Young Reds receiving more support
Cincinnati farm system ripe with quality middle infielders, more
By Lisa Winston / MLB.com
Before the 2008 season began, MLB.com took an in-depth look at every big-league team's Minor League system. Now it's time to recap and analyze all 30 organizations, from top prospects to the recent Draft class.
In our season preview, we talked about the "Fab Four" of outfielder Jay Bruce, first baseman Joey Votto and pitchers Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey being ready for prime time. Well, three out of four ain't bad.
The first three all had strong rookie seasons, doing the organization proud, with Votto a legitimate NL Rookie of the Year Candidate, hitting .297 with 24 homers and 84 RBIs (numbers almost identical to his 2007 Triple-A Louisville campaign). Bruce and Cueto, while a little less consistent, also had many shining moments.
Bailey, however, backslid and has probably lost his status as a Top 10 prospect, for now at least.
Though the Reds didn't do as well as they might have hoped in the big leagues, their organization posted a .511 winning percentage in the Minors, 11th overall, and sent three teams to the playoffs -- Louisville (88-57), Class A Dayton (38-32) and Class A Short-Season Billings (19-17).
While it might be premature to look for a break from the 13-year playoff drought immediately, the organization has some good talent on the way and is especially strong when it comes to middle infielders.
Organizational Players of the Year
MLB.com Preseason Picks
Todd Frazier, SS: A 2007 draftee who had yet to make his full-season debut, we were still impressed enough with what he'd shown between Billings and Dayton in that time to look forward to more of the same. And he delivered on that promise, hitting .291 with 19 home runs and 74 RBIs between Dayton and Class A Advanced Sarasota, seeing time at shortstop as well as first base, third base and the outfield.
Josh Roenicke, RHP: We recommended you watch him "pile up the stats between (Double-A Chattanooga) and Louisville as he preps for his Cincinnati arrival" -- and indeed he did. Starting the year at Chattanooga, he collected 10 saves and struck out 29 in 22 innings before moving to Louisville, where his 2.54 ERA in 39 innings came mostly in setup work. He finished the year in the big leagues.
MLB.com Postseason Selections
Chris Valaika, SS: Though no one tool jumps out at you or makes him a scout's dream, the whole package combined is a terrific one. The 2006 third-rounder out of the University of California, Santa Barbara, led the organization in batting at .317 between Sarasota and Chattanooga, adding 18 homers and 81 RBIs and hitting over .300 at both stops. His season was highlighted by an appearance in the Futures Game.
Daryl Thompson, RHP: Originally an eighth-round pick in 2003 by the then-Expos, Thompson was the least-heralded player sent to the Reds in the July 2006 multi-player deal that brought Austin Kearns to Washington. This year he led the system with a 2.70 ERA, mostly between Chattanooga and Louisville, and he made the jump to the big leagues, including five shutout innings against the Yankees in his first appearance. A sore shoulder sidelined him for awhile in mid-July, and his final appearances were rehab starts. He combined to walk 30 and fan 99 in 126 2/3 innings.
Climbed the Ladder
Chris Dickerson, OF: The 2003 16th-rounder out of Nevada, and cousin of NFL great Eric Dickerson, was one of our sleeper "Top 10" picks for 2008 because of his amazing tools and talent, if he could just get a shot at a job. Well, once Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn were dealt he did, and responded beyond expectations, hitting .304 with six homers and 15 RBIs in 31 games with the Reds before his season ended in mid-September with an ankle injury that required minor surgery. After hitting .287 with 11 homers, 53 RBIs and 26 steals in 97 games at Louisville, look for Dickerson to be in the big-league outfield equation in '09.
Todd Frazier, SS: The club's supplemental first-round pick in 2007 out of Rutgers followed up his brilliant debut (.319, seven homers, 30 RBIs between Billings and Dayton) with more offensive fireworks at Dayton and Sarasota. A hard-nosed player with plus power for the middle infield, he saw time at several positions due to the organization's depth up the middle. He is a polished player who could move quickly, and his versatility can only help him. He finished top five in the system in average, homers and RBIs in 2008.
Josh Roenicke, RHP: The 10th-rounder out of UCLA has great bloodlines (son of Gary, nephew of Ron) but is still a latecomer to baseball and more specifically pitching, having played football and then the outfield. After leading the organization in 2007 with 24 saves, he continued to refine his mid-90s fastball and climbed through the ranks all the way to the bigs, where he finished with three innings of Major League time.
