Patience, anyone? Reds tout prospects
Column by The Post's Lonnie Wheeler
The Reds, bless their hearts, aren't thinking about the future yet. And really, as long as they can reach second place without getting to .500, they oughtn't. But there's nothing stopping the rest of us.
So Friday, when the Pirates came to town to slap on the latest low-level whuppin', I figured that you guys were tired of reading about what's wrong with the local nine and sought out Grant "Good News" Griesser, who doesn't actually have a nickname (that I know of) but is in a position to say a lot of nice things about players in the Cincinnati organization. Griesser is the assistant director of Player Development, and he had just returned from Louisville, where he saw Joey Votto extend his hitting streak to 16 games, during which time the dark-haired first baseman is batting .470.
"It's ridiculous what he's done in May," said Griesser, whose boss, Terry Reynolds, is putting in a five-day stint (the Development dudes typically stay five days in order to see every starting pitcher) with Chattanooga. "He got some contact lenses, and he started wearing them right around the time he started going on this tear.
"He's a great hitter. Joey's never going to be a Gold Glove guy, but he can swing the bat and he works as hard as anybody in the system."
Feel a little better? Here's another one.
"With Sarasota," said Griesser, obviously embarking on one of his favorite subjects, "you've got to start with Jay Bruce. He's been fantastic. He's doing everything right. He has had no problems stepping into the Florida State League. He leads the league in hitting by 20 points. He's nearly got Triple Crown numbers right now, and he's doing a great job defensively in the outfield. He's got a lot of passion for the game. You root for a guy like that because he doesn't have the ego you sometimes see in a first-round draft choice (2005).
"A lot of guys say Bruce reminds them of Larry Walker. You hate to put a can't-miss label on guys, but certainly, when you watch him play, it's hard to not see him playing in the big leagues and doing well. He struggled early last year against left-handed pitching, but then he got way better, and this year he's improved even more against left-handers. His progression to Double-A will be in '07. He's a guy who (at age 20) is dictating when he needs to move. I can see Jay Bruce hitting in Double-A as easily as he hits in A. He's that kind of player."
OK, Bruce and Votto are obvious. You know they're good. Homer Bailey is so obvious that we didn't even talk about him. The only question involving Bailey was, who's the second- hardest thrower in the Reds' system?
Griesser had to study on that one for a minute, ultimately settling for a few candidates too close to call. Phil Dumatrait, perhaps the readiest pitcher on the farm, is not among them. But there's Calvin Medlock, a short right-handed reliever at Chattanooga. Johnny Cueto, a short right-handed starter at Sarasota. And 24-year-old Josh Roenicke, the Sarasota closer - leading the league in saves (14 for 14) - and son of former major-leaguer Gary Roenicke.
Roenicke played the outfield, and also football, at UCLA, pitching just a bit, and was drafted last year on something somebody saw. It might have been the 95-mile-an-hour fastball. "Big-time power arms like that don't grow on trees," Griesser observed. "He's intriguing because you don't have a lot of those guys. He's just been fantastic. He's one of the big reasons that Sarasota (32-14) has the best record in the country."
Two of the starters whom Roenicke had been saving, Richie Gardner and Carlos Fisher, have already been promoted to Chattanooga because they were (1) doing really well and (2) 24 years old. Gardner, in particular, has "a lot of people very excited" because he dominated the high- A league after missing most of two years with a shoulder injury.
The place of those two aces has been half-taken by Daryl Thompson, the 21-year-old promoted after a smashing start (5-0, 0.96) in Dayton. Thompson was returning from an injury when he was acquired last year in the Kearns-Lopez-Bray-Majewski trade, and pitched minimally the rest of the season. "He just took off in Dayton," Griesser reported.
The Dragons (30-14) were expected to be good this year, because most of the same guys were good last year in Billings. Chief among them: "Chris Valaika. He's the man at short. The same guy who had a 32-game hitting streak last year in the Pioneer League to break a record. He can flat-out center the ball, and he's a gamer. He's the kind of guy you really want on your team."
The organization, it seems, has been drafting and developing more and more of those types. Griesser can see the difference. He joined up seven years ago, when Jim Bowden was the general manager. Bowden drafted in sunglasses and a tool belt.
"It's a breath of fresh air sometimes to get these guys, and they know how to play baseball," Griesser said. "They're going to continue to progress because they take their jobs very seriously. Guys like Valaika and Justin Turner (Dayton second baseman) and Drew Stubbs (Dayton center fielder and last year's first-round draft choice).
"I'm not knocking a guy who's a tools guy, because those guys are fun to watch. Stubbs is as gifted a guy as you'd ever want to see in terms of his tools. He's 6-4, 200 pounds and he can fly. But he has a real idea how to play the game. He's a really good center fielder, and he's got a great feel for it. If you're looking for the perfect athlete, that's the kind of guy you're looking for."
So there you go. Rub some of that on the bruise (if you can find it among all the others) left by Friday night's eight-run 10th inning.
Contact Lonnie Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.