Cincinnati Reds: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Cincinnati Reds: Scouting Reports

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, 2008.

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Cincinnati Reds

In hindsight, the Reds' success during the first part of the 2006 season was the worst thing that could have happened to them.

A new ownership group led by Bob Castellini took over in January 2006 and hired Wayne Krivsky as general manager a month later. Krivsky quickly went to work fixing a roster with some clear deficiencies, swinging preseason deals for Bronson Arroyo, Brandon Phillips and David Ross. Those moves helped Cincinnati jump to a 17-8 start that put it atop the National League Central at the end of April, and it appeared that Krivsky had a Midas touch for talent acquisition.

The reality was that the hot start was more a matter of luck than any actual improvement. The Reds were tied for first place in the division as late as Aug. 24, but they collapsed in September and have been trying to live up to unrealistic expectations ever since. Cincinnati finished fifth with a 72-90 record in 2007, and the rotation and bullpen are still as problematic as they were when Krivsky arrived.

After 12 years without a playoff appearance, Reds fans are understandably restless for some signs of success. Krivsky is facing discontent even though the team is actually closer to contending for a prolonged period of time than it has been in years. A farm system that has produced very little over the past decade has four top prospects ready to contribute.

Outfielder Jay Bruce became the first Cincinnati prospect to win Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year award. He and first baseman Joey Votto should take up residence in the heart of the Reds' batting order in the very near future, while Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto are the organization's best pair of pitching prospects in several decades.

Behind them, Cincinnati has more depth in its system than it has had in recent years especially at third base, in the outfield and in the bullpen.

When the Reds' Fab Four make it to the big leagues, they'll join a club that has succeeded in turning other team's castoffs into solid regulars. Picking up Phillips for righthander Jeff Stevens was a masterstroke, as the young second baseman finally realized his considerable promise with a 30-30 season in 2007.

Cincinnati also poached former No. 1 overall pick Josh Hamilton from the Devil Rays via the major league Rule 5 draft at the 2006 Winter Meetings. Hamilton became one of the stories of the 2007 season with his amazing return from a nearly four-year layoff because of drug suspensions. Another Rule 5 pickup, Jared Burton, has become one of the club's most reliable relievers.

If there's a negative to the resurgence of the Reds system, it's that many of the people involved in the long-awaited turnaround are no longer with the team as Krivsky has put his stamp on the organization.

Johnny Almaraz, who signed Cueto and served as the team's farm director and international scouting director, quit after the 2006 season because he was unhappy with Krivsky. Assistant farm director Grant Griesser, field coordinator Tim Naehring, roving coordinator Rick Burleson, roving hitting instructor Jim Hickman, base-running coordinator Lynn Jones and Double-A Chattanooga manager Jayhawk Owens all were fired at the end of the 2007 season.

1.  Jay Bruce, of   Born: April 3, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 6-2Wt: 218
 Drafted: HS—Beaumont, Texas, 2005 (1st round)Signed by: Brian Wilson
Jay BruceBackground: Texas has been very good to the Reds. In successive years, they used first-round picks on Lone Star State products Homer Bailey (2004), Bruce (2005) and Drew Stubbs (2006), who occupy three of the first five spots on this list. The 12th overall pick in 2005, Bruce signed for $1.8 million and has met every expectation, while drawing comparisons to the likes of Larry Walker, Jeremy Hermida, Jim Edmonds and even Ken Griffey Jr. When he was 9 years old, Bruce called the Seattle Kingdome and asked to speak to Griffey, but he couldn't get past the switchboard operator. Now he has a chance to play beside Griffey in Cincinnati's outfield. After ranking ahead of fellow 2005 first-round picks Cameron Maybin, Colby Rasmus and Justin Upton as the top prospect in the low Class A Midwest League in 2006, Bruce figured to split 2007 between high Class A Sarasota and Double-A Chattanooga. But when he moved up to Triple-A Louisville in July for what was supposed to be a brief injury fill-in, he homered in his first game and never looked back. He finished the season with a .319 average and 80 extra-base hits (including 26 homers), and he would have earned a September callup had he been on the 40-man roster. He did get to travel to Cincinnati to receive Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year award.

