Help indeed on way, national experts say
BY JOHN FAY | JFAY@ENQUIRER.COM
SARASOTA, Fla. - I've written this about a hundred times through the years, but it bears repeating:
For the Reds to be good on a regular basis, they are going to have to be able to develop their own talent.
That time might be coming. Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto and Joey Votto make up the best quartet of the Reds' drafted-and-developed players since at least the mid-1980s.
Baseball America, the bible of player development, came out with its Top 100 Prospects last week. Bruce was No. 1, Bailey No. 9, Cueto No. 34, Votto No. 44 and Drew Stubbs No. 100.
Five years ago, the Reds had three players on the list. Not bad. But Bailey was the top one at No. 48.
"I think we're getting better," Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky said. "It's nice to get the accolades nationally. It says something about your players and your overall system."
You can do with the ratings what you wish. But if a player's No. 1 on the list, there's a good chance he's going to be good - really good. The most recent No. 1s on the list: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Delmon Young, Joe Mauer, Mark Teixeira, Josh Beckett, Josh Hamilton, Rick Ankiel, J.D. Drew, Ben Grieve, Andruw Jones and Alex Rodriguez.
Players rated in the top 50 tend to make it in the big leagues. Five years ago, Teixeira was in Bruce's spot; Gavin Floyd was in Bailey's; James Loney was in Cueto's; and Xavier Nady was in Votto's.
It's hard to say how any of the Reds' top four will turn out. But players rated like Bruce, Bailey, Cueto and Votto are good indications that things are getting better. New manager Dusky Baker also has been impressed by Adam Rosales, Paul Janish, Chris Dickerson and Josh Roenicke in this camp - three more players drafted and raised by the Reds. So the Reds also have some depth.
"It's an indication that the scouting's gotten better, the player development's gotten better," said player development director Terry Reynolds said. "The commitment is there from ownership. You've got to be pleased with it.
"To get four of them there at the same time is pretty rare. If you could do that every year, everyone would be happy."
It's been a long battle to get to this point. The scouting and player development departments were devastated by budget cuts from Marge Schott in 1980s. Numerous attempts to right things under previous GM Jim Bowden failed.
Things seem better now.
Krivsky points out - correctly - that potential doesn't win games on the big-league level.
"All that stuff (minor-league ratings) is great," Krivsky said. "But the bottom line is winning at the major-league level."
The Reds haven't won at the big-league level for seven straight seasons. Bailey, Bruce, Cueto and Votto are ready, or close to ready, to help end that streak.
"We do have some young players who are knocking on the door," Reynolds said. "All of them have things to do to get there. But it's stuff that could come at any second."
That one of the great debates of this Reds camp: How many of the Big Four will make the team?
Votto almost certainly will.
"He's got an idea how to hit," hitting coach Brook Jacoby said. "He understands hitting. He's a student of the game."
Bailey is next in terms of experience. But there are a lot of people in the organization who like Cueto better at this point. Both players are in the mix for the open spots in the starting rotation.
Bruce is the youngest of the bunch at 20, and the most talented. He's in the mix for the center-field job, but you get the feeling the Reds would prefer to have him start at Triple-A.
But, in the case of all four, if their time is not now, it's soon.
"They all have the ability to be successful at the big-league level," Reynolds said. "Time and experience will tell that."
If they're as good as rated, things are likely to turn around for the Reds.
And if not?
We'll get more of what we've seen the last seven years.