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Dragons 2020 Preview, Part 3: Second Basemen

Jonathan Willems
March 10, 2020

Throughout the day today, all remaining minor league players in the Cincinnati Reds organization who have not yet reported to camp in Goodyear, Arizona are scheduled to arrive.

Throughout the day today, all remaining minor league players in the Cincinnati Reds organization who have not yet reported to camp in Goodyear, Arizona are scheduled to arrive.

The Reds brought many players to camp early for Instructional League starting February 14, and pitchers and catchers who did not participate in Instructional League reported to Goodyear on March 2. By the end of the day today, all players are scheduled to be in camp. Overall, more than 220 players in Arizona are competing for 126 jobs. That includes the battles for 26 spots on the Major League roster as well as the 25 roster positions for each of the Reds four farm clubs that open their seasons on April 9 (including the Dayton Dragons).

This is the third segment of a nine-part series previewing the 2020 Dayton Dragons. We will look at the candidates at each position who are competing for spots on the Dragons 25-man roster. The Dragons will open the Midwest League season on Thursday, April 9th against the Great Lakes Loons at 7:00 p.m. at Day Air Ballpark.

This preview includes players who are expected to be candidates for positions on the 25-man roster of the Dayton Dragons and is an unofficial projection. Minor League rosters are not established until April 5. 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: Tyler Callihan, Jonathan Willems, Caleb Van Blake

*Player, Age, B/T, Ht.. Wt. *

Tyler Callihan, 19, L/R, 6’1”, 205

Jonathan Willems, 21, R/R, 5’11”, 190

Caleb Van Blake, 23, L/R, 6’0”, 195

Tyler Callihan is one of the top infield prospects in the Reds organization and if he opens the 2020 season with the Dragons, he would probably be identified by scouting consensus as the top prospect on the Dayton roster. Callihan is a young player at age 19, less than a year removed from Providence High School in Jacksonville, Florida. The Reds will determine whether Callihan is ready for the challenge of facing Midwest League pitching or if his development is best served by spending some time in extended spring training.

Over the years, few hitting prospects in the Reds system with Callihan’s experience level have been pushed to the Midwest League, but it certainly has happened, and there have been some positive outcomes. Specifically, this group includes players under the age of 20 who are less than one year out of high school. Those young hitters face many Midwest League hurlers who are products of strong college baseball conferences and have developed their secondary pitches to a level that is more advanced than the young hitters have seen. The group of teenage hitters who started a season with the Dragons less than a year after their final high school game includes Michael Siani in 2019, Jeter Downs in 2018, Taylor Trammell in 2017, Tyler Stephenson in 2016, Jesse Winker in 2013, and Jay Bruce in 2006. Notice that the list is limited to top-level prospects, mostly out of the first or second round of the draft. Winker handled the transition best, winning Dragons Batter of the Month in each of his first two months in the Midwest League. Some of the others struggled mightily in their first several weeks in Dayton as they made the necessary adjustments. Siani, a player who had played for Team USA in international competition as one of the top amateur players in the entire country, is a good example. After his first 38 games with the Dragons as a 19-year-old in 2019, he was batting .168. But by late May, the adjustments he made started to pay off. From May 23 through the end of the season, Siani hit .291 in 83 games.

Callihan was ranked by Fangraphs as the 25th best overall prospect in the 2019 draft, which would have landed him in the first round. Perfect Game ranked him as the 10th best high school prospect in America. Due to signability concerns (he was committed to the University of South Carolina), Callihan lasted until the third round, where the Reds were happy to take him.

The left-handed hitting Callihan opened some eyes in 2018 when he was one of eight high school players selected to compete in the Home Run Derby at the Major League All-Star Game at Nationals Park, and then blasted 21 homers in the contest to tie for fourth (Rece Hinds, another possible 2020 Dragons infielder who will be previewed at third base, finished second). He played for Team USA in international competition in 2018, one year after Siani had played for the same team. He started all nine games at the Pan American Championships in Panama and was outstanding, batting .528 with a pair of home runs to make the All-Tournament team.

