Dragons 2017 Preview, Part 6: Outfielders

(Paul Ruhter / Billings Mustangs)

By Tom Nichols / Dayton Dragons | March 17, 2017 9:36 AM ET

This is part six of an eight-part series previewing the 2017 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.

Click links on each name for career stats and player information.

Outfielders

Candidates: T.J. Friedl, Taylor Trammell, Jose Siri, Michael Beltre, Mitch Piatnik.

The Dragons outfield picture for 2017 potentially looks like one of the team's biggest strengths, and one of the most improved areas from 2016. The expected group includes three players ranked among the Reds top 23 prospects by Baseball America (including a Reds top-five prospect) and a fourth player who batted .320 at Billings last season. The Dragons outfield has not featured that kind of depth heading into a season since 2013, when the Dragons opened the year with Jesse Winker, Beau Amaral, Junior Arias, and Jeff Gelalich on the roster.

Center fielder T.J. Friedl is the most polished of any of the Dragons outfield candidates, and he is one of the best stories in the Reds organization. Friedl, now 21, somehow slipped through the cracks and was not selected in the 40-round 2016 draft despite hitting over .400 for the University of Nevada last spring. How that could have happened is a matter of opinion, and the progression of his story to March of 2017 has its own unique twists.

Friedl played at Foothill High School in Pleasanton, California. His hometown, a suburb of San Francisco, was selected by USA Today as #4 on the list of the "50 Best Cities to Live" in the United States in 2014. Friedl went on to the University of Nevada, where he was a back-up player as a freshman in 2014 before redshirting in 2015. In 2016, Friedl emerged as a star, batting .401, the third best batting average in the nation among underclassmen. He ranked second in the nation in both runs scored and triples, posting a .563 slugging percentage, a .494 on-base percentage, and an OPS of 1.057. He connected on three home runs along with nine doubles and nine triples. He also stole 13 bases in 58 games and led his team to its first appearance in program history in the Mountain West Conference Tournament finals.

Because of his redshirt year, Friedl was a sophomore in terms of eligibility in 2016. Since players can be drafted after their third year of college, most drafted players are juniors. His sophomore classification may have thrown some professional scouts off track, although that explanation for the fact that he was not drafted seems rather unlikely. Redshirt sophomores are drafted every year, and before the draft, Baseball America, a widely-read publication in baseball circles, listed Friedl as one of the top draft-eligible prospects from the state of Nevada. Still, no one drafted Friedl, not even in the 40th round, which would have given that team exclusive negotiating rights to Friedl.

After the draft, Friedl starred with USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team and emerged as one of the top hitters on the club, posting a .290 batting average and .452 slugging percentage in a 19-game schedule against strong competition. The games were attended by many scouts. If they had not known before that Friedl was eligible to sign professionally, they knew it now, and a bidding war ensued. The Reds won the bidding war and signed Friedl, reportedly with the largest signing bonus ever given to an American undrafted free agent.  

The start to Friedl's professional career made national news. He was assigned by the Reds to Billings, and made his pro debut on August 5, 2016. Batting second in the Mustangs lineup, he hit the second pitch he saw as a member of the Reds organization for a home run to right field. In his second plate appearance, he was hit by a pitch. The third time up, he again blasted a home run. Two official at-bats in pro ball, and two home runs. In his final at-bat of the night, he added a bunt single, going 3 for 3 with two homers in his first game. 

The ironic part is that Friedl is not a home run hitter. He hit only three in his entire college career and only one more with Billings in his remaining 28 games with the club. But the home run ball would come up in Friedl's story again.

Overall at Billings, Friedl hit .347 with 11 doubles and two triples, posting a .545 slugging percentage and an OPS of .978. He added seven stolen bases and played an outstanding center field. Baseball America ranks Friedl's speed as a 70 on the 20-80 scale, meaning he is now one of the fastest players in the Reds system. Entering the 2017 season, he is ranked as the #15 prospect in the Reds organization, just behind 2016 second round draft pick Chris Okey, and just ahead of former first round picks Nick Travieso and Phillip Ervin. For a player with 29 games of pro experience who was passed over in a draft a few months earlier, when 1,216 players were drafted, the emergence is truly amazing.

On March 11, 2017, the Reds played the San Francisco Giants in a Major League spring training game in Arizona. Because the Reds were playing split-squad games that day (two games simultaneously), they needed twice as many players to play the games, and they brought up several players from minor league camp to serve as backups to the major league players in the games. Friedl got into the game late and got one at-bat. In his first appearance in a Major League game, admittedly one that did not count toward the championship season, he blasted a home run. You would not have expected any other outcome.

Taylor Trammell is the highest-rated prospect of any player expected to play in Dayton in 2017. Trammell is a natural center fielder, but if Friedl comes to Dayton, Trammell will move to left. Trammell is rated as the #5 prospect in the Reds organization entering the season.

Trammell is from the same hometown as Dragons catcher Tyler Stephenson, hailing from Kennesaw, Georgia north of Atlanta. Trammell attended a smaller school, Mount Paran Christian, and absolutely obliterated the competition at the 6A level (smallest schools) in Georgia as a multi-sport athlete.

As a football player, Trammell was the state player of the year as a senior when he rushed for 36 touchdowns and over 2,400 yards in a single season. As a baseball player, he hit .463 with six home runs. He also posted a 4.0 grade point average. He made a decision to attend Georgia Tech and play baseball only.

