Minors : : General
Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top Prospects: Cincinnati Reds

Patrick Ebert         Todd Gold        
Photo: Louisville Bats

General Manager: Walt Jocketty
Farm Director: Terry Reynolds
Scouting Director: Chris Buckley

Louisville Bats (International League) 73-71
AA: Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Southern League) 53-86*
Hi A: Bakersfield Blaze (California League) 66-74
Low A: Dayton Dragons (Midwest League) 83-57
Rookie Adv.: Billings Mustangs (Pioneer League) 44-32
Rookie: AZL Reds (Arizona League) 31-25
Dominican: DSL Reds (Dominican Summer League) 32-36
Venezuelan: VSL Reds (Venezuelan Summer League) 38-34

* Formerly the Carolina Mudcats

System Overview

The Reds have quietly built a formidable big-league team, largely through their own internal scouting and player development departments. They have been one of the more successful organizations in recent years making repeated astute selections with their first-round picks, leading to Major League regulars Homer Bailey (2004), Jay Bruce (2005), Drew Stubbs (2006) and Mike Leake (2009).

Two other first-round picks, Yonder Alonso (2008) and Yasmani Grandal (2010) were key parts of the package used to acquire Mat Latos from the San Diego Padres, while a third, Devin Mesoraco (2007), is their No. 1 prospect as listed below.

In addition, shortstop Paul Janish and 2010 National League MVP Joey Votto were also procured from within, as five of their projected positional starters and three of their starting pitchers are homegrown products.

After winning the NL Central in 2010 the Reds were surpassed by both the Brewers and the World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals last season. Since both the Brewers and Cardinals enter the 2012 season with crucial pieces missing from their successful 2011 clubs, the Reds decided to take advantage of this opportunity while dipping into their deep and fruitful talent base to acquire key pieces via trades in an attempt to re-capture the NL Central crown.

As noted above, Alonso and Grandal were packaged along with right-handed pitchers Edinson Volquez and Brad Boxberger in exchange for Mat Latos, giving the Reds a formidable starting staff that includes Bailey, Leake, Bronson Arroyo and Johnny Cueto. The team's sixth starter, Travis Wood, was dealt to the Cubs along with prospects Dave Sappelt and Ronald Torreyes for Sean Marshall to bolster their bullpen.

While Francisco Cordero left via free agency, the Reds picked up Ryan Madson to take over as the team's closer.

The Reds increased involvement in Latin America led to the surprise signing of Cuban left-handed fireballer Aroldis Chapman in 2010, who along with Marshall will create a formidable set-up tandem leading up to Madson.

And despite all of their offseason moves the system still offers promise.

Devin Mesoraco is slated to replace Ramon Hernandez as part of the team's catching tandem with Ryan Hanigan. Zack Cosart could push Janish for regular playing time at shortstop, while Todd Frazier and Chris Valaika could assume valuable roles off the bench. Neftali Soto will give the team a powerful bat just a phone call away at the AAA level.

Health in their starting staff appears to be the key for the Reds' success in 2012. While their pitching staff posted a 4.16 ERA, 12th best in the National League, none of their starters logged 200 innings. Bronson Arroyo, who fell just short (199), was the only pitcher to record more than 26 starts (32). Should that continue, their starting pitching options to turn to in the upper levels of the system are limited. Most of the team's remaining pitching prospects haven't progressed past the low-A level, although there is a strong group of arms that enjoyed success for the team's affiliates in Dayton and Billings last year.

Going back to the Reds increased presence in Latin America, Chapman wasn't the only player to receive a large bonus as an international free agent. Venezuelan outfielder Yorman Rodriguez ($2.5M) and Dominican outfielder Juan Duran ($2M) are two of the more notable investments the team made, while Dominican right-hander Daniel Corcino and Venezuelan infielder Henry Rodriguez are also among the team's best prospects.

