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Ashcraft ready to recharge Big Red machine

Righty leading the next wave of young talent headed to Cincinnati
Graham Ashcraft compiled a 3.00 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP with 129 strikeouts over 111 total frames in his first full season. (Chattanooga Lookouts)
@RobTnova24
November 5, 2021

Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.

Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.

A few seasons ago, Cincinnati began a complete rebuild, and the emergence of the young talent the organization amassed is starting to be felt at the big league level. This year, former top prospects Jonathan India, Tyler Stephenson and Vladimir Gutierrez, among others, made significant contributions to lead the Reds to a 83-79 record, good for a third-place finish in the NL Central Division.

The organization currently boasts a trio of Top-100 prospects in flame-thrower Hunter Greene (No. 26), southpaw Nick Lodolo (No. 31) and 2021 first-round Draft pick Matt McLain (No. 90), who ended his first pro season on an impressive note with 27 hits in 29 games for High-A Dayton.

The Reds system also enjoyed a great deal of success with a 301-295 overall mark (a .505 winning percentage) across its six Minor League clubs – with Triple-A Louisville the lone club to finish with a losing record (55-73).

Reds Organization All-Stars

Catcher – Daniel Vellojin, Daytona (88 games): The 21-year-old from Colombia made a seamless transition to his first full pro season and demonstrated again that the Reds seem to have an eye for finding and developing catchers. However, unlike Devin Mesoraco and Tyler Stephenson, Vellojin was an under-the-radar signing who could prove to be a great bargain at just $10,000.

After spending his first two years in the Dominican Summer League – earning postseason All-Star honors in 2019 – the lefty-swinging backstop posted a .247/.401/.403 slash line with seven homers, 56 runs scored and 34 RBIs with the Low-A Tortugas in his first full season stateside. The club’s 19th-ranked prospect also flashed that 60-grade arm for Daytona, throwing out 27 of 63 attempted basestealers.

“He actually suffered a broken hamate bone at the end of the season and we weren’t aware of it," said Shawn Pender, Cincinnati's vice president of player development. "He’s that type of gamer. But he swung the bat exceptionally well, showed better leadership than we anticipated and really showcased his catching and throwing abilities. He’s going to be a well-rounded catcher for us.”

First baseman – Wilson Garcia, Chattanooga (103 games): The journeyman Minor Leaguer was signed by the Reds to be a veteran presence, and he provided that and more for the organization. The 27-year-old posted one of the best campaigns of his 10-year pro career – batting .290/.320/.468 with 18 homers (second only to the 23 he smacked in 2018), 64 RBIs and 44 runs scored.

Second baseman – Alejo Lopez, Chattanooga (25 games), Louisville (67 games), Cincinnati (14 games): The Reds' No. 21 prospect climbed three levels and made his Major League debut this season, and it was his bat that carried him there. Lopez raked at every stop, starting the season with a .362/.437/.448 slash line in 25 games with the Double-A Lookouts. His production barely dropped off as he ascended the ranks, and his versatility in being able to play second, third and the outfield – and all well – earned him a call to The Show on June 28. Despite being shuttled between Cincinnati and Louisville four different times, the 25-year-old proved he possessed staying power by finishing with the big league.

“Offensively, he just put together an amazing year and he continues to grow and evolve,” Pender said. “He’s a switch-hitter, he’s got great bat-to-ball skills, advanced strike zone awareness, plate discipline, uses the whole field and proved to be a tough out at every level. He’s also improved his defense and his ability to be a utility guy got him to the big leagues because we wanted that offense in the lineup.”

Third baseman – Robbie Tenerowicz, Chattanooga (93 games): Signed as a free agent in December after being released by the Rays last May, the 26-year-old benefited from a change of scenery after a tough season in 2019. Tenerowicz rebounded well from a slow start at the plate to post a .264/.351/.472 slash line with a career-best 14 long balls, two triples, 17 doubles, 48 runs scored and 46 RBIs. According to Pender, the infielder was supposed to get a callup to Louisville with two weeks left in the season, but he separated his shoulder and was shut down for the remainder of the year.

Shortstop – Jose Barrero, Chattanooga (40 games), Louisville (45 games), Cincinnati (21 games): The 23-year-old got his first taste of the big leagues last season – appearing in 24 games for the Reds – but it was evident he needed a bit more seasoning before sticking in The Show full time. That’s exactly what he got this year, splitting time almost evenly between Double-A and Triple-A and showcasing all five tools at both stops before returning to the bigs on Sept. 10 -- and performing as if he was ready to stay this time. Barrero sported a .303/.380/.539 slash line across the highest levels of the Minors in 85 games while setting career high marks in homers (19), RBIs (66) and runs (62). He was a late addition to the Futures Game, where he blasted a mammoth 426-foot dinger in Coors Field. The Cuban defector did all of this while mourning the loss of his mother.

