Chat Wrap: J.J. Cooper took your Reds questions
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, 2006.
When Carl Lindner led the charge that bought Marge Schott out of her
majority ownership of the Reds, he seemed like a white knight charging
in to save the team.
In 1999, Lindner’s first year as the team’s CEO, Cincinnati
went 96-57 and lost a National League wild-card playoff game to the
Mets. Before his second year, the Reds landed Ken Griffey Jr. in a trade
with the Mariners. With a push for a new stadium getting underway, the
club’s future seemed bright.
But Griffey got hurt, manager Jack McKeon was let go in a messy squabble
after the 96-win season and the Reds quickly found themselves near the
NL Central’s basement, dreaming of a .500 season. Cincinnati has
endured its worst stretch in 50 years, putting up losing records for
five straight seasons.
If there’s any hope for the franchise now, it’s the thought
that a new ownership group, led by local businessman Robert Castellini
(a minority investor in the Cardinals), will provide the financial backing
and the direction to get the Reds back on track. By the time the sale
was announced in November, Linder was a lightning rod for fan dissension.
There’s plenty of work to be done. The Reds got a short-term
attendance jump and some increased revenues out of the move to the Great
American Ball Park in 2003. But their payroll remains in the bottom
half of the NL, and a $19 million spending spree before the 2005 season
proved foolish. Cincinnati lavished nearly $35 million in contracts
on Eric Milton, Ramon Ortiz and Paul Wilson, who went a combined 18-31,
6.15. Milton’s 6.47 ERA nearly set a record for worst ever by
an NL starter.
The blame for the misguided pitching binge can be pointed squarely
at the Reds’ inability to develop starting pitching in recent
years. The farm system has delivered plenty of outfielders (Adam Dunn,
Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena) and enough other position players to
form the building blocks of a contender. But being a Cincinnati pitching
prospect has been hazardous. Ricardo Aramboles, Bobby Basham, Phil Dumatrait,
Richie Gardner, Chris Gruler, Josh Hall, Ty Howington, Luke Hudson and
Thomas Pauly all have had their careers delayed or derailed by arm problems.
In an attempt to stanch the bleeding, general manager Dan O’Brien
instituted a tandem-starter system with strict 75-pitch limits for the
lower levels of the system. That didn’t stop Gardner or Pauly
from going down in 2005, but the Reds believe they’re cutting
down on the number of injuries.
The added caution, plus Cincinnati’s emphasis on adding quality
arms to the system in recent drafts, could be a key to turning the team
around. But while Homer Bailey, Travis Wood and Rafael Gonzalez give
the team hope for the future, they’re at least a few years away.
The Reds will have to plug holes from outside the system, as few prospects
in the higher levels are ready to contribute.
19 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190 B-T: R-R
La Grange (Texas) High, 2004 (1st round) Signed
by: Mike Powers
Background: Bailey has been pitching in pressure
games since before he started shaving. He outdueled Ryan Wagner in the
Texas 3-A state championship game as a freshman, and capped his high school
career with a second state title as a senior. He ranked No. 1 on this
list a year ago after signing for a $2.3 million bonus as the seventh
overall pick in 2004, when he was also named BA’s High School Player
of the Year. The Reds are exercising extreme caution with him, hoping
he can avoid the injury bug that has claimed so many of their best pitching
prospects in recent years. He pitched just 12 innings after signing in
2004, and was limited by a tandem-starter system with a strict 75-pitch
limit in 2005. He worked six innings in a start only once all season and
went as many as five innings in just five other outings, yet still managed
to claim the title of top pitching prospect in the low Class A Midwest
League. He was sidelined for a couple of weeks in April as he worked back
from minor knee surgery, a problem that had nagged him since high school.
While his first full season was unremarkable statistically, he showed
glimpses of his promise in the final month with a pair of scoreless five-inning
outings, including an 11-strikeout two-hitter.