In an attempt to build as strong of a system as possible, particularly now that they aren't annually selecting among the top 10 picks, the Reds scouting efforts truly are global. They are one of only six teams to have a team/complex in the Venezuelan Summer League, infield prospect DiDi Gregorius signed as an amateur free agent from Curacao and played with the Netherlands in the World Cup, Soto and infielder Gabriel Rosa are from Puerto Rico and right-handed pitcher Kyle Lotzkar joins Votto among the more notable Canadians in the organization.

2011 Draft

Due to the team's success in 2010, the Reds didn't not pick until the 27th
 overall selection, the organization's lowest slot ever in the club's illustrious history. They used that pick to go well above slot ($2M) for former PG/Aflac All-American Robert Stephenson, a live-armed right-handed pitcher that opened his high school season as a senior with back-to-back no-hitters. Stephenson sat in the 92-94 range last spring, maintaining that velocity deep into games while frequently touching 96-97. He has yet to make his professional debut, and many believe he could throw harder more consistently as he continues to fill out his lean, projectable frame.

Rosa was the team's pick in the second round, and adjusted fairly well to playing everyday stateside by hitting .245 with 10 extra-base hits in 28 Arizona League games. Rosa's 6-foot-4 frame offers promising power potential, and while he's a good runner now, he may lose some quickness and straight-line speed as he too continues to fill out.

After Stephenson and Rosa, their next eight picks came from the college ranks, continuing a recent trend in the team's scouting and drafting preferences.

Third-round left-handed pitcher Anthony Cingrani was lights out in the Pioneer League, posting a 80-to-6 strikeout to walk ratio over 51 innings, allowing only 35 hits, quickly establishing himself as a player who could be fast-tracked beginning this season. College right-handers Kyle McMyne (fourth), James Allen (seventh), Cole Green (ninth), Brooks Pinckard (10th
) and Ryan Kemp (14th) joined Cingrani on the Billings staff, enjoying varying level of success.

Infielders Ryan Wright (fifth) and Sean Buckley (sixth) also joined the Billings squad, posting impressive slash lines of .298/.348/.522 and .289/.372/.551 respectively.

The team's most interesting selection came in the form of 22nd-rounder and two-sport star Amir Garrett, a projectable 6-foot-5 high school left-hander who made noise last spring thanks to a mid-90s fastball. Garrett defines what a high-risk, high-reward prospect is, as it took the Reds $1M to add him to the system. They are able to spread that bonus over five years, as the deal also allows him to play basketball for St. John's.

Garrett wasn't the only late-round pick the team used big money to sign away from college. Hard throwing Tennessee right-handed pitching recruit Sal Romano signed for $450K as a 23rd-round pick, and it took $300K to lure 43rd-round speedster Ty Washington away from Oklahoma.

Top 10 Prospects

1. C Devin Mesoraco - Baseball-reference player profile

Mesoraco was the second ranked catcher in the PG Class of 2007 rankings, trailing only C/MIF Mike Moustakas. After being drafted in the first round out of Punxsutawney High School (PA) in 2007, Mesoraco got off to a slow start to his career. He struggled through his first three seasons of pro ball and entered spring training in 2010 looking as much like a suspect as a prospect. His outlook improved drastically without a breakout 2010 campaign where he developed into a very high level defensive Catcher, but especially with the bat. Mesoraco crushed a combined 26 Home Runs in 2010, going from High-A Lynchburg all the way up to AAA Louisville and capped it off with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. 2011 saw a slight decrease in his home run numbers (hitting “just” 15), but he still posted an impressive .289/.371/.484 line in 120 games in Louisville.

Mesoraco has tools that rate at least above average across the board, with the lone exception being his speed. His thick strong frame doesn’t lend itself well to straight line speed, but he does move well laterally behind the plate. Mesoraco features good arm strength and does a good job of shutting down the running game. While he has had struggles with passed balls at times, he is an adequate receiver whose raw tools are still a touch ahead of his skills.

