Ask BA: Who’s The Best Prospect In The Minors?
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Top Ten Prospects: Cincinnati Reds
Complete Index of Top 10s
By John Manuel
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, 2005.
Background: A boot-wearing, drawling cowboy, Bailey plays the role of fireballing Texas righthander well. He grew up on an egg farm, and is an avid hunter who keeps a collection of the tusks of wild boar he has killed in his room. He also maintains that image on the mound. He established himself as a winner as a high school freshman, beating Forney High and current Reds reliever Ryan Wagner to win the state 3-A championship for La Grange High. Entering 2004, Bailey already was considered a certain top-10 draft pick, and scouts respected how he rose to that challenge as well as being the pitcher others teams gunned for during his entire prep career. He capped a tremendous senior season by leading La Grange to another state title, striking out 14 (including 10 of the last 12 outs). He was Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year, though that in itself is far from a guarantee of future success. Three other righthanders have won it: Matt White in 1996, Matt Harrington in 2000 and Jeff Allison in 2003. The Reds believe Bailey’s maturity and track record of dealing with success will set him apart from that disappointing trio. They gave him a $2.3 million bonus, the second-largest in organization history.
Strengths: Bailey has the frame and arm speed to throw hard, and he does so consistently. His fastball sits at 92-97 mph when he’s at his best, and it has good life as well. Scouts considered it the best fastball in the draft among high school pitchers, not just because of its velocity but also because he consistently throws it for strikes. Bailey’s command also rated as best among prep pitchers. He’s more polished than the average high school pitcher, though he won’t be confused with Kansas City’s Zack Greinke, either. The fastball is his best pitch, but he gets plenty of strikeouts with his plus downer curveball as well, the best bender available in the prep ranks in 2004. Athletic and projectable, Bailey should be able to throw harder and maintain his delivery as he fills out.
Weaknesses: Bailey was used conservatively in his first pro season, and Cincinnati didn’t get a long look at him in instructional league. He injured his right knee during the 2003 Area Code Games, leaving a game after just four pitches, and he tweaked the knee again in instructs. The Reds and Bailey decided it would be best if he had arthroscopic surgery to head off any long-term problems. He was back to full speed in December, beginning his offseason workouts. Now he needs to show he can pitch a full season. His changeup needs work to become a legitimate third pitch.
The Future: Bailey’s combination of power and polish should allow him to move quickly. The Reds have had little success with taking high school pitchers in the first round as of late—Ty Howington (1999) and Chris Gruler (2002) have had repeated injury problems—so they’ll be careful with Bailey. He’ll be in their tandem-starter system, most likely at low Class A Dayton, which should keep him fresh. He could start to take off toward Cincinnati in 2006.
Background: Encarnacion enhanced his standing as the Reds’ top position-player prospect with a solid 2004. Acquired in 2001 from the Rangers in a trade for Ruben Mateo, Encarnacion impressed the Reds with his maturity, returning to Double-A Chattanooga after a failed stint there in 2003 and showing a more consistent work ethic and attitude.
Strengths: Encarnacion has excellent hitting tools, including developing patience (career-high 53 walks in 2004) and power (he tied for the Southern League doubles lead). His improved willingness to go the other way and good bat speed have scouts projecting him to hit .280-.300 with 20-25 homers annually. Defensively he has a plus arm, quick hands and middle-infield actions.
Weaknesses: While his 25 errors marked his first season under 30, Encarnacion still topped the SL. Many of his errors have come on poor throws related to his footwork. Offensively, his swing tends to get long when he tries too hard to hit for power.
The Future: Cincinnati signed free agent Joe Randa to a one-year deal, giving Encarnacion another year to develop. He’ll head to Triple-A Louisville this year with an eye on replacing Randa in 2006.
Background: Gardner has overcome some long odds. As a sophomore at Santa Rosa (Calif.) JC, his progress was stunted by mononucleosis and then by a concussion after he was hit in the head by a throw during infield drills. Gardner has recovered nicely and was the best pitcher in the Reds system in 2004.
Strengths: Gardner has the best command in the organization, throwing three pitches for strikes. He keeps his plus sinker down while throwing it at 90-94 mph. His slider kept improving over the course of the season and now rates as the best in the system. His changeup mimics his fastball with late sink and helps him attack lefthanders.
Weaknesses: At times Gardner’s slider gets slurvy, though he has improved the consistency of its power and bite. While Gardner admits to some lingering affects from the concussion, it hasn’t showed up in his pitching. He just needs to stay healthy and get some innings.
The Future: The Reds like Gardner’s no-fear attitude as much as they like his three-pitch mix. It will be hard fto keep him out of Cincinnati if he repeats his pro debut in 2005, which should start in Double-A.
Background: The Yankees had Votto fly in from Canada to work out for them before the 2002 draft. When the Reds found out, they asked him to work out for them first, and they picked him 44th overall after he put on an impressive display.
Strengths: Votto has excellent strength, discipline and savvy at the plate, a combination that makes him the best hitter in the system and gives him above-average power potential. He works his way into hitter’s counts and has a short, compact swing that he repeats well. His 90 walks ranked fifth in the minors in 2004.
Weaknesses: Votto’s average bat speed prompted one scout to compare him to Brian Daubach. He can be patient to a fault, passing on pitches he can drive. Outside the batter’s box, he’s still raw as a baserunner and defender.
The Future: While Votto’s upside is debatable, scouts agree he’s a polished hitter who could rush through the minors. Sean Casey’s contract has a club option for 2006, so Votto is a rare Reds prospect who could be pushed. He’ll start this year back at high Class A, where he ended 2004.