Strengths: Bailey has front-of-the-rotation stuff. He’s
armed with two plus pitches—a 92-94 mph fastball that touches
96-97 with good life, and a hard 12-to-6 curveball with potential to
be a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He pounds the bottom of the strike
zone and usually hits his spots. His control will be another plus. Though
he did issue more than his share of walks in 2005, the Reds attribute
that to their insistence that he work on his secondary pitches. A former
basketball player, Bailey is a natural athlete with an effortless arm
action and clean delivery that bode well for future projection. He should
get stronger, as there’s room to pack more weight on his 6-foot-3,
Weaknesses: Bailey’s changeup always will lag behind his
two knockout pitches. It’s presently a below-average pitch with
just a little sink. He did make it a point to throw the changeup more
in 2005, and he did a better job of delivering it with the same arm
speed he uses with his fastball. Bailey doesn’t always stay on
top of his curveball. He also needs to improve his consistency and show
that he can pitch effectively on nights where he doesn’t have
his best stuff. Like many dominant high school starters, he didn’t
have to work on such nuances as holding runners and quickening his move
to the plate. He has made steady improvement in both areas, and he has
addressed his rhythm and tempo on the mound. Bailey has admitted that
baseball is more of a job than a passion. To achieve his potential as
an ace, he’ll have to stay focused as he moves up the ladder.
The Future: While the Reds have yet to turn Bailey loose, they
may challenge him with a jump to Double-A Chattanooga in 2006. Though
he’s not on the 40-man roster, he has been invited to big league
camp to get a taste of what awaits him. He could be poised for a breakthrough
2005 Club (Class)
Dayton (Lo A)
18 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt.: 206
HS—Beaumont, Texas, 2005 (1st round) Signed
by: Brian Wilson
Background: Bruce went from unknown to prospect
during the summer of 2004, and his surge continued last spring as he emerged
as the cream of a quality crop of Texas high school outfielders. He went
No. 12 to the Reds and signed for $1.8 million. He ranked as the No. 1
prospect in the Rookie-level Pioneer League in his debut.
Strengths: Bruce draws comparisons to Larry Walker and
Jeremy Hermida for his sweet stroke, above-average arm and athleticism.
He profiles as a power-hitting right fielder, but the Reds intend
to keep him in center until he grows out of the position. He can
turn on a fastball, but he also has shown the ability to use the
entire field with good bat speed. He has plus speed and good overall
Weaknesses: Like many young players, Bruce needs to work
on the finer aspects of the game, such as reading pitchers and
honing his basestealing technique. He occasionally gets antsy
at the plate instead of sitting back and waiting on pitches to
The Future: Bruce will make his full-season debut at low
Class A Dayton. A five-tool talent, his bat will dictate how rapidly
2005 Club (Class)
GCL Reds (R)
19 B-T: R-L Ht: 6-0 Wt.: 165
HS—Alexander, Ark., 2005 (2nd round) Signed by: Mike
Background: Wood is the highest-drafted Arkansas
high school pitcher since the Reds took Dustin Moseley in 1999’s
supplemental first round. Wood intrigued teams by reaching 95 mph with
his fastball as the draft approached, and he dominated two Rookie leagues
after signing for $600,000.
Strengths: Wood’s changeup drops off the table and
already rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He fools hitters
by repeating the same arm speed and motion as when he throws his
fastball. He regularly hit 93-94 mph and threw to both sides of
the plate with good life during the summer. He also features a
Weaknesses: Wood’s curveball isn’t as developed
as his other pitches. The Reds have made refining his curve a
point of emphasis, and they promoted him to Rookie-level Billings
to work with curveball specialist Butch Henry. Wood has some effort
in his delivery.
The Future: Wood aced his introduction to pro ball and
seems more than ready for low Class A. He has considerable upside,
though coming up with a reliable breaking ball will be crucial.