Neftali Soto, 3B: A third-round pick in 2007 out of high school in Puerto Rico, where he flashed his power and broke most of alumnus Juan Gonzalez's home run records, Soto hit .303 in his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League. But his timetable was accelerated this year when he was summoned from Billings to Dayton when Dragons third baseman Brandon Waring went on the DL for a few weeks. After having hit .388 with four homers and 11 RBIs in 15 games for the Mustangs, he went on to bat .326 with seven home runs and 36 RBIs in 52 games at Dayton, sticking around even when Waring returned. Time was found for both sluggers through a combination of at-bats at DH and first base for Waring. A converted shortstop, Soto profiles better at a corner or outfield spot.
Daryl Thompson, RHP: Since he was hindered by a shoulder injury at the time of the 2006 trade that brought him over from the Nationals, the Reds didn't really get a look at Thompson until 2007, when he went a combined 14-5 with a 3.18 ERA between three stops. Now he's emerged as one of the most promising arms in the system.
Chris Valaika, SS: The aggressive hitter with great instincts could move from shortstop down the line, but for now, with depth at second and short in the system, he has yet to play himself out of the position. The Pioneer League MVP in 2006 in his debut, he posted a franchise-record 32-game hitting streak that summer and hit .324 with eight homers and 60 RBIs before moving up to bat .284 with 12 homers and 79 RBIs between Dayton and Sarasota in 2007. This year he was among the organization leaders in several categories and won the Reds' Minor League batting crown at .317.
Kept Their Footing
Daniel Dorn, OF: The 32nd-round pick in 2006 has continued his surprising rise up the ladder, ever since winning the Pioneer League batting title with a .354 average in his debut. His 22 homers this year between Sarasota and (mostly) Chattanooga ranked second in the system, despite missing a month early on to the DL. He hit .287 with 20 homers and 87 RBIs between the two stops in 2007.
Juan Francisco, 3B: Francisco, who turned 21 at the Minor League All-Star break, continued to emerge as the organization's top power prospect, but his free-swinging ways kept him just this side of "climbing the ladder." He batted .277 with 23 homers and 92 RBIs at Sarasota, leading the system in the latter two categories, but he also struck out 123 times while walking just 19. A little plate discipline and the Reds could have quite a jewel in the strong-armed third baseman who puts on quite a batting-practice show.
Chris Heisey, OF: No longer a sleeper after three strong seasons, the 2006 17th-rounder out of Messiah College in Pennsylvania hit .291 with 32 steals, spending the bulk of his season at Sarasota before hitting .316 down the stretch for Chattanooga. In 2007, his first full season, he combined between the Reds' two Class A clubs to hit .295 with 10 homers, 51 RBIs and 22 steals.
Matt Maloney, LHP: Acquired midway through 2007 from Philadelphia for starter Kyle Lohse, the crafty lefty was a third-round pick in 2005 out of Mississippi and the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year the next summer, when he posted a 2.09 ERA and fanned 180. This year he went 11-5 with a 4.68 ERA at Louisville, while his 141 strikeouts ranked second in the system.
Devin Mesoraco, C: The Reds' No. 1 pick in 2007 out of high school in Punxsatawney, Pa. (yes, the home of the famous groundhog), Mesoraco hit .261 with nine homers and 42 RBIs in 83 games at Dayton, joining the club out of extended spring training in May. The 19-year-old, a five-tool potential prospect behind the plate, has great makeup to go with his on-field gifts.
Drew Stubbs, OF: In his third pro season since being drafted in the first round out of Texas in 2006, Stubbs continued to work his way up the ladder, an ascent that has been slowed by an assortment of minor injuries. This year, between Sarasota, Chattanooga and Louisville, he led the organization with 33 steals and combined for seven homers and 57 RBIs. He is an outstanding defensive outfielder.
Slipped a Rung
Homer Bailey, RHP: Bailey continues to be one of the most tantalizing but frustrating prospects, a young fireballer with great secondary pitches and a huge ceiling who hasn't yet really put it together. This year, after a strong start at Louisville in which he allowed three runs in his first four starts (26 1/3 innings), he came back down to earth to finish 4-7 with a 4.77 ERA in 19 games, striking out 96 in 111 innings. But in two big-league stints, he went 0-6 with a 7.93 ERA, allowing 59 hits in 36 1/3 innings, and wasn't brought back a third time in September. At this point, who knows what to think? He's just 22, but the 2004 first-rounder is a puzzle.