Background: Szymanski broke out as a junior in two sports at Princeton. In football, he had more catches (44) and yards receiving (823) than in his first two years combined. He then led the Tigers to the Ivy League baseball title as their top hitter (.362). The Reds were surprised he fell to the 39th overall pick and signed him to a $750,000 bonus.
Strengths: Szymanski instantly became the top athlete in the organization. He can cover 60 yards in 6.5 seconds, has plus arm strength and has shown above-average power potential. A switch-hitter, he shows a similar swing from either side of the plate.
Weaknesses: A quad injury short-circuited Szymanski’s first pro season, and the Reds already had agreed to let him miss instructional league to return to Princeton to complete his psychology degree. He may need to shorten his swing a little and develop more patience.
The Future: The Reds haven’t seen much of him, but they know Szymanski has five-tool potential. If he has a strong year in low Class A, he could zoom to the top of this list.
Background: Pauly started attracting scouts’ attention when he started reaching the low 90s as a sophomore reliever at Princeton, where he was B.J. Szymanski’s teammate. He returned to Princeton each of the last two falls to complete his thesis and finish his chemical-engineering degree. He led the high Class A Carolina League in strikeouts in 2004.
Strengths: Pauly’s fastball got him drafted and remains his best pitch. It touches 95 mph, sits in the low 90s and has good life down in the zone. Pauly has picked up a nifty, sweeping slider since signing, and it also has become an above-average pitch at times. His changeup, while nascent, has shown significant flashes of brilliance.
Weaknesses: Pauly still is learning the nuances of starting, from the routine between starts to throwing a changeup to using his offspeed stuff to set up his fastball. He’s shown aptitude in all areas, however.
The Future: The tandem-starter system worked well for Pauly, who gained valuable innings and became acclimated to the rotation. His changeup will determine if he can remain effective as a starter at higher levels. His next test will come in Double-A in 2005.
Background: Coffey had a rough career before blossoming in 2004, reaching Triple-A and earning a 40-man roster spot after a strong Arizona Fall League. He battled weight problems early in his career, ballooning to as much as 280 pounds, and missed 2000 with Tommy John surgery. While the Reds nearly released him several times, he rewarded their patience with an organization-best 24 saves last year.
Strengths: Coffey has an intriguing combination of power and control. His fastball sits anywhere from 90-96 mph. His improved mechanics help him maintain a good downhill plane with the pitch. He plays off the heater with a good splitter, his strikeout pitch. He’s learned to control his big body and has impressive control of the strike zone.
Weaknesses: Coffey will need to keep an eye on his weight. He wore down as the season went on, causing his velocity in the AFL to fluctuate His lack of a third pitch limits him to one turn through the order.
The Future: Coffey’s stuff profiles him more as a setup man, but his command could make him a closer as he gains more experience. His perseverance should be rewarded with big league time in 2005.
Background: Shaking off the effects of a broken left hamate bone suffered the previous winter, Bergolla continued to win fans in the organization with his hustle, defense and line-drive bat in 2004. He missed the last three weeks when he aggravated the hamate injury. He returned in time to play winter ball again in his native Venezuela.
Strengths: Bergolla has good bat control, using the whole field with a compact, line-drive swing. He’s also a good bunter and is learning the value of a walk. He’s an above-average runner who led the organization in steals for the second straight year, and he has improved his baserunning savvy. He has the range and infield actions to play shortstop, as well as solid average arm strength.
Weaknesses: Even if he fills out his skinny frame, Bergolla never will be a power threat. The Reds would like to use him at shortstop more often, but his arm usually comes up sore after extended playing time there.
The Future: If Bergolla can keep his arm healthy, he’ll be a shortstop candidate for Cincinnati this year. His versatility and speed still could earn him a spot as a major league utilityman sooner than later.
Background: The Reds got Pelland, a Vermont prep phenom who led the state in strikeouts and ERA as a senior, from the Red Sox in the Scott Williamson trade in 2003. Pelland righted himself after a disastrous stint in low Class A with a strong second half at Rookie-level Billings.
Strengths: Pelland has power stuff. His four-seam fastball sits at 92-94 mph and reaches 95. He added an 89-90 mph two-seamer with good life last year. His circle changeup has the makings of a plus pitch, as it arrives in the low 80s with late tumble. He’s athletic and has a durable frame.
Weaknesses: Midwest League hitters hammered Pelland because he threw across his body and couldn’t spin his curveball for strikes. Billings pitching coach Vern Ruhle, now the Reds’ minor league pitching coordinator, helped him pitch more directly to the plate, improving his curve and his command.
The Future: Ruhle’s adjustments and Pelland’s aptitude turned a nightmare season into a learning experience. He’ll get another shot at low Class A in 2005. The progress of his curve will determine whether he reaches his ceiling as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Background: The shortstop on Rice’s College World Series championship team in 2003, Janish would have gotten a chance to pitch in 2005 had he not turned pro for $210,000. He has hit 93 mph off the mound, but his defensive prowess will keep him at shortstop. He was the Reds’ MVP in instructional league.
Strengths: Janish is a fluid athlete and a polished defender. He has tremendous hands, and his arm combines above-average strength with excellent accuracy. One club official compared him Adam Everett. Janish made major offensive strides in 2004, shortening his swing and showing greater willingness to go the other way. He has the patience to draw walks and is an average runner.
Weaknesses: While he held his own in his pro debut, Janish’s bat will never be his best tool. He lacks strength and has a sweepy swing that can get long, a combination resulting in below-average power and too many strikeouts.
The Future: If Janish continues to get on base, he should move quickly in an organization lacking shortstop depth. A jump to Cincinnati’s new high Class A Sarasota affililate is possible for 2005.