2012 Cincinnati Reds Top 10 Prospects Chat With J.J. Cooper

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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, 2011.

Moderator: J.J. Cooper will answer your Reds questions beginning at 2:30 p.m. ET.

    Vinnie (OH): Had he remained eligible, would Chapman have been #1 on this list for the second year in a row? Also, now that he's being converted back to SP, what does he project as to you - #2-3, #3-4?

J.J. Cooper: Hi everyone. Thanks for coming out. Chapman's as good a place to start as anywhere. If he was eligible right now, I probably would say he'd be No. 2 behind Mesoraco. Chapman has worlds of potential, but he has yet to show he can be a starter, he still has control problems at times and Mesoraco is really good—a potential first-division catcher with above-average offensive skills. To be a No. 2 starter, you have to have average command, Chapman doesn't have that yet, so while he could develop into that, it's a risky bet.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): It was announced yesterday that the Reds have no intention of parting with Votto this winter. Therefore, is LF something Alonso will have to get better at, or are they looking to trade him?

J.J. Cooper: I think the Reds will listen to offers, but if they don't find an offer that they like, then Alonso becomes a LF. He's a much better first baseman than left fielder, and realistically, he's likely to be a six or seven-inning left fielder many nights if he does play out there (with a late-inning defensive replacement), but the Reds do want to figure out a way to get his bat into the lineup. Next week we'll have a story up about the Reds' large number of blocked prospects.

    Yorman Rodriguez (Venezuela): How come you don't love me anymore?

J.J. Cooper: Rodriguez has a long, long ways to go in the field and in the clubhouse. Really the 2011 season was in many ways a lost year for Rodriguez, both because of injuries that cut his season short and what up to now has been a reluctance to work to improve many of his shortcomings.

    Dan (Syracuse): Whats the book on Alejandro Chacin? will he fit in the top 30? if so..where?

J.J. Cooper: Probably not. Great year, but there isn't really a lot of plus stuff there, so he'll need to prove it at a level higher than rookie ball.

    Kyle (Oxford): How close was Yorman Rodriguez to making the list? Have his tools dropped off at all, or is he falling because of makeup concerns? His production in the MWL didn't seem all that bad for his age.

J.J. Cooper: One follow-up question on Rodriguez. If you just look at his numbers, it doesn't look all that bad. But it's hard to find a decent report from someone who actually watched him play last year. He has the tools to be a center fielder, but he had to be moved to right field because he showed so little effort in center field (something that doesn't exactly make you popular with your pitchers). He can run well, but it's hard to find a scout who could make much of an evaluation on his speed because he rarely ran at full speed. If the light bulb comes on and he realizes how good he could be, he could really be something, but right now, he's shown no indication that he will do the things necessary to turn his raw tools into on-field production. The tools are still there, and he is still young, but he's further away now than he was a year ago. The most damning way to put it is that the Dayton Dragons became a much better team once Rodriguez was no longer playing. Contrast that to Ronald Torreyes who made the team significantly better when he arrived.

    Greg (ohio): Can Ryan LaMarre be an everyday big league CF?

J.J. Cooper: If his hit tool develops. He could be average out there and he has great speed and some power that he shows in BP, but the hit tool as of yet isn't there to be more than a fourth outfielder.

    William (Pensacola, FL): Most disappointing Reds prospect performance in 2011 that wasn't injury related ?

J.J. Cooper: Yorman Rodriguez. See the above answer.

    Greg (Fullerton, CA): Can Hamilton REALLY play shortstop?! Does he project more in CF or will they pull a BJ Upton and try him all over the place till he finds a home?

J.J. Cooper: Obviously that's still a question mark, mainly because of his throwing motion. Hamilton has the range to do it, and while his hands aren't extremely soft, that shouldn't keep him from playing SS. It all comes down to whether his arm/arm slot works at shortstop. If it doesn't work out at short, and I'd say it's 50-50 on whether it will, he could either end up as a Gold Glove type center fielder or a Gold-Glove type 2B, as his range would be exceptional at either position. I don;t think the Reds will try him all over the place, he's likely to play shortstop for now, and if he does move, my guess is it would be to second base.

    Andy (Lexington, KY): What do you see from Ryan Wright? Was his debut enough for top 30 consideration?

J.J. Cooper: Easily in the Top 30. He's the next in a long-line of productive college middle infielders the Reds' draft and develop. Cincinnati has had some success drafting guys like Rosales, Justin Turner, Chris Valaika, Paul Janish and Zack Cozart, add Wright to that list now.

    Kyle (Oxford): Is Tucker Barnhart's defense rated plus? Does he profile similarly to Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan?

