By: Lisa Winston/Milb.com
When you head into the new season with a deep well of starting pitching, led by arguably the top prospect in the Minors, you have to feel reasonably good about things.
It's no surprise that you can hear a bit of a smile in the voice of Terry Reynolds, who took over as the Cincinnati Reds' director of player development during the offseason. And Reynolds can feel justifiably proud, since he moved into the new slot after serving as the club's director of amateur scouting for the 2004, 2005 and 2006 drafts.
The Reds picked up the jewel of their system, right-hander Homer Bailey (2004), under Reynolds' watch. Same for outfielder Jay Bruce (2005) and the talented trio of shortstop prospects Paul Janish (2004), Milton Loo (2005) and Chris Valaika (2006).
Depth at starting pitching, depth in the outfield and depth at shortstop. For now, early in the spring, there are still a lot of questions regarding where some of this depth will land when camp breaks for Minor League opening day, April 5.
"The age-old question is who is going to stick with the big-league team and who's going to be coming back to us, and then putting the players coming up from the bottom into the right spots so they can all not only do well but be challenged," Reynolds said.
A nice problem to have, indeed.
Climbing the Ladder
Joey Votto, 1B
The converted catcher from Canada has transformed himself into the top power-hitting corner prospect in the system, enjoying a breakout season in 2006 at Double-A Chattanooga. There, he earned Southern League MVP honors after hitting .319 with 22 homers and 77 RBIs, winning the batting crown and leading the Reds' system in home runs.
He added 24 steals, impressive for a first baseman or catcher, along with 46 doubles and a .408 on-base percentage to show across-the-board tools. His defense is still something of a work-in-progress though not a liability, but the Reds would like to see him spend a full season at Louisville, if possible, to tweak that glove. He's proven to be a quick study, adjusting his stance and shortening his swing in '06 to improve on all of his numbers from the season before.
"You can never predict what might happen in the big leagues, but his bat is ahead of his defense and he does need some time at Triple-A to improve in that area," said Reynolds. "But if he hits the way he did in the Southern League, those bats are going to play sooner than later."
Homer Bailey, RHP
We'll list him with Louisville for now, but the jury is still out on whether the jewel of the system will begin '07 in the Minors or just head north with the big club. Either way, don't expect him to be sticking around Kentucky too long.
"Stranger things have happened [than Bailey opening the season in the Cincinnati rotation], but I would say in the scheme of things, the plan would be for him to start the year in Louisville," Reynolds said. "I think everyone's desire is for him to move one step at a time and if we err, err on the side of caution."
With an outstanding fastball and 12-to-6 curveball, the 2004 first-rounder makes it all look so easy. He said farewell to the Florida State League last June by striking out the opposing All-Star side on 12 pitches, then reeled off seven wins in a row in his Double-A debut at Chattanooga before finally taking a loss in his last regular-season start. Overall, his 2.47 combined ERA and 156 strikeouts in 138 2/3 innings showed his stuff, while his 10-6 record only showed how little a win-loss record can mean. Just 21 to start the season, Bailey is the real deal.
Others to watch:
Either or both of OFs Chris Denorfia or Norris Hopper could wind up back at Louisville, with the outcome of the Josh Hamilton Rule 5 Draft situation in Cincinnati determining how many backup spots will be available. Denorfia hit .349 with seven homers, 45 RBIs and 15 steals in 83 games with the Bats last year as well as .283 in 49 games in the bigs, while Hopper led the system with a .340 average between Double-A Chattanooga and Louisville before making his big-league debut in his ninth pro season. ... LHP Tyler Pelland posted a 3.99 ERA at Chattanooga with 107 strikeouts in 142 innings, but needs to tweak his command of his great stuff as he walked 89 in that span...SS/OF Jerry Gil came to the club from Arizona in an off-season trade. A shortstop for most of his career, the 'backs moved him to the outfield in 2006 and now the Reds are making an assessment on their new player. He hit .269 with 26 homers at Double-A Tennessee last year to lead the Southern League in homers.
Paul Janish, SS
The most advanced of the Reds' impressive trio of shortstop prospects, Janish was the club's fifth-round pick in 2004 out of Rice but missed the 2005 season following Tommy John surgery. He picked up where he left off in '06, however, splitting the season primarily between Class A Dayton (where he batted .398 to earn a quick promotion) and Class A Advanced Sarasota with a cup of coffee at Chattanooga, combining to bat .304 with 14 homers and 75 RBIs. While the bat is impressive, defense is his calling card.
"He's a steady everyday shortstop that a manager at any level will feel he can put there and have confidence in him" Reynolds said. "He's kind of a throwback type of guy, an outstanding fielder who gets the big hits when you need them and knows how to play the game."
