The Cincinnati Reds have been very active on the international amateur free-agent market since this year's signing period began on July 2. They went well over their pool just to sign shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez for $7 million. Then they handed out $4.75 million to bring right-hander Vladimir Gutierrez into the fold. Both Cubans were placed among the Reds' Top 10, but that was before they had spent a day as a Red in the United States.
That changed last Sunday when a slew of Reds prospects reported to the team's training complex in Goodyear, Ariz., for instructional league work. Rodriguez and Gutierrez are officially on the advanced instructs roster, which features slightly older and more developed players, including 2016 first-round pick Nick Senzel.
Rodriguez, 22, did get 77 at-bats in the Dominican Summer League as visa issues were taken care of, and he is now getting back in the swing of things after a layoff. Gutierrez, who just turned 21, signed in September, so instructs is his first official work in the organization.
"With the Cubans, there's an element of cultural assimilation that needs to happen," Reds farm director Jeff Graupe said. "That goes beyond just the language. There's a lot of education, a lot of one-on-one, getting them up to speed on adjusting to lifestyle. It's been a fun process. It's been two-pronged with the baseball teaching and the off-field stuff. They're fun to work with, they're excited to learn."
The Reds are obviously excited about what this pair can do on the field and are eager to see them in game action, something that will happen soon with the advanced instructs schedule starting Friday. Rodriguez should see some game action this weekend, while Cincinnati is still figuring out a pitching rotation and where Gutierrez fits in. So far, the Reds have liked what they've seen.
"Rodriguez looks athletic, with a good feel on the defensive side, with good hands," Graupe said. "He's been taking a good BP.
"Gutierrez has a live body with a plus fastball and a good feel for a breaking ball in bullpens so far. We're excited to get both of them into games, get better evaluations and an understanding of what we'll be working on next year and where we'll be doing that."
Where Rodriguez and Gutierrez will start their Minor League careers in earnest in 2017 obviously is yet to be determined, with Spring Training playing a part. But this time at instructs will allow the two new acquisitions, along with the organization, to lay a good foundation.
"We have the scouting reports and evaluations," said Graupe, referring to those who saw them as amateurs. "Obviously we like these guys a lot. This camp, we'll take that base knowledge, apply it and extend them to see what we'll be doing moving forward."
Trammell showing more polish than expected
After Cincinnati took Senzel No. 2 overall and signed him for $6.2 million -- more than $1.5 million under pick value -- it used the extra money to go after premium high school athlete Taylor Trammell at pick No. 35. When the Reds gave him $3.2 million to sign (pick value was just over $1.8 million), they thought as a two-sport star in the Georgia prep ranks, he might be a bit of a project. Early returns, though, showed a player with a little more feel for the game than expected, especially since Trammell was sent to the Rookie-level Pioneer League, which tends to feature college-age players.
"I was very impressed with how he performed this summer in primarily a college league," Graupe said. "He hovered right around .300 for almost the entire season. He was aggressive on the bases and he was a good defender. He had a better baseball IQ than a lot of high school kids, better than expected."
Trammell hit .303 for Billings and finished with a .374 on-base percentage during his pro debut. He was tied for third in the league with 24 stolen bases as well. The Reds don't want to fix what isn't broken, but they want to use Trammell's time at instructs to refine his considerable tools. As a two-sport standout in high school, he didn't get the same kind of practice reps that many others might have, so Cincinnati will also focus on establishing a good routine for the outfielder.
"You don't see a ton of high school guys go to the Pioneer League and have a good approach. They generally fall into survival mode," Graupe said. "But mentally, he was ahead of the curve. Physically he could outrun the ball a lot of times. We're going to work on the jumps and reads on the bases and in the outfield to help him turn from an athletic player who could recover from his mistakes to a true weapon in those areas. The goal of the instructional league is to speed him up a little bit, shave a little time off the learning curve."
Wotell adjusting, but without throwing
Dilson Herrera may have been the bigger name in the return for Jay Bruce in the non-waiver Trade Deadline deal with the Mets this summer, but the Reds were also excited to get young lefty Max Wotell. The 2015 third-round pick only got to show Cincinnati what he could do for six total innings with Billings. That's because of a shoulder injury that will also limit his activity at instructs.
Even without getting innings in game action, Wotell still can get a lay of the land in terms of how the Reds do things, not to mention important work on strength and conditioning to help him get ready for a potential workload as a starting pitcher over the course of a full season.
"A lot of what we do with our pitchers here -- you can't pitch every day -- the four days between, we try to maximize introduction to analytics, strength and conditioning," Graupe said. "We're catering some instruction for him based on video and analytics. We're getting to know him, trying to figure out what we like and what he likes.
"When you get a guy this young in a trade, there's still a 'getting to know you' phase, and getting to know what's going to make him the best pitcher possible. Everything is measured: workload, growth and routine. We try to figure what's going to get everyone through that first 140-game season."