Callihan was also selected to play in the 2018 Perfect Game All-American Classic at Petco Park in San Diego, an event limited to the top players in the nation. Callihan’s senior season at Providence High School produced a batting average of .456 with 12 home runs and he was named the area player of the year by the Florida Times-Union. Callihan was also an outstanding high school student and earned numerous academic honors.

After signing with the Reds last summer, Callihan was first assigned to Greeneville. He got off to a slow start, hitting .184 in his first nine games, but he improved as the season progressed. He finished at .250 with five home runs at Greeneville and then was transferred to Billings for the final week of the regular season and playoffs. He had a big week with the Mustangs, going 8 for 20 (.400) with a home run and triple.

Entering the 2020 season, Baseball America ranks Callihan as the 13th best prospect in the Reds system and notes his outstanding home run power and overall hitting ability. Callihan’s defensive position is still under review. He played shortstop in high school but is seen as a second baseman or third baseman as a professional. He had 31 starts at third base at Greeneville in 2019 and 19 more at second base. He was used mostly as a designated hitter in his short time with Billings and earned a playoff start at that position.

Jonathan Willems was the Dragons opening day second baseman in 2019 and remained with the club as the starter into mid-May before being sent back to extended spring training and eventually joining the Billings roster. He would be an option in Dayton in 2020 if Callihan opens the year in extended spring training (or settles in at third base instead of second).

Willems was the latest name on the growing list of Dragons players from the Caribbean island of Curacao. Previous Dragons from the same location have included Didi Gregorius, Calten Daal, and Hendrik Clementina.

Willems played in 33 of the Dragons first 39 games but could never quite get on track at the plate. His batting average peaked at .239 on April 27 and he was hitting .214 with two home runs on May 16 when the Reds promoted Brian Rey from extended spring training to replace Willems at second base. Willems went back to Goodyear for a month before the start of the Billings season.

Willems emerged as one of the best hitters in the Billings lineup and started 52 of their 76 games at second base, plus all three of their playoff games. He led the Mustangs in batting average at an even .300 but did not have a home run.

Caleb Van Blake was drafted by the Reds in 2019 in the 37th round out of the University of California-Davis. UC Davis is a Division I program that competes in the Big West Conference, where his team was a conference rival to Dragons catching prospect Eric Yang at UC Santa Barbara. Van Blake played four years at UC Davis earning the majority of his team’s starts by his sophomore year and then playing full-time as a junior and senior. He was a second baseman until his senior year, when he primarily played third base. He was a consistent player all three years as a starter, hitting between .256 and .264 each year with three to five home runs. As a senior, he was selected All-Big West Honorable Mention when he batted .256 with four home runs. He was a tough hitter to strike out throughout his college career, fanning 62 times in 558 at-bats.

After signing with the Reds, Van Blake was initially assigned to the team’s Arizona League affiliate in Goodyear, where he dominated as one of the older players in the league. He hit .341 in 32 games, adding six home runs to tie for the team lead. When the AZL season ended, he briefly went to Greeneville for less than a week and then moved on to Billings. He struggled with those two clubs in a small sample size, going 3 for 22.

Van Blake is from the northern California city of Benicia, an adjacent town to the home of former Dragons pitcher Robert Stephenson in the San Francisco Bay area. Even as a high school player, Van Blake was praised for his versatility and ability to play anywhere on the field. Those skills could give him an opportunity to earn a utility role with the Dragons.

Again this season, all 140 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.

There is a complete listing of all Minor League players in camp with the Reds at RedsMinorLeagues.com at this link: https://redsminorleagues.com/2020/02/17/cincinnati-reds-minor-league-spring-training-roster-2020/ This list does not include players in Major League camp with the Reds, many of whom will eventually be assigned to Minor League affiliate rosters.

Next up: Shortstops

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