Strengths: Bruce combines tremendous bat speed with an excellent swing plane. He has a knack for deciphering and correcting flaws in his swing between at-bats and sometimes even between pitches. He has the natural ability to hit for average and power even if he didn't work hard, but he does have the drive of a baseball rat, which explains why he's the first person to the ballpark and the last to leave. Every one of Bruce's tools is better than average. On the 20-80 scouting scale, his bat rates as a 65, his power as a 65-70, his speed as a 55, his defense in center field as a 55 (projected as a 60 if he moves to right field) and his arm as a 60. As impressive as his tools are, he also has exceptional instincts and exceptional makeup. He's a leader in the clubhouse and has the aw-shucks humbleness to be the public face of the franchise.

Weaknesses: Bruce has few faults. He strikes out a lot, but the whiffs are an acceptable tradeoff for his production. Some Triple-A teams found him vulnerable to being busted inside, but that doesn't appear to be a long-term problem. While he's capable of playing center field relatively well, he still projects to end up in right as he grows older and fills out.While he could potentially stick in center field, it would hinder his ability to add the weight that will bring extra home runs in his late 20s. He has enough speed and savvy to steal 15-20 bases per season, but he wasn't aggressive on the bases in 2007, especially after his promotion to Triple-A.

The Future: Bruce is ready for the big leagues, but there isn't a clear spot for him in Cincinnati after the Reds picked up Adam Dunn's option. All three of their regular outfielders from 2007 return, so they could let Bruce ripen a little more in Triple-A, especially considering he doesn't have to be protected on the 40-man roster until after the 2009 season.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Sarasota (Hi A) .325 379 .586 268 49 87 27 5 11 49 24 67 4
Chattanooga (AA) .333 .405 .652 66 10 22 7 1 4 15 8 20 2
Louisville (AAA) .305 .358 .567 187 28 57 12 2 11 25 15 48 2
2.  Homer Bailey, rhp   Born: May 3, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 190
 Drafted: HS—LaGrange, Texas, 2004 (1st round)Signed by: Mike Powers
Homer BaileyBackground: No. 1 on this list after his first three seasons in pro ball, Bailey wouldn't have qualified again had a lingering groin injury not sidelined him for most of the second half of 2007. A couple of days after holding the Athletics to two hits in seven innings in his third big league start, he slipped and strained his groin. He tried pitching through it, but after he allowed 14 runs over 11 innings in his next three starts, the Reds shut him down for two months.

Strengths: Once he was healthy again in September, Bailey was back throwing in the mid-90s with his fastball and buckling knees with his curveball. They're both already well above-average major league pitches, and he has shown the ability to take a little off his heater. He's also added a high-80s cutter to give him a pitch with more lateral movement. A natural athlete who also played basketball in high school, Bailey has excellent flexibility that's apparent in his clean, loose delivery.

Weaknesses: Bailey has no shortage of pure stuff, but he still has to refine his control and command to get big league hitters out and to work deeper into games. He threw strikes on only 58 percent of pitches in the majors and just 61 percent in Triple-A. His changeup is still below average.

The Future: The groin injury and his adjustment to the majors meant that his route to the front end of Cincinnati's rotation was delayed by a year. Bailey has all the ingredients to become the Reds' first homegrown ace since Mario Soto.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Louisville (AAA) 6 3 3.07 12 12 0 0 67 49 4 32 59 .204
Cincinnati 4 2 5.76 9 9 0 0 45 43 3 28 28 .257
Sarasota (Hi A) 0 1 10.13 2 2 0 0 8 15 2 5 7 .385
3.  Joey Votto, 1b/of   Born: Sept. 10, 1983B-T: L-LHt: 6-3Wt: 200
 Drafted: HS—Toronto, 2002 (2nd round)Signed by: John Castleberry
Joey VottoBackground: Votto was the Double-A Southern League's MVP in 2006 and the Triple-A International League's rookie of the year in 2007. He didn't watch any Reds games or highlights in 2007 because he vowed to see the Great American Ballpark in person by earning a promotion, then went 3-for-3 with a homer in his first big league start in September.

