Senzel 'as advertised' for rebuilding Reds

Top Draft pick, recent trade acquisitions bolster Cincinnati system

The second pick in the 2016 Draft, Nick Senzel recorded 34 extra-base hits in 68 games between Billings and Dayton. (Sean Flynn)

By Michael Leboff / | October 14, 2016 10:00 AM

This offseason, 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.

For the second straight season, the Cincinnati Reds finished last in the National League Central. The organization is in a rebuild and has spent the past three years reloading through the Draft and by trading veteran big leaguers such as Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce.

Even as the Reds struggled to compete in their division, the team made strides in developing some of its future stars this season, including the second overall pick of the 2016 Draft, Nick Senzel. Not only did Senzel hit for a high average across two levels, he also played a terrific third base and showed his prowess on the basepaths as well.

And while Senzel is the headliner of the organization's 2016 Draft class, the players the team acquired in the aforementioned trades, like Scott Schebler and Jose Peraza, have already made a positive impact at Great American Ballpark.

Reds Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Chris Okey, Billings (nine games), Dayton (42 games): Pegged as one of the best all-around catching prospects in the 2016 Draft, Okey did not disappoint in his first professional season. It took Okey some time to get used to the pro ranks, but after struggling in nine games with Rookie-level Billings, the second-round pick responded well to being promoted to Class A Dayton on July 1, slashing .243/.323/.432 with six homers and 21 RBIs in 42 games.

"He probably caught more games in 2016, between college and with us, than he had ever done in his life," Dayton manager Dick Schofield said. "He handled our staff very well and was just a great all-around teammate, even as a rookie."

First baseman -- Gavin LaValley, Dayton (five games), Daytona (92 games): A hamstring issue forced LaValley to miss the first month of the season, but after spending his first five games with Dayton, the 21-year-old was promoted to Daytona.

It took some time for LaValley to get into rhythm and adjust to the new level, but the 2014 fourth-round pick came alive in the second half, slashing .283/.337/.492 with eight homers and 45 RBIs.

Second baseman -- Shed Long, Dayton (94 games), Daytona (38 games): After an injury cut short his 2015 season, Long put together a stellar bounce-back campaign in '16. The Alabama native started with Dayton, where he slashed .281/.371/.457. The 2013 12th-round pick also started to find his power stroke with 11 homers in 94 games for the Dragons.

"The big thing for Shed was that he knew he was going to go out and play at second base everyday," Schofield said. "That consistency helped him and he worked really hard to make that position his own, and it showed on both sides of the ball."

The Reds promoted Long to Daytona in late July, and the 21-year-old took to the new level well. In 38 contests for the Tortugas, Long hit .322 with four homers and 30 RBIs.

"He's always shown signs of being a quality hitter, and this year he took a major step forward," said Reds director of player development Jeff Graupe. "He matured and put together a really impressive season. He took ownership of it this year. When you have a guy who's 20 and is taking that kind of ownership of his career and see the results that came with it, it's something that's really rewarding and I'm very proud of the development he showed this year."

Third baseman -- Nick Senzel, Billings (10 games), Dayton (58 games): When the Reds selected Senzel with their first pick of the 2016 Draft, scouts thought the organization had landed the most polished bat in the Draft. It looks like they were right. The University of Tennessee product didn't miss a beat in his first professional season, first in a get-your-feet-wet 10-game stint with Billings before moving on to Dayton.

"He already had a professional approach by the time he got to Dayton," Schofield said. "I wasn't just impressed with his consistency at the plate, but his consistency in the field and on the basepaths as well."

The 21-year-old excelled with the Dragons, posting a .982 OPS with seven homers and 36 RBIs in 58 games for Dayton.

"I was really impressed with Nick," Graupe said. "He came in exactly as advertised -- as a professional hitter with a good approach who is a very good athlete. He runs and throws really well and has a chance to be a complete player."

Senzel's combined .912 OPS with Billings and Dayton was good enough for third best in the organization behind only Scott Schebler and T.J. Friedl.

Shortstop -- Jose Peraza, Louisville (71 games), Cincinnati (72 games): Acquired last offseason in the Todd Frazier trade, Peraza put together a splendid year for the Reds. After getting a long look from the big club in Spring Training, the 22-year-old was assigned to Triple-A Louisville, where he slashed .301/.348/.410 in April and earned himself an early season call-up to the big leagues.

Peraza, who also spent time in the outfield and at second base, steadily cemented his spot in the Reds lineup with a .324/.352/.411 slash line with Cincinnati.


