Cincinnati Reds Add 3 Players to 40-Man Roster

According to the transactions listings on their team website, the Cincinnati Reds have added three minor league players to the 40-man roster in right-handed pitchers Robert Stephenson, Sal Romano and Stephen Johnson.

The moves were made to avoid losing the players in the Rule 5 Draft, which is essentially in place to keep teams from hoarding talented in the minor leagues who are ready to contribute at the big-league level. Via Baseball America, here’s an explanation of the players who are eligible to be selected in the draft, which is held during the annual Winter Meetings:

Players who were 18 or younger on June 5 preceding the signing of their first contract must be protected after four minor league seasons. Players 19 and older must be protected after three seasons.

Therefore, any player who fits that criteria but is not “protected” by being promoted to the 40-man roster, can be selected by other teams in the draft.

All three of the players protected by the Reds were fairly easy selections, as they could all make an impact in the majors at some point.

Stephenson was the most obvious choice as he’s been regarded as the Reds’ top pitching prospect for quite some time now. Fans have waited a long time to see him promoted to Cincinnati and they may not have to wait much longer. Even if he doesn’t make the starting rotation out of spring training, he’s almost a lock to make his debut at some point in 2016 after finally making his way to the Triple-A level in 2015.

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After Stephenson, Johnson is likely the next of these three players who will reach the major leagues. The 24-year-old spent his entire 2015 season in Double-A, where he posted a 2.97 ERA and struck out 10.7 batters per nine innings. He has recently been pitching in the Arizona Fall League and has easily been the most impressive of the three Reds relievers pitching for the Peoria Javelinas. Johnson has allowed only one run, four hits and two walks in 12.1 innings pitched, giving him a 0.73 ERA and 0.49 WHIP. He should start next season in Triple-A Louisville and could wind up in Cincinnati if he continues to progress.

Romano may still be a year or so away from making it to the majors, but he has a lot of upside as well. He’s currently rated as the Reds’ ninth-best prospect by Baseball America and sits at No. 17 in MLB Pipeline’s ranking. In 2015, the former 23rd-round pick went 6-5 with a 3.46 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 79 strikeouts (6.8 K/9) and 33 walks (2.9 BB/9) in High-A Daytona before he was promoted to Double-A Pensacola in early August. Like many players do after moving up, he struggled in his seven starts at the higher level (0-4, 10.96 ERA), but should have a full season in 2016 to adjust to the better hitters.

The Reds’ latest set of moves puts their current 40-man roster at 37 players, leaving some room for other players to be added later on in the offseason.