Cincinnati Reds: Top 10 Prospects Chat With J.J. Cooper

Cincinnati Reds: Chat

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, 2009.

    JAYPERS (IL): Had Zach Stewart remained, where would you have ranked him? Your thoughts on that trade as a whole?

J.J. Cooper: Hey everyone, I'll start this a couple of minutes early and wouldn't you know it, Jaypers, one of our most reliable chatters, has the first question in the queue. Stewart would have been in the mix at No. 1, 2 or 3 (hard to say exactly as I didn't bear down on him after the season since he wasn't going to rank on the list). This year was a breakthrough season for him and once that showed he has a very good chance to be a solid starter and not just a power reliever. As a whole the trade made no sense to me (although the Reds don't ask my opinion). Cincinnati was done as a playoff contender for 2009, so why add a veteran at the trade deadline? If Cincinnati was dead-set on adding an expensive 34-year-old third baseman to the roster (which seems puzzling considering the team's salary structure) why not trade for him in the offseason, when the Reds wouldn't have had to pay a premium in prospects to get the Blue Jays to pay the rest of his 2009 salary?

    Mike (Tampa): Who would you say is the better defender at the hot corner - Frazier or Francisco?

J.J. Cooper: Frazier. I know he's played very little over there, but that's his natural position and his good hands at shortstop should transfer over. Francisco was pretty bad at third base in Carolina this year with a fielding percentage that would make Mat Gamel blush. Fielding percentage isn't everything and Francisco has a cannon of an arm, but his range isn't spectacular and to be a big league third baseman you have to be reliable which he isn't, at least yet.

    Brian (Wisconsin): Last year you labeled Juan Duran as raw. Same story?

J.J. Cooper: He still would make steak tartare look well done. Injuries kept him from getting consistent work in 2009 so he didn't get much chance to work on starting to tighten up some of his rough edges. The biggest thing he needs in 2010 is 300 good at-bats plus plenty of work in extended spring training.

    Lorenzo (Phoenix): Who would you say will end up being a better reliever - Stewart or Boxy?

J.J. Cooper: I think Stewart will stick as a starter, but he would make a better reliever as well. Nothing against Boxberger, but Stewart would be the best pitching prospect in the organization if he was still a Red.

    Reed (Cincinnati, OH): Is first baseman Dave Stewart on your radar? Top 30 material?

J.J. Cooper: On the radar, but he's got a ways to go to make the Top 30. He's got some power potential, but he's a long ways away from Cincinnati and has several steps to go to climb from being on the radar to being in the Top 30.

    Jude (Maine): Has Kyle Lotzkar's stock fallen since last year? Still a Top 30 guy?

J.J. Cooper: He'll still be in the Top 30 because when healthy he's got some of the best stuff in the system. That "when healthy" is a pretty big caveat for someone who didn't pitch at all in 2009 and will likely miss a good bit of 2010 recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he's still young enough for all of this to be a speed bump rather than something that derails his career.

    Kyle (Oxford): I know we are not supposed to read too much into the 2013 lineup, but is there a reason Harang and Arroyo were in the rotation over the younger Volquez?

J.J. Cooper: Please don't read too much into that at all. It was just because Volquez is coming off of Tommy John while Arroyo and Harang were healthy and reasonably effective. In reality it's much more likely Volquez will be on the 2013 Reds, but those 2013 lineups are an artificial artifice where we are supposed to not take into account contract status, but injury status does play a part in the lineups.

    Kyle (Oxford): How does Miguel Rojas compare to Paul Janish and Zack Cozart at similar stages in their development? Do you think he will hit enough to be a starting shortstop?

J.J. Cooper: He's a better glove than either of them. There are some in the Reds organization who say he has the best hands they've every seen, but the bad is well behind those two. Of course at Rojas' age, both Janish and Cozart were still playing college ball. The bat will be the big question for Rojas but he showed some very promising signs this year that he can make adjustments at the plate.

    Kyle (Oxford): What's the story with Ismael Guillon?

J.J. Cooper: Coming back from Tommy John surgery which means he's a long ways away for a guy who's yet to throw a pro pitch. Like Dave Stewart above, he's on the radar for now. He'll likely make his pro debut for the AZL Reds next year.

    Clooch (VT): Is there any hope for Devin Mesoraco?