Princeton, 2004 (2nd round) Signed by: Mike Misuraca
Background: A two-sport star at Princeton, Szymanski
was the football team’s leading receiver and led the baseball team
to the Ivy League title as a junior in 2003-04. Already lacking experience
thanks to his dual-sport commitment, he has been hampered by injuries
as a pro. A quadriceps injury shortened his 2004 debut, and he missed
time in 2005 because of arthroscopic knee surgery and a broken hand.
Strengths: When healthy, Szymanski showcases three impact
tools, including explosive raw power from both sides of the plate.
He has 30-homer potential in the majors. A chiseled athlete, he
can fly around the bases and cover the gaps in center field. His
arm is average.
Weaknesses: Szymanski’s swing gets long, and strikeouts
and a lower batting average will be a tradeoff for his power.
He’s still raw and must improve in the fine points of the
game, such as getting jumps and running the bases. Injuries have
limited him to just 272 pro at-bats.
The Future: Coming into 2005, Szymanski looked poised for
a breakout season. Ticketed for high Class A Sarasota, he’s
again a prime candidate if he can stay in the lineup.
2005 Club (Class)
Dayton (Lo A)
25 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt.: 185
Wheaton (Mass.), 2002 (19th round) Signed by:
Background: With his September callup, Denorfia
ensured his title as the top male athlete in Wheaton (Mass.) College history.
He earned Division III all-America honors in 2002, when he batted .467.
Strengths: He doesn’t have overwhelming tools, but
Denorfia has surprised scouts with his improved hitting and power
the last two seasons. He displays a good feel for the strike zone
and works counts in his favor. He’s a solid runner with
enough range to play center field. He’s average defensively
in center field and he has enough arm strength to play right.
Weaknesses: Denorfia doesn’t have many glaring weaknesses.
He doesn’t have exceptional bat speed and his swing doesn’t
naturally produce loft power. He’s already getting everything
out of his ability, so there isn’t much projection left
The Future: Denorfia is ready to contribute in Cincinnati
after a strong Arizona Fall League performance. He may not be
more than a fourth outfielder, especially with the Reds’
HS—New York, 2004 (4th round) Signed by: Jason
Background: Gonzalez signed with the Yankees
out of the Dominican Republic in 2003, but that deal was voided because
he was a U.S. citizen who had played at Manhattan’s George Washington
High before moving to the Dominican as a junior. After signing for $315,000
as a fourth-round pick in 2004, he disappointed the Reds by showing up
out of shape for spring training, leaving him unprepared to handle low
Strengths: His stuff is just a tick behind Homer Bailey’s
for the best in the system. Gonzalez throws 92-94 mph and peaks
at 97, and he also shows a plus curveball and an average changeup
Weaknesses: Gonzalez has a soft, thick lower half and struggles
to keep his weight under control. His stamina and stuff suffered
in 2005 until he dedicated more time to cardiovascular work. His
secondary pitches and control are very inconsistent.
The Future: The Reds hope Gonzalez learned his lesson
and will be better equipped to succeed in low Class A in 2006.
He flashes top-of-the-rotation stuff but must dedicate himself
to realize his potential.
2005 Club (Class)
Dayton (Lo A)
22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 190
Venezuela, 2000 Signed by: Jorge Oquendo
Background: Though he has hit just .240 above
Rookie ball, Perez made his big league debut before he turned 22 in September.
His defensive ability has helped him land jobs in the Venezuela Winter
League the past two offseasons.
Strengths: Perez is the organization’s best defensive
catcher, with well above-average throwing and receiving skills.
He erased 44 percent of basestealers in 2005 and likes to pick
off runners with snap throws to first base. He handles pitchers
well and runs well for a catcher.
Weaknesses: Perez’ bat hasn’t caught up with
his catch-and-throw skills and may relegate him to a backup role.
He has limited power (nine homers in five pro seasons) and plate
discipline, though the Reds think he could hit 10-15 homers annually.