Strengths: Votto has turned himself into a tough out. He uses the entire field, has natural power to both power alleys and has developed a feel for the strike zone that allows him to lay off pitches off the plate. He makes good adjustments, which allowed him to fix his swing after he hit .197 in April. He shortened his stroke and closed off some holes. He projects as a .270-280 hitter with 25 home runs. In a move to increase Votto's versatility, the Reds started playing him in left field last season. He took to the position more quickly than expected, showing average range with a plus arm. At first base, he's average with adequate range. He has shown the ability to steal bases, more with aggressiveness than speed.

Weaknesses: Votto isn't a natural athlete. Because he lacks awareness of his body mechanics, he has to take plenty of swings in the cage every day to keep his swing in tune. He does most of his damage against righthanders, but he has been decent against lefties. His speed is slightly below average.

The Future: Though Votto has done everything he can in the minors, the Reds picked up the 2008 option on starting first baseman Scott Hatteberg. Votto will challenge for Hatteberg's job in spring training. He was fitted with contact lenses after his slow start, but planned to have laser eye surgery during the offseason to improve his vision.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Louisville (AAA) .294 .381 .478 496 74 146 21 2 22 92 70 110 17
Cincinnati .321 .360 .548 84 11 27 7 0 4 17 5 15 1
4.  Johnny Cueto, rhp   Born: Feb. 15, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 5-10Wt: 192
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004Signed by: Johnny Almaraz
Johnny CuetoBackground: Cueto was the first player signed out of the Dominican Republic after Cincinnati reworked its international scouting department in 2004. Thanks in part to working with former Reds star Mario Soto, Cueto hasn't taken long to become one of the system's gems. He rose from high Class A to Triple-A in 2007.

Strengths: Cueto pitches like a 10-year major league veteran, not a fresh-faced 21-year-old. He features a 93-94 mph fastball that touches 96, a tight 83-88 mph slider and a solid changeup that he, like many Reds prospects, learned from Soto. He'll pitch off his fastball one time through the order, then baffle hitters with his slider and changeup the next time. He also can add and subtract velocity to confuse batters. His makeup is impeccable, which is why the Reds have felt comfortable keeping him on the fast track.

Weaknesses: Cueto has above-average control is but he sometimes struggles with command in the strike zone. He found in his brief exposure to Triple-A that more advanced hitters will punish pitches up in the strike zone, even 94-mph fastballs. Because of his small stature there will always be concerns about his durability, especially if he remains a starter, but his clean delivery helps alleviate some of those worries.

The Future: The Reds plan on acquiring a veteran starter this offseason, which would leave Cueto without a clear spot in the rotation. He could bide his time waiting for an opening by helping out the Cincinnati bullpen or getting more Triple-A seasoning.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Sarasot (Hi A) 4 5 3.33 14 14 1 0 78 72 3 21 72 .238
Louisville (AAA) 2 1 2.05 4 4 0 0 22 22 2 2 21 .259
5.  Drew Stubbs, of   Born: Oct. 4, 1984B-T: R-RHt: 6-5Wt: 190
 Drafted: Texas, 2006 (1st round)Signed by: Brian Wilson
Drew StubbsBackground: Stubbs has been the object of scouts' attention since high school, when the Astros would have signed him for $900,000 as a third-round pick if the commissioner's office hadn't talked them out of it. After winning a College World Series championship at Texas, Stubbs went eighth overall in the 2006 draft and signed for $2 million.

Strengths: Stubbs' athleticism jumps out at first glance. He combines plus raw power with a gliding stride that swallows up giant swaths of real estate in the outfield. Though his speed was limited in 2007 by a nagging turf-toe injury, he's a plus-plus runner when healthy and has excellent instincts on the basepaths. He has a solid arm and led the Midwest League with 15 outfield assists.

Weaknesses: For a college product, Stubbs still has an extremely raw bat, which explains why the Reds left him at low Class A Dayton all season. He never has made consistent contact and he has struck out 206 times in 185 pro games. A late-season switch to choking up on the bat gave him better bat control. He fanned just twice in his first 42 at-bats after the switch and hit .366 with four homers in 24 games after the adjustment.