J.J. Cooper: The Reds sure think so, but scouts outside the organization are much more skeptical. Mesoraco continued to battle injuries—this year it was his wrist—and did show defensive improvement, but a couple of scouts outside the organization who saw him in Sarasota said they didn't really see any standout tools at this point. That's similar to the reports on him from scouts outside the organization who saw him in the Midwest League last year.

    Dave (Pensacola, FL): Indy league refugee Tom Cochran had a strong season in his return to affiliated baseball. Is he a legit prospect?

J.J. Cooper: He has some feel for pitching, but he doesn't really have any plus pitch that stands out. I have a soft spot for ex-Indy leaguers, but he's well down the depth chart for the Reds.

    Michael Stern (Rochester NY): I've seen where Heisey has been projected as a regular everyday player, and also seen reports that he's nothing more than a 4th outfielder. What have you been hearing from scouts, and how do the Reds view him? And what does it say about the weakness of the Reds system that their # 4 prospect might not even be an everyday player?

J.J. Cooper: I've talked to scouts who see Heisey as a No. 4 outfielder, but I will say that I think part of that is based on seeing Heisey in short stretches. He does enough things well (and so few things poorly) that there are a lot of reasons to think he should be an everyday outfielder down the road, maybe as soon as 2010 depending on how the offseason shakes out. As far as what it says about the system as a whole, there's no doubt that this system isn't as deep as it was one or two years ago, but there is an explanation for that. In the past two years they have promoted Johnny Cueto, Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs, Chris Dickerson, Johnny Cueto, Ryan Hannigan, Joey Votto, Carlos Fisher, Danny Ray Herrera, Paul Janish and Adam Rosales to the big leagues while trading away Zach Stewart and Josh Roenicke. The depth in their system, like many, doesn't allow them to instantly replace a Bruce or Votto with an equivalent prospect. This year the Reds system has some depth and some intriguing players but less elite prospects. But then, that's why they were No. 3 in the organization talent rankings two years ago when Bruce, Votto, Cueto and Bailey were the top four prospects.

    Kyle (Oxford): Do you see any hope for the perpentually injured pitchers Jordan Smith, Dallas Buck, Darryl Thompson, Kyle Lotzkar, and Josh Ravin or all they after thoughts at this point?

J.J. Cooper: They're not all after-thoughts, but in the case of Buck and Thompson time is running out to prove that they can stay healthy. Ravin doesn't have nearly the feel that those two have, but like Lotzkar he's young enough that the Reds can have more patience with his development.

    Brandon (Charleston, WV): What's your opinion on Matt Klinker? He had a bit of a breakout season in 2009. Any chance he develops into a solid big league starter?

J.J. Cooper: Klinker definitely took a step forward in 2009 as he showed better velocity and a better breaking ball. If he keeps developing he could be a No. 5 starter or a reliever down the road.

    Michael Stern (Rochester NY): Any hope still for Mark Pawelek? The former 1st rounder still seems as wild as ever. But he's still not that old, and he is lefthanded. Can he ever get it together?

J.J. Cooper: If he wasn't a first-round pick several years ago we wouldn't be talking about him. At this point he's more of an org player.

    MJ (Valpo): I've been waiting all season for some kind of specific update/timetable on the return of Kyle, do you guys have any relevant info. to share? Thanks!

J.J. Cooper: He had Tommy John surgery in May. Normally it takes 12 months or so to get back on the mound but in Lotzkar's case it may take a little longer because he was recovering from an elbow fracture when they discovered the elbow ligament injury. Expect to see him back on the mound in games in the second half of 2010.

    Andrew (Canada): Frazier over Alonso surprised me, In terms of pure upside would Alonso take the #1 spot?

J.J. Cooper: I figured some people would be surprised by the choice of Frazier No. 1, so I'll try to explain the thinking that went into it. Frazier's potential at the plate isn't far behind Alonso's. Alonso projects as a better hitter, but it's not by much. At this point, Frazier has a much longer track record than Alonso, partly because the hamate injury wiped out a good bit of Alonso's first pro season, so that's a minor argument for Frazier—we've seen more of what he can do. Frazier is a signficantly better runner than Alonso, which is again a minor point in his favor. But what it really came down to was Frazier's defensive versatility. Maybe Frazier can stick at second base long-term or maybe he can't, but there is little doubt he can play third base in the big leagues if the Reds would put him there full-time, and he can also be a corner outfielder if needed and even could play a game or two for them at shortstop if it was needed. Frazier can fill one of several holes for the Reds going forward. Alonso on the other hand is an adequate first baseman and there's not really another position for him, so all of his value is tied up in the bat. Alonso's bat may be a little better than Frazier's (he has more raw power and a swing that should hit for a tick more average), but Frazier's defensive value in my mind outweighed the differences at the plate.

    jake (Carlisle): Will Zach Cozart be a better big league hitter than Paul Janish? Zach's minor league hitting stats don't seem impressive, and Paul sounds like a better fielder.

