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Dragons 2021 Preview, Part 2: Outfielders & Pitchers

Michael Siani
April 29, 2021

This is the second installment previewing the 2021 Dayton Dragons. We will look at some expected prospects at each position who are competing for spots on the Dragons 30-man roster. The Dragons will open the High-A Central League season on Tuesday, May 4th on the road against the Great Lakes

This is the second installment previewing the 2021 Dayton Dragons. We will look at some expected prospects at each position who are competing for spots on the Dragons 30-man roster.

The Dragons will open the High-A Central League season on Tuesday, May 4th on the road against the Great Lakes Loons. The home opener is Tuesday, May 11th against the Lansing Lugnuts at 7:05 p.m. at Day Air Ballpark.

This preview of players is an unofficial projection. Minor League rosters will not be established until May 3rd. Spring training variables including performance, injuries, and trades will impact the roster accordingly.

It should be noted that the Dragons have been reclassified as a High-A club in 2021 after playing as a Low-A team since their inception in 2000. The league, previously known as the Midwest League, is now called the High-A Central League and will field 12 teams (six in each division).

Because the Dragons have moved up one level on the chain within the Reds farm system, some players who played for the Dragons in 2019 will return to Dayton while actually advancing in their climb toward the Major Leagues (there was no season in 2020). Those players will make the natural step up in competition from Low-A to High-A while coming back to Dayton.

Again this season, all Dragons 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. The Dragons will again televise 25 games on the Dayton CW.

The Outfielders

Notable Possibilities: Michael Siani, Mariel Bautista, Quin Cotton, TJ Hopkins, Jacob Hurtubise.

Michael Siani is the top prospect at any position among the many Reds minor leaguers who could potentially play in Dayton in 2021. Siani spent the 2019 season with the Dragons and will move up in the Reds system in 2021 after spending some time in 2020 at the Reds alternate site after the minor league season was canceled. With the Dragons moving up to the High-A level in 2021, Siani could return to Dayton to start the year.

Siani is ranked by Baseball America as the “Best Defensive Outfielder” in the entire Reds farm system, and the “Best Athlete” as well. He was ranked as the #10 prospect in the Reds system entering the year and the #2 outfield prospect (behind only Austin Hendrick, the Reds first round draft pick in 2020). With the Dragons in 2019, Siani made one of the finest leaping/lunging catches ever seen at Day Air Ballpark, a play that made the ESPN SportsCenter list of greatest plays of the day.

With the Dragons in 2019, Siani was one of the youngest everyday players in the league. After a slow first half, he made huge adjustments and finished strong. Two months into the season on June 1, he was hitting just .192, but he batted .326 in July to raise his average to .253. He finished the year at that same .253 mark with six home runs and a team-leading 45 stolen bases, the third highest SB total in Dragons history.

One year before joining the Dragons, Siani was beginning his senior season on the high school fields around Philadelphia with William Penn Charter School. In the fall of 2017, he led the USA Baseball 18 & Under national team to a perfect 9-0 record in World Cup play, and was selected to the all-tournament team. He was also clocked at over 90 mph off the mound as a pitcher.

Entering the 2018 draft, he was projected as a late-first to mid-second round pick. When the second round ended without Siani being selected, it appeared that he would head to the University of Virginia, where he had already committed. But the Reds selected Siani in the fourth round and began negotiating a deal. While we do not like to get into the topic of signing bonuses in our previews or on our broadcasts, it has been widely reported that the Reds gave Siani the second largest signing bonus of any of their 2018 draft picks, a bonus that normally would go to a player drafted right where Siani was expected to go, in the late part of the first round or early second. The Reds were able to get him signed and into their organization.

MLB.com had this to say about Siani after he was drafted: An athletic kid who draws some comparisons to Grady Sizemore, Siani has drawn raves for having great instincts in the outfield…His speed should also make him a threat on the base paths…He could hit for average and have enough power to be interesting as a center fielder…Siani gets very high marks for his makeup and work ethic, which should help him maximize his tools.

Mariel Bautista also spent the 2019 season with the Dragons, appearing in 103 of the team’s 140 games, mostly playing left field with Siani in center. Bautista finished the year batting .233 with eight home runs and 19 stolen bases. Bautista’s 2019 season followed an all-star campaign in 2018 at Billings when he batted .330 with eight home runs in 56 games, posting a slugging percentage of .541. Baseball America ranked Bautista as the Reds #16 prospect entering his 2019 season with the Dragons, stating that Bautista “has plenty of high-impact tools. Evaluators are enamored with his athleticism and projectable, wiry frame. He has plus bat speed and plus raw power…he is a plus runner.” Bautista has the potential to show big improvement in 2021 as he adds experience. He is a solid combination of athleticism, speed, power potential, and size at 6’3”.

Quin Cotton was drafted by the Reds in the eighth round in 2019 after his junior year at Grand Canyon University of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). GCU has been an NCAA Division I program since 2014 and has produced some strong players, though Cotton is the first to be drafted by the Reds since the school moved up to D1. Cotton had back-to-back big seasons at Grand Canyon in 2018-19. In his sophomore year of 2018, he batted a conference-leading .390 and won the WAC Player of the Year award. In 2019, he hit .331 and was 2nd Team All-Conference. His 21 doubles ranked second in the WAC. He combined to hit nine home runs over the 2018-19 seasons in 116 games at GCU.

After being drafted by the Reds, Cotton was assigned to Billings and became one of the Mustangs best hitters as their starting center fielder. In 61 games in 2019, he hit .283 with four home runs and eight stolen bases as the Billings lead-off hitter. He was selected as a Pioneer League all-star. Cotton reportedly has good instincts, does the little things well, runs well, and has a strong all-around game.

