4 promising Reds prospects who've failed to live up to their lofty draft status

The Reds saw several top prospects make an impact in 2023, but these four lagged behind.

Daytona Tortugas' Jay Allen (4) returns to play
Daytona Tortugas' Jay Allen (4) returns to play / CRYSTAL VANDER WEIT/TCPALM / USA TODAY
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Trying to predict whether or not a top prospect will reach his ceiling is oftentimes exceedingly difficult. Scouts have gotten it wrong more times than they'd probably care to count.

Cincinnati Reds fans have seen former first-round draft picks like Nick Senzel, Robert Stephenson, and Nick Travesio tabbed as "can't miss", only to see them fall well short of expectations. Whether it's due to injury, preparedness, or poor performance, not every early-round draft choice works out.

Several of the Reds top draft picks from previous years, like Matt McLain, Andrew Abbott, and Lyon Richardson made their way to the major leagues in 2023. But a handful of promising young prospects continued to struggle in the minors. Which four prospects have not lived up to their draft status?

1. Reds prospect Matheu Nelson has not lived up to his draft status

Matheu Nelson was selected with the 35th-overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft. Ever since Tyler Stephenson made his debut, the Cincinnati Reds have been searching for another catcher to rise up through the minor leagues and join the former first-round pick on the major league roster.

Nelson looked like that type of player coming out of Florida State University, but the backstop has never lived up to the hype that came with his draft status. Nelson posted a 1.210 OPS with the Seminoles in 2021 and launched 23 homers for FSU that season.

But since being drafted, Nelson's bat has let him down. In 2022, the right-handed hitting catcher slashed .219/.303/.364 at High-A Dayton. Nelson's power reemerged in 2023, but the 24-year-old struck out 109 times in 101 games while splitting time between High-A and Double-A.

Matheu Nelson is no longer viewed among the top prospects in the Cincinnati Reds farm system according MLB Pipeline. The 2024 season will be crucial for Nelson's development, as the Reds have invested heavily in catchers during the past few drafts.

Catchers always require a little more patience, but the Reds have Logan Tanner, Alfredo Duno, and Cade Hunter waiting in the wings to take Nelson's place. Nelson's stock took a hit in 2023, but he's not done yet.

2. Reds prospect Jay Allen has not lived up to his draft status

Jay Allen was drafted in 2021. Allen's selection was a result of the Cincinnati Reds slapping a Qualifying Offer on Trevor Bauer following his Cy Young campaign in 2020. In return, the Reds received an additional draft pick after the first-round.

After being drafted, Allen played 19 games in the Arizona Complex League and showed everyone why Cincinnati selected him with the 30th-overall pick that year. Allen hit .328/.440/.557. But Allen's raw talents have yet to translate to the minor leagues the past two seasons.

The following year, those prestine numbers took a hit. Allen spent time with Low-A Daytona and High-A Dayton but posted a slash line of just .225/.347/.324. Allen was bitten by the injury bug this season and the speedy outfielder managed an OPS of just .570 while playing in 31 games.

The hope, entering spring training in 2024, is that Jay Allen is 100-percent healthy. A thumb injury put the 21-year-old out of commission for most of the 2023 season.

A three-sport athlete in high school, Allen's athletic ability is through the roof. Allen will likely stick in center field due to his speed and above-average arm. The Cincinnati Reds need to see more next season, and a healthy-version of Allen could help. Next season will provide a proving grounds of sorts for the outfielder to show he can be part of the long-term future.

3. Reds prospect Jose Torres has not lived up to his draft status

Jose Torres isn't a name a lot of Reds fans think about when discussions about the team's unique infield depth bubble up to the surface. Usually, in terms of prospects, names like Carlos Jorge, Edwin Arroyo, and Collier are usually the first ones to come off the tongue.

But before any of those young prospects were even on the radar, Torres was taken in the third round of the 2021 MLB Draft. Coming out of North Carolina State, Torres was always a glove-first prospect, but his minor league numbers are troubling.

Torres hit just .187/.284/.293 last season at Double-A Chattanooga. The 24-year-old only had seven miscues at shortstop in 2023 and posted a respectable .975 fielding percentage, but Torres will never make it to The Show if he doesn't consistently find ways to get on base.

Torres is going to have to learn to be less agressive at the plate. A bit of a free-swinger, Torres struck out 36.4-percent of the time last season. That's far too much for a player like Torres who doesn't possess much power. Torres walked a little less than 10-percent of his plate appearances in 2023.

Jose Torres' glove will play in the big leagues, but unless he's able to improve in the batters' box, the young infielder could go the way of Jose Barrero and Alfredo Rodriguez. Barrero is on thin ice heading into spring camp and Rodriguez was released a couple years ago.

4. Reds prospect Austin Hendrick has not lived up to his draft status

To be fair, Austin Hendrick was part of that bizarre 2020 MLB Draft. Talent evaluators and scouts had limited data available due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the draft was shortened to just five rounds. There are a lot of promising players who may have been selected too high, and others who weren't drafted at all.

But, whether or not Hendrick would've still found himself in Round 1 if the entire prep season was played is irrelevant. He's a professional baseball player now, and with his first-round draft status comes increased expectations.

Unfortunately, Hendrick has yet to live up to them. Amazingly, MLB Pipeline still lists Hendrick among the Reds Top 30 prospects depsite hitting just .204/.271/.335 at High-A Dayton last season.

No one is going to doubt Hendrick's power. In fact, it's debatable as to whether he or Rece Hinds have the most raw power in the Cincinnati farm system. If Hendrick can cut down on the strikeouts, then his athelticism will play at the major league level. But that's a big if.

To date, Austin Hendrick has struk out 450 times in a minor league career that spans less than 300 games. The potential, much like the aforementioned Hinds, is sky-high. But if the Ks keep piling up, Hendrick will never reach that lofty expectation that comes with being a first-round pick.