3 surprising prospects who will shine at Reds spring training

Which Reds prospects will wow the coaching staff and fans this spring?

Cincinnati Reds Blake Dunn runs to the dugout
Cincinnati Reds Blake Dunn runs to the dugout / Cody Scanlan/Holland Sentinel / USA
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The Cincinnati Reds saw a number of prospects shine during last year's spring training. Though they didn't make the Opening Day roster, players like Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Matt McLain laid the groundwork last March that led to their eventual call-up as the 2023 season went along.

While it seems unlikely that many, if any, prospects will actually make this year's Opening Day roster, several young players could position themselves very well for a midseason call-up with a strong showing in Goodyear, Arizona.

The Reds have brought along several highly-touted prospects to Major League spring training this year, and there's always a handful who make a strong impression on the backfields and in minor league games. Which three surprising prospects who will shine at Reds spring training?

Zach Maxwell, Right-handed pitcher

Zach Maxwell will be part of Reds Major League spring training next month, and with good reason. While many fans throughout Reds Country have yet to really hear much about the towering right-handed hurler, the opposing hitters who faced Maxwell at both Low-A Daytona and High-A Dayton are unlikely to have very nice things to say.

Maxwell was dominant for both the Daytona Tortugas and Dayton Dragons last season. In 34 combined appearances, Maxwell struck out nearly 36-percent of the batters he faced and posted a respectable FIP of 3.24. The opposition barely hit over .200 off Maxwell last season.

Maxwell was one of several Reds players who were invited to participate in the Arizona Fall League a few months back. The Georgia Tech product logged 12.1 innings in nine games and posted a 2.19 ERA while striking out 22 batters. Maxwell uses a fastball/ breaking ball combo and does struggle with command, but the raw tools are there.

It seems highly unlikely that Zach Maxwell will actually be part of the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day roster when the team departs from Goodyear. But a strong showing during spring training could springboard the 6-foot-6, 275-pound right-hander to a spot in the Reds bullpen by the end of the 2024 season.

Blake Dunn, Outfielder

Blake Dunn has an outside chance to actually make the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day roster. While the prospect pool isn't as deep as last year's, Dunn is at the top. A non-roster invitee to big league camp this spring, Dunn will be looking to prove that what everyone saw in the minor leagues last season was no fluke.

Despite tearing up the opposition in 2023, Dunn is still not viewed as a Top 20 prospect in the Reds organization according to MLB Pipeline. That seems like a gross oversight for a player with a .947 OPS.

Dunn did everything asked of him last season, and was named the Reds Minor League Player of the Year. Elly De La Cruz earned the award last season, so Dunn has some big shoes to fill. De La Cruz, however, did not make the Reds 2023 Opening Day roster and was called up in early-June.

If Dunn puts forth a productive performance in the Cactus League this spring, that would seem to be the most logical path forward for the Western Michigan alum. Just like De La Cruz a year ago, Dunn displayed power, speed, and defense while hitting .312/.425/.522 with a wRC+ of 158 according to FanGraphs.

Blake Dunn can play all three outfield spots and may eventually be that right-handed hitting outfield bat that Reds Country was craving this offseason. Dunn has an advanced approach at the plate and used his speed to swipe 58 bags in 2023. Dunn will make his major league debut during the upcoming season; it's just a matter of when.

Matheu Nelson, Catcher

Matheu Nelson was recently given an invite to Major League spring training along with fellow backstop Daneil Vellojin. While Vellojin has been in the organization longer, Nelson put up much better offensive numbers last season, and began to show flashes of why he was taken so high in the 2021 MLB Draft.

Nelson hit .229/.340/.437 with a walk-rate of nearly 12-percent while splitting time between High-A Dayton and Double-A Chattanooga. Though he only played for the Lookouts during the month of September, Nelson posted a 1.037 OPS and had more walks than strikeouts.

That was the version of Nelson that made him a star during his final season at Florida State and made scouts daydream of what could be on the horizon for the former Seminole. Nelson was selected with the Reds' Competitive Balance in 2021, going 35th overall.

This is a position that Cincinnati needs to see more development from in 2024. The Reds would appear to have several catching prospects with plenty of upside (Logan Tanner, Alfredo Duno, and Cade Hunter), but no one has really grabbed the bull by the horns and asserted himself as the next young catcher to join Tyler Stephenson and Luke Maile in the big leagues.

Reds spring training will afford Nelson that opportunity. The 25-year-old possesses all the tools to have success at the major league level, and his performance in Goodyear could go a long way toward a successful 2024 season and eventual promotion to The Show. If Nelson's defense improves during his time at Goodyear, his path to the majors will become much clearer.