4 Cincinnati Reds prospects who will exceed expectations in 2022

Ivan Johnson throws to first during the Tortugas opener.
Ivan Johnson throws to first during the Tortugas opener. / Nigel Cook/News-Journal via Imagn
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Prospects are always hard to predict, and oftentimes, organizations and fans alike overvalue their young talent. That said, a small market club like the Cincinnati Reds must rely heavily on scouting and development of their prospects in order to have success.

Cincinnati's farm system has really improved over the last few seasons. Despite the fact that Jonathan India, Tyler Stephenson, Tony Santillan, Vladimir Gutierrez, and Jose Barrero all graduated to the big leagues, MLB.com has vaulted Cincy's farm system into the Top 10 among all major league clubs.

With the likely ascension of starting pitchers Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, the Reds farm system is sure to take a hit, but a fantastic haul during last year's MLB Draft landed nine of the Top 250 draft-eligible prospects according to MLB Pipeline.

We did, however, see a few prospects miss their mark in 2021. Tyler Callihan dropped from No. 8 in 2020 to No. 12 due in most part to injury. Jackson Miller, ranked No. 14 prior to the 2021 season, fell all the way down to No. 25. Injuries limited Miller to just three games last season.

Will the aforementioned duo make strides in 2022 or will we continue to see them tumble down the prospect rankings? Which five Cincinnati Reds are likely to exceed expectations heading into next season?

1. Ivan Johnson, Reds IF prospect

Ivan Johnson is one of my favorite young prospects in the Reds farm system. Cincinnati's fourth-round pick in 2019, Johnson is switch hitter who has success from both sides of the plate. Not necessarily known as power-hitter, but did send 10 balls over the fence in 2021 and posted a .617 slugging percentage playing in the Arizona Fall League.

Johnson had a terrific season split between Low-A Daytona and High-A Dayton last season, posting a wRC+ of 125 at both stops. Johnson combined for a slash line of .264/.367/.451 with 19 doubles and 11 stolen bases.

Coming up through the Reds organization certainly presents its share of problems for Johnson, who appears to be blocked at nearly every position he plays. A middle infielder by trade, Johnson was shifted from shortstop to second base after the Reds selected Matt McLain in the 2021 MLB Draft and assigned him to play alongside Johnson with the Dayton Dragons.

At the big league level, Jonathan India, the reigning Rookie of the Year, would appear to be Cincinnati's second baseman for the foreseeable future. Other young prospects like Elly De La Cruz have a higher ceiling than Ivan Johnson, and there's also the matter of Jose Barrero, the Reds likely starting shortstop heading into next season.

Still, after seeing how well Johnson performed in 2021 and his fantastic showcase during play in the Arizona Fall League, I'm not betting against the 23-year-old next season. Look for Johnson to put up similar numbers to what he produced last season and maybe even make it to the Triple-A level by season's end.

Cincinnati Reds fans cheer in the seventh inning of a baseball game.
Cincinnati Reds fans cheer in the seventh inning of a baseball game. / Albert Cesare / The Enquirer / USA TODAY

2. Christian Roa, Reds RHP prospect

The 2020 MLB Draft came with a lot of intrigue following Major League Baseball's reduction from 40 rounds to just five. In the second round of that year's draft, the Cincinnati Reds selected right-handed pitcher Christian Roa.

Roa, a three-year standout at Texas A&M, was only able to toe the rubber four times in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, in those four outings, Roa posted an uninspiring 5.85 ERA over 20 innings. But, Roa struck out 35 of the 89 batters he faced during the abbreviated college season.

Roa has a four-pitch mix and he's unafraid to go to any of his pitches. A fastball that sits in the mid-90s, coupled with an above-average curveball and changeup, give the right-hander a good chance to find his way into the Cincinnati starting rotation eventually. Roa also has a slider that he'll turn to on occasion.

The key for Christian Roa heading into next season is reps. After recovering from sports hernia surgery following the 2020 MLB Draft, Roa was able to make 13 appearances, including 12 starts last season. Roa had a terrific 10.28 K/9 and 26.9 strikeout-rate, but the 22-year-old will need to focus on reducing that 3.99 BB/9.

Roa spent time at both Low-A Daytona and High-A Dayton in 2021, and it's a good bet he'll begin the 2022 season with the Dragons. But, if Roa can piece together a few solid starts, we'll likely see the Houston native make his Double-A debut in 2022.

The pitcher's mound at McCoy Stadium.
The pitcher's mound at McCoy Stadium. / David DelPoio/The Providence Journal /

3. Joe Boyle, Reds RHP prospect

Joe Boyle is one of the most exciting prospects in the Cincinnati Reds farm system. Standing 6-foot-7, Boyle is an intimidating presence on the mound. Oh yeah, he also routinely hits triple-digits on the radar gun.

Boyle, who was drafted in 2020, finally got to make his professional debut in 2021. After four outings at the team's training complex in Arizona showed that Boyle can get strikeouts (54.2% K-rate), the Reds sent the right-hander to Low-A Daytona to begin his pro career.

Boyle didn't disappoint and struck out five batters over three innings. Unfortunately, he also hit a batter and walked four more. Boyle's first outing for the Dragons saw him face 13 batters and allow two earned runs despite not allowing a single hit.

Over his final three appearances in 2021, Joe Boyle went 9.2 innings and struck out 23 of the 44 batters he faced, including a 10-strikeout performance during his final outing of the season. Boyle's final line for the 2021 season at Low-A Dayton saw the right-hander finish with a 3.55 ERA and 28 punch outs over 12.2 innings.

Boyle's 49.1% strikeout-rate is insane, but so is his 22.8% walk-rate. If Boyle can maintain anything close to his K-rate from 2021 while reducing his BB-rate by just one-third, it'd be a step in the right direction. Boyle has the opportunity, if he can find control, to be a weapon at the end of games.

Cincinnati Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez's (7) bat and helmet rest on the field.
Cincinnati Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez's (7) bat and helmet rest on the field. / Kareem Elgazzar, Cincinnati Enquirer via

4. Allan Cerda, Reds OF prospect

I'm going to keep banging the drum for Allan Cerda. The Cincinnati Reds outfield prospect was added to the team's 40-man roster shortly before the MLB lockout, thus protecting the 22-year-old from being selected in the Rule 5 Draft.

Cerda has all the tools to be a productive major league player. After spending the 2019 at Greenville, Cerda, like many minor leaguers, missed the opportunity to elevate his stock due to the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season.

But, Cerda returned to the diamond in 2021 and proved that he has what it takes to be an impact player. Splitting time between Low-A Daytona and High-A Dayton, Cerda hit .250 while launching 17 round trippers and racking up 55 RBIs. Collectively, Cerda posted an OPS of .884 and wRC+ of 136.

Allan Cerda is big and athletic and can play up the middle of the outfield. His arm is above average, and if he continues to develop in that area, could become a solid right fielder. But, having a power-hitting centerfielder is a luxury few teams can claim. If Cerda continues to develop, the Reds may have a star on their hands.

Next season will be key for Cerda's development, having been added to the 40-man roster, the outfielder's time to make an impact at the big league level is ticking. This may force Cincinnati to elevate Cerda to Double-A Chattanooga at the start of the 2022 season.

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If there's one prospect, in addition to Elly De La Cruz, to keep an eye on over the next two years, it's Allan Cerda. Yes, there's some swing-and-miss in his bat, but he also posted an impressive 11.3% walk-rate in 2021. That keen eye will help Cerda reach his ceiling as one of Cincinnati's top prospects in 2022.