Q&A with Baseball America's J.J. Cooper
Baseball America's J.J. Cooper answered some questions about the Reds' minor league system on Monday. Yonder Alonso is rated as the team's top prospect.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Baseball America has put out its Top 10 Prospects for the Reds in the current issue and their Reds guy, J.J. Cooper was good enough to join us. Cooper is the magazine's managing editor and ranked the Reds system for this issue and the upcoming Baseball America 2009 Prospect Handbook for the fourth season. Cooper has Yonder Alonso as the top pick, followed by INF Todd Frazier, OF Drew Stubbs, SS Chris Valaika, OF Yorman Rodriguez, RHP Kyle Lotzkar, 3B Neftali Soto, 3B Juan Francisco, OF Juan Duran and C Devin Mesoraco. I talked with J.J. a little bit on Monday about the list and the Reds in general:
CTR: With the top four of last year's list ineligible, did this year's list take a little longer?
JJ: Not longer, but you're not going to have the same. I think there's a lot of depth in the Reds system right now, there's not as much high-end talent. They don't produce a Jay Bruce every year -- but nobody does. You don't produce a Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto or Joey Votto every year. The top-end of the system is not what it has been, but that's not surprising. We had the Reds three in the talent rankings last year. If you look at that, Rays, Red Sox, Reds -- none of the three will be in the top three this year. Look at the Red Sox, they had -- Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Justin Masterson, Jed Lowrie. They promoted away guys who didn't qualify because they played and contributed last year. Same with the Rays. Evan Longoria doesn't qualify anymore. Reds the same way. Last year was the year the Reds got multiple rookies to contribute.
CTR: Had Homer Bailey been eligible, where do you think he'd wind up?
JJ: That's a fascinating question. I don't think he'd be No. 1. I think Alonso is No. 1. The thing to remember with Homer is that he'll pitch this season and turn 23. It's understandable (people are disappointed), he's been in the system for a long time. It seems like especially with high school, and power pitchers, a lot of times second organizations that have them really reap the benefits. It takes a lot time for them to develop. It seems like it takes a while to develop. With Homer, there are rumblings he's not as coachable and doesn't take instruction, if you look at what he looked like last year and in the past, his stuff wasn't as good. But, you don't want to give up on that. I think he'd still be pretty high. Alonso one, Frazier two -- (Bailey) was no. 2 last year -- he'd still be top five. There's still talent there.
CTR: I remember last year you saying you thought Homer had a higher ceiling, but Cueto was a better bet to be a solid contributor – has that changed or did last year confirm that for you?
JJ: Oh yeah. You saw with Cueto, it's funny I watched his first start -- which was as good as you'll ever see. Was Tom Browning was the last Red pitcher with a better start? I thought he may not ever be better than this ever -- and that's not a knock. He wasn't, but when it's all said and done that was a very solid rookie year, a lot of pitchers struggle a lot more than that. If you go in 2009, you have to say starting pitching is the strength of the team. When was the last time you can't say that? It's crazy to think that not only pitching, but young pitching is the strength, which works out well. They have more hitting talent in the minors than starting pitching. There's relief pitching. Ramon Ramirez, Matt Maloney, they're going to have a lot of depth in AAA, Jordan Smith isn't that far away.
CTR: What do you see for Jay Bruce in 2009?
JJ: The thing is, people have to remember. We were doing our rookie voting, there are some things not to like about his 2008, but there's still a lot to like. He showed power right now. The big thing for Jay Bruce in 2009 is can he make adjustments. There are very few scouts who think he won't. There's nothing in his makeup or his swing that makes people think he won't do that. He's always going to strike out some, he's got to understand more what pitchers are going to try to do. I expect him to have steady improvement, and when you look at last year if he gives you steady improvement, he's a solid of the middle hitter. He'd be a very good 5-hole hitter right now. The sky's still the limit.
CTR: You have Juan Francisco at eighth – have you seen his Winter Ball stats and do you think that'd move him up any if you redid your list today?
JJ: Probably not that much. winter ball there was no pitching down there. None. He dominated and a lot of other guys dominated. We just did a breakdown of guys down there. The runs per game there made the Cal League look like a pitcher's league and it's not. It's like the Arizona Fall League. All the pitching was worn out and there just weren't many pitchers down there. The one good thing you see is that he took walks, that's encouraging. He's never taken walks. That and weight are the only two things standing between him and greatness. I'll be much more interested in what he does at AA than in winter ball. Full season in AA is going to be big because if he gets it -- he's never going to walk 150 times a year – but he's going to AA and see if he can make adjustments. He's always hit for a decent average and power even with swing at everything close to the plate. He's young enough, that his power is as good as anyone's
CTR: One of the things I thought was interesting was the Projected 2012 lineup -- it didn't look all that different than what's around now.