“What he did this season was absolutely remarkable,” Pender said. “He’s a young man, from Cuba, and he lost his mother to COVID-19 in the middle of the season. So it’s not like she got sick and he could have gone to visit her. This was devastating for him, and he went out there and never really missed a beat. Besides the eight to 10 days he took to regroup, he showed up every day and put together a tremendous year. He showed the ability to do it all and do it all well and worked his way back up to the big leagues. Just a remarkable feat on his part.”

Outfielders

Lorenzo Cedrola, Chattanooga (106 games), Louisville (nine games): The 23-year-old has always had a knack for making contact on a consistent basis, but he added a new element to his game this season: power. Cedrola not only batted .320/.356/.461 in 106 games with the Lookouts, he also mashed a career-best nine dingers. He added one more long ball over the final nine games with the Bats, and his 10 taters surpassed the previous season high of four he posted in 2017 in the South Atlantic League.

“He was always an incredibly fundamentally sound player, and this year he got stronger,” Pender said. “He really simplified his swing, bulked up a bit and he’s catching up to velocity now. He’s also a good baserunner and a great defender, and to do what he did at Double-A and carry it over to Triple-A at the end there was nice to see.”

Allan Cerda, Daytona (66 games), Dayton (21 games): The 17th-ranked Reds prospect made his full-season pro debut and brought his power stroke with him. After spending his first two pro seasons in Rookie ball, the 6-foot-3, 170-pounder opened the year with Daytona and immediately showed off the raw power that made many believe he was a steal when Cincinnati signed him for $100,000 in July 2017. After moving up to Dayton in August, the speedy outfielder posted a combined .250/.361/.523 slash line with 17 dingers and 55 RBIs over 87 total games.

“Tools, tools, tools. Here is a guy that just keeps getting better,” Pender said. “While he is still a good distance away, we are very excited about his potential and all the tools that he possesses. Great power, developing better strike-zone awareness and a very good defender. He just goes out there and plays the game the right away.”

Jacob Hurtubise, Dayton (102 games): After being selected in the 39th round of the 2020 Draft by the Mariners, Hurtubise never came to terms with Seattle and became a free agent. The Army product signed with the Reds last July 17 and made his pro debut this season. Showing no signs of being overmatched in High-A, the 23-year-old posted a .283/.413/.337 slash line and showcased his plus-speed with 39 stolen bases in 49 attempts. Hurtubise’s speed also came into play in the outfield, where he showed the ability to handle center with ease.

Right-handed starting pitcher – Graham Ashcraft, Dayton (eight starts), Chattanooga (14 starts): Talk about making a good impression. In his first full pro season, the club’s sixth-ranked prospect earned Reds’ Minor League Pitching Prospect of the Year honors. The 23-year-old opened the season in High-A, but was quickly promoted to Double-A after posting a 2.33 ERA over eight starts with the Dragons. In 22 starts this season, the Alabama-Birmingham product amassed a 3.00 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP with 129 strikeouts over 111 total frames. He finished with an 11-4 mark and a .212 average against.

“He’s a big, strong, physical kid with power stuff,” Pender said. “Very aggressive when he’s on the mound, and right now, he’s probably got two pitches that are Major League-ready. The stuff has always been there for him, but this year he really showed improvement with the command and control.”

Left-handed starting pitcher – Reiver Sanmartin, Chattanooga (four games, three starts), Louisville (21 games, 14 starts), Cincinnati (two starts): The 25-year-old found a penchant for missing bats and rode it through three levels of the organization en route to his Major League debut. Sanmartin dominated in every uniform he donned this season. He posted a 0.50 ERA in four appearances for the Lookouts before limiting opponents to a .253 average with 89 punchouts in 82 1/3 frames over 21 outings with the Bats. In his only two starts for the Reds, the Colombia native yielded a pair of runs on 12 hits and two walks while whiffing 11 over 11 2/3 innings.

“He got to the big leagues at the end here and really showed that he knows how to pitch,” Pender said. “He’s got natural deception with his stuff and he’s very resilient. No huge out pitch to speak of, but he knows how to blend and he goes out there and competes every time. I think that’s what made him so successful this year.”

Relief pitcher – Dauri Moreta (Chattanooga 18 games), Louisville (24 games), Cincinnati (four games): After going 4-0 with a 1.35 ERA and a 37-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26 2/3 innings at Double-A Chattanooga, he was promoted to Triple-A Louisville in July. Taking over as the Bats' closer, the Reds' No. 27 prospect converted all eight of his save opportunities and posted a 0.68 ERA at the Minors' highest level, balancing a drop in strikeouts (21 in 26 1/3 innings) with a bump in efficiency (2.5 fewer pitches per inning) to earn a September callup to Cincinnati.

“The biggest thing he did was add some velo and consistency to his slider,” Pender said. “He’s always been aggressive, but he threw more strikes and missed more bats this year. His weapons really played up and he was smart in how he used them, and that resulted in him getting to the big leagues and getting the chance to show he belonged.”

Rob Terranova is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobTnova24.