Breaking Down the Outfielders for 2010
Today we look at the outfield position.
Hands on deck: Andrew Means, Alex Oliveras, Tony Brown, Yorman Rodriguez, Cameron Satterwhite, Efrain Contreras, Albert Laboy, Sean Conner.
For various reasons, the outfield position for the Dragons in 2010 is the toughest to predict among all the non-pitcher spots on the field. Several of the outfielders with Sarasota in 2009 (the club one level ahead of the Dragons last year in the Reds farm system) had seasons that could result in a repeat at the same level (Lynchburg has replaced Sarasota on the organization ladder). That could result in a slight back-up of players on assignment day at the end of spring training this year. A bump, bruise, or strain to any of the outfield candidates in the system could change the Dragons picture. Even decisions made at the big league level could have a domino effect down to Dayton. In this preview, it is assumed that two outfielders from the end of the Dragons 2009 season will move up and join a crowded picture in Lynchburg that may include Dave Sappelt, Justin Reed, Denis Phipps, Kyle Day, and possibly even Cody Puckett. The two at the top of the pecking order at the end of '09 in Dayton were Byron Wiley and Josh Fellhauer, so they are not previewed in the 2010 picture. It is conceivable that one of those two could even start the year with the Dragons.
Among the names that do appear on this list, several could become contenders to start 2010 with Lynchburg, particularly Means. Meanwhile, Rodriguez is the wild card. He is by far the most highly-regarded outfield prospect below the Triple-A level in the Reds organization, but at age 17, will the Reds feel he can compete in the Midwest League in April? The answer will come soon enough.
Andrew Means was a two-sport star at Indiana University. A wide receiver with blazing speed, he was expected to be drafted by an NFL team in 2009, but the call never came, apparently because of concerns over Means' baseball option. Means is one of the best athletes in the Reds organization and he showed promise with the Dragons in 2009, but unfortunately, his season started late and ended early, limiting him to just 53 games.
In his final year of baseball at Indiana University in the spring of 2008, Means led the Big Ten Conference in runs scored and finished third in stolen bases with 33 while batting .357. Meanwhile, he caught 102 passes for 1,272 yards during his college career. The Reds drafted Means in the 11th round of the 2008 draft, but after signing, he appeared in just 22 games at Billings before departing in August to return to Bloomington for his final year of football with the Hoosiers.
Means missed most of spring training in 2009 while conducting workouts for NFL teams and was sometimes clocked at under 4.4 in the 40 yard dash. When the NFL draft came and went in April, Means made a decision to devote himself fully to baseball and reported back to Sarasota, joining the Reds extended spring training team.
Means finally was activated when he joined the Dragons on May 20th, about six weeks into the 2009 season. With his body conditioned for football, Means was an impressive physical specimen, but needed a full off-season to gain the flexibility needed to perform to his potential in baseball.
Still, Means was an impact player for the Dragons. His arrival was part of an immediate improvement for the team, as Means pressured opposing defenses with his ability to run the bases and create havoc with his legs. He amazed fans by beating out infield hits on seemingly routine grounders. Means was also an upgrade for the Dragons defensively.
Means started slowly but raised his batting average to .280 before suffering a wrist injury that he first attempted to play through before undergoing season-ending surgery in July. He finished the year at .262 and was 19 for 19 as a base stealer. Means at 6'1", 214 lbs., has the potential to add power once he gains the flexibility from being in true "baseball shape." Means' age (23) could result in an assignment in Lynchburg, but his lack of pro experience (75 games) could make Dayton his destination again in 2010.
Alex Oliveras will enter his fourth season in the Reds organization in 2010 but will not turn 21 years of age until March 29th. He was drafted by the Reds in the ninth round in 2007 out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School. Oliveras is the son of former major league pitcher Francisco Oliveras.
Oliveras has made steady improvement in each of his three professional seasons. After playing in the Gulf Coast League in both 2007 and '08, he advanced to Billings in '09 and then joined the Dragons in late July. In 35 games with Dayton, Oliveras hit .307 with two home runs and 17 runs batted in (140 at-bats). Between Dayton and Billings, Oliveras stole 12 bases in 63 games in 2009 and was caught just three times. He is a high-energy player that will bring real intensity to the dugout and field, a trait always appreciated by any manager over a long season. From our list of the Dragons 2010 outfielder candidates, Oliveras is probably the most likely name to be in Dayton on opening night.