J.J. Cooper: Yes, he's a very good defensive catcher. He's further along than Hanigan was at this point in Hanigan's career, but yes, he profiles as a solid backup catcher.

    Chris (AZ): Neftali Soto had his best power year thus far as a 22 year old in AA. Will he hit enough to stay at 1B? Obviously with Votto and Alonso in front of him, what kind of trade value does he have?

J.J. Cooper: You hit the nail on the head there, he's not going to be playing first base in Cincinnati anytime soon because of what's ahead of him. Right now, I don't think Soto has a whole lot of trade value as other teams think it was a nice year, but are still skeptical that it's enough to break him out of that long list of somewhat interesting slow slugging first basemen. Put it this way, the Reds have had Alonso in the high minors for nearly three seasons now and they haven't been able to trade him for something significant in return, Soto is considerably less valued by most teams than Alonso. He could be a piece of a significant trade, but he's unlikely to be a cornerstone piece of a trade. That being said, he has very good power and it's a great year. He'll likely have to do it again in Triple-A to generate much trade interest.

    commish (NYC): When you think of the top young catchers in MLB you think of Santana, Weiters, & Posey. Where does Mesoraco fit into that conversation.

J.J. Cooper: That's tough. I'd slot him behind those three, but saying that, I still think he could make some all-star appearances.

    Cale32 (Roanoke, VA): JJ - Thanks for the chat. Where do you think Hamilton winds up defensively? His speed is game changing, but from the peoople you spoke to do you think he will have enough bat to be more than a utility type? Would Luis Castillo be a good comp.?

J.J. Cooper: I know there are a lot of people who follow prospects intently who are ready to write off Hamilton as a hitter, but the scouts I talk to aren't nearly as ready to do that. For one thing, we have to remember that this isn't 2002, so the power numbers aren't what they used to be. The averages for a big league shortstop last year were .261/.314/.374. Hamilton could do better than that if he continues to develop. Also, he's showing significant improvements at the plate in both his swing mechanics and his approach month by month. If you compared Hamilton in April to Hamilton in August, he was a completely different hitter, one who went from being helpless from the left side to being a useful hitter from that side. I've had scouts outside of the Reds organization project him as a future 60 hitter. He's never going to hit for power, and again, if this was a decade ago, that would be a big problem. It's not nearly as much of a problem these days.

    Jon (Chicago): John Fayman suggested he'd like to see Boxberger close this year, if the Reds stay in house. do you see Box getting high leverage innings this year?

J.J. Cooper: Seems a little soon to me. Boxberger could end up as a setup man this year if things break right, but I think it's setting him up to fail to make him the closer when he's yet to throw a big league inning. Lots of guys have a tough transition to the big leagues, especially as Boxberger is someone who has battled control problems at times. It's a lot easier to make that transition in the sixth or seventh inning than in the ninth when you can be dubbed a failure after three or four bad outings.

    @ProspectD2J (Toronto): I've been very interested in the prospects coming out of Curacao, and the rest of the Netherlands lately. How does SS Didi Gregorius compare with the other big four Dutch SS prospects: Jurickson Profar, Jonathan Schoop, Xander Bogaerts and Andrelton Simmons?

J.J. Cooper: Gregorius is physical, but not as physical as Profar, Schoop or Bogaerts. But he is better defensively than Bogaerts and probably as good as Schoop. Simmons is a defensive wiz, but there are still questions with his bat, even if he did hit for a high average this year.

    John Havok (Lethbridge Alb): Assuming Mesoraco beomces inelligible for prospect rankings in 2012, where would Grandal stack up against other top ranked catching prospects like d'Arnaud of the Jays, Sanchez of the Yankees, etc.

J.J. Cooper: Depends on what happens this year. Grandal could easily move to near the top of the list if he makes strides behind the plate. He had some receiving issues in 2011, but the chance to be an above-average offensive catcher with switch-hitting ability makes him very, very valuable. If you were looking at trade value, he likely ranks No. 2 or No. 3 on this list (Mesoraco 1, then Grandal or Hamilton depending on the club looking to make the trade's preference). But I have him behind Alonso because Alonso is a pretty safe bet to be a solid to above-average big leaguer. Grandal is a little riskier than that, partly because we have less track record. I really bounced back and forth between those two, there's not a lot of separation there.

    Greg (Fullerton, CA): Frazier- Bat-first utility man or can he start at a given position (and which)?

J.J. Cooper: In a different situation I think he's a starting 3B, but for the Reds, barring a Rolen injury, yeah, Cincinnati has to hope he's a Tony Phillips, Ben Zobrist type.

