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Thread: Cincinnati Enquirer series of articles on Reds prospects

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    Cincinnati Enquirer series of articles on Reds prospects

    Juan Duran & Yorman Rodriguez
    Big investment and big potential in Latin teenage duo

    By John Fay jfay@enquirer.com April 5, 2009

    One morning after Juan Duran and Yorman Rodriguez got dropped off at the Ed Smith Stadium complex - neither has a driver's license - each posed beside Francisco Cordero's Ferrari while the other snapped a cell phone picture.

    The first paycheck either collected was enough to buy a fleet of Ferraris.

    Duran, a 17-year-old Dominican, and Rodriguez, a 16-year-old Venezuelan, represent the Reds' first foray into high-dollar bonuses to Latin American teenagers.

    The Reds paid Duran a club-record $2 million signing bonus on Feb. 27, 2008. The record lasted until Rodriguez signed for $2.5 million six months later.

    The signings were a big risk. Duran and Rodriguez were signed purely on raw talent. Neither has played that much baseball.

    But it was a risk the Reds felt they had to take. Latin America has produced some of the biggest stars in baseball. If the Reds are right about Duran and Rodriguez, the $4.5 million will seem like money well spent in 2012 or '13.

    But it's risky. When the Reds drafted Jay Bruce, they had seen him play in dozens of high school games against top competition in Texas. He was ready to play in the Gulf Coast League as soon as he signed.

    With Duran and Rodriguez, it's a different process.

    "You're really starting from scratch," Reds player development director Terry Reynolds said. "The system in Latin America now is you take these kids around for tryouts. They don't play a lot of games. They're just starting to learn the game - what it takes to be an outfielder, what it takes to be a hitter, what it takes to be a teammate. There's a lot of things involved outside of just playing the game.

    "It's a fun process. It's fun to watch them grow in all those aspects."

    There's been a slight setback in the process with Duran. He had arthroscopic knee surgery and will miss four to six weeks.

    Besides learning baseball, there's also the cultural side. Duran speaks only a little English; Rodriguez almost none. They'll take lessons once the season begins.

    "They're 16, 17 years old," said Charlie Rodriguez, the assistant trainer for the Gulf Coast League Reds and Latin player liaison. "It doesn't matter what background you have, it's going to be a shock. The food is different. The people around them speak a different language. They get along with everybody, but trying to deal with it is hard for them."

    Duran and Rodriguez have been in the U.S. since late January, but homesickness hasn't been a factor yet.

    "At this point, it's not," Charlie Rodriguez said. "It's spring training and they're around guys from their country. But that time will go by quick. Midway through extended (spring training), they'll hit that wall. We try to accommodate them. We have this company that cooks for the Latinos.

    "We try to make them feel as close to home as possible."

    But the season goes until September.

    "Come July, you'll see calendars in their rooms," Rodriguez said, "scratching the days."

    Compared to dealing with all that, learning baseball isn't a big deal.

    "They have all the tools the scouts said they have," Reynolds said. "They've both improved a lot already."


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    Re: Cincinnati Enquirer series of articles on Reds prospects

    Todd Frazier: Have bat, will travel

    By John Fay jfay@enquirer.com April 5, 2009

    As a 12-year-old, Todd Frazier proved he was pretty good in the spotlight. He went 4-for-4 with a home run to lift Toms River, N.J., over Japan in the 1998 Little League World Series.t

    He went on to an All-America college career at Rutgers.

    Frazier was a shortstop from Little League through college through his first two years in the minor leagues with the Reds.

    He's risen to No. 2 on Baseball America's Reds prospect list, and there's pretty much no question Frazier will make it to the big leagues - possibly sometime this year. The only question is, where will he play?

    "He's really one of those kids (who) wherever there's a need, you could put him there," Reds minor-league instructor Bill Doran said. "Left field, first base, third. He came up as a shortstop.

    "Not only is he a good player, he's versatile. It's a unique combination."

    Frazier got his first taste of the big-league camp this year as a non-roster invitee.

    "It was huge, just seeing the different pitchers and being around these guys and learning from them," Frazier said. "That was huge. I kind of know what to do when I get up here. I'm going to love every second of it."

    Frazier's body type indicates he's a corner infielder. He's 6 feet 3 and 220 pounds.

    Frazier is sure-handed - 27 errors in 177 minor-league games - but his range is limited. He compensates for that well.