Tony Brown had a big season with Billings in 2008 but never quite got on track with the Dragons in 2009 and could return to the club this season. Brown led the Billings team in home runs (12) and RBI (47) in just 65 games in 2008 while batting .283 for a Mustangs club that went to the playoffs. But Brown's numbers tailed off in 2009 when he spent most of the year in Dayton. He appeared in 58 games with the Dragons, batting .255 with 4 HR and 29 RBI. Brown had some defensive limitations in '09 that resulted in a role as the club's designated hitter, but he showed some improvement in the outfield over the course of the year when he did see action in left field or right field.
Yorman Rodriguez will likely play for the Dragons someday. Whether the 17-year-old sensation will open the 2010 season at Fifth Third Field is the question. He enters the '10 season as the #6 prospect in the Reds organization according to Baseball America. No other outfielder below the Triple-A level is in the top 25.
The Reds signed Rodriguez as a blue chip international free agent in the summer of 2008, awarding him with the largest signing bonus ever given to a Venezuelan player. He came to Dayton for the Reds Futures Game in April of 2009 and had one at-bat in the game before going back to Sarasota for extended spring training. As a 16 year old with the Reds' Gulf Coast League affiliate, he hit .274 without a home run in 22 games. He was promoted to Billings and played in 46 games with the Mustangs, batting .219 with three home runs and 17 runs batted in.
Two things should be noted about Rodriguez. On the one hand, he is considered to be the best athlete in the entire Reds organization with excellent speed, an outstanding arm in the outfield, and tremendous home run potential. On the other hand, he is a raw prospect who will not turn 18 until August and struck out 61 times in 183 at-bats in the Pioneer League last summer. Players with the tools possessed by Rodriguez often improve at a faster rate than the players around them, so they are able to adjust to better competition when their numbers indicate they would struggle. Rodriguez is younger than virtually any high school player who will be drafted in 2010. Is he ready to battle Midwest League pitchers? The Reds will make that decision at the end of March.
Satterwhite is an area product who attended high school at Moeller in Cincinnati and played at the University of Cincinnati. He was acquired by the Reds during the off-season after playing independent professional baseball in the Frontier League with Evansville in 2009 when he batted .315 without a home run in 34 games. Satterwhite enjoyed a huge 2008 season at UC, batting .364 and finishing third in the Big East Conference in home runs with 14 and collecting 61 RBI in 59 games (225 at-bats). He was selected 3rd Team All-Big East. But he slumped to just .249 with the Bearcats in the spring of '09 and was not drafted before signing with Evansville. At Moeller, Satterwhite was an Ohio All-State selection as a senior in 2005 and set the school's career RBI record, a rather impressive feat for a team that has previously featured Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Larkin, and Buddy Bell.
Efrain Contreras has spent six years in the Reds organization, four of which with the club's Venezuelan Summer League team. Contreras spent the 2009 season at Billings and hit well at .301 with 2 HR and 14 RBI in 46 games.
Albert Laboy was acquired by the Reds as a free agent during the off-season. He did not play in 2009 after being released by the Pirates at the end of spring training. Laboy was originally drafted in the 14th round by Pittsburgh in 2005 out of high school in Florida. His best season came in 2007 when he played at Hickory of the South Atlantic League (same level as the Dragons) and hit .287 in 63 games. He split the 2008 season between Hickory and Lynchburg (now the Reds affiliate) and hit a combined .224 with 7 HR in 97 games. As a high school player, Laboy once collected hits in 15 consecutive at-bats, the fourth highest total nationally in recorded history.
Sean Conner was signed by the Reds after being selected in the 10th round of the 2008 draft out of Palm Beach Community College. At Billings in 2009, Conner hit .237 with 6 HR and 31 RBI in 64 games. He will turn 23 in July and the Reds may want to see him perform in a full-season league this season.
2009 Dragons Outfielders
Byron Wiley: Expected to play at Single-A Lynchburg in 2010.
Josh Fellhauer: Expected to play at Single-A Lynchburg in 2010.
Alex Oliveras: Expected to play for the Dragons in 2010. Andrew Means: Will battle for a job with Lynchburg or Dayton in 2010.
Tony Brown: Will battle for a job with Lynchburg or Dayton in 2010.
Dave Sappelt: Promoted prior to end of 2009; will battle for a job with Double-A Carolina or play with Lynchburg in 2010.
Kyle Day: Promoted prior to end of 2009; will battle for a job with Double-A Carolina or play with Lynchburg in 2010.
Stephen Chapman: Promoted prior to end of 2009 and finished season with Double-A Carolina; will battle for a job with Carolina in 2010.
Tyler Stovall: Released following 2009 season.