Baseball America’s Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player’s long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven’t exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
|Chat Transcript Josh Boyd
discussed the Reds system
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The opening of the Great American Ball Park in 2003 created high expectations for the Reds, but they weren’t able to rejuvenate their fan base. Cincinnati finished 24 games below .500 in fifth place, 19 games behind the Cubs in the National League Central.
Though the Reds were just 21/2 games out at the beginning of July, they fired general manager Jim Bowden three days before the July 31 trade deadline. To replace Bowden, who had been calling the shots since October 1992, chief operating officer John Allen took over baseball operations with the assistance of interim GMs Brad Kullman (who had been assistant GM) and Leland Maddox (scouting director).
Over the next 72 hours, that team executed four cost-cutting deals that sent Aaron Boone, Jose Guillen, Gabe White and Scott Williamson to contenders. Cincinnati’s big league roster was decimated, while Bowden analyzed the moves as a special commentator on ESPN. The Reds went 20-34 over the final two months.
The Reds completed their GM search on Oct. 27 by tabbing Rangers assistant GM Dan O’Brien to turn things around. A 26-year front office veteran who spent 15 years in the Astros’ scouting and player development departments, O’Brien helped spearhead Houston’s Latin American revival. He immediately announced his intentions to follow the Astros blueprint, focusing on developing homegrown talent, specifically pitching.
“It starts and ends with starting pitching,” O’Brien said at his first press conference. He added that developing quality pitching is “the quickest way to being competitive.”
In recent years, too many of the organization’s most promising young arms have lost time to injuries. Chris Gruler, drafted with the third overall pick in 2002 and No. 1 on this list a year ago, was limited to six innings by shoulder surgery, derailing what was to be his coming-out season. Ricardo Aramboles and Luke Hudson had visions of Cincinnati, but went down with torn labrums in spring training. Josh Hall tore his after reaching the majors in September. Bobby Basham, Ty Howington and Josh Thigpen all saw their velocity plummet, though doctors found no structural damage and Howington finished the season on a positive note.
The additions of lefthanders Brandon Claussen, Phil Dumatrait, Tyler Pelland and Charlie Manning and righties Joe Valentine and Matt Belisle through trades has added depth. The Reds made acquiring southpaws a priority, getting Claussen and Manning from the Yankees for Boone and White, and Dumatrait and Pelland from the Red Sox for Williamson. Cincinnati also picked up pitching in the draft, with first-rounder Ryan Wagner going almost straight to the majors and Thomas Pauly (second round), Richie Gardner (sixth) and Jim Paduch (12th) showing upside.
Promoting harmony between scouting and player development will be one of O’Brien’s first chores, as the rift between the two departments is well known in the industry.
“We have a lot of work to do,” O’Brien said, acknowledging the system’s weaknesses. “The challenges are significant.”
Top Prospect: Ryan Wagner, RHP
Age: 21 Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 210 Bats: R Throws: R
Drafted: Houston, 2003 (1st round)
Signed by: Jimmy Gonzales
Background: Because he turned 21 within 45 days of the draft, Wagner was eligible following his sophomore season at Houston. Undrafted out of high school partly because he asked for $500,000 to sign, he became last spring’s most pleasant draft surprise. He went from being an unheralded freshman to an All-American to a first-rounder to a major leaguer by the middle of July. He needed just 46 days and all of nine innings between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville to earn a promotion to Cincinnati after signing for $1.4 million. His rapid trek to the big leagues was the fastest since Athletics 1995 first-rounder Ariel Prieto needed just 28 days in the minors. Wagner broke a 39-year-old NCAA Division I record by fanning 16.8 hitters per nine innings, while limiting college opponents to a .147 average. He held big leaguers to a meager .173 clip, but was shut down as a precaution after shouldering a heavy workload: 79 innings for Houston and 31 more after signing. It was nothing more than a precaution, as Wagner was exhausted and the Reds didn’t want to risk taxing his arm.
Strengths: Wagner’s 84-87 mph slider is downright unhittable and grades as a top-of-the-scouting-scale 80 pitch at times. It features sharp, late tilt in the zone and darts away from the barrel of the bat. Hitters have a difficult time identifying his slider, and often think it’s a splitter or true curveball because of its depth. Wagner isn’t a one-trick pony, however. His fastball sits at 91-94 mph and features hard sink and boring action to induce ground balls. His fastball movement is so good that hitters will have a tough time laying off his slider and sitting on his fastball. He showed enough resiliency and durability to work multiple-inning stints for Houston. Though he rarely needs it, Wagner shows a feel for an average changeup, leading some scouts to think he could hold down a rotation spot.
Weaknesses: Not many scouts project Wagner as a starter because his delivery and arm action might not be conducive to a rotation workload. While he’ll drop his arm slot at times to create more movement on his fastball, that also causes additional stress on his shoulder’even more than when he relies heavily on his slider. The Reds would like him to become more consistent with his slot and repeating his delivery.
