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Background: Termed the key to the deal by Reds general manager Jim Bowden, Bell was acquired in November from the Braves--along with lefthander Denny Neagle and outfielder Michael Tucker--for lefthander Mike Remlinger and second baseman Bret Boone. Bell was included in the deal, with regret, after the Braves became convinced the Reds would deal Boone elsewhere if he weren't included. Bell had shown steady progress in four years in the Braves system, improving his ERA and hits/innings ratio every year, and he finished sixth among Class A pitchers in both innings and strikeouts in 1998. He becomes the first pitcher named the Reds' No. 1 prospect in the decade. Strengths: Bell's best pitch is a hard curveball that has been compared to those thrown by big leaguers Darryl Kile and Gregg Olson. Bell's big frame gives it an excellent angle, making it more difficult to hit and easier for Bell to throw it consistently for strikes.. Bell's fastball registered only 86-88 mph when he was drafted but he has increased his velocity to the 90-93 range as he has matured. Bell's added strength and ability to throw all his pitches for strikes has enabled him to consistently work late into games while maintaining his raw stuff. He has the potential to be a front-of-the-rotation workhorse. Weaknesses: Braves pitching prospects traditionally are well grounded in the art of changing speeds, but Bell needs more repetitions to perfect his straight changeup. Because he throws so many strikes, Bell allows more hits than he should and will need to learn how to pitch off the strike zone with his best stuff. The Future: Braves officials felt Bell had a chance to be something special--strong words from an organization where the pitcher of the year is also usually the Cy Young Award winner. Bell will start 1999 in Double-A, but the Reds' temptation to rush him due to his polish may be offset by the big league club's deep rotation.
Background: At the beginning of last spring, many scouts thought Kearns was a better prospect as a pitcher, but mechanical problems masked his 94 mph fastball and forced scouts to concentrate on him as a hitter. Strengths: Kearns combines good physical skills, a hitter's mentality and great makeup. A fundamentally sound hitter with excellent strike zone judgment, he has the potential to hit for both power and average. Though he had never played outfield before, Kearns made a seamless conversion to right field that allowed him to show off his plus arm and athleticism. Weaknesses: The Reds are not worried about Kearns' lack of power in his debut. Kearns' lack of first-step quickness prevents him from playing third base, where his tools appear to be better suited. The Future: The Reds have focused heavily on corner-position power hitters in both the draft and big league trades the past two years. Kearns has the best tools package of the group.
Background: The Reds have rushed Williamson through their system, but he has been up to the challenge. A late-season finger injury--plus the fact he didn't need protection on the 40-man roster from the Rule 5 draft--kept the Reds from calling Williamson up in September. Strengths: The Reds are in awe of Williamson's sheer power. Mechanical adjustments have pushed his fastball to the 93-95 mph range with a high of 97. He throws an 85-87 mph slider and will use a hard split-finger with two strikes to get hitters to chase a pitch out of the strike zone.. Weaknesses: The normal durability questions for a short righthander seem valid for Williamson, who has averaged just over five innings in his 36 pro starts. The Reds admit that Williamson typically starts to lose his stuff in the fifth to sixth innings. The Future: The Reds seem split on Williamson's future. His obvious role is as a power closer, but they don't want to close the door too quickly on him as a starter.
Background: LaRue tied for the minor league lead in 1997 with 50 doubles. For an encore, he led Double-A in batting average and slugging percentage (.617). Strengths: LaRue can hit. He has plus bat speed and the innate ability to put the fat part of the bat on the ball. He has more of a line-drive swing now but has the strength and ability to recognize pitches to project home runs in the future. He's considered a good athlete, capable of playing other positions. Weaknesses: LaRue played solid defense during the 1998 season, but faltered badly during the Arizona Fall League, where he struggled just to hold onto the ball at times. The Reds hope this resulted from fatigue and mechanical problems rather than an inability to handle the above-average stuff thrown by many AFL pitchers. The Future: LaRue will be Reds senior advisor Bob Boone's top project in spring training. LaRue's best comparison is Reds starter Ed Taubensee, but the club feels he should surpass Taubensee both at the plate and behind it.
