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Top Ten Prospects: Cincinnati Reds
Complete Index of Top 10s

By J.J. Cooper
November 30, 2005


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.


1. HOMER BAILEY, rhp      Age: 19 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 190 B-T: R-R
Drafted: 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, 190-pound frame.

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 season.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Dayton (Lo A) 8 4 4.43 28 21 0 0 104 89 5 62 125 .232


2. JAY BRUCE, of       Age: 18 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-2 Wt.: 206
Drafted: 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 instincts.

  

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 drive.

  

The Future:
Bruce will make his full-season debut at low Class A Dayton. A five-tool talent, his bat will dictate how rapidly he advances.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
GCL Reds (R) .270 .331 .500 122 29 33 9 2 5 25 11 31 4 6
Billings (R) .257 .358 .457 70 16 18 2 0 4 13 11 22 2 2


3. TRAVIS WOOD, lhp       Age: 19 B-T: R-L Ht: 6-0 Wt.: 165
Drafted: HS—Alexander, Ark., 2005 (2nd round)  Signed by: Mike Keenan

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 cutter.

  

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.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
GCL Reds (R) 0 0 0.75 8 7 0 0 24 13 0 7 45 .157
Billings (R) 2 0 1.82 6 4 0 0 25 15 0 13 22 .174


4. B.J. SZYMANSKI, of       Age: 23 B-T: b-R Ht: 6-5 Wt.: 215
Drafted: 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) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Dayton (Lo A) .262 .332 .471 191 32 50 8 1 10 26 21 57 7 1


5. CHRIS DENORFIA, of       Age: 25 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt.: 185
Drafted: Wheaton (Mass.), 2002 (19th round)    Signed by: John Brickley

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 to him.

  

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’ position depth.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Chattanooga (AA) .330 .391 .564 188 40 62 17 3 7 26 17 38 4 3
Louisville (AAA) .310 .391 .505 323 50 100 12 6 13 61 41 54 8 3
Cincinnati .263 .364 .421 38 8 10 3 0 1 2 6 9 1 0


6. RAFAEL GONZALEZ, rhp        Age: 20 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt.: 232
Drafted: HS—New York, 2004 (4th round)   Signed by: Jason Baker

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 Class A.


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 at times.

  

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) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Billings (R) 3 0 3.43 11 6 0 1 42 36 7 23 37 .234
Dayton (Lo A) 3 5 9.35 10 5 0 0 26 24 5 24 22 .250


7. MIGUEL PEREZ, c       Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 190
Signed: 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 ball.

  

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.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Sarasota (Hi A) .268 .305 .347 291 36 78 11 0 4 33 16 63 7 1
Louisville (AAA) .208 .275 .292 72 5 15 3 0 1 5 5 19 0 0
Cincinnati .000 .000 .000 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0


8. TYLER PELLAND , lhp      Age: 22 B-T: R-L Ht: 6-0 Wt.: 200
Drafted: 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 in spurts.

  

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 him.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Sarasota (Hi A) 5 8 4.05 30 15 0 0 102 103 5 63 103 .270


9. JOEY VOTTO, 1b       Age: 22 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 200
Drafted: HS—Toronto, 2002 (2nd round)   Signed by: John Castleberry

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 slugging percentage.

  

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.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Sarasota (Hi A) .256 .330 .425 464 64 119 23 2 17 83 52 122 4 5


10. TRAVIS CHICK, rhp       Age: 21 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 220
Drafted: 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 middle reliever.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Mobile (AA) 2 9 5.27 19 19 1 0 97 107 12 40 92 .279
Chattanooga (AA) 2 2 4.86 8 8 0 0 46 47 5 27 21 .270


Photo Credits:
Bailey, Szymanski: Dan Arnold
Perez: Mike Janes
Denorfia: Bill Mitchell
Chick, Pelland, Votto: Steve Moore
Wood: Cliff Welch
Bruce: Rodger Wood

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