The Future: Following Wagner’s promotion to the majors, the Reds discussed moving him to the rotation in 2004, but they now seem content to groom him as their future closer. College closers don’t often duplicate their success in the majors, but there’s little doubt Wagner can overmatch hitters at any level. If he’s not Cincinnati’s closer coming out of spring training, he’ll be one of the better set-up men in the National League.
2. Edwin Encarnacion, 3b
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 195.
Drafted: HS�Caguas, P.R., 2000 (9th round).
Signed by: Sammy Melendez (Rangers).
Background: Former Reds special assistant Al Goldis was scouting Hank Blalock in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2000 when he came across Encarnacion, who was playing shortstop. Cincinnati acquired him the following year in the Ruben Mateo-Rob Bell trade with Texas. A two-level jump to Double-A last spring proved to be a tad overzealous, and he was forced to step back and make adjustments.
Strengths: Encarnacion has special bat speed and plus-plus power potential. He’s advanced at recognizing pitches early. He still shows middle-of-the-diamond actions, along with above-average strength.
Weaknesses: During his struggles in Double-A, Encarnacion’s attitude and work ethic were concerns. He needs to use the opposite field more effectively by allowing outside pitches to get deeper. He has the bat quickness to do so. Like many developing hitters, he needs to lay off breaking balls down and away.
The Future: Encarnacion made encouraging strides with both his hitting approach and his demeanor after being sent to high Class A Potomac. He’s better prepared for a second tour of Double-A in 2004.
3. Brandon Claussen, lhp
Age: 24. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Drafted: Howard (Texas) JC, 1998 D/F (34th round).
Signed by: Mark Batchko (Yankees).
Background: The top pitcher in the Yankees system, Claussen went to the Reds at the trade deadline in a deal for Aaron Boone. Though he returned ahead of schedule from Tommy John surgery in June 2002, Claussen was shut down with a tired arm for precautionary reasons after three starts in August.
Strengths: Claussen topped out at 94 mph before the operation, and pitched from 87-92 in 2003. He fires slightly across his body, creating good arm-side tail on his fastball and adding tilt and depth to his plus 78 mph slider. His changeup is an average big league pitch. He has good command and can work both sides of the plate.
Weaknesses: The good news is the Reds sidelined Claussen before he reinjured his arm. The red flag is that healthy pitchers usually don’t need to be shut down and his velocity isn’t all the way back.
The Future: Provided there aren’t further setbacks, Claussen will get every opportunity to win a job in the Reds’ revamped rotation in spring training. He profiles as a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.
4. Dustin Moseley, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200.
Drafted: HS�Texarkana, Ark., 2000 (1st round supplemental).
Signed by: Jimmy Gonzales.
Background: Moseley signed late in 2000 for $930,000 and has advanced rapidly, earning midseason promotions during each of the last two seasons and reaching Triple-A at age 21.
Strengths: Moseley’s mature knack for pitching has enabled him to move swiftly up the ladder. While he’s not overpowering with his 88-92 mph fastball, he has plus movement and manipulates the ball to both sides of the plate with a cutter and two-seamer. His 77-81 mph curveball with 12-to-6 break and his deceptive sinking changeup are among the best in the organization. His delivery is clean and effortless, potentially allowing him to add to his fastball.
Weaknesses: Because he doesn’t have plus velocity, Moseley has to rely on location and setting up hitters. Scouts say he doesn’t have a true out pitch, so he won’t be able to carry a pitching staff.
The Future: Though his ceiling is limited, Moseley is a good bet to enjoy a long and productive career in the majors. He reminds scouts of control artists like Rick Reed and Bob Tewksbury. He’ll start 2004 in Triple-A and could help the Reds rotation before the all-star break.
5. Joey Votto, 1b
Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Drafted: HS�Toronto, 2002 (2nd round).
Signed by: John Castleberry.
Background: Votto was a surprise second-rounder in 2002, in part because he signed for a below-market $600,000, but Cincinnati brass also fell in love with him after he put on an impressive power display at Cinergy Field. Drafted as a catcher, he primarily played third base in high school and now has moved to first base to expedite his development. He was one of several Reds prospects who had to be demoted after initially struggling in 2003.
Strengths: Reds scouts envision Votto as a middle-of-the-lineup force. He’s short and direct to the ball with natural loft in his swing, which will lend itself to big-time power potential as he matures. A dead-pull hitter in 2002, he moved closer to the plate and started driving the ball to left field this season.
Weaknesses: Votto draws lots of walks but is often too patient at the plate, putting himself into poor hitting counts by taking a lot of borderline pitches. Defense will never be his strong suit.
The Future: A coach’s dream, Votto is a baseball rat who studies the art of hitting. He’ll return to low Class A Dayton, but could emerge quickly without the rigors of catching holding him back.
6. Phil Dumatrait, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185.
Drafted: JC�Bakersfield, Calif., 2000 (1st round).
Signed by: Ed Roebuck (Red Sox).
Background: Undrafted out of high school, Dumatrait blossomed into a first-rounder at Bakersfield thanks to a spike in velocity. Regarded as the Red Sox’ best pitching prospect heading into last spring, Dumatrait was dealt with Tyler Pelland for closer Scott Williamson in July.
