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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.
Cincinnati native Barry Larkin, who played for the Reds for the last 19 seasons and helped them win the 1990 World Series, was not re-signed and became a free agent. His departure completes Cincinnati’s recent rash of changes, as the club also has opened a new ballpark and overhauled its farm system.
Replacing Larkin on the field and as the face of the franchise hasn’t proven easy. The Reds’ options at short appear to be Felipe Lopez, whose glove seems better suited for second base or third, and declining veteran Rich Aurilia. Ken Griffey Jr., who was supposed to supplant Larkin as the face of the franchise, had another injury-riddled year.
Griffey started strong and hit his 500th career home run, and the team was 47-41 at the all-star break due in part to his resurgence. But three days after the break, he tore his right hamstring. The Reds went 4-13 to start the second half, Griffey had surgery in August and the club stumbled to its fourth straight losing season.
General manager Dan O’Brien acted boldly to remake the franchise in the offseason. He overhauled the minor league staff, replacing field coordinator Ron Oester with Bob Miscik and pitching coordinator Sammy Ellis with Vern Ruhle. Oester blasted the organization on the way out for lacking direction and talent. However, the Reds seemed to make progress on both fronts in 2004.
O’Brien implemented significant changes at the field level, encouraging plate discipline and adopting a tandem-starter system (pitchers alternate between starting and relieving) at Class A and below. The Reds also had a productive draft, snaring five-tool outfielder B.J. Szymanski, considered a first-round talent, with the 39th overall pick after drafting righthander Homer Bailey seventh overall.
While they didn’t find a replacement for Larkin in the offseason, the Reds became an aggressive player in every other phase, adding $19 million to their 2005 payroll. They attempted to fortify a pitching staff that posted a franchise-worst 5.19 ERA last season by re-signing Paul Wilson, adding free-agent Eric Milton (for three years and $25.5 million) and trading for Ramon Ortiz.
The Reds should have competition for the last two spots in the rotation, with righties Josh Hancock, Aaron Harang and Luke Hudson and lefty Brandon Claussen in the mix.
The Reds also signed third baseman Joe Randa to a one-year deal, after experimenting in instructional league with moving Austin Kearns to the hot corner. As it stands, manager Dave Miley will have to find another way to get four talented outfielders—Griffey, Kearns, Adam Dunn and Wily Mo Pena—on the field at the same time.
That outfield talent has become the organization’s new identity with Larkin gone. O’Brien hopes the moves he has made will help the Reds be identified as winners once again as well.
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