Dragons manager on Reds young prospects: ‘We’re in a great place’

Dayton Dragons manager Bryan LaHair knows a bunch of the talented players growing up in the Cincinnati Reds’ organization better than anyone.

In the summer of 2022, LaHair managed current Reds Elly De La Cruz, Noelvi Marte, Andrew Abbott and Connor Phillips in Dayton.

This summer, 10 players ranked among the Reds’ top 30 prospects on MLB.com played for him in Dayton: No. 3 Edwin Arroyo (shortstop), No. 6 Chase Petty (pitcher), No. 7 Sal Stewart (third baseman), No. 9 Carlos Jorge (second baseman), No. 16 Hector Rodriguez (outfielder), No. 17 Jay Allen II (outfielder), No. 21 Julian Aguiar (pitcher), No. 22 Blake Dunn (outfielder), No. 27 Austin Hendrick (outfielder) and No. 30 Zach Maxwell (pitcher).

“We’re in a great place,” LaHair said. “We have a lot of very talented young players that have some learning to do, just helping them grow their baseball IQs and working at their craft. Some have different things to work on, but, in my opinion, we have a very strong farm system and a lot of really good players. It’s about pushing players through the organization to hopefully one day help us win a World Series.”

Arroyo spent the entire season with the High-A Dragons, and at 19 he was the youngest player in the Midwest League with at least 250 at-bats. He started slow, struggling for much of the first half to get his batting average above .200. He finished at .248, stole 28 bases and showed he can develop into a power threat with 13 homers and 55 RBIs batting at the top of the order.

“Every year I learn a lot,” Arroyo said. “That’s the point of being here. Next year will be another year, it will be a better year. I’m just going to keep continuing doing my best.”

Arroyo didn’t pinpoint any specific areas of his game, saying he felt like he got better in every aspect.

“When you’re a player like him that’s really talented and fast and just good at your craft, sometimes, when you’re that age, you don’t really understand and it’s hard to see it how we see it,” LaHair said of Arroyo’s self-assessment. “Some of his deficiencies that he needs to work on he’s gotten better at, and we’re watching those. He’s doing those now a lot more, just the little details of the game. It’s hard for a player to actually see and understand. We’ll see him next year a little bigger, a little stronger, a little smarter and at a different level.”

Two other players, who don’t appear on prospect lists, spent the entire season in Dayton. First baseman Ruben Ibarra and outfielder Jack Rogers, both 24, progressed during the season similar to Arroyo and will likely join him in AA Chattanooga for the 2024 season.

Ibarra, at 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds, was a fan favorite for his long home runs, his hustle and fun personality. He hit 18 home runs, batted in 63 runs and hit .300 the final three weeks to finish with a .238 batting average and .787 OPS.

“He’s a leader, he’s a hard worker, he wants to get better, he’s coachable, he listens, he adjusts,” LaHair said. “He’s fun to work with.”

It was clear all season that the team got along well as players came and went. They stayed together through losing streaks and down the stretch as they finished 67-65 overall and 34-32 in the second half to narrowly miss the playoffs. Ibarra said often he thought the Dragons had the best team, and he did his best to keep the team motivated.

“Fun – everyone’s fun,” Ibarra said. “Everyone has their own character and the best part about this team is there’s not one cancer, and that’s what makes coming to the ballpark easier. They say that these are the dog days. Well, I don’t I don’t see the dog days when I’m having fun.

“There’s been a lot of learning moments, there’s been a lot of overcoming obstacles, there’s just been a lot of maturity this year. So I’m very happy. I’m very proud to be a part of this team.”

Rogers first played in Dayton in 2021 and struggled in 18 games. He started 2022 in Low-A Daytona and batted .285 with 10 homers before a late season return to Dayton. This year he battled through a tough first half before hitting well in the second to finish at .258 with 13 homers, including two grand slams, and 63 RBIs.

“It’s a huge confidence booster,” Rogers said. “I really honed in on my approach and really learned some stuff at the plate this year, especially with how good this pitching is in this league. I was very happy with the way I ended.”

LaHair was pleased with Rogers’ improvement.

“He had to go down and get back to who he was as a player, and he did exactly that,” LaHair said. “He earned his opportunity to come back here, and he ran with it.”

The late-season promotions to Dayton of Stewart, Jorge and Rodriguez provided a preview of next summer when those three are likely to start the season in Dayton.

“They all handled themselves incredible here for 19-year-olds,” LaHair said. “They came together, they had big moments. They were put in a tough situation in a playoff stretch with tough games, close games, must-win games, so they have that experience.”

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