Strengths: Dumatrait’s curveball is the best in the organization. He adds and subtracts from the pitch, using a slower curve to get ahead in the count and a sharper hammer to finish hitters. His fastball sits at 88-90 and features outstanding late life that makes it difficult to command, but he has learned to harness it. He’s athletic and operates with a free and easy delivery.
Weaknesses: Dumatrait needs to incorporate his changeup into his mix more often. His command isn’t always sharp and is the key to him achieving his ceiling as a major league starter.
The Future: The Reds say Dumatrait has good enough stuff to succeed as a situational reliever in the majors right now. While that could ultimately be his role, his stuff is good enough to start and he’ll continue to do so in Double-A.
7. Stephen Smitherman, of
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 235.
Drafted: Arkansas Little-Rock, 2000 (23rd round).
Signed by: Jimmy Gonzales.
Background: Smitherman followed up a breakthrough 2002 campaign by leading the Double-A Southern League in on-base percentage and finishing second in slugging. He also hit the game-winning homer for the U.S. in the Futures Game.
Strengths: Unlike most aggressive power hitters, Smitherman has become more selective at the plate while maintaining his ability to drive the ball. His natural prowess to put the barrel on the ball has been consistently underrated. He runs well for a big man.
Weaknesses: Though he learned to lay off some balls out of the strike zone, Smitherman still has holes and can get tied up with hard stuff inside. He’s also susceptible to breaking balls down and away, but he can punish fastballs. A diabetic, he suffered a scary episode in June when he had to be helped off the field. But he didn’t miss any time.
The Future: Smitherman struggled during a brief trip to the majors and never got back into a groove afterward. He’ll have to prove himself in Triple-A in 2004, but already has exceeded expectations.
8. Tyler Pelland, lhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 195.
Drafted: HS�Bristol, Vt., 2002 (9th round).
Signed by: Ray Fagnant (Red Sox).
Background: Former Reds special assistant Al Goldis’ work in the Gulf Coast League also paid off with Pelland. In July he recommended that the Reds acquire him from the Red Sox, and they did later that month in the Scott Williamson deal. Pelland would have gone in the first five rounds in 2002 if not for his commitment to Clemson, and he got fourth-round money ($240,000) as a ninth-rounder.
Strengths: Pelland has a 90-95 mph fastball with with good late life in the strike zone. He’s mechanically sound, drawing comparisons to Mike Hampton. His changeup has good action and deception. He shows a good feel for setting up hitters. He has made significant strides with his stuff in just one season as a pro.
Weaknesses: Because of his stocky build, Pelland isn’t projectable, though he already flashes plus velocity. He has a feel for a power breaking ball, but it’s inconsistent at this point.
The Future: Reds officials say Pelland will be able to handle a jump to low Class A, coming off an impressive showing in instructional league. He probably won’t surface in Cincinnati until 2007.
9. Chris Gruler, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Drafted: HS�Brentwood, Calif., 2002 (1st round).
Signed by: Butch Baccala.
Background: Rated as the Reds’ top prospect entering 2003, Gruler never got the chance to build on that status. He was shut down with a sore shoulder during instructional league in 2002, but after an offseason of rest and rehab was pronounced ready for Dayton’s rotation. After three disastrous starts, he had season-ending shoulder surgery.
Strengths: Reds special adviser Johnny Bench compared Gruler’s stuff to Tom Seaver’s after a predraft workout in 2002. He worked with a free and easy arm action and polished delivery, making his shoulder injury all the more surprising and frustrating. He generates 89-95 mph heat when healthy, and his hard curveball ranked among the best in the system. He’s a hard worker, which will help in his comeback.
Weaknesses: Gruler has been healthy enough to tally just 50 pro innings. He’s had little time to work on his changeup. When he returns, it may take time before he’s as sharp as he was during his debut.
The Future: Gruler has to prove his arm is sound. He has had only one minor setback with tendinitis, though his rehab will continue into the 2004 season. He should take the mound in low Class A by May.
10. Ty Howington, lhp
Age: 23. B-T: B-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 220.
Drafted: HS�Vancouver, Wash., 1999 (1st round).
Signed by: Howard Bowens.
Background: Howington appeared on the cusp of the big leagues after reaching Double-A before his 21st birthday. But he has battled elbow and shoulder problems for much of the last two seasons and posted a 5.45 ERA in Double-A in that span.
Strengths: At his best — and he was close to it in the second half of 2003 — Howington can pour 89-93 mph heat with above-average life in the strike zone. He has developed a good cutter to complement one of the most effective changeups in the system, and his curveball will be at least average.
Weaknesses: Howington hasn’t gotten back to 94 mph, which he hit regularly in 2001, and his arm troubles are a concern. His velocity was in the mid-80s in early 2003. The injuries limited his range of motion, which affected his mechanics and arm action and ultimately his command.
The Future: Coming off another encouraging showing in instructional league, Howington is ready for a fourth shot at Double-A at age 23. He has the potential to be a workhorse in the Andy Pettitte mold if he can stay healthy.