When he keeps his hands back, he does a better job of driving
The Future: After his short September audition, Perez will
go to Double-A in 2006. With the productive tandem of Jason LaRue
and Javier Valentin, the Reds don’t need to rush Perez.
HS—Bristol, Vt., 2002 (9th round) Signed by: Ray
Fagnant (Red Sox)
Background: Cincinnati acquired lefties Phil
Dumatrait and Pelland from the Red Sox for Scott Williamson at the July
2003 trade deadline. While Dumatrait has been waylaid by Tommy John surgery,
Pelland quickly emerged as the top lefty in the Reds system. After posting
an 8.66 ERA in low Class A in 2004, he made a successful transition to
full-season ball, jumping to high Class A, in 2005.
Strengths: Pelland throws his four-seam fastball at 92-93
mph and can dial it up to 95 at times, and he also has a lively
two-seamer. He commands his fastball well, and shows the ability
to spin a plus curveball. He’s a good athlete who has dominated
Weaknesses: Pelland’s curve is inconsistent. When
it’s not on, hitters can sit on his fastball because his
circle changeup is below average and hasn’t developed as
expected. At 22, he’s still far from a refined product,
as his control numbers suggest, although as a Northeastern pitcher,
he doesn’t have many innings on his arm.
The Future: Pelland has a fresh arm, but needs to take
a significant step forward as he approaches Double-A. If he can’t
improve his secondary pitches, a future in the bullpen awaits
2005 Club (Class)
Sarasota (Hi A)
22 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 200
HS—Toronto, 2002 (2nd round) Signed by: John
Background: The Reds tried to cut costs in the
2002 draft with disastrous results, as Denorfia and Votto are the lone
bright spots from that crop. After establishing himself as the system’s
best power prospect, he had a disappointing 2005 and continued to struggle
in the Arizona Fall League.
Strengths: Votto can launch balls out of sight in batting
practice. He drew 90 walks in 2004, showing a disciplined, mature
approach. For a big man and former catcher, Votto runs the bases
well, and he has grown into a solid defensive first baseman with
an above-average arm for the position.
Weaknesses: Votto lacks plus bat speed and his swing lengthened
in 2005. Perhaps too passive in the past, he seemed to start guessing,
finding himself behind fastballs and ahead of offspeed offerings.
He especially struggled against lefties, hitting .193 with a .315
The Future: Votto’s prospect stock has taken a hit,
though he’s still the top first-base prospect in the system.
He needs to rediscover his short stroke and trust his natural
hitting instincts in Double-A in 2006.
HS—Whitehouse, Texas, 2002 (14th round) Signed
by: Dennis Cardona (Marlins)
Background: Four years into his pro career,
Chick has played for three organizations. A little-known Marlins prospect
when he was traded for Ismael Valdez in 2004, he quickly blossomed for
the Padres and was one of the surprises of spring training in 2005. After
he stalled in Double-A, San Diego sent him and Justin Germano to Cincinnati
for Joe Randa last July.
Strengths: Though Chick’s velocity was down in
2005, he still had a 91-92 mph fastball that touched 94. His hard
slider has good bite and is an average pitch with above-average
potential. Chick has a solid pitcher’s frame.
Weaknesses: After dominating low Class A in 2004, Chick
couldn’t handle jumping to Double-A. He was a victim of
big innings all season, unable to get out of jams. His slider
was inconsistent, while his changeup remained below-average. He’s
more of a thrower than a pitcher.
The Future: Chick has to hone his slider and maintain his
mechanics to get back on track. He’ll probably repeat Double-A
in 2006. Unless his changeup develops, he projects as a power
2005 Club (Class)
Bailey, Szymanski: Dan Arnold
Perez: Mike Janes
Denorfia: Bill Mitchell
Chick, Pelland, Votto: Steve Moore
Wood: Cliff Welch
Bruce: Rodger Wood