Cincinnati Reds Top 10 Prospects
By Chris Haft
1. Austin Kearns, of
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 220. Drafted: HSLexington, Ky., 1998 (1st round). Signed by: Robert Koontz.
Background: Kearns ranked ahead of Adam Dunn as a prospect entering the 2001 season, but Dunn left him in his dust when Kearns tore a ligament in his right thumb. A strong finish at Double-A Chattanooga (.346-3-17 in his final 15 games) and a torrid Arizona Fall League performance (.371-4-31 in 33 contests) restored the Reds faith in him. Before the season, Kearns asserted his presence in the organization by improving his power numbers annually while maturing overall at the same impressive rate.
Strengths: Though Kearns injury affected his performance, it didnt spoil his approachwhich is why hes the organizations top prospect for the second year in a row. Other Reds who earned the No. 1 distinction in consecutive years were Reggie Sanders (1991-92) and Pokey Reese (1994-96). His ability to hit to all fields and maintain command of the strike zone long has impressed the organization. He is also a precise outfielder who takes good routes on fly balls and has an above-average arm. If anything, Kearns injury bolstered his status in the organization. His speedy recovery, along with the determination he showed, announced he could handle the adversity that ultimately strikes even the games biggest stars.
Weaknesses: No one would label Kearns lazy, but because success has come easily to him, some in the Reds inner sanctum fear he wont always apply himself as diligently as they might hope. Establishing a daily routine involving on- and off-field preparationsomething the Reds try to stress throughout the organizationremains essential to Kearns improvement. Like other hitters rising through the minors, he needs the savvy that comes with facing more experienced pitchers. His AFL stint should help in that regard.
The Future: Kearns just might find himself in a Cincinnati uniform on Opening Day as a member of the starting lineup. The Reds insistence on trying to win now on their drastically limited budget will force them to trade at least one player from among Sean Casey, Reese and Dmitri Young for pitching help. Unless Kearns regresses, his arrival in Cincinnati probably will occur no later than midseason.
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