J.J. Cooper: Cozart's hitting won't wow you, but he's a significantly better hitter than Janish and he has been ever since he signed. Also, while Janish has a better arm, Cozart's range is maybe a tick better than Janish's. When Janish was signed the question was whether his bat would ever be enough to be a solid everyday big league shortstop, at this point the answer to that seems to be no. Cozart has significantly more chance to hit enough to be a regular long-term. He has more power than Janish and he's shown the ability to make improvements to become a better hitter for average and on-base. He'll still not be an all-star, but he does have a better all-around package of tools than Janish.

    Red Nation (Cincinnati,Oh): No Billy hamilton? How many 80 runners with 60 arms and 70 to 80 range are playing shortstop in the minors or majors? He led the GCL in fielding percentage for shortstops.The reason you don't have him on this list is because of his batting average,plain and simple.He was tearing up the GCL early in the seaon and his average plunged when he started switch hitting for the first time in games.An in-season injury also slowed him a bit.

J.J. Cooper: OK calm down Red Nation. I like Billy Hamilton and did consider him for the Top 10, but we have to dial some of those grades down. Hamilton doesn't have 70 to 80 range—there were some scouts who thought he couldn't handle shortstop long-term coming out of high school. The Reds were happy to see that he showed he can stick at the position and he looks to be a high-ceiling shortstop prospect. The reason he didn't make the list had nothing to with his batting average in the GCL (GCL stats are so erratic to be almost meaningless) and everything to do with the fact that he's a still relatively raw 18-year-old who has to decide if he wants to stick with switch-hitting long-term.

    Dave (Ponte Vedra Beach, FL): What is the organization's evaluation of LHP Mace Thurman, who performed well at two stops this past year? His performance so far indicates something more than a LOOGY.

J.J. Cooper: He may have some potential to develop into a starter as he has three pitches. He's an interesting guy. He'll probably be on the depth chart and not in the Top 30 but it wouldn't shock me if he ended up making it to the big leagues.

    Paul Bunyan (San Jose, CA): Looking at the lineup projection, how realistic is the move of Joey Votto to LF? Or is it a relative upgrade to the defense Adam Dunn played all those years in Cincy?

J.J. Cooper: I'm pretty confident he could do it. I saw Votto play left myself when he was at Louisville and he wasn't bad out there with the arm that reminds you he used to be a catcher. More importantly then seeing him with my own eyes (I'm not a scout) I talked to scouts back then who thought he was a better left fielder than first baseman. Now having said all that, I think it's unlikely that an organization would ask their best position player to move to a new position to make room for a rookie—I'm trying to remember the last time that happened.

    Jeff (Pittsburgh): Not a prospect anymore, but what do you think of the power that Drew Stubbs showed in his brief MLB stint? Has he legitimately found the power that's been absent for the last 2 years?

J.J. Cooper: Scouts have always believed Stubbs had power, even if the stats didn't always show it, so yeah that power surge wasn't a fluke. A lot of it depends on what Stubbs wants to do. If he worries about strikeouts, he'll still strike out a good bit, but he can be an on-base guy with plus speed, or if he's willing to take some golden sombreros, he'll put up good power numbers with a slightly longer swing.

    winston (Ft Lauderdale): Who is the best shortstop prospect in the organization, not including Janish and Cozart?

J.J. Cooper: I'm not going to rank em for ya (buy the book!) but Miguel Rojas, Billy Hamilton, Mariekson Gregorius and Humberto Valor are all intriguing guys. The Reds have plenty of depth at shortstop, especially when you throw in guys like Chris Valaika (more of a second baseman), Alex Buchholz (also a 2B) and Junior Arias (who could end up as a center fielder).