TJ Hopkins was drafted by the Reds one round later than Cotton—in the same draft. He was taken in the ninth round in 2019, and then played beside Cotton in the Billings outfield. Hopkins played college baseball in the nation’s top conference, the SEC, as a star at the University of South Carolina. In 2019, Hopkins played in all 56 South Carolina games and led the team in numerous categories. He hit .285 with 11 home runs, 18 stolen bases, a .519 slugging percentage, and an OPS of .882.

At Billings, Hopkins played in 54 games and batted .267 with five home runs and 12 stolen bases. His 19 extra base hits were second on the team to Cotton’s 20.

Jacob Hurtubise is an interesting prospect who played college baseball at Army. Hurtubise was signed by the Reds as an undrafted free agent in 2020 when the draft was shortened to five rounds from its previous length of 40 rounds, leaving many undrafted players who would have been selected in any other year. Hurtubise is listed by Baseball America as the fastest player in the Reds organization.

At West Point, Hurtubise became a second lieutenant while breaking the Patriot League record for career stolen bases. He was the 2019 Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year and a Second Team All-American. He batted .375 with 45 steals in 2019 at Army. Baseball America ranks him as the #41 prospect in the Reds organization.

The Pitchers

Notable Possibilities: Lyon Richardson, Noah Davis, Graham Ashcraft, Eduardo Salazar, Ricky Salinas.

Lyon Richardson spent the entire 2019 season in Dayton and is the highest rated pitching prospect among candidates to join the Dragons. Baseball America ranks Richardson as the #13 prospect in the Reds organization and #6 pitching prospect. He was the Reds second round draft pick in 2018 out of Jensen Beach High School in Florida. As a senior, he posted a record of 7-0 with a 0.58 ERA. He had committed to play at the University of Florida before signing with the Reds.

Richardson led Dragons pitchers in 2019 in starts and innings (26 starts, 112.2 innings). As one of the youngest starting pitchers in the league at age 19, he posted a respectable 4.15 earned run average and had a good walk-to-strikeout ratio of 33-106. An excellent athlete who was considered as position player by many teams as he entered the draft, Richardson has the potential to be a hard-thrower whose fastball can get into the mid-90s.

Noah Davis is ranked as the #15 prospect in the Reds organization by Baseball America. The Reds drafted Davis in the 11th round in 2018, knowing that he would miss all of that season and part of 2019 after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery. Davis was a college teammate at UC Santa Barbara of potential Dragons 2021 catcher Eric Yang, who caught Davis at Billings in 2019 after Davis returned to the mound following his rehab assignment. Davis made 30 starts at UCSB, serving as a full-time starting pitcher as a freshman and sophomore before being limited to eight innings as a junior due to the injury. He posted a career record of 15-9 with a 4.58 ERA.

Davis was on the mound for some big games in college and high school. As a freshman at UC Santa Barbara in 2016, he was the team’s #2 starting pitcher behind ace Shane Bieber, the 2020 American League Cy Young Award winner with the Cleveland Indians. Davis helped UCSB to its first-ever trip to the College World Series as the team finished the year as the #7 team in the nation. Davis was the starting pitcher for their second game of the 2016 College World Series as his team beat powerful Miami. Davis allowed just one run on two hits over six innings in that game. Davis returned to UCSB in 2017 and was his team’s top starter, going 7-4 with a 4.63 ERA. At Huntington Beach High School, Davis was a California All-State selection and pitched his team to a state championship.

After being drafted by the Reds in 2018, Davis battled back from reconstructive elbow surgery to return to the mound by June of 2019. He made five short rehab starts with the AZL Reds and then joined the Billings roster on July 28. He was limited to a maximum of 75 pitches at Billings but made eight starts, posting a fine ERA of 2.10.

Flame-throwing Graham Ashcraft was the Reds sixth round draft pick in 2019 out of the University of Alabama-Birmingham, becoming the highest-drafted player in UAB history. After numerous reports that Ashcraft’s fastball had reached 99 mph in high school in Huntsville, Alabama, he started his college career at Mississippi State in 2017. But after undergoing two hip surgeries and missing the 2018 season, he transferred to UAB. He was used as both a starter and reliever in 2019, going 2-5 with a 5.63 ERA.

The Reds assigned Ashcraft to Greeneville in 2019 where he made 13 starts, posting a 4.53 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 54 innings. The mediocre ERA was driven up by one bad start in which he was charged with 10 earned runs. Without the one rough performance, his ERA for the year with Greeneville would have been a sparkling 2.96. His best start came July 18 when he fired five no-hit innings and struck out six. Overall, he allowed one earned run or less in eight of his 13 starts. Ashcraft pitched in a big league game for the Reds in spring training this season and fired a 100 mph fastball with his first pitch.

Eduardo Salazar might have shown the most improvement of any Dragons pitcher in 2019. He began the year in the Dayton bullpen and pitched well enough to be moved into the starting rotation. He finished the year with a 6-3 record and a 3.81 ERA in 35 appearances including 11 starts.

Ricky Salinas spent most of the 2019 season with the Dragons, going 4-3 with a 4.13 ERA in 12 starts. He played four years of college baseball at Rice University in Houston, the same school that produced former Dragons pitcher Austin Orewiler. Salinas’ best season came as a sophomore in 2016 before he battled injury problems over the next two years. In 2016, he went 9-2 with a 3.39 ERA to earn Conference USA Second Team honors.

Salinas was limited by injury to just 11 innings as a senior at Rice in 2018, but after signing with the Reds as a 25th round draft pick, he was healthy enough to join the starting rotation at Billings. He made 14 starts with the Mustangs, going 2-2 with a 4.53 ERA. He finished strong, posting a 2.97 ERA over his last six starts while striking out 38 batters in 30.1 innings.

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