What makes him exciting however, is his power potential. Mesoraco combines plus bat speed with a severe uppercut swing and power oriented approach, taking aggressive swings with clear intentions. While his approach leads to a lot of swing and misses and infield fly balls, Mesoraco has continually posted good on-base rates because of his ability to work the count and make good decisions at the plate. His high all around baseball IQ is evident in every phase of the game, and he plays hard and carries himself well.

Barring an injury or a disastrous showing in Spring Training, Mesoraco is set to take over the everyday job behind the plate in Cincinnati. With the recent trade of Yasmani Grandal to San Diego there are no clear threats to his job security.

2. SS Billy Hamilton - Baseball-reference player profile

Hamilton became a second round pick in 2009 out of the small Mississippi town of Taylorsville (pop. 1,341 according to 2000 US Census). The Reds ponied up $623,600 to keep Hamilton away from a football scholarship to Mississippi State, where he was recruited as a wide receiver.

Speed is the name of the game for Hamilton, as an elite burner he stole 103 bases for Low-A Dayton in 2011. His speed also plays well defensively, along with a strong arm that allowed him to reach the low 90s off the mound in high school. Though some believe his plus plus speed is best suited for center field, he’s also played second as a professional. While it isn’t clear exactly where his future defensive home is, it will be up the middle.

Hamilton’s hit tool is his big question mark; he’s a switch hitter, though he’s not especially polished from either side at this point. His walk rate in 2011 was solid, though his inability to hit for power and unimpressive batting averages will necessitate improving his walk numbers. If Hamilton can post an on-base percentage over .340 at the Major League level and live up to his potential as a plus defender he will can be a valuable piece of the puzzle to the Reds.

After a strong showing in the Low-A Midwest League in 2011, Hamilton will move up to the more hitter friendly environment of the High-A California League in 2012.

3. SS Zack Cozart - Baseball-reference player profile

Cozart was a second round pick out of Ole Miss in 2007 in spite of posting adequate but unexciting offensive numbers in the SEC. He showed good progress with the bat during his first five years of pro ball and was rewarded with a big league callup in July. Cozart was hitting .324 through his first 37 at-bats before suffering a torn elbow ligament that would require season ending Tommy John surgery.

The development of Cozart's hit tool as he progressed through the minors is encouraging, as he has developed the ability to go with the pitch and hit to all fields. His walk rate is decent and he possesses solid power for a shortstop and is an occasional stolen base threat. While he will never be mistaken for an all-star, he has solid tools across the board and can more than hold his own at a premium defensive position.

As soon as Cozart is 100 percent healthy the everyday starting shortstop job is his to lose. His biggest threat to the job is either Billy Hamilton, who has not played above Low-A, or a mid-season trade for a veteran.

4. RHP Daniel Corcino - Baseball-reference player profile

Corcino has proven to be an international coup for the Reds to this point, having pitched well the past three seasons after an early adjustment period in his stateside debut in 2009. The Reds inked Corcino to a $25,000 deal in 2008 as a 17 year old out of the Dominican Republic. After converting him to a starter in 2010, a year later Corcino dominated the Low-A Midwest League to a tune of 156 strikeouts to 34 walks over 139 innings.

His short, strong build leads to a rotational delivery, limiting his ability to generate sink and induce ground balls. But his mid 90s fastball, tight slider and deceptive changeup allowed him to miss bats consistently in 2011. His high effort delivery with a pronounced arm recoil on the follow-through combined with his small stature lead to concerns about his long term durability, especially as a starter. But he has been healthy to this point. While his arsenal and ability to miss bats are impressive, it's his feel for pitching that has allowed him to become more successful as a starter.

He’ll move up to High-A Bakersfield in 2012 where he’ll have a chance to prove he is a legitimate prospect. The transition from the Midwest League to the California League has traditionally been a difficult one, and another strong campaign would prove very encouraging.