    Phil (Chandler, AZ): Is Mike Leake's maximum ceiling Greg Maddux? Five pitches, lots of movement, great defender, etc

J.J. Cooper: No. But then, you could reincarnate Greg Maddux right now and I wouldn't say he had the ceiling of Greg Maddux because of how high a ceiling that is to reach. At his best, Greg Maddux is one of the best pitchers of all time. It's not realistic to compare anyone as having his kind of ceiling. Maddux and Glavine have always gotten comped to way too many pitchers because unlike most aces they didn't have blow hitters away velocity—which meant that any pitcher with good feel and good but not great stuff could be comped to them. Leake has good command, but Maddux has 90 command on the 20-to-80 scouting scale and it's impossible to project anyone to equal that. That being said I do think Leake gets underrated by a lot of people. He has very solid stuff with great movement and an outstanding feel for pitching. The biggest worry with him may be the heavy workload he had in college.

    David (Florida): Dayne Read for $225,000-What are the Reds plan for him?

J.J. Cooper: He's a good athlete who was a high school catcher despite running 4.1 to first base. Like Billy Hamilton he tried switch-hitting, but he's much less comfortable doing it at this point than Hamilton was. He still needs to find a position and has a ways to go at the plate, but he's a good athlete with lots of potential.

    Ramon (MIAMI, FLORIDA): Your list is top heavy with guys close to the ML. What are your thoughts on lower level athletes like Duran, Hamilton, Silva, Bowe. Tools guys that need a player development system that knows how to develop those types of players. Any info on LHP Ismael Guillon and SS Humberto Valor?

J.J. Cooper: You are correct in that. There's a big gulf between the big league ready guys and a large number of young, toolsy but far away players in low Class A and below. A lot of that can be explained by the 2008 draft. The first-round pick from 2008 (Yonder Alonso) is already one of the nearly big league ready guys, they didn't have a second round pick and the third-round pick (Zach Stewart) has been traded away. Add into that an injury to fifth-round pick Clayton Shunick and you can see why there's a little gulf between the two groups of players and why Dayton struggled in 2009. Cincinnati has a nice wave of young guys who could rank in the Top 10 next year, but for guys like Hamilton, Miguel Rojas, Valor, Mark Serrano, Mariekson Gregorius and others, it's usually better to be cautious than to run guys up the list before they've had a chance to prove anything.

    Doug (McLean, VA): Have injuries to Daryl Thompson made him a non-prospect for the Reds (he is still on the 40 man roster)?

J.J. Cooper: He's still a prospect, but there are legit concerns as to whether he'll ever be healthy long enough to fully utilize his impressive talent.

    Derrick (Ohio): Why is it that you don't think Cozart will be able to hit for average? He makes good contact and certainly isn't afraid to take a BB. If he ends up with average power I see no reason for him not to be able to hit at least .280 in the bigs.

J.J. Cooper: Cozart's got a career .265 average in two and a half years in the minors, so thinking he'll hit at least .280 in the big leagues is asking for some pretty significant improvement from a player who'll turn 25 next year. I like Cozart's bat more than most and think he'll draw enough walks to be solid offensively, but I haven't talked to any scouts or managers who think he'll post above-average batting averages in the big leagues.

    Zane (Columbus): Juan Duran struggled mightily with his bat last year but is still only 18. What reports have you heard on him over the last year and what do you expect from him going forward?

J.J. Cooper: The big problem for Duran is he's never been healthy for a longer than a couple of weeks at a time. Since signing he's battled elbow and knee problems, partly because of his rather massive growth spurt. The raw power is extremely impressive, but he has to stay on the field to start to learn to not swing at every pitch that crosses the plate.

    Kyle Reese (The Future): Not that I'm asking you to debate ranking styles, but how can Kyle Skipworth be in FLA's Top 10 and Mesoraco not be with similar stats to this point? I don't think either should be near the Top 10, so at least you didn't put Mesoraco there just on draft position like it seems with Skipworth.

J.J. Cooper: I can't answer for the Marlins Top 10 because I didn't rank it, but I will say that it's not all about stats (although they are an important factor). Both Mesoraco and Skipworth are still young enough to develop, especially since catchers often take a while to put it together. When asking around, I couldn't find scouts outside of the organization who saw Mesoraco "stand out" in Sarasota. That was a pretty clear answer to me that he wasn't a top 10 guy, especially when you throw in his two years of unimpressive stats. Although no one in the Reds organization gives me a ranking of how they see their farm system stacking up, I feel pretty confident that the Reds feel much higher about Mesoraco than I did when putting together the Top 10.

    Jon (Seattle): Is Mike Leake at his limit in terms of his 4 offerings and command? Every time I read a scouting report on him I see Arroyo, not Maddux like some Reds hopefuls.