The Future: If Stubbs' improvement was for real, he has a chance to be a superstar because his power, speed and defense are all above average. If he continues to strike out, he still should be a big leaguer, albeit with a lower ceiling and average. He'll open 2008 in high Class A.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Dayton (Lo A) .270 .364 .421 497 93 134 29 5 12 43 69 142 23
6.  Devin Mesoraco, c   Born: June 19, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS—Punxsutawney, Pa., 2007 (1st round)Signed by: Jeff Brookens
Devin MesoracoBackground: Limited to DH duty in 2006 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Mesoraco flew up teams' draft boards with an outstanding senior year that culminated in Punxsutawney Area High's first-ever Pennsylvania state title.

Strengths: It's a stretch to call Mesoraco a five-tool player, but he stands out as a catcher who doesn't have a below-average tool. At the plate, he has a clean swing with a little toe tap as a timing device. He has the bat speed to hit for average and power. He used his plus-plus arm to throw out 33 percent of basestealers in his pro debut, and he also has soft hands and good footwork. He won't be a stolen-base threat, but he does have average speed. He's a leader on the field.

Weaknesses: Mesoraco showed a tendency to pull off the ball in his pro debut, when he seemed to press after he got off to a bad start. Despite his struggles, the Reds aren't concerned that it was anything more than a rough introduction to pro ball. Injuries to both thumbs didn't help his cause and limited him to 28 games behind the plate.

The Future: Cincinnati doesn't plan on rushing Mesoraco, a potential all-star. He'll get every opportunity to earn a spot in low Class A Dayton, but he coud begin the season in extended spring training.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Reds (R) .219 .310 .270 137 16 30 4 0 1 8 15 26 2
7.  Todd Frazier, ss   Born: Feb. 12, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 215
 Drafted: Rutgers, 2007 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Lee Seras
Todd FrazierBackground: Frazier comes from a successful baseball family (older brothers Jeff and Charlie both were drafted) and first made a name for himself by homering in each of the final three games of the 1998 Little League World Series to lead Toms River, N.J., to the title. Todd broke Jeff's single-season and career home run records at Toms River South High, then set the same records at Rutgers, with 22 in 2007 and 47 in three years. A supplemental first-round pick in June, he signed for $825,000 and ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Pioneer League.

Strengths: Frazier has above-average raw power, and if he can make some tweaks to his swing, he has the size and strength to hit 20-25 home runs per year. His drive to succeed and his instincts have allowed him to exceed expectations wherever he's played. His speed and arm strength are average.

Weaknesses: Frazier could quicken his path to the ball if he quieted his hands, leading to concerns about his swing, and he also could use his legs more. Scouts give him little chance to stay at shortstop because he lacks the first-step quickness, range and actions for the position. He'll need to improve his defensive footwork wherever he moves, most likely to third base.

The Future: The Reds like prospects to play their way off a position, so Frazier will remain at shortstop in 2008. With his advanced pedigree, he should be able to handle high Class A in his first full pro season.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Billings (R) .319 .409 .513 160 29 51 6 5 5 25 18 22 3
Dayton (Lo A) .318 .375 .727 22 4 7 3 0 2 5 2 4 0
8.  Juan Francisco, 3b   Born: June 24, 1987B-T: L-RHt: 6-2Wt: 180
 Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004Signed by: Juan Peralta
Juan FranciscoBackground: One of the products of the Reds' renewed emphasis in pursuing Latin American talent, Francisco led the Midwest League with 25 homers. A temporary requirement that he choke up on the bat helped improve his bat control, and he hit 10 homers in the final month.

Strengths: Francisco has long arms that generate exceptional leverage and raw power that compares with that of Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. He also has the system's best infield arm, a cannon that allows him to turn infield hits into outs. He also has good first-step quickness and is an average to slightly above-average runner, especially underway.

