Every year, I take a look at the minor league squads and try to determine who has a legitimate chance as a breakout star. Now, the term star is relevant. I don't mean the guys on this list will become perennial All Stars. No, these guys should have a chance to break into the Cincinnati Top Ten prospects or, in the case of upper level propects, help the parent club.
Of course, that being said, every year, I look at my picks and laugh at the end of the year. Does the name Steve Kelly mean anything to anyone? He was one of my picks last season. Of course, two years ago, I tabbed Chris Denorfia, so I have that going for me. Which is nice.
So be it. I once again enter the murky depths of prognostication, fearless in the face of facts, staring sabremetricians square in the eye. (In other words, these are my WAG's.)
My picks for 2007 are:
Why he'll blossom: Salmon has been solid to above average wherever he's been. His BB rate is a bit high, but he's lowered it to nominal levels in the past couple years. Too, his K rate is excellent (over 10/ 9IP overall last season) and one thing the Reds need is guys that miss bats.
Why he'll matter: Every team needs relievers. The Reds, with the apparent glut of relievers at this point, will probably need more than the average team because, hey, they're the Reds. It's how they roll, baby. He'll probably not be on the Opening Day roster, but he's good enough to be a solid middle reliever on the Cincinnati roster by the end of the year.
Why he'll blossom: Vazquez is young (22) and has a live arm. He's also had a taste of AA in 2006, with middling results. His 4.33 ERA is certainly nothing special, but I suspect he's right on the cusp of figuring something out. His K rate is above average (career 8.64/ 9IP) and his BB rate is trendind down, all good signs. Add in possible AA rotation members Cueto, Pelland, Lecure, Avery, and/ or Fischer and Vazquez will have to be sharp to be remembered. I think he will.
Why he'll matter: Any good numbers by a southpaw will generate excitement. With apologies to Pelland, Vazquez's arm is the best lefty arm in the Red upper minors. He could shoot into the top five and is the best bet of the bunch to garner serious consideration, IMO, as a darkhorse candidate.
Craig Tatum C
Why he'll blossom: Tatum's got ability, but he can't stay healthy. He's also in the one position where Reds brass will take a wait and see approach-- catcher. There is absolutely no one in front of him to keep Tatum from starting in High A and he's a solid bet to exceed expectations at this point. He's got some pop and is willing to take a walk, but he'll need to shine in order to generate real excitement. My guess is he will, more because of who's around him in the lineup than his own talent.
Why he'll matter: That thundering silence you hear (or don't, for that matter, no need to get all existential and stuff) is the lack of a minor league catching prospect in the Cincinnati system. There hasn't been one since 34 year old Jason LaRue won the AA batting title more than a decade ago. The law of averages says that will change. Since Tatum's the only candidate to hit his weight with the wooden thing, he's my pick.
Why he'll blossom: Dorn hit better than anyone in Rookie League last season, blasting an OPS over 1.000 with a BA over .350. He probably won't repeat that, but he's got skills. As an OF, he's not horrid, but he's not in Stubbs' league. Still, he's got the bat and looks to be one of many suprisingly solid performers coming up to Dayton out of Billings.
Why he'll matter: The Cincinnati pipeline has few sure things. One of them-- Jay Bruce-- is an OF. That leaves, oh, seven positions to be filled. Dorn's a solid bet to move up on merit and keep moving up as he improves. (No blocked talent here.) (One of the reasons, aside from being included in many Top Ten lists, Chris Valaika isn't included is that he's blocked as a SS by both Janish and Rosales) and won't be moved up unless one or both of them struggles, improves, or switches positions. Unless, of course, Valaika switches to 2B, thereby screwing Red Tuner, so he, too, doesn't get a nod. It's all relative, y'see.)
So, that's it. That's my list. Think you can do better? Pony up and try, Burger Boy. Let's see your list. One per minor league team, AAA-A-.