Garrett, Mahle lead Reds' arms race

Lefty finishes second in FSL with 2.44 ERA; righty racks up 13 wins

Amir Garrett ranked fourth in the Reds organization with 133 strikeouts. (Mark LoMoglio/MiLB.com)

By Robert Emrich / MiLB.com | October 15, 2015 10:00 AM

This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball.

Progress. That might be the best word to describe the year the Reds had as an organization. Though they finished with a .486 winning percentage, there were individual successes. Class A Advanced Daytona fell two wins short of the Florida State League crown while Class A Dayton just missed out on the Midwest League playoffs.

Robert Stephenson overcame a tough April in which he gave up 10 earned runs in 16 2/3 innings at Double-A Pensacola to end the year at Triple-A Louisville and lead the organization with 140 strikeouts. Amir Garrett continued to show he has made the transition from college basketball player to professional pitcher with another strong season and Jesse Winker bounced back from a brutal first couple of months with a terrific second half.

Catcher -- Ramon Cabrera, Louisville (86 games), Cincinnati (13 games): Though he didn't display much power -- two homers in 317 at-bats -- Cabrera showed good contact skills with a .291 average while drawing 27 walks and striking out 44 times. An eight-year Minor League veteran, the 25-year-old backstop got a chance to make his big league debut, homering in his fourth Major League game for the Reds.

First base -- Marquez Smith, Pensacola (125 games): Smith provided a solid bat in the corner infield spot, compiling a .267/.369/.402 slash line while driving in 49 runs for the Blue Wahoos. The 25-year-old first baseman tied for fourth in the organization with 63 walks and seventh with 23 doubles. He was also solid in the field, committing two errors in 79 games at first base and two in 30 games at third.

Second base -- Irving Falu, Louisville (121 games): In his 13th season as a pro, Falu reached his first All-Star game, representing the Bats in the Triple-A contest. The 32-year-old infielder tied for seventh in the International League with six triples Falu, a fan favorite in Omaha where the All-Star game took place, batted .270 and swiped 19 bases as well.

Shortstop -- Alex Blandino, Daytona (80 games), Pensacola (30 games): Though a promotion to the Southern League marred his numbers a bit, Blandino still finished with a .278 average, 10 homers and 53 RBIs. The 2014 first-round pick smacked 25 doubles and would have led the Florida State League with an .808 OPS had he enough plate appearances to qualify.

Third base -- Edgar Herrera, DSL Reds (61 games): The 19-year-old infielder -- he also played 22 games at second base -- compiled a .309/.367/.462 slash line while playing in the Gulf Coast League. Herrera racked up 22 extra-base hits, including six triples, scored 35 runs and swiped six bases for the Reds.

Outfielders

Jesse Winker, Pensacola (123 games): The Reds' top prospect was in danger of having a lost season after posting a .248/.352/.349 slash line in the season's first half and enduring a 36-game homerless streak. Instead, Winker showed why he's so highly regarded by putting together a monster second half, launching 10 long balls -- more than three times his first-half output -- and driving in 38 runs, more than twice his total before the All-Star break. Overall, Winker tied for second among Reds farmhands with 13 homers and third with 55 RBIs, batting .282 in the process.

"That was great to see. Jesse is obviously a very talented young man who has an advanced feel to hit. I was proud of him for fighting through the adversity of a tough first half," Cincinnati director of player development Jeff Graupe said. "I thought he made a few small adjustments which helped him, but he did stick with his approach -- he didn't chase results, just a few mechanical tweaks to get himself to be on time and to stay a little more square. He put the work in and it was gratifying to see."

Brian O'Grady, Dayton (71 games), Daytona (45 games): O'Grady put together a strong showing in his first full season, slugging 11 homers, driving in 54 runs and stealing 25 bases. The Rutgers product also showed he didn't have a problem taking his walks, drawing 64 bases on balls in 116 Minor League games. O'Grady also displayed a willingness to play other positions, taking the field 25 times at first base, where he made a single error.

"Brian is a tough kid and is the consummate gamer," Graupe said. "He's gonna find a way to win the pitch, win the at-bat, help the team win the game. His hard-nosed approach shows in his at-bats. Doesn't throw a whole lot of at-bats away, good walk rate and he has a power-speed combo that will keep him playing a long time. We like Brian, we like his versatility and I think he had a really good year."