5. RHP Robert Stephenson - Baseball-reference player profile

Stephenson showed significant improvement following his junior season at Alhambra High School (CA). After making the rounds at all of the high level showcase events, including getting the start for the West team at the 2010 Aflac All-American Classic, he opened his senior season with back-to-back no-hitters. Stephenson improved his draft stock with a strong spring and parlayed it into a $2 million signing bonus as the Reds top pick.

His long lanky athletic frame projects for added strength, and when combined with his high three quarters arm slot it allows him to generate good downhill plane on his pitches. Leading up to the draft his fastball routinely sat 92-94 into the late innings, climbing as high as 97 mph on multiple occasions. Like nearly all teenage pitchers, his secondary stuff lags behind his electric fastball. In high school he featured a high 70s to low 80s breaking ball with hard, tight spin and occasional depth that shows plus potential but lacks consistency. His changeup has shown improvement and looks like a future solid-average pitch, and he also used a quality splitter to generate swing and misses. While he is young and raw with a lot of development left, Stephenson has high level upside. 

While he has yet to face professional hitting in a meaningful game to this point, Stephenson will likely be ready for the challenges of the Low-A Midwest League at some point in 2012. His rate of progress will hinge on his ability to develop his secondary stuff and continue to refine his ability to locate his fastball, especially in the bottom part of the strike zone. Given his talent, he could move quickly.

6. SS Didi Gregorius - Baseball-reference player profile

A product of Curacao, Gregorius had a big year as a 20 year old in 2011. He hit well in the first half in the High-A California League, which is not a huge achievement unto itself. But after a midseason promotion to AA Carolina he continued to hit well, and followed that up by winning the IBAF World Cup as a member of the Netherlands.

The strength of Gregorius' game is his high level defensive tools at shortstop. He has good range to either side and has a strong accurate arm. His hitting tools are solid, though his upside with the bat is somewhat limited. He shows occasional present power, though he uses his lower half well and his quick hands and good extension allow him to drive the ball with authority, and he projects to add strength. While he can hit for power on occasion, he is more of a pure hitter, capable of lining balls to all fields, though he doesn't draw many walks or steal a lot of bases at this point. The all around package profiles Gergorius as at least a solid everyday big league shortstop, with a bit higher upside.

While his time in AA went well in 2011, he will likely return there to open the 2012 season as a 21 year old, and it looks as though he could be within a year or two of a big league callup. A cup of coffee in September is not likely, but not entirely out of the question either.

7. LHP Tony Cingrani - Baseball-reference player profile

Cingrani's draft stock slipped a bit when he struggled as a starter during his junior season at Rice in 2011, before finding his rhythm after a move to the bullpen. The Reds snagged him in the third round of the 2011 draft and moved him back into a starting role when they sent him to the Pioneer League to finish out the 2011 season. He responded with exceptional numbers in his 13 starts, posting 80 strikeouts to just six walks in 51 innings to go with a glowing 1.75 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP.

At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds Cingrani has some room to fill and shows good athleticism in his delivery. He generates mid 90s velocity with a long whippy arm action and sharp downhill plane. His short front side combined with his long arm action exposes the ball to hitters. While hitters get a decent look at the ball coming out of his hand, he has shown good command of his heavy fastball with hard sinking action, and he should be able to continue inducing ground balls at the upper levels. His slider shows hard spin and tight, late break, though and while he hasn't developed the necessary feel for it to become a quality offspeed pitch yet, it certainly has potential. He also works in an occasional changeup, but it is a below average pitch at present.

It's important not to get too carried away with his results in the Rookie Pioneer League as a 22 year old, though his stuff suggests it was not a fluke. He'll move on to a full season league in 2012, and if he continues to dominate he'll move quickly.

8. 1B Neftali Soto - Baseball-reference player profile

Soto was a third round pick out of Puerto Rico in 2007, but he didn't start translating his power potential into Home Runs until 2010. He made up for lost time with a breakout campaign in 2011, hammering 31 Home Runs in 106 games between AA Carolina and AAA Louisville.