    Derrick (Crofton): Amir Garrett sounds a lot to me like a lefty Taijuan Walker based on their athletic ability and background. Similar upside (i.e. front of the rotation SP)?

J.J. Cooper: Hard to compare those two, as Walker is way more polished. Garrett is a nice risky pick for the Reds who could really turn into something, but Walker was ready to dominate the MWL last year. Garrett right now would be doing well to hold his own in the AZL as he learns how to pitch.

    Greg (Ohio): So whats the current concensus on Kyle Lotzkar?

J.J. Cooper: It took me a while, but count me among the skeptics now. Maybe I should have been there earlier. Until Lotzkar shows he can maintain his stuff and his health for a full season, I just don't think he can be looked at as a significant prospect anymore. He's still somewhat young, but he's thrown less than 200 innings in five pro seasons. And the stuff generally isn't what it was before the injuries.

    Halvy (Seattle, WA): What is the prognosis on Juan Duran at this point? Based on his numbers, it seems like he made some progress this year. I still love his first head shot in the Handbook a few years ago, where he looks like a long-limbed middle-schooler wearing some adult's baseball cap. Which I guess, in a way, he was...

J.J. Cooper: Duran made some strides in 2011. He stayed healthy and he showed some signs that he's starting to get a little more comfortable at the plate. That being said, he's still extremely gawky, strikes out a ton and is a liability in the field. There are some impressive tools there, but it's a very high risk gamble to project him as a big leaguer.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): How many of the top 10 would you nominate for the top 100?

J.J. Cooper: I think the top four are pretty safe bets, and I'd be comfortable saying that Cozart will likely make it as well. Corcino has a chance too, so I'd say probably five make it, maybe six.

    Bryan (San Francisco): How fast can you see Stephenson moving in this system? Seems like there are not a lot of high-end pitching prospects blocking his way. Thanks!

J.J. Cooper: He's a California kid so he's pretty polished. High school power righthanders generally can take some time, but there are exceptions to that (like Shelby Miller is showing right now). The Reds generally aren't a team that rushes their guys, so I'd expect to see him taking a pretty steady level to level and a half a year approach, but you are right, there aren't a whole lot of starting pitching prospects in the upper minors standing in his way.

    ScottAz (Phx, AZ): Hamilton vs Dee Gordon? Who rates out better in terms of defense, hitting and speed?

J.J. Cooper: Current or when they both were in the MWL? Hamilton's a better athlete than Gordon, and he's significantly faster on the basepaths with a better aptitude for stealing bases. As a hitter, I think they are pretty similar. I know Gordon had a better year in the MWL overall when he was there, but long-term they both project pretty similarly. Defensively they have similar range although Gordon has a better arm.

    Deywane (Memphis): What happen to Drew Cisco, he seems to be a forgotten man in the system?

J.J. Cooper: Tommy John surgery before you ever throw an official pitch will do that to a guy. Pre-injury Cisco was a polished pitcher who didn't have great stuff. One of his big advantages—his advanced feel compared to his peers—has taken a hit because he's now a year behind other guys in development, but we'll have to see how well his stuff comes back. If a pitcher hadn't been pitching through an elbow injury before TJ surgery, sometimes he comes back with more stuff than he had before the surgery. If that happens, Cisco could be something special, but we need to see how well the stuff comes back. For now, it's kind of wait and see.

    george (louisville, ky): Ah, my 2nd favorite day of the year. thanks for the chat. what is your take on Josh Smith? I see MiLB ranked him quite high. Was he close to making the top 10?

J.J. Cooper: Not really. He has four pitches he can throw for strikes, but there's not a lot of plus stuff there. He was more of a 23-year-old (he turned 24 during the season) toying with younger hitters.

    Deywane (Memphis): Is Ismael Guillon still a prospect, what happened to him?

J.J. Cooper: Bad year. Didn't show the same stuff, struggled with his mechanics. Needs to get back to where he was in 2010.

    Greg (ohio): Dave Sappelt get any consideration for the top 10, considering Drew Stubbs terrible offensive season

J.J. Cooper: He was considered, but it wasn't that close. Sappelt already is a big leaguer, and I think he'll have a big league career, but he can't play center field well enough to play it as a regular, and I don't think he'll hit enough to be a regular as a left fielder. With the Reds his problem is that Chris Heisey is simply better. Heisey can play center every day, Sappelt can't. Heisey runs better, has a better arm and has more power. Sappelt may have a better hit tool than Heisey, but even that is pretty close. He could end up being a fourth outfielder for either Cincinnati or someone else.