Weaknesses: When pitchers don't challenge Francisco, he's so aggressive that he'll get himself out by chasing pitches out of the zone. He'll have to cut down on his strikeouts to keep his average up as he faces more advanced pitching. As he fills out, he'll lose some of his speed and will have to watch his weight if he's to remain at third base. First base and the outfield corners are the alternatives.

The Future: Francisco is developing nicely and will head to high Class A at age 20. The Reds are shaping up to have a logjam at the hot corner, with Edwin Encarnacion in the majors and Todd Frazier, Francisco and Pioneer League home run champ Brandon Waring in the minors.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Dayton (Lo A) .268 .301 .463 534 69 143 21 4 25 90 23 161 12
9.  Josh Roenicke, rhp   Born: Aug. 4, 1982B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 195
 Drafted: UCLA, 2006Signed by: Rex de la Nuez
Josh RoenickeBackground: Roenicke originally went to UCLA as a wide receiver, but after failing to catch a pass in two seasons he chose to emulate his father Gary and uncle Ron, former major league outfielders. Roenicke didn't hit much for the Bruins, but area scout Rex de la Nuez saw enough in his 13 innings as a reliever to get the Reds to draft him in the 10th round. After signing for $20,000, Roenicke has flown through the system, reaching Double-A in his first full pro season.

Strengths: Roenicke dominates hitters with a live 93-95 mph fastball that he'll run up to 98 mph on occasion. His fastball has late movement that adds to its effectiveness. He pairs it with an 87-89 mph cutter that has so much action that one opposing manager described it as a splitter. He's an excellent athlete and has the fearless approach to close games. His mechanics are clean.

Weaknesses: As expected from a recently converted outfielder, Roenicke is still an unpolished pitcher. His control is just adequate and he'll have to sharpen his command before he makes it to the big leagues. He's still learning about setting up batters and proper pitch selection.

The Future: He's already 25, but Roenicke is making up for a lot of lost time with his rapid rise. He could be in Cincinnati by September and should be at least a big league setup man with a chance to develop into a closer.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Sarasota (Hi A) 2 1 3.25 27 0 0 16 28 23 1 15 41 .225
Chattanooga (AA) 1 1 0.95 19 0 0 8 19 12 0 6 15 .185
10.  Matt Maloney, lhp   Born: Jan. 16, 1984B-T: L-RHt: 6-4Wt: 220
 Drafted: Mississippi, 2005 (3rd round)Signed by: Mike Stauffer (Phillies)
Matt MaloneyBackground: After acquiring Kyle Lohse for the 2006 stretch drive, the Reds sent him to the Phillies last July in exchange for Maloney, who immediately became the system's top lefthander. The low Class A South Atlantic League pitcher of the year in 2006, Maloney encored by winning 13 games and reaching Triple-A.The deal seemed to energize him, as he struck out 62 in 45 innings afterward.

Strengths: Maloney is the typical crafty lefty who knows how to pitch. His 87-91 mph fastball has enough sink to keep hitters honest, especially since he combines it with a plus changeup and a slightly above-average slider. He does a good job of pitching downhill and keeps hitters off balance with his outstanding feel for pitching. He has solid command to both sides of the plate and a repeatable crossfire delivery that adds deception.

Weaknesses: Though he hit 92-93 mph in college, Maloney's fastball straightens out and his command suffers when he tries to muscle up to that kind of velocity now. As a lefty who's around the plate without overwhelming stuff, he's prone to giving up longballs.

The Future: Maloney is nearly ready for the big leagues but lacks much upside, profiling as a back-of-the-rotation starter without much margin for error. He'll start 2008 in Triple-A.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Reading (AA) 9 7 3.94 21 21 1 0 126 117 13 45 115 .246
Chattanooga (AA) 2 2 2.57 4 4 0 0 28 17 4 3 39 .175
Louisville (AAA) 2 1 3.18 3 3 0 0 17 10 2 6 23 .169

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Photo Credits:
Stan Denny (Bruce, Cueto)
Rodger Wood (Stubbs)
R. Dean Hendrickson (Frazier)
Dan Arnold (Francisco)
Kevin Pataky (Maloney)