JJ: Yeah. The thing with that is those lineups are the bane of our existence. If that's half of what the lineup is. We don't have salaries or free agency play a part, so, well, you look to see if there's someone in the minors to replace him and be better? What's fascinating for the Reds is what's going to happen is they have a lot of guys playing shortstop who may move to third base and third basemen who may move off third. Between Chris Valaika, Todd Frazier and Juan Francisco and then Yonder Alonso and Joey Votto, unless there are trades or people don't progress the Reds will have some interesting decisions. These guys are all hitting AA and AAA and you can only play one third baseman. Will that be Frazier, Francisco or Soto?
CTR: What position do Todd Frazier and Chris Valaika end up playing?
JJ: I think we're going to lucky here in Raleigh because that Carolina lineup is gonna be loaded. I think Valaika could be in AAA. You could see the rest of those guys in AA to start the year. Does Frazier play shortstop. Zach Cozar,t will he move up and be the shortstop?
CTR: It looks like your list is really, really young after the top four. Is that good or bad for the Reds?
JJ: Considering the guys they have, Alonso, Frazier, Stubbs are in the high minors. I'd say that's a normal mix. If you're trying to figure out the signs of a thin organization, it's always if you look at the Top 10 and six are from the last draft, it's probably a sign of a thin organization. With Duran and Rodriguez -- they're new, but they're also mega-million guys and very, very young, but the majority have been around. You have a couple draftees, the six. There is a spread there. If you don't have a couple of those guys in the top 10 you're extremely deep or you didn't bring a lot in. We're going to pay attention to guys in the Dominican and all that, so if there's a guy with elite talent, we're not going to wait 10 years to rank him.
CTR: What's the scoop on Devin Mesoraco?
JJ: That was not a great full-season debut, but at the same time a young catcher from Pennsylvania playing in A, I'm more inclined to give that a one-year pass. Catchers take longer to develop and the Midwest League is a brutal place to hit. He's still in the top 10 because I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. But year two will be very interesting.
CTR: Can Yonder Alonso play anything but first?
JJ: There was talk early on, but I think they've very quickly felt he can hit, and he's not far from the majors, so why mess with him. Votto, I think, can play more than first.
CTR: What about Drew Stubbs?
JJ: If you can find me a scout that knows what will happen with Drew Stubbs, they're either a hell of a scout or don't know what they're talking about. It's hard to know. If last year was, and I've heard the theory, because he moved up and the pitchers are more around the plate and that helps, he could be something special. Or was he locked in at 200 at-bats? Defensively, I've heard one or two outside the organization that he's really good, not Devon White reincarnated. He's graceful and can make it look easy. And he's started to get on base. The thing about it is, the Reds aren't going to need him, ideally, to bat leadoff or third, if that's the case, he could be very productive. You look at 2011, 2012, and what they'd expect, he'd have to be the fifth, sixth best hitter. They'll have Bruce, Votto, Alonso and Phillips. They don't need him to be an offensive figure -- they just need him to be solid. That's good for him.
CTR: I know you don't want to give up too much of the other stuff, because people will want to buy the book and get into the top 30, but who are some other guys to watch?
JJ: If there's a guy not in the 10 who could help this year, Josh Roenicke, could make an impact this year. A guy who could climb the list is Jordan Smith.
CTR: The guy I've seen that I really like, reliever Zach Stewart
JJ: He's gonna move fast -- very fast. It'll be interesting to see he and Roenicke battling it out soon. I'll be very interested to see that.
CTR: Well, I appreciate the time J.J., just one more -- what prospects do you see making an impact on the big league club in 2009?
JJ: I think there are less opportunities there -- you look at that roster and it's a pretty set roster except the outfield. Ryan Hanigan is still a rookie. Roenicke. I'll be interested to see the fifth starter battle. The thing I think the Reds have this year, if Reds fans want to have hope for this year -- and that doesn't mean Tampa Bay Rays – but hope for this year from standpoint of it being better, look at what the fifth starters did last year. The thing they have is options -- if it's Homer Bailey, Ramon Ramirez, Matt Maloney -- and I'm forgetting Daryl Thompson – if they throw someone out there and it's not working out, whose the next guy at AAA? These are guys who shouldn't put up 7.90 ERAs for the season. They get just average from their fifth starter and they win 5-7 more games last season.
Great stuff. He sounds like he's pretty high on the Reds farm system.