Background: Jackson was acquired from the Indians in 1997 in the John Smiley trade. In Cleveland, Jackson was stuck behind Omar Vizquel at shortstop. In Cincinnati, he finds former MVP Barry Larkin and defensive standout Pokey Reese in front of him on the depth chart. Strengths: Jackson remains an outstanding raw athlete, an above-average runner with plus arm strength and pop in his bat. The Reds experimented with Jackson in center field in the Arizona Fall League and were impressed with his defense there, enhancing his potential value. Weaknesses: Jackson's problems stem from concentration lapses and inconsistency. He is prone to casual footwork and flipping the ball to first base, and he gives away many at-bats with wild swings. The Future: The future is now for Jackson--he is out of options. The experiment last fall in center field was a sign Jackson will be asked to play a utility role in the majors in 1999. The team hopes the big league environment focuses Jackson's considerable skills.
Background: The Reds surprised the industry by signing Dunn while allowing him to play quarterback at the University of Texas. Dunn played sparingly as a freshman for the Longhorns. Strengths: Dunn is an athlete supreme with enormous power potential. He also runs to first base in 4.1 seconds and throws in the low 90s off the mound. The Reds say that he has the easy confidence and natural swagger only special athletes can carry. Coming from a very small high school program, his success at Rookie-level Billings (.288-4-13) speaks well of his baseball aptitude. Weaknesses: Getting enough repetitions will be Dunn's main obstacle. Along with needing as many at-bats as possible, Dunn needs work on his routes and footwork in the outfield. The Future: All the objective indicators point to Dunn eventually playing baseball. Texas' starting quarterback in '98 was a freshman, Major Applewhite, and Heisman Trophy winner/Texas Rangers outfielder Ricky Williams has been a positive pro-baseball influence on Dunn.
Background: The Reds have challenged Dawkins, extremely raw when drafted, by pushing him to full-season ball. Dawkins has responded well. He missed the last month of the season with a broken toe. Strengths: Dawkins' tools are similar to those of Reese, who also was signed out of a South Carolina high school. Dawkins has well above-average speed and athletic ability along with smooth hands and a plus arm. He has also shown the ability to make consistent contact and hit the ball on the ground. Weaknesses: Dawkins lacks the physical strength to generate bat speed to drive the ball. If he can hit, his defense and speed will carry him far. The Future: The Reds consider Dawkins a special player defensively and feel he could play shortstop in the big leagues right now. They may push Dawkins to Double-A Chattanooga, where he probably would be overmatched offensively.
Background: Frank starred as both a pitcher and hitter as a senior in college. He shot through the Reds system and became the first position player from the '97 draft to reach the major leagues. His minor league totals over 585 at-bats: .350-22-118 with 24 stolen bases. Strengths: Frank has a smooth, level swing that sprays line drives to all fields. He is a 4.2 second runner to first and has an average arm. As his rapid advancement shows, Frank is a mature, fundamentally sound player. Weaknesses: Frank doesn't project to hit for enough power to be a corner outfielder. He can play center field in a pinch, but his speed and range are more suited to the corners. The Future: The Reds hope Frank can add strength to his upper body and loft to his swing. His most likely role is as a fourth outfielder/pinch-hitter deluxe, but the Reds think Frank's makeup and swing might take him past that.
Background: Sequea was the youngest player in professional baseball in 1998. He originally was expected to report to Billings, but pitched so well in an emergency stint in Class A Charleston that he stayed with the club the rest of the season. Strengths: Sequea has a power arm. His fastball was hitting 94 mph in his first few starts before he began to tire. He also throws a good curveball and was not intimidated facing hitters several years older than he was. Weaknesses: Sequea quickly wore down under the pressure of pitching against advanced competition. The Reds, who must carefully monitor his workload, shut him down late in the season with arm fatigue. Like all young pitchers, Sequea must learn to pitch down in the strike zone, change speeds and refine his pitches. The Future: Sequea grew at least 2 inches and gained 15-20 pounds from his listed size during the summer. Because he would be only a senior in high school if he grew up in the United States, the Reds can afford to bring him along slowly.