Phillip Ervin, Daytona (109 games), Pensacola (17 games): Ervin finished with an organization-best 14 homers while driving in 71 runs, second among Reds Minor Leaguers. A rough second half sullied his final numbers a bit, as he finished with a .241/.346/.379 slash line, but the 23-year-old got a chance to team with Winker in Pensacola to end the year, going deep twice in 17 games. Ervin was no slouch on the bases either, swiping 34 bags in 44 tries, and he also threw out 13 baserunners from the outfield.

"Phillip got off to a great start and then I think became a little bit of a victim of the Florida State League with his batting average," Graupe said. "If you look at the leaderboard, he was right near the top in home runs and stolen bases, and I think that's the type of player that Phillip is. He really improved defensively this year. He was a good baserunner and did a lot of little things to help that team win. I think exposing him to Double-A in the second half was another good challenge for him.

"We believe he's going to continue to get better and better as he goes up. I think getting him in a more neutral environment will help him."

Utility player -- James Vasquez, Arizona League Reds (42 games): A 25th-round pick in June, Vasquez blew up in the Arizona League, winning the MVP award for the circuit. The 22-year-old first baseman racked up a .359/.415/.669 slash line, slugging nine homers and driving in 35 runs in 42 games for the Reds.

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Tyler Mahle, Dayton (27 games): A seventh-round pick in 2013, Mahle made his full-season debut with Dayton and did not disappoint. The 21-year-old led the organization with 13 wins and a 2.43 ERA while notching 135 strikeouts. Mahle limited Midwest League hitters to seven homers while issuing just 25 walks over 152 innings. He was particularly good in the season's second half, compiling a 1.63 ERA in 13 starts after the All-Star break.

"I think Tyler really put himself on the map industry-wide," Graupe said. "He was a good high school Draft, had good physical projection and continued to work really hard to fill out. He went from being an upper-80s-to-low-90s guy to a mid-90s guy. I thought he competed really well. Strikeout-to-walk ratio is really good for a 21-year-old at any level. We were very pleased. He continues to throw well -- I think everything developed nicely for him this year."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Amir Garrett, Daytona (26 starts): The former hoops star has easily made the transition to baseball, with 2015 being his finest season yet. Garrett established new career high in wins (nine), strikeouts (133) and innings pitched (140 1/3) while posting a 2.44 ERA, the lowest of his career and second among Reds hurlers. His ERA ranked second in the Florida State League and the organization. The 23-year-old left-hander capped his season with a gem in the opening game of the playoffs, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning and fanning 12 in the process.

"Amir, he continues to put in the work and continues to improve," Graupe said. "Really, it feels like every start he gets better. His physical abilities have been well described in the past. He's got a fastball, a really good slider and has come to have a good changeup. What he's really learned is how to pitch, how to set up hitters and how to put them away. That experience has made him into a top-line prospect.

"We were really happy [with his 2015]. He did well, he was in a good league. Despite the fact that it's generally considered a pitchers' league, I thought the talent in the Florida State League this year was really good. So putting up the numbers he did was really impressive."

Honorable mention -- Seth Varner, Dayton (14 starts), Daytona (13 games): After struggling in his pro debut in 2014, Varner was a completely different pitcher this year. He racked up 11 wins, good for third among Cincinnati Minor Leaguers, while posting a 2.92 ERA. The 23-year-old held opposing hitters to a .253 average against while issuing just 11 walks and ranked third in the organization with 134 strikeouts in 138 2/3 innings.

More Organization All-Stars

Relief pitcher -- Zack Weiss, Daytona (nine games), Pensacola (45 games): Weiss limited hitters to a .188 average against while striking out a remarkable 90 batters in 63 2/3 innings, tying for second in the Minors with 30 saves. Weiss finished with a 1.98 ERA and a MiLBY nomination for Top Relief Pitcher.

"Zack's a guy that we've liked, but this year he really came in with an aggressive mentality. He attacked hitters with all pitches," Graupe said. "He has more weapons than the standard Minor League reliever does. His fastball played up this year. Really had a nice year."

Robert Emrich is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEmrich.nic This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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