J.J. Cooper: If he can be Arroyo, Reds fans should be very happy. Arroyo has had an above-average ERA+ (thanks B-Ref) in four of his six seasons as a starter and one of the other two he was dead average. It's fun to dream on prospects and at BA we love doing it as much as anyone, but if you can get a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter out of a first-round pick you did a very good job. I have my new BA Draft Almanac in my hands here (yes, it's a plug to go buy the book—it's well worth the purchase). Just picking a year at random, if you look back at the 2003 draft there were 11 pitchers taken in the first round, you could argue that two (Chad Billingsley and John Danks) could end up with better careers than Arroyo. If Leake can equal Arroyo's career, the Reds will have done well.

    Jeff P. (Valparaiso, IN): How does a 26 year-old flyball pitcher become the #8 prospect for the Cincinnati Reds (Great American Ballpark?)? Historically, I don't think you can find many (5?) pitchers that make their full-season debut at 26 and become more than spare parts in MLB?

J.J. Cooper: Maloney was actually 25 when he made his debut. Among big league pitchers who made their debut at 25 or older are Tim Wakefield, Anthony Young, Tim Worrell, Ramon Ortiz, David Purcey and Octavio Dotel. It's not a list that's going to blow you away (there are a lot of Britt Rheames, Brian Tollberg's and others of the like on it), but then Maloney isn't a pitcher who will blow you away. He projects as a No. 4 or No. 5 starter, but because he's nearly big league ready and has a high likelihood of reaching his ceiling, he ranks as No. 8. But Jeff you do make a good point—don't be expecting the world from Maloney, which is a point I was trying to make in my writeup.

    Raymond (New York): Hi JJ, Thanks for taking my question If Mike Minor was not taken at #7 overall by the Braves, would the Reds have taken him instead of Leake ? Both apparently were seen as low risk, willing to sign for about slot money, and are not power pitchers.

J.J. Cooper: I think the Reds were more onto Leake but if Leake was gone, maybe. Personally I like Leake's upside more, but then, no one is giving me a $5 million draft budget to dole out.

    John (Dayton): What can you tell us about the draft pick out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Juan Silva? Does he have 5 tool potential?

J.J. Cooper: He's an interesting guy. He's a little pull happy right now but he runs well with some power potential and a good arm. I'm not going to throw a 5-tool tag on him yet because there is such a gulf between his potential and his current ability but he's definitely a guy to keep an eye on over the next couple of years.

    Kyle (Oxford): Do you think Danny Dorn will ever get the chance to hit right handed pitching in Cincinnati, or will he get lost in the shuffle with Heisey, Dickerson, Stubbs, Frazier, Francisco etc?

J.J. Cooper: I think you summed up the problem facing Dorn. He's a poor defensive left fielder and first baseman in a system that has a TON of left fielders and first basemen. It's hard to see how he gets a chance in Cincinnati with all the outfielders and first basemen who are ahead of him on the depth chart.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Do you fault Cincinnati's management for moving Frazier around so often that he hasn't mastered any one position as of yet?

J.J. Cooper: The jury is still out on that one. One of Frazier's best traits is his ability to adjust to seemingly anything on the field. He hasn't mastered any one position because of all of the Reds moves, but at the same time, it has kept him open as a possibility to fill any one of several holes. Say the Reds decided to move Phillips to shorstop or trade him (both of which seem unlikely to me) then Frazier could be tried at second base. If Scott Rolen went down with an injury, Frazier could be the third baseman. If they need a left fielder, Frazier could play there as well. Long term this may all be a minor annoyance for Frazier's career if he gets a big league job and a regular position to master and thrive at.

    JAYPERS (IL): Just how close was Mariekson Gregorius to this list, and what is your assessment of his abilities?

J.J. Cooper: Gregorius showed something when he was promoted to high Class A Sarasota to fill in when injuries hit. He held his own despite being two levels above where he should have been and that confidence carried over to Billings. Gregorius has a great arm to go with some natural athleticism and good baseball instincts.

    Kyle (Oxford): How would you rate the Reds catching on the whole? I'm not familiar with McMurray but apparently he has a good glove. Any potential there?

J.J. Cooper: McMurray's got a good glove, but Kevin Coddington, Dayton's other catcher, has a better all around game.

J.J. Cooper: Thanks everyone for the questions. This is always one of the more enjoyable days of the year for me. We'll have another chat on Friday with Ben Badler talking about the Astros.