His power increase has coincided with a move from the left side of the infield, after having spent time briefly at shortstop but mostly as a third basemen. His strong muscular build is better suited for first, and he has the offensive firepower to produce at the position. While that position is currently blocked at the big league level by 2010 National League MVP Joey Votto, the position could come open in 2013 if Votto is lured away by a big money free agent contract. That makes 2012 a huge year for Soto to prove that he is ready to fill those enormous shoes. Soto generates plus bat speed with a long smooth swing with good balance. He has enough athleticism to handle a move to left field if necessary, though he has performed well at first to this point.

Soto will open 2012 in AAA Louisville after a brief cameo there at the end of 2011. He has a shot at earning a September callup, and his future beyond that hinges on what the Reds decide to do about the first base position in the long term.

9. 3B Todd Frazier - Baseball-reference player profile

Expectations for Frazier were lofty coming out of Rutgers as a supplemental first round pick in 2007, as evidenced by his $875,000 signing bonus. He was drafted as a shortstop, but at 6-foot-3 220 pounds he lacks ideal range for a middle infield position at the Major League level. As he has matured his most natural position has become third base, which has been blocked for the past two plus seasons by seven time All Star and eight time Gold Glove winner Scott Rolen. However, Rolen's recent injury woes and Frazier's versatility did allow him to pick up 112 at-bats in the Major Leagues last year, briefly seeing time at five different positions (3B, SS, 2B, 1B, LF).

Frazier's value lies in his ability to pull the ball with authority. His plate approach is geared for power hitting, and he managed to hit six home runs in his brief time at the Major League level. He hasn't developed into the type of hitter who can maintain a high average while swinging the bat with intentions as the Reds had hoped when they drafted him, but he has enough power to contribute everyday if needed. Frazier's patience has improved in recent years, though whether its a case of him being bored with repeating AAA Louisville or being pitched around remains to be seen. If he continues to improve his walk rate he is capable of being a very solid hitter with solid defensive ability at third, with the versatility to fill in at first base or left field as well.

Frazier has spent parts of the past three seasons in AAA and really doesn't have much else to learn there. With Rolen firmly entrenched at third base he will compete with Juan Francisco for a backup corner infield job and possibly also serve as a fourth outfielder providing a valuable left handed bat off of the bench.

10. OF Yorman Rodriguez - Baseball-reference player profile

When the Reds signed Rodriguez out of Venezuela as a 16 year old in 2008 for $2.5 million he set a record for the largest bonus ever paid out to a player from that country (and the third highest in Latin America). His raw potential has yet to translate into big production in pro ball to this point.

Rodriguez's swing is geared to hit for power, with a low hand set and uppercut plane. He gets big separation of his uppper and lower halves but manages to take his hands directly to the baseball at his best.  His swing path is wildly inconsistent at this point, leading to a lot of swings and misses. His lean athletic build has begun to fill out a bit, which is a positive sign for his power potential, though it also suggests that he will be challenged to remain in center field, and his decent stolen base totals are likely to decline.

While it would be easy to write him off after hitting .254/.318/.393 in 2011, it is important to consider the context. Rodriguez was one of the youngest players, who at 18 years old was playing in a pitching dominated Midwest League. In his brief pro career Rodriguez has struggled with injuries (his 2010 and 2011 seasons were cut short with hand and shoulder injuries) and has been publicly criticized for a lack of effort by coaches. He possesses as much upside as anyone in the system, but at this point he is light years away from reaching his potential.

Rodriguez will likely return to Dayton to open 2012.  While he is ahead of the development curve he likely still has some work to do before he is ready to move up to the California League. Once he does make that jump he could thrive in that power-friendly environment.

Others in the conversation:
LHP Amir Garrett, LHP Ismael Guillon, OF Ryan LaMarre, RHP Kyle McMyne, 2B Henry Rodriguez, OF Gabriel Rosa, RHP JC Sulburan

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