Minor League game schedule in Arizona is here: https://redsminorleagues.com/2019/02/15/cincinnati-reds-minor-league-spring-training-schedule-2/
Next up: Shortstops
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.