Johnny Cueto, RHP
Cueto comes into Spring Training on the bubble between starting at Chattanooga or Sarasota, but not because of any concerns as to whether he is ready for Double-A. Rather, the trickle-down effect from big-league camp always has its victims, and at just 21, Cueto doesn't need to be rushed.
His 2006 performance certainly has earned him a shot at the higher level though. While he may not get the ink Bailey does, Cueto is not far behind when it comes to how the organization feels about his potential.
The first real fruit of the Reds' recent foray into the Latin American scouting scene, the 5-foot-10 right-hander went 15-3 with a 3.00 ERA in 26 starts between Dayton and Sarasota, with his 143 strikeouts ranked second in the system behind Bailey. He throws a mid-90s fastball with tremendous command and an easy delivery and his slider and changeup have potential to be plus Major League pitches. He limited Florida State League opponents to a .214 average and a .191 mark at Dayton and at one point tossed 12 innings of one-hit shutout ball over two Midwest League starts.
Others to watch
: OF Cody Strait hit .258 with 17 homers (third in the system) and 50 steals (tops among Reds' Minor Leaguers) along with 74 RBIs and 36 doubles at Sarasota. Reynolds calls him "one of those guys who will find a way to play his way to the big leagues." ... 2B Drew Anderson will land at Chattanooga or Sarasota. A utility infielder who can run and has a great work ethic, he hit .300 at Sarasota and .277 at Chattanooga last year and reminds Reds brass of David Eckstein. ... RHP Sam Lecure looks to help anchor the rotation. A 2005 fourth-rounder out of Texas, he posted a 3.43 ERA at Sarasota in his first full season to finish sixth in the FSL. "He's one of those guys you want on your side when you play the game," said Reynolds. "He finds a way to beat people."
Class A Advanced Sarasota
Jay Bruce, OF
The top young hitter in the system, Bruce was a first-rounder in 2005 and is one of the bright lights in a galaxy of outstanding multi-tooled outfield prospects in the Minors. He hit .291 with 16 homers and 81 RBIs in his full-season debut at Dayton, leading the organization in RBIs and finishing fifth in the Midwest League in that category. He added 42 doubles and 19 steals and also has a strong arm, great makeup and maturity. Asked if there was anything Bruce couldn't do, Reynolds responded, "In my mind, no. You hate to jinx a guy by saying something like that, but mentally and physically he has everything you look for in a baseball player."
Video: Bruce slugs an All-Star dinger
Travis Wood, LHP
A 2005 second-round pick out of high school in Arkansas, he boasts a changeup that is the best in the system to go with a 90 mph fastball. After making his pro debut with a combined 1.29 ERA between the Gulf Coast League and Billings, Wood was impressive at Dayton in '06, going 10-5 with a 3.66 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 27 starts. He has outstanding command, especially for his age, and projects to be the ace of the Sarasota rotation.
Others to watch:
SS Chris Valaika likely will start at Sarasota, though Dayton is not out of the question, especially if Milton Loo is not ready for a full-season assignment. The 2006 third-rounder out of Santa Barbara quickly got on people's radar charts in his pro debut when he posted a league-record 32-game hitting streak at Billings. He won Pioneer League MVP honors after batting .324 with eight homers and 60 RBIs to go with a .520 slugging percentage. A gap hitter with doubles power, he eventually could move to second base to pair with Janish up the middle but stays at shortstop for now. ... OF B.J. Szymanski was the club's second-round pick in 2004 out of Princeton but has struggled with the bat in his last two seasons at Dayton. In 2006, he hit just .239 and led the Minors with 191 strikeouts. This year, the switch-hitter will move up to Sarasota for a change in scenery and a chance to show that the tools that made him a high-round prospect. He's due for that breakout season.
Class A Dayton
Drew Stubbs, OF
The Reds' top pick last year out of Texas has huge power and surprising speed. The first college position player taken by Cincinnati with its first pick in the last 10 drafts, he hit .252 with six homers, 24 RBIs and 19 steals in his debut at Billings and will man center field in Dayton. For all that lumber, though, his best tool may be his defense.
"He's as good a defensive outfielder as there is in the game, and I wouldn't limit that to the Minors," Reynolds said. "If that bat comes around just a little, we'll have a real star kind of guy."
Sean Watson, RHP
Watson's spot on the Dragons' staff gives them the Reds' top two 2006 picks. The 21-year-old out of Tennessee throws a killer knuckle-curve as his out pitch, which he pairs with a mid-90s fastball.
Though he closed for the Volunteers and likely projects in that role, he could see a spot in the rotation or long-relief duties for now just to build up his arm and consistency.
