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Dragons 2023 Preview, Part 1: The Catchers

March 1, 2023

Dayton Dragons 2023 Team Preview: Part 1—The Catchers The Dayton Dragons will open their 23rd season in the Midwest League with a road series at the Lake County Captains in Eastlake, Ohio beginning Thursday, April 6th at 6:35 p.m. The Dragons annual home opening night game at Day Air Ballpark

Dayton Dragons 2023 Team Preview: Part 1—The Catchers

The Dayton Dragons will open their 23rd season in the Midwest League with a road series at the Lake County Captains in Eastlake, Ohio beginning Thursday, April 6th at 6:35 p.m. The Dragons annual home opening night game at Day Air Ballpark is scheduled for Tuesday, April 11th against the Great Lakes Loons at 7:05 p.m. The home opener on April 11 is the first game of a six-game set with Great Lakes, and the first of 66 home games for the Dragons in 2023. Over the next four weeks, we will provide an eight-part positional preview of the candidates for the Dragons 2023 roster.

By this weekend, the Reds will have 160 minor league players at their spring training camp in Goodyear, Arizona. That total includes 49 players who were brought in for early work in mid-February. The Reds remaining minor league pitchers and catchers reported to camp on February 24, and all remaining position players will report on Friday, March 3. Additionally, the Reds currently have 66 players training at their major league camp in Goodyear, and with a major league opening day roster limit of 26, that potentially could result in another 40 players from big league camp eventually being assigned to a Reds minor league affiliate (the number will not be quite that high due to injuries or releases). That means there are approximately 200 players competing for jobs with one of these Reds four full-season affiliates:

Louisville Bats (Triple-A)

Chattanooga Lookouts (Double-A)

Dayton Dragons (High-A)

Daytona Tortugas (Single-A)

Each Reds minor league team will play a spring schedule from March 13-April 2. The Dragons will arrive in Dayton on April 3.

Some players who do not earn spots on any of the four affiliate rosters will continue to work at the spring training complex in Arizona in what is commonly referred to as “Extended Spring Training,” playing an informal schedule against players from other organizations before a fifth Reds farm club, the Arizona Complex League Reds, begins its season in June.

Again this season, all 132 Dragons games (home and road) can be heard on radio on WONE 980 AM, on the internet at, and via the Dragons Mobile App. The Dragons will again televise 25 games on the Dayton CW.

This is part one of an eight-part series previewing the 2023 Dragons. Players listed here are candidates for positions on the Dragons season-opening roster.

This preview is an unofficial projection of possible roster candidates. Minor League rosters are not established until April 3. Spring training variables including performance, injuries, trades, and additional player acquisitions will impact the roster accordingly.

The Catchers

Click links on each name for career stats and player information.

Candidates: Mat Nelson, Daniel Vellojin, Logan Tanner, Cade Hunter, Michael Trautwein, Hayden Jones.

The Reds currently have six veteran catchers in big league spring training camp, led by former Dragon Tyler Stephenson, who will be the starter in Cincinnati. If all six stay healthy and remain in the organization, they would fill the rosters of the Reds and the Louisville club. Under that scenario, former Dragons Eric Yang and James Free would likely be assigned to Double-A Chattanooga, along with perhaps one of the six candidates listed here as potential candidates to open in Dayton. Most likely, three of the remaining five would be assigned to the Dragons, with the remaining two going one level lower, to Daytona.

Former supplemental first round draft pick Mat Nelson spent the entire 2022 season with the Dragons. He was the starter until mid-June, when Daniel Vellojin arrived from Daytona, and for about a month at that point, Nelson and Vellojin split the catching duties equally. When the Reds had a severe shortage of catchers in the upper part of their farm system in late July, Vellojin was promoted to Chattanooga, and Nelson again took over the everyday starter duties with Michael Trautwein and eventually Hayden Jones getting limited work in back-up roles. In 2023, at least one of Nelson or Vellojin could be expected to earn a spot in Chattanooga with the other perhaps returning to the Dragons. Trautwein and Jones are also in the mix once again, and the Reds selected two catchers high in the draft last July, Logan Tanner and Cade Hunter, and it is possible that one of those two could make the Dayton club on opening night. So that is six candidates for three spots in Dayton.

Mat Nelson entered the Reds organization in 2021 after being selected with the 35th overall pick in the draft, receiving a signing bonus of more than $2 million. He led the nation in home runs with 23 in 2021 at Florida State, was the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, and won the Buster Posey Award as the nation’s best catcher. He hit .330 for the year while competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, a very tough college league. He was named the national player of the year by Perfect Game/Rawlings and was a consensus First Team All-American after a huge season at FSU. Nelson played briefly for the Dragons in 2021 and then appeared in 82 games with Dayton in 2022. He batted .219 with eight home runs in a year when he seemed to suffer one nagging injury after another behind the plate on foul tips and pitches in the dirt, playing through most of the nicks and bruises. Nelson had a strong finish to the season over his final 14 games, batting .340 in 50 at-bats to raise his final average from .193 to .219.

