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Top Ten Prospects: Cincinnati Reds
Complete Index of Top 10s
By J.J. Cooper
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.
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