I got to thinking this weekend about how excited I am about the future of Cincinnati Reds baseball. With the addition of Josh Hamilton to the organization, and the emergence of Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto in the minors last year, the Reds are inching closer and closer to fielding a team capable of winning a lot of ballgames IMO.
So, out of boredom and excitement to get the season started, I decided to put together a little depth chart with my opinions on who will be starting for the Reds in a few years.
First, let's take a look at the future of the outfield:
LF - Adam Dunn IMO will be a Cincinnati Red for a longtime. I believe Wayne Krivsky understands what a special player Dunn is or else he wouldn't have signed him to that contract extension last spring. Dunn is a guy the Reds should - and will IMO - build around. You can always count on Dunn to hit 40+ homers, walk over 100 times and get on base at a .380+ clip. That is a guy you want in the middle of your order.
CF - Josh Hamilton will be patrolling centerfield in Cincy for years to come if you ask me. Despite sizing up at around 6'5" and weighing near 230 pounds, Hamilton has great range for someone his size. And we all know he has the arm for CF. But his bat is what is special - if Hamilton can do what he did this spring after not playing for four years then just imagine what he can do after receiving more exposure to big league pitching. Hamilton has all the tools to be a superstar in this league. I believe Hamilton will have an All-Star career in Cincinnati.
RF - Jay Bruce will be the third component of what I believe will be the best outfield in baseball for years to come. Jay Bruce has "superstar" written all over him. Often compared to Larry Walker, don't be surprised to see Jay Bruce debut with the Reds by mid-2008. Between Bruce, Dunn, and Hamilton, the Reds starting outfield alone could eventually combine to hit 110 homers a year if they all stay healthy.
Additional options include Chris Denorfia, Drew Stubbs, Chris Dickerson, and Danny Dorn.
The future of the Reds infield:
Though not as stacked as the outfield, the Reds future infield also looks to be very good.
At 3B we have Edwin Encarnacion, who I believe will be one of the best 3B in baseball for years to come. Encarnacion displays terrific range and a strong arm though errectic at times, it's something that can and will most likely be corrected. EdE's bat will be relied upon to fill one of the Reds weaknesses - power from the rightside. Encarnacion is one of the few RH power bats in the system but he is a great one. 30 homers and 45 doubles a year is not out of the question from EdE.
Other options: Juan Francisco - young 3B in Dayton who the Reds like but he is very raw and still a long ways off.
Middle Infield - Alex Gonzalez is currently holding down the SS position and will do so for the next couple years, but the Reds do have a solid trio of young shortstops in the minors - Chris Valaika, Milton Loo, and Paul Janish. Janish is the closest of the two - he brings Gold Glove type defense to the table and a solid eye at the plate, but his bat is still a question mark. I look for him to be a solid backup to either Milton Loo or Brandon Phillips. Valaika will be the future 2B IMO due to his lack of range at SS. Valaika and Loo have the biggest bats of the bunch. Loo has the most potential between he and Valaika, but Valaika will probably reach the majors first.
Future middle infield:
SS Milton Loo/Brandon Phillips
2B Chris Valakia
1B - Joey Votto will continue the Cincinnati first baseman tradition of being an incredibly nice guy who just happens to hit left-handed and throw with the right hand. Votto is a very underrated hitter who I think has a chance to be a very, very good major league hitter. 25-30 homers and plenty of doubles along with a .380+ OBP will be what you get out of Joey Votto.
Next in line: Logan Parker.
The lack of a catching prospect is a big weakness in the Reds organization. David Ross, Javy Valentin, and Chad Moeller are all 30 years old or older. Miguel Perez is looked at as the Reds catcher of the future, but I'm not very high on him. He is a very good defensive player but his bat is truly horrific. Jacob Long hit well last year but that was in rookie ball and who knows how he will fare against Midwest League pitching this year. The Reds need to target a catching prospect when talking trades with other teams.
With Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo both signed through the 2010 season, the Reds have two solid pitchers who they can rely upon to give them 200 innings of below 4.00 ERA ball. They can also serve as mentors to two kids who I think will have great major league careers - Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto. Bailey has the stuff and makeup to become the first ever Cincinnati Red to win a Cy Young. Cueto's stuff is just a notch below that of Bailey's, however, his control is better at this point. A rotation led by Homer Bailey, Aaron Harang, Johnny Cueto, and Bronson Arroyo has a chance to be something special.
Travis Wood, Matt Belisle, Sam Lecure, and Kirk Saarloos are options in the fifth spot.
The collection of young bullpen arms the Reds have assembled makes me feel good about the future state of the bullpen. Todd Coffey is already established. Billy Bray, Jon Coutlangus, and Jared Burton all look like they could be good major league relievers. Brad Salmon, Calvin Medlock, and Carlos Guevara aren't too far away. Derrik Lutz and Sean Watson are two college guys with good stuff who could move fast.
With all that said, I realize not all of these guys will pan out. Some could be traded and some could flame out, but it's still fun to speculate and look into the future. I truly believe this team has a bright future ahead. The new ownership wants to win and they will do their best to keep around the players who they believe will help achieve that goal, as evidenced by the extensions of Harang and Arroyo.