Daniel Vellojin (vay-oh-HEEN), a native of the nation of Colombia, broke his hand in spring training in 2022 and got a late start to the season, appearing in 20 games in May and early June at Daytona before joining the Dragons. Once he got to Dayton, where he had been expected to play from the start before the injury, Vellojin hit extremely well. He had one series in late June at Great Lakes when he blasted four home runs in five games, including two in one game. After his first 12 games with the Dragons, he was batting .350 with four home runs and an OPS of 1.155. He cooled down in July and his average stood at .271 with five homers in 21 games with the Dragons when he was promoted to Double-A Chattanooga. He hit just .191 with the Lookouts in 29 games. Vellojin has a very good arm but needs to improve his receiving skills behind the plate.

Logan Tanner was selected by the Reds in the second round of the 2022 draft out of Mississippi State University, where he helped the Bulldogs to the 2021 College World Series championship as a sophomore, leading the team in home runs with 15 including one in the title game against Vanderbilt. He also played for USA Baseball’s College National Team in the summer of 2021. As a junior in 2022, he fell off a bit, batting .285 with seven home runs in 55 games, still earning Second Team All-SEC honors in the best college baseball conference in the country. Tanner had also been a big star at the high school level in Mississippi, earning All-State honors as both a junior and senior at George County High School. Tanner was the fourth catcher taken in the 2022 draft and received a signing bonus from the Reds of over $1 million. He was considered by many to be the best defensive catcher in the entire draft in 2022. Baseball America currently ranks Tanner as the best defensive catcher in the Reds system and best prospect among Reds minor league catchers, listing him as the Reds #23 overall prospect. After being drafted last July, Tanner played briefly at Daytona, batting .211 with one home run in 16 games. The Reds will consider whether Tanner’s development is best served by getting more time at Daytona or by making the jump to High-A with the Dragons.

Cade Hunter was a fifth round draft pick by the Reds in 2022 out of Virginia Tech, where he had a huge 2022 season. He helped his team to the #3 ranking in the country entering the NCAA tournament. The Hokies eventually fell one win short of qualifying for the College World Series as Hunter batted .330 with 17 home runs, 66 runs batted in, and 11 stolen bases in 58 games. He was a semi-finalist for the 2022 Buster Posey Award, the same award Mat Nelson had won the previous year. After signing with the Reds, Hunter had no problems adjusting to the wood bat in the Reds organization, batting .341 with three home runs in 14 games, posting an 1.132 OPS. Hunter’s father, Scott, is the Amateur Scouting Director for the Seattle Mariners. Baseball America ranks Hunter as the Reds #26 prospect. The Reds will make a decision with Hunter, just like Logan Tanner, as to whether it would be beneficial to give him more time at Daytona, or push him along to Dayton. Between the two 2022 draft picks, Hunter is viewed as the more advanced hitter, while Tanner is the more highly-regarded defensive catcher.

Michael Trautwein filled a valuable role as a third catcher for the Dragons for most of the 2022 season. Trautwein was a popular member of the team among the players and coaches for his willingness to spend many hours in the bullpen catching and working with the pitchers, both during the pre-game sessions and within the games. Dragons 2022 pitching coach Brian Garman credited Trautwein at the end of the season as a big factor in the improvement of the Dayton pitchers because of his unselfish approach to the minor league game. Trautwein was a 14th round draft pick by the Reds in 2021 out of Northwestern. With the Dragons in 2022, Trautwein played in 29 games and batted .152. He is a strong defensive catcher.

Hayden Jones spent most of the 2022 season a level below the Dragons at Daytona, batting .243 with nine home runs in 72 games. He got into four games during the final days of the season with the Dragons and his only hit was a home run. Jones played college baseball at Illinois State University and was signed by the Reds as an undrafted free agent after the 2021 draft. Jones was an Indiana high school star at Fort Wayne’s Carroll High School, earning First Team All-State honors as a sophomore, junior, and senior. He was the MVP of the Indiana North-South All-Star Game. His father, Ken Jones, was a two-time All-MAC selection at Western Michigan before being drafted by the San Diego Padres and later becoming an assistant coach at Ball State and Western Michigan. His cousin, Tyler Jones, pitched at the University of Dayton for five seasons, appearing in 83 career games to rank second in school history.

Next up: First Basemen

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More Information:The Dayton Dragons are the affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds and play 66 home games at beautiful Day Air Ballpark, in the heart of the Water Street District. Contact the Dragons by calling at (937) 228-2287, emailing at [email protected], or go to For more information, please visit the following links: