Top prospects are arriving in Cincinnati
New manager Dusty Baker, Reds will mix youth with experience
By Lisa Winston / MLB.com
The future success of every Major League team lies in its Minor League system. With that in mind, each preseason, MLB.com takes a top-to-bottom look at all 30 organizations, from top prospects to recent draft picks.
Few farm systems can boast a stronger "Fab Four" than the Reds' nearly-ready-for-primetime quartet of center fielder Jay Bruce, first baseman Joey Votto and right-handers Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto.
Cincinnati is, however, far from just a four-trick pony. Its farm system has steadily improved thanks to impressive depth, in both quality and quantity, across the board.
Despite the parent club's 72-90 finish in 2007 and a 12-year playoff drought, don't rule the Reds out in this year's wide-open NL Central. They will need big seasons from their prospects, but it isn't out of the question.
Ten prospects to watch out for in 2008:
Jay Bruce, OF
We could easily categorize Bruce as an "on the verge" candidate but for now, as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, we'll try to keep from rushing him too much. However, the offseason trade of Josh Hamilton to Texas may have been the signal that it is very close to being "Bruce Time" in the Queen City.
MiLB.com's top-ranked prospect, the 2005 first-rounder (12th overall) is a legitimate five-tool player who brings the work ethic of a guy who needs to fight to get to every level.
The left-handed Bruce, who will turn 21 on Minor League Opening Day (April 3), combined to bat .319 with 26 homers and 89 RBIs along with 46 doubles in a 2007 season split between Class A Advanced Sarasota, Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville, where he homered in his first at-bat and blasted 11 home runs in just 187 at-bats.
"He just needs to go in and do all the things he's done so far in his career," said Reds farm director Terry Reynolds on Bruce's chances of breaking camp as the big league center fielder. "His ability will dictate where he plays, but the other part is there has to be opportunity and that's up to the manager."
Video: Interview with Jay Bruce
Audio: Bruce smacks an RBI double
Audio: Bruce jacks a solo homer
Johnny Cueto, RHP
Cueto, like Bruce, could make our "On the Verge" list as he is a long-shot candidate to make the Cincinnati rotation, but with just five Triple-A starts under his belt, we'll keep the non-roster invitee in the Minor League section of this preview -- for now.
While not generating the same buzz as Homer Bailey, the 5-foot-10 Cueto has roared up the prospect charts in the two years since emerging as the system's first true prospect from its Dominican Republic operation. He ranks 47th on MiLB.com's Top Prospects list.
Throwing a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and a great slider, both with excellent control, Cueto will likely start the season as the ace at Louisville. In 2007, he started the year at Sarasota, posting a 3.33 ERA in 78 innings, improved to 3.10 at Chattanooga and finished up with a 2.05 in four starts with the Bats, walking two while striking out 21 in 22 innings. Overall he fanned 170 in 161 1/3 innings.
Audio: Cueto notches sixth strikeout in Triple-A debut
Chris Dickerson, OF
At 25, Dickerson is something of a sleeper pick for this list, but 2008 could be a breakthrough season as he gets a shot at the big leagues. Originally a 16th-round pick in 2003 out of Nevada, the cousin of NFL great Eric Dickerson has many things going for him, including speed and tremendous athleticism.
He led the organization in 2007 with 30 steals at Chattanooga and Louisville, adding 14 homers. The main knock on him has been his high strikeout rate.
"He's on the 40-man roster and will get a good look in camp," said Reynolds. "He's done everything to put himself in position to win a big league job."
Video: Dickerson launches homer
Audio: Dickerson hits for cycle
Juan Francisco, 3B
One of Reynolds' own sleeper picks to enjoy a breakthrough season last year, the 20-year-old emerged as one of the top power prospects in the Reds system. He led the Midwest League in homers with 25 while hitting .268 with 90 RBIs and 12 steals at Class A Dayton.
The club will be looking for him to improve his eye and restrain his free-swinging ways just a bit, but they know that comes with the territory with a power hitter.
"He's a free swinger to the point of swinging at some real bad balls, and so that's the thing he has to work on -- to not swing at balls out of the strike zone," Reynolds said. "He had a great year at Dayton and there's no reason to think that won't continue."
Audio: Francisco belts three homers
Todd Frazier, SS
One of two 2007 draftees to make our 10 Spot list, the younger brother of Minor Leaguers Jeff (Mariners) and Charles (formerly with the Marlins) followed in his siblings' footsteps through Rutgers University and into pro ball as the Reds' supplemental first-round pick.
As the top prospect in the Pioneer League last year, he hit .319 with five homers and 25 RBIs with Billings before moving up to Dayton, where he batted .318 with two homers and five RBIs in a week's play.
The spotlight is not new to the 22-year-old, who starred for the Toms River Little League team that won the 1998 Little League World Series. Even then he showed the plus raw power that has made him such a hot commodity, homering in the last three games of that tournament.
"He is exactly what the scouts told us he'd be, a tough hard-nosed great-makeup player who plays with a smile and loves being out there," Reynolds said. "He should move up fairly rapidly."
Audio: Frazier's game-winning single
Matt Maloney, LHP
Acquired mid-season from Philadelphia in the deal for pitcher Kyle Lohse, this quintessential crafty lefty could reach the big leagues soon as a back-of-the-rotation guy. A third-round pick out of Mississippi in 2005, he earned South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year honors in his first full season, going 16-9 with a 2.09 ERA and 180 strikeouts at Lakewood.
He started 2007 by skipping a level to Double-A Reading before being dealt to Cincinnati, which sent him to Chattanooga before he finished the year at Louisville. In his two stops with the Reds, he struck out 62 batters in 45 innings over seven starts with a 2.80 ERA. He throws a fastball that just touches 90, a plus changeup and solid slider.
Audio: Maloney hits solo home run
Devin Mesoraco, C
The Reds' top pick in 2007 out of high school in Punxsutawney, Pa. may not be able to tell you if there will be six more weeks of winter in February, but he should be calling much bigger things before long as one of the rare five-tool catching prospects in the game.
Just 19, he is a good-hitting catcher whose arm seems fully recovered from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2006. He hit just .219 in 137 at-bats in the Gulf Coast League in his debut but the Reds feel confident that that was not indicative of his talent.
"He was pretty beat up and I've got to give him credit, he just hung in there and played hurt the whole season," Reynolds said. "He went home, rested and had a great instructional league. He has great makeup and all the tools for the position."
Josh Roenicke, RHP
Another prospect with great bloodlines, this closer is the son of former big leaguer Gary and the nephew of Ron. Still something of a raw pitching prospect, having converted not only from outfield to the mound but from football to baseball at UCLA, the 10th-rounder from 2006 had a terrific first full season.
His 24 saves led the organization, and he posted a 3.25 ERA at Sarasota and a 0.95 at Double-A Chattanooga, combining for 56 strikeouts in 47 innings. He throws a fastball consistently in the mid 90s with late life and a good cutter.
At age 25, the Reds don't have to baby him, and he has good mechanics though he's still learning about pitching fundamentals.
"He's been as pleasant a surprise as anyone in the system in the last four years," said Reynolds. "He jumped in and dominated at closer at every level."
Audio: Roenicke gets a strikeout for the save
Drew Stubbs, OF
The Reds' top pick in 2006 out of Texas was slowed in his first full season by a nagging case of turf toe that ultimately required surgery this past winter. Considered perhaps the best defensive outfielder in the system, the injury hampered his plus speed.
A 23-year-old with College World Series experience, Stubbs could move up quickly if he remains healthy. He has plus power and a strong arm that was good for 15 outfield assists at Dayton in '07, where he hit .270 with 12 homers and 43 RBIs. Despite the injury, his 23 steals were third most in the Reds organization.
Audio: Stubbs goes yard
Audio: Stubbs smacks a double
Video: Interview with Drew Stubbs
Pedro Viola, LHP
The 24-year-old Viola is relatively new to pitching, having originally signed as an outfielder with the Giants organization. In his first full season stateside he combined for a 1.42 ERA in relief at three levels (Dayton, Sarasota and Chattanooga) with 94 strikeouts in 82 1/3 innings.
"A lefty like that with a good arm isn't easy to find and he did well at every level," Reynolds said. "I don't think there is an issue to rush him but we're all excited about him."
Audio: Viola posts third strikeout in save
Under the Radar
Daniel Dorn, OF
A 32nd-round pick in 2006, Dorn has moved up just as quickly as a top-round pick. After hitting .354 at Billings and winning the Pioneer League batting crown in '06, he jumped to Sarasota to start 2007 and finished at Chattanooga. He hit a combined .287 with 20 homers and 87 RBIs last year, including.311 at Chattanooga in nearly a month of play.