On the Radar
Wilkin Castillo, C/IF/OF: We didn't detail all Castillo's potential positions in the intro there, so take a deep breath and read it here: catcher, second base, shortstop and this year adding third base and the outfield. The ultimate utilityman, Castillo was one of three players acquired from Arizona in the Adam Dunn deal. In five years with the Diamondbacks coming into 2008, the 24-year-old switch-hitter (even more versatile!) hit .290 and batted .302 with six homers, 46 RBIs and 18 steals and Double-A Mobile in 2007. This year he had a decent, if unspectacular, season at Triple-A Tucson, batting .254 with six homers and 47 RBIs before the trade and after a brief pit stop at Louisville, made his big-league debut with Cincinnati, hitting .281 in 18 games, mostly as a pinch-hitter.
Carlos Fisher RHP: This spring we advised you to "keep an eye on this Lewis-Clark State product this year as he moves from the rotation to the bullpen." It was indeed a success as he posted a 3.73 ERA in 50 2/3 innings at Chattanooga before moving up to Louisville, where he went 5-0 with a 1.04 ERA in 14 games out of the 'pen. Armed with a heavy sinker as his out-pitch, Fisher was an 11th-round pick in 2005.
Robert Manuel, RHP: One of the most pleasant surprises for the Reds this season, Manuel emerged from the pack of bullpen talents in Chattanooga to go 5-3 with a 1.40 ERA in 47 games, striking out 92 in 77 innings while walking 15. Combined with brief outings in Sarasota and Louisville, his final tally was a 1.25 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 86 2/3 innings, limiting hitters to a .174 average. Signed originally by the New York Mets in 2005 as a non-drafted free agent out of Sam Houston State, he was one of the team's top Short-Season starters that summer at Brooklyn, but was dealt to the Reds mid-2006 for southpaw Dave Williams.
Adam Rosales, IF: Rosales actually put himself very much on the radar at Spring Training when his powerful bat made a good impression on new manager Dusty Baker, good enough to get him recalled for his big-league debut during the season. The 12th-round pick in 2005 out of Western Michigan was originally a shortstop, but elbow trouble limited him to first base last year. This year, healthy, he played all four infield positions but primarily third base and hit .287 with 11 homers and 58 RBIs at Louisville.
Brandon Waring, 3B: The seventh-rounder from 2007 out of Wofford College made a big impression in his pro debut last summer when he hit 20 homers in 68 games at Billings, batting .311 with 61 RBIs. This year he hit .270 with 20 home runs and 71 RBIs at Dayton in just 119 games (a broken thumb sidelined him for a few weeks). He also struck out 156 times and will need to work on plate patience in his move up the ladder.
1. Yonder Alonso, 1B: The Reds' first-round pick out of Miami signed at the deadline, which limited his pro debut to six games at Sarasota, but he hit .316 in that span with a double and two RBIs. He's continuing his early foray into pro ball in the Hawaiian Winter Baseball League with the Waikiki BeachBoys. Alonso, who can also play third base and the outfield, hit .370 with 24 homers and 72 RBIs this year for the Hurricanes.
2. Zachary Stewart, RHP: The Reds' third-round pick (they didn't have a second-round selection) was the closer at Texas Tech thanks to his plus fastball and slider. He looked very good in his pro debut against full-season hitters, posting an 0.55 ERA and three saves in 11 games at Dayton and a 1.62 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings at Sarasota. He could be a very quick mover.
3. Tyler Cline, RHP: Cline, a high school hurler from Georgia, was the Reds' fourth-round pick. In his brief debut in the Gulf Coast League he went 0-3 with a 9.72 ERA in five starts, striking out 10 while walking seven in 8 1/3 innings.
Others of Note: SS Alexander Buchholz (sixth round) hit .396 in 34 games at Billings with 26 RBIs. A University of Delaware product where he proudly wore the uniform of the Blue Hens, you should invite him to brunch, because his name is an anagram of "Blue Hen Czar Had Lox." ... OF David Sappelt (ninth round) out of Coastal Carolina hit .299, third in the organization, with seven homers and 35 RBIs at Billings. ... LHP Blaine Howell (13th round) posted a 1.59 ERA in 11 1/3 innings, striking out 16 in the Gulf Coast League. ... LHP Mace Thurman (19th round) out of Baylor had an 0.54 ERA in 16 2/3 innings at Billings before moving up to Dayton, where he struck out 27 in 16 2/3 innings with a 5.40 ERA. ... OF Byron Wiley (22nd round), a Kansas State product, hit .328 with five homers and 37 RBIs at Billings. ... 1B Michael Konstanty (39th round) out of Albany flashed power at Billings with 10 homers and 43 RBIs. ... LHP David Torcise (47th round), a South Florida alum, had a 1.48 ERA in 17 games at Billings, fanning 20 and walking five in 24 1/3 innings.
There is also some video/audio highlights on each prospect if you follow the link.