    "He's an instinctive player," Doran said. "He can swing the bat. He's going to hit."

    Frazier has hit in his two years in the minor-league system - both for average and power.

    In 2007, he hit .319 with seven homers and 30 RBI in 47 games combined with Billings and Sarasota. Last year, he hit .291 with 19 home runs and 74 RBI in 130 games for Dayton and Sarasota. He played shortstop, third base, left field and first base last year.

    He probably will start this season at Double-A Carolina; he's jumped a level each of his first two years in pro ball.

    If he ends up at Triple-A Louisville, that would have him on track to be in the majors in 2010. The taste he got of the bigs this spring has made him want to come back.

    "Up here, you have a bunch of guys having fun all the time and enjoying the game," he said. "They're all here to help. In minor-league camp, everybody's trying to get that job. It's a little different."


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    Re: Cincinnati Enquirer series of articles on Reds prospects

    Juan Francisco: Power in the pipeline

    By John Fay jfay@enquirer.com April 5, 2009

    It's one of those legendary shots that probably will grow longer as the story is retold.

    Juan Francisco hit a home run on Field 3 at the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Fla. The ball ended up in the visitors' bullpen. It's 498 feet from the plate to the bullpen fence, and the fence is 8 feet high.

    The shot highlighted why Francisco is such an intriguing prospect.

    "The sky's the limit," Reds minor-league instructor Bill Doran said. "This kid has got off-the-charts power. He's got a great arm, great hands. He just needs to understand that he's got to get after it every pitch.

    "He has all the tools that you want in a third baseman - good hands; not only a strong arm but very accurate."

    There are questions about Francisco. He's shown poor plate discipline - 353 strikeouts and 62 walks in 1,426 minor-league at-bats. He's also not as trim as the Reds would like to see him.

    But he impressed people in his first big-league camp.

    "There's a good athlete in that young, oversized body," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Everyone isn't born skinny. Albert Pujols wasn't skinny when he first came up."

    Baker wasn't comparing Francisco to Pujols. He was merely pointing out that with proper nutrition and training, teams can deal with all types of bodies.

    Francisco will begin the year at Double-A Carolina.

    He doesn't turn 22 until June 24.

    "We tend to forget how young he is," Doran said. "He's going to get better."


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    Re: Cincinnati Enquirer series of articles on Reds prospects

    Yonder Alonso: Big-league timber

    By John Fay jfay@enquirer.com April 5, 2009

    Yonder Alonso's last act before he was optioned to Double-A Carolina was to hit a home run to straightaway center field in Clearwater, Fla.

    It was the kind of home run that gets people's attention - a line drive that went 410 feet.

    Alonso's bat was too good for the Reds to pass up in last June's draft. They picked him seventh overall and signed him to a $4.55 million, big-league contract. That basically means he has to be in the big leagues by 2011.

    The Reds did that despite having a young, left-handed-hitting first baseman in the fold in Joey Votto.

    Alonso is polished as a hitter. He hit .343 over 188 games at the University of Miami. He walked 170 times and struck out 100 times over his career.

    Alonso was 6-for-19 with Single-A Sarasota last year after signing.

    He hit .308 with four home runs and 21 RBI in 29 games in the Hawaii Winter League.

    Alonso's brief stint in the big-league camp - he went 2-for-8 with a walk, a double, the home run and a hit-by-pitch - taught him he won't be able to survive by his bat alone.

    "It helped me a lot," Alonso said. "It showed me that it's not just about hitting. Your hitting might not always be there, but you help the team by running the bases right, making a pickup at first to avoid an error, playing the game right."

    Fielding and baserunning are the aspects of Alonso's game that must catch up with his bat.

    "He needs some work," minor-league instructor Bill Doran said. "But he's a hard-working kid. He's come a long way in a short period of time, especially defensively. Everyone knows he can swing the bat. But he works equally as hard defensively as he does in the cage."

    Alonso is enjoying the gig as a full-time baseball player. "I'm having a blast," he said, "playing every day, getting to hit every day."

    Using a wood bat, instead of aluminum, can be a big adjustment for players coming into the pros.

    Not for Alonso.

    "It hasn't been, really," he said. "I've been hitting the ball well. I'm really hitting some balls hard."

    Doran said Alonso has been a delight to work with.

    "He's a talented kid with a great work ethic," Doran said. "That's a real nice combination."


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