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Kearns was a highly regarded high school pitching prospect until his senior year, when his velocity plunged from the low 90s to the low 80s. Undaunted, the Reds made him the seventh overall pick in