Dorn should start back with the Lookouts but could easily see time at Louisville this year. Coming off an operation on his non-throwing shoulder, Dorn played hurt virtually all of '07.
"He's swung the bat well since the day we got him," Reynolds said. "So we'll keep moving him until he doesn't do that and so far it hasn't happened."
Audio: Dorn goes yard
Carlos Fisher, RHP
Keep an eye on this Lewis-Clark State product this year as he moves from the rotation to the bullpen. He began the '07 campaign at Sarasota, going 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA in seven starts before moving up to Chattanooga, where he was 5-9 with a 4.29 ERA in 21 games.
His bread-and-butter pitch, a heavy sinker, should be more effective in the late innings and that's where the 2005 11th-rounder should see the most time, either at Chattanooga or Louisville.
"He's a good guy with good makeup and good stuff and we feel he's gotten the innings he needed as a young pitcher, so now is the time for the move to the pen," said Reynolds. "With his stuff he could be a real good relief pitcher."
Audio: Fisher fans his fourth straight
Chris Heisey, OF
This 17th-rounder out of Messiah College in Pennsylvania in 2006 combined to hit .295 with 10 homers, 51 RBIs and 22 steals at Dayton and Sarasota in his first full season. He finished fourth in the system among full-season hitters and base stealers and is very highly regarded in the organization.
"He's probably as good a pick as you could make for a guy 'under the radar,'" Reynolds said. "He has tremendous tools, plays the game the right way and will find a way to play in the big leagues sooner rather than later."
Audio: Heisey's 12th-inning homer breaks tie
Daryl Thompson, RHP
Originally taken out of high school in Maryland by the Expos in the eighth round of the 2003 Draft, Thompson missed half of 2005 and most of 2006 with a torn labrum but was still a key cog in a multi-player deal with the Reds last summer. He made his Reds debut in 2007, and though still not yet 100 percent as the season began, he put up fine numbers.
The 22-year-old Thompson combined to go 14-5 with a 3.18 ERA at Dayton (5-0, 0.96 in five starts) and Sarasota (9-5, 3.77). His fastball is not back to its pre-surgery blaze, but it was still sitting in the low 90s and helping him lead the Reds organization in wins, finish second in ERA and fifth in strikeouts.
Audio: Thompson notches sixth strikeout
2007 Draft Recap
RHP Kyle Lotzkar (1S), a high school draftee from Canada, posted a 3.86 ERA in seven starts in the Gulf Coast League, striking out 24 in 21 innings. ... SS Zack Cozart (2) out of Mississippi was considered the top defensive college shortstop in the draft and went straight to Dayton, where he hit .239 with two homers and 18 RBIs in 53 games. ... SS Neftali Soto (3) was drafted out of high school in Puerto Rico and batted .303 with 28 RBIs in the Gulf Coast League. ... 3B Brandon Waring (7), out of Wofford College, was one of the Reds' most pleasant surprises, showing big time power. He added 20 homers at Billings to his 27 college bombs in 2007 and also hit .311 with a .614 slugging percentage. ... Another sleeper pick was 3B Brett Bartles (30) whose .322 average at Billings led the organization.
Organizational Player of the Year: Todd Frazier
He showed great potential in his brief time at both Billings and Dayton. Similar numbers on a similar pace in '08 would be very nice indeed.
Organizational Pitcher of the Year: Josh Roenicke
He's had significant success in a short time as the Reds' top closer prospect and will likely start the year in that role at Chattanooga. Look for him to pile up the stats between there and Louisville as he preps for his Cincinnati arrival.
Comeback Player of the Year: Paul Janish
As last year began, many felt that Janish was just a call away from the big leagues, based on his outstanding defensive capabilities at shortstop. Unfortunately, he backslid badly at the plate in 2007, hitting a combined .235 at Chattanooga and Louisville. Looking over his shoulder at Frazier, Cozart and 2006 draftee Chris Valaika could put a boost back in his bat.
Audio: Janish launches grand slam
Audio: Janish roundtripper
Top Candidate for NL Rookie of the Year: Jay Bruce
With stiff competition from Homer Bailey.
"For me, [Joey Votto] proved in September that he's ready to play there and now it's the manager's decision whether he thinks he's the right guy to do the job. His bat appears ready, he's improved defensively and he got some time in left field so he has that versatility. To me, he doesn't have much left to prove at Triple-A."
-- Terry Reynolds on prospect Joey Votto's chances of winning the first-base job over veteran Scott Hatteberg.