The Reds selected Trammell with the 35th overall pick of the 2016 draft as a supplemental first round pick (seven teams, including the Reds, were awarded an extra pick between the first and second rounds). He was taken eight picks before the Reds selected second rounder Chris Okey, who played for the Dragons in 2016. The Reds were able to reach an agreement with Trammell and chose to turn pro.

Trammell was assigned to Billings and played well in his debut season with the Mustangs, batting .303 in 61 games. He added nine doubles, six triples, and two home runs along with 24 stolen bases to rank third in the Pioneer League. He finished with a .795 OPS as an 18-year-old in a league where the average age is 20-21. Like Friedl, Trammell is rated as a 70 runner on the 20-80 scale by Baseball America, meaning he has blazing speed.

Jose Siri figures to return to the Dragons in 2017 as a right fielder after beginning the 2016 season in Dayton. In 2016, credible observers listed the three fastest minor league players in the Reds system as Siri, Mitch Piatnik, and Zack Shields. A group of Trammell, Friedl, and Siri would give the Dragons potentially their fastest outfield in franchise history.

Siri struggled mightily with the Dragons in 2016 and seemed to be overmatched by Midwest League pitchers. At age 20, he appeared in 27 games with the Dragons and collected only 12 hits while striking out 34 times, batting .145 with an OPS of .344. Realizing that they had placed Siri in a league where he could not compete, the Reds sent Siri back to extended spring training in early May and eventually to Billings when their season began in late June.

At Billings, the talented but unpolished Siri was a completely different player. In fact, he might have been the best player in the Pioneer League over the early weeks of the season. After 16 games, he was hitting .422. He had back-to-back four-hit games over the July 4th weekend. His best game of the season came on August 8, when he enjoyed a career day. In his first three times at bat, Siri blasted home runs, and finished the night going 4 for 4 with a walk and five runs scored. At the end of the first half of the Pioneer League season, Siri was batting .366 in 31 games. He came down to earth in the second half, batting .271, but he actually picked up his power numbers. For the year, Siri batted .320 with 10 home runs in 241 at-bats. He added 17 stolen bases and had a .560 slugging percentage.

The most concerning statistic in Siri's line is that he has struggled with a very poor walk-to-strikeout ratio, showing an over-aggressiveness that Midwest League pitchers will try to exploit. He walked only eight times at Billings and posted 66 strikeouts. He certainly should show improvement with the Dragons in 2017 compared to his struggles in 2016, but the level of his improvement will depend on his improved pitch recognition. He has all the tools to be a strong all-around player going forward with great speed and power, and a strong arm in the outfield.

A fourth outfielder in Dayton in 2017 should also get plenty of playing time and while he is inexperienced, he has great potential. Michael Beltre is rated as the #23 prospect in the Reds organization by Baseball America, and the sixth best outfield prospect. At 6-3", Beltre is the tallest of the four outfield candidates, an inch taller than both Trammell and Siri, but he is considered fast enough to play center field in the future. He is a switch-hitter.

Beltre was signed by the Reds as an international free agent in 2013 and had not put up special numbers until the 2016 season. He began the year two levels below the Dragons, with the Goodyear Reds, and really played well. He began the season with four straight multi-hit games and remained with the team into early August, when he was promoted to Billings. At Goodyear, Beltre played in 29 games and hit .292 with an .824 OPS. At Billings, he played in 22 games and was even better against tougher competition, batting .309 with three home runs in 81 at-bats and a .954 OPS. He had more walks (15) than strikeouts (13), which is often a good sign moving forward. He had a grand slam home run in his ninth game and showed enough to lead the Reds to believe that he can handle the jump to Dayton in 2017. Those who have seen Beltre play rave about his high-energy, hustling style.

Mitch Piatnik opened the 2016 season with the Dragons, spent time back at Billings, and then returned to the Dragons for the last two months of the season. The switch-hitting Piatnik is a versatile defensive player who made a conversion from middle infield to outfield in 2016, taking advantage of his blazing speed.

Piatnik was an eighth round draft pick by the Reds in 2015 out of the junior college ranks, the State College of Florida, where he was a teammate of Dragons infielder Brantley Bell. Piatnik spent a season at Stetson University before transferring after his freshman year in 2014. 

Piatnik was a left fielder for the Dragons in 2016 and got off to an excellent start before slumping. A month into the season, his average stood at .224 with two extra base hits, when he and Jose Siri were sent back to extended spring training. When the Billings season opened, he was an everyday outfielder and appeared in 11 games for the Mustangs, hitting .333 with an .831 OPS. That earned him a return trip to Dayton, where he showed improvement. He had at least one hit in 13 of his first 14 games back with the Dragons and had two homers in his first eight games. He finished the year at .238 with three home runs and 16 RBI along with 10 stolen bases in 78 games. He played all three outfield positions.

An outfield group of Trammell, Friedl, Siri, Beltre, and Piatnik would be guaranteed of at least one quality-tremendous speed. All five players are top-of-the-line runners (at least the top of any line that does not include former Dragon Billy Hamilton). 

There is also a possibility that 2016 Dragons outfielder Daniel Sweet could return to Dayton if one of these five goes elsewhere, but Sweet may be more likely to move on to Daytona. Isaiah White, another speedster who was obtained during the off-season from the Marlins in the Dan Straily trade, could be a mid-season addition for the Dragons. White was a third round pick by the Marlins out of high school in 2015 and was rated as the #10 prospect in the Marlins system after the 2016 season despite struggling at the plate in '16, batting .214 at Batavia (same level as Billings).

Next up: Starting Pitchers

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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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