    LoydH (Houston): Tony Cingrani had a great Sr at Rice and seemed to get off to a good start in the Reds organization. How would you rate Tony & do you see his future as a starter or reliever?

J.J. Cooper: He did have a very good year. The Reds are willing to try him as a starter, but scouts outside the organization see him more as a long-term power reliever.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Did Amir Garrett make it into your top 30? Do you and/or the Reds view him as a lottery ticket only, or is there cause for more optimism?

J.J. Cooper: He will be in the 30, because the upside is immense, but yes, he's a lottery ticket. If Garrett gives up baseball, which is possible, Cincy won't spend much money on him at all. But if he does decide to give is a serious try, and the consensus seems to be that he has a better pro pitcher on the mound than on the hard-court, than the Reds could be getting an athletic lefty with a great arm. It's worth remembering that Garrett has not qualified to play basketball at St. John's yet.

    Harry (NJ): Does the "little red machine", aka Ron Torreyes, get consideration in your top 30?

J.J. Cooper: You can't help but love Torreyes. His size will always be a question, but man he can hit, and he's solid defensively. If everything breaks right, he's an everyday second baseman. If it doesn't there are plenty of scouts who think he could handle SS and 3B well enough to be a useful utilityman.

    Greg (ohio): Hoe did you decide on Billy Hamilton at #2 when there are major league ready prospects below him on the list?

J.J. Cooper: Our rankings are based on a combination of factors, one of which is looking at how they are valued by teams around baseball. Yes, Todd Frazier is much readier for the big leagues than Billy Hamilton, but I feel safe in saying that the vast majority of teams would rather have Hamilton than Frazier in a trade. Frazier is a potential solid big leaguer. But scouts for other teams think that Hamilton can be an impact player, especially now that the game is getting away from its POWER-POWER-POWER era and entering a lower-scoring environment. Teams covet up-the-middle guys, which makes Hamilton, Mesoraco and Grandal very valuable. As one scout described it to me, if you have a tie between a catcher and a first baseman, you'll never go wrong to pick the catcher. Yes, you can point out now that I put Alonso just ahead of Grandal.

    Kyle (Cincinnati): Biggest sleeper in the system is?

J.J. Cooper: I like Tim Crabbe's chance to take a step forward next year. He could end up being nothing, but there's lots of potential there.

    Bob (Fullerton): What are your thoughts on former Cal St. Fullerton OF Josh Fellhauer? Can he make it to the big leagues and be in the mold of former Titan Mark Kotsay?

J.J. Cooper: I don't think he's another Kotsay. Scouts think he doesn't have enough glove for center, not enough pop for a corner spot.

    Keith (Manchester, CT): Thanks JJ. Does Mesoraco project to be at least average defensively, and would you rank his ceiling above or below Travis d'Arnaud's.

J.J. Cooper: I'd say d'Arnaud's ceiling may be a little higher, but Mesoraco is likelier to reach his ceiling.

    Deywane (Memphis): Why did Ronald Torreyes miss the list?

J.J. Cooper: He didn't miss it by much, but it's a pretty deep Top 10. A lot of guys on here who are closer to the majors with pretty good track records. A year from now, he may be a Top 10 guy.

    Greg (Ohio): So will JC Sulbaran make it to Cincy with that system best curveball of his?

J.J. Cooper: If you were picking the most improved in the Reds' system, Sulbaran would be near the top of the list. He's one of the team's best pitching prospects now.

    Dr. Fever (WKRP): Thoughts on Henry Rodriguez? Does he project as a first-division regular, second-division regular, utility guy, or never was? Thanks.

J.J. Cooper: I'd say utilityman, but one who has a pretty good chance of being a solid utilityman. That may sound like faint praise, but it wouldn't shock me if he had a solid big league career.

    Deywane (Memphis): Is the Reds prospect depth becoming a problem?

J.J. Cooper: They are pretty deep as far as position players. There isn't as much depth on the pitching side, but then they have brought up Leake, Cueto, Bailey and Wood as starters reasonably recently, so there isn't a lot of need there in the short-term.

    Gary Sandy's hair (Syndication): "Barring a Scott Rolen injury" doesn't sound like too big an obstacle to regular playing time at third for Todd Frazier. What sort of slash line do you project him being able to put up in regular action in 2012?

J.J. Cooper: .260/.310/.450? Just a guess, but there's lots of power there. His swing may not let him hit for a whole lot of average, especially as a rookie.

Moderator: Thanks for all the questions. John Manuel will stop by tomorrow to chat about the Astros Top 10.