Others to watch:
SS Milton Loo, a 2005 ninth-rounder who signed as a draft-and-follow last spring, appeared in just 14 games in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .372 before his season was ended by an elbow injury. He could start the year at Dayton but may begin in extended Spring Training. He's a great athlete who may project at third or the outfield eventually. ... 3B Juan Francisco was very impressive in instructional league after hitting a combined .289 with three homers and 32 RBIs between the Gulf Coast League and Billings in 2006. ... RHP Daryl Thompson was the top prospect acquired from the Nationals in last summer's multi-player trade. A torn labrum pretty much 86'ed his entire 2006 campaign, but when healthy he had a low-mid 90s fastball and the makings of an impressive changeup and curve. He posted a 3.35 ERA in 11 games with the Nats in 2005 and was one of their most intriguing prospects.
Under the Radar
Chris Dickerson, OF
Dickerson is still recovering from offseason surgery on his non-throwing shoulder, so while the Reds hope he's ready for the start of the year, they may start him slowly back at Chattanooga, where he spent 2006. The 2003 16th-rounder out of Nevada is perhaps the best athlete in the system and could prove to be a late bloomer. He batted just .242 with the Lookouts and if he can just bring up his average a bit, he could be the whole package. He has power, speed and great makeup and is a terrific defensive center fielder as well. He had 12 homers, 48 RBIs and 21 steals to go with 21 doubles during an injury-interrupted season.
Carlos Fisher, RHP
The 2005 11th-round pick was among the Reds' unsung hero starters in his first full season, going 12-5 with a 2.76 ERA at Dayton (his ERA ranked third in the system behind Bailey and Cueto). The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder closed out the 2006 season with a pair of shutouts and had a 1.73 ERA over 36 innings in August.
Fisher throws a plus fastball, is working on a changeup and walked only 38 while striking out 122 in 150 innings. This year, he should be one of the starters at Sarasota. "He's done nothing but pitch well since we signed him," Reynolds said. "He's a big, strong guy with a good arm. Talk about under the radar."
Denis Phipps, OF
Phipps was one of the players who really stood out for Reynolds during instructs, a good all-around athlete with plus tools. He hit .315 in 17 games at Billings to wrap up '06 and .280 with three homers and 22 RBIs in the Gulf Coast League before that. He'll likely start the year in right field at Dayton.
Terrell Young, RHP
The 21-year-old was the Reds' 10th-round pick in 2004 out of high school in Mississippi. The club has taken things slowly with him and consider him very much a work-in-progress but love his upside. He finished '06 as a closer at Billings, limiting opponents to a .145 average in 23 1/3 innings as he posted a 2.70 ERA and struck out 32, though his command was an issue with 20 walks. He should start the year in the Dayton bullpen.
"He may have the best arm of the bunch at Dayton," Reynolds said. "He's got a real power arm and he can develop a second pitch (either a curve or a slider to be determined) he could really be a guy to watch. He was so overpowering in the closer role that it didn't matter that he didn't have a second pitch."
2006 Draft Recap
OF Drew Stubbs (first round) was considered by some to be the best college athlete in the draft and lasted until the eighth overall pick for the Reds. ... OF Justin Reed (fourth round) gave up a football scholarship at Ole Miss to sign with Cincinnati and tied for the Gulf Coast League with six triples, despite hitting only .180. ... 2B Justin Turner (seventh round) batted .338 at Billings with 41 RBIs, 12 steals and a .511 slugging percentage. A Pioneer League All-Star, the Cal State-Fullerton product is a scrappy infielder who will likely stick at second. ... RHP Jeremy Burchett (ninth round) posted a 2.16 ERA in relief at Billings and limited hitters to a .210 average. ... 1B Logan Parker hit .329 with nine homers and 51 RBIs at Billings. ... OF Danny Dorn (32nd round) led Billings, batting .354 with eight homers and 40 RBIs to pace the Pioneer League in hitting and slugging.
Organizational Player of the Year -- OF Jay Bruce
One of the top prospects in the Minors, not just the Reds, there is nothing Bruce can't do, and he should continue to rack up the numbers against Florida State League pitching in '07.
Organizational Pitcher of the Year -- RHP Johnny Cueto
One tick behind Bailey on the Reds' "prospect-o-meter," Cueto gets the nod over Bailey for this honor, primarily because Bailey is likely to be in the bigs for good early enough to take him out of consideration for a full-season Minor League campaign.
"The nice part about that is that (Janish, Valaika and Loo) can all play shortstop, and that being said, anyone who can do that can probably make that move to second base without a whole lot of problems. I think that would be a move made later rather than sooner because you can never have enough shortstops. All those guys will have their own level to play at in 2007, but we think they all have the ability to play in the bigs," Reynolds said.