2013 was a memorable year for Donald Lutz
. He had already made the Cincinnati 40-man roster in what was previously assumed to be a Rule 5 protection, but a couple of injuries in the Reds outfield pulled him from AA all the way up for an MLB debut. He saw action in 34 games with the parent team and even hit a home run. Outside of that his slash line at Pensacola (.245 AVG/.318 OBP/.424 SLG/7 HR) was roughly the same as where he finished at that level in 2012 after earning a promotion in the second half of the season.
Lutz is difficult to project. At first glance one might think he peaked at high-A before that promotion when he was leading the California League in home runs before a foul ball off the foot sent him to the disabled list. Normally a bigger impact is expected on the higher minor league levels by the time a prospect is his age (25 years old). However, everyone at the time of his signing that the German was a raw project after having not started playing the game until he was sixteen years old.
That handicap would put even the best prospect on a slower track through the minors. He spent his first three seasons in the rookie leagues culminating with a nice season at Billing in 2010. After that he cracked the .300/20 HR levels at Dayton the next year before the hot pre-injury start at Bakersfield in 2012. After the end of last season he hit .271 AVG/.344 OB/.432 SLG/4 HR in the Mexican Winter League.
Lutz did see some improvement to his range in left field and probably the biggest reason his 6'3/250# frame is out there is to learn the position before a future Votto block atop the first base pipeline. He ran down almost two putouts per game and did well enough to stick at the position this year. Right now he's started off 4-17 with a homer in spring training while he waits to learn where he'll be come opening day. Given his age and length of experience in AA the Reds might opt to give him a shot at Louisville to start the season. It would be an AAA debut but Lutz won't be intimidated after facing MLB pitching last year.
He seems to have good selectivity at the plate and his walk rate provides a decent AVG/OB differential. He could stand some improvement on contact but if he can get back on track with the power numbers he had at the lower levels it would make his strikeout rate easier to tolerate. Lutz and the Reds are hoping for a lucky seventh minor league season that would include some breakout numbers. He's got the raw power projections and he's been in the system for quite some time now polishing other facets of the game. There is again some uncertainty in the Reds outfield situation as 35 year-old Ryan Ludwick attempts to come back after a season that was almost entirely wiped out by a shoulder injury. A couple of reserve outfielders on last year's roster that played in front of Lutz have since been released and the opportunity is there for him to crash the MLB party for a longer stay in 2014.
The Reds knew they were getting a raw prospect when the signed German Donald Lutz when he was a teenager. At that time he was projecting good power potential even though he'd only been playing the game a couple of years. Now he's expected to start the year at AAA while awaiting a chance for a return to the MLB level.
Top 30 Cincinnati Prospects: No. 21