Aristedes Aquino, Daytona (125 games): After struggling to find his groove in 61 games with Dayton in 2015, the Reds trusted Aquino's skills enough to start him at Class A Advanced in 2016, and the 22-year-old came through.

Not only did the Dominican Republic native prove durable by appearing in a career-high 125 games this season, he hit .273 and developed some serious power, going yard 23 times for the Tortugas as he more than tripled his homer output from 2015.

Scott Schebler, Lousville (75 games), Cincinnati (82 games): Like Peraza, Schebler was acquired from the Dodgers in the Todd Frazier trade. Unlike Peraza, Schebler's long look in the preseason landed him on the Opening Day roster, but the 25-year-old only hit .145 in his first month with the Reds, who optioned him to Louisville on May 8.

Schebler's struggles continued in May as he slashed .200/.226/.300 for the month. But once the weather heated up, Schebler followed suit, slashing .354/.422/.665 with 12 homers and 34 RBIs in June and July, earning himself another crack in the bigs when the Reds traded Jay Bruce to the Mets.

The Iowa native fared much better in his second stint with the Reds and finished the year with a .265/.330/.432 slash line and nine homers.

Taylor Trammell, Billings (61 games): The Reds lured Trammell away from football, making him the 35th overall pick in 2016 and predicting that the 19-year-old's athleticism would translate well on the diamond. Early returns indicate Cincinnati was right.

Over 61 games in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, Trammell slashed .303/.374/.421 with two homers and 34 RBIs. The Georgia native also tore things up on the basepaths, swiping 24 bags for the Mustangs.

Utility player -- T.J. Friedl, Billings (29 games): Despite only playing 29 games this season, Friedl made the most of his first year as a professional.

The outfielder's path to the Majors is about as unusual as they come. Nobody, including Friedl himself, realized the University of Nevada product was draft-eligible in 2016, and thus he went unselected. When teams began to figure out that the 21-year-old could be signed, the Reds beat out the pack and got the speedy outfielder to sign.

"His story is an interesting one," Graupe said. "But he has a really good feel for how to hit and understands his game. He's a high-energy, good-character kid who brings it everyday."

Friedl's speed and ability to make solid, line-drive contact give him the look of a bona-fide leadoff hitter, which is where he spent most of his time for Billings in 2016.

In 29 games for the Mustangs, Friedl posted a .969 OPS -- good for second in the organization behind Schebler -- to go along with a .347 batting average, three homers, 17 RBIs and seven stolen bases.

Left-handed starter -- Amir Garrett, Pensacola (13 games), Louisville (12 appearances): Garrett built on an impressive 2015 campaign, leading the organization with a 2.55 ERA in 144 2/3 innings between Double-A Pensacola and Louisville this season.

Garrett carved through lineups for the first half of the season with Pensacola, posting a 1.75 ERA and holding opponents to a .184 batting average in 77 innings.

That fantastic first half earned the former St. John's University basketball standout a promotion to Triple-A in June, and the 6-foot-5 southpaw continued to impress with Louisville, posting a 3.46 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 67 2/3 innings.

"We are extremely confident in Amir's talent and abilities," Graupe added. "This is a kid who's very driven, and I think his athleticism allows him to make adjustments a little quicker than other pitchers would be able to. This is a guy we're all behind, and I think he's going to show some big things in the very near future."

Garrett also showed promise as a potential workhorse as the 24-year-old went at least six innings in eight of his 12 appearances for the Bats.

Right-handed starter -- Jackson Stephens, Pensacola (26 games): Like Garrett, Stephens proved himself to be a reliable starting pitcher in 2016, logging 151 1/3 innings for the Blue Wahoos.

Stephens endured a tough start to the year, pitching to a 5.06 ERA in April. The 2012 18th-round pick rebounded in May, sporting a 2.00 ERA in six starts in the season's second month. Stephen's best stretch of 2016 came in August when the Alabama native threw seven innings in three consecutive starts, allowing just two earned runs combined.

More Organization All-Stars

Relief pitcher -- Alejandro Chacin, Pensacola (52 games): In 2016, Chacin had the type of season any team wants out of their closer. Not only did the 23-year-old lead the circuit with 30 saves, he posted a 1.78 ERA and averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings.

The Venezuelan right-hander also did a superb job keeping the ball in the park, only allowing two homers in 60 2/3 innings for the Blue Wahoos.

Michael Leboff is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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