ZEBULON - Carolina Mudcats owner Steve Bryant stood at the podium wearing his trademark red jacket. A Cincinnati Reds tie and Reds logos were splashed all over the team's clubhouse.

The Mudcats announced a two-year deal with the Reds, in a news conference held at Five County Stadium on Friday.

The Mudcats also announced the Reds would play a "mini-futures" game in Zebulon, pitting them against the farm system's top prospects in April.

"They didn't have to do that," said Bryant.

The Marlins, the Mudcats' previous affiliate, had last done that in 2003, when the two teams were first coupled.

The Reds had one of the top farm systems in the major leagues this year. Still, unlike the Marlins, who frequently promoted players directly from the Double-A Mudcats, the Reds never directly promoted a player from Double-A this season.

When asked about that, Terry Reynolds, the Reds' director of player development said: "I would think we'd be similar to that. We, over the last four or five years, have gotten better, and this year ... I think we moved nine guys through the system and [into] the big leagues at one time during the year. That'll slow down for sure. And as that slows down and we back some guys into Triple-A, at Louisville, then there'll be more players stay for longer times at the Double-A level. And I would see that probably starting next year. ... This team is going to have a bunch of guys on the way up."

The Reds' Triple-A affiliate is Louisville. The Bats play in the International League with the Durham Bulls.

Reynolds mentioned shortstop Todd Frazier and third baseman Juan Francisco as top prospects likely to be Mudcats next season.

Frazier hit .291 this year between the Sarasota Reds of the Class A Advanced Florida State League and the Dayton Dragons of the Class A Midwest League.

Francisco hit .277 with 23 home runs in Sarasota and was reported to have the best infield arm in the Reds' farm system by Baseball America magazine last November.

Reynolds spoke of a "whirlwind" process that began only days before the Mudcats' first meeting with the Reds last Friday in Zebulon.

There were few options for the Mudcats after the Los Angeles Dodgers made the first change in the Double-A Southern League.

Last week, the Dodgers left the Jacksonville Suns for the Chattanooga Lookouts, which had been affiliated with the Reds for 21 years. The Marlins then decided to expand their Florida footprint by signing with Jacksonville.

That left only two other possibilities for Carolina: the San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees, both considering leaving affiliates in the Eastern League.

But Thursday, both teams said they would be staying: the Yankees with Trenton and the Giants with Connecticut.

"It's a flawed situation," Bryant said of the way teams change affiliations every year, noting only a few contracts come up in a given year.

Bryant said the Mudcats were lucky to have the Reds, which he called a "gold standard" franchise.

"Many Midwesterners have relocated to North Carolina over the years, including a large number of Buckeyes and a very strong Reds following," Mudcats general manager Joe Kremer said.

Bryant gave details of changes to Five County Stadium. The playing field will be replaced, as will the outfield wall. The new wall will change the dimensions in right field, making it 308 feet down the line instead of 330. And the wall in right will be nine feet tall instead of 24 feet, which it was in the past.

"If you have a good right fielder, he might steal a few [home runs]," Kremer said.