Prospect Matt McLain may open 2022 in Double-A

CINCINNATI -- The Reds player development system won’t be afraid to push their top Draft pick from 2021, .  The shortstop, who was taken 21st overall out of UCLA in July, is on a fast track already.

“We’re going to give him a chance to go to Double-A, if he looks like he’s ready coming out of Spring Training,” said Reds vice president of player development Shawn Pender. “If not, we’ll start him in High-A and see how long he needs to stay there before we move him. That’s the goal.”

McLain, 22, is ranked by MLB Pipeline as Cincinnati’s No. 3 prospect and No. 90 overall. He’s already shown he can handle a lot in a short amount of time.

Following 2020 and ’21 college seasons shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and time off ahead of the Draft, McLain showed little rust. He spent a couple of weeks at the team complex in Arizona and played two games before moving up to High-A Dayton.

In 29 games for Dayton, McLain batted .273/.387/.424 with three homers and 19 RBIs.

“Once I started to play every day, it was good to get into a rhythm, seeing different kinds of arms every single day and just going out and having fun playing baseball,” McLain said on Sept. 23 during a visit to Great American Ball Park.

The Reds’ system has three other Top 30 prospects at shortstop in Elly De La Cruz (No. 8), Ivan Johnson (No. 16) and José Torres (No. 22).

“We were looking to find a place where we can get everyone at-bats,” Pender said. “[McLain] seemed to be the most prepared to make the biggest jump and he more than handled his own at the High-A level.”

De La Cruz -- a five-tool talent -- and Torres were at Low-A Daytona. The organization had Johnson at Daytona and Dayton, but had him playing second base and third base at the Arizona Fall League, which recently concluded.

The Reds also have a young shortstop at the big league level in Jose Barrero after he spent most of 2021 at Triple-A Louisville. With lots of shortstop depth in the system, McLain could be one of those who changes positions. He played exclusively at shortstop for Dayton but played some at third base and second base in college.

“I think we saw it as we’re drafting him as a shortstop knowing he was significantly offensive enough to where if he didn’t profile at some point, or the profile reduced, we could get him to another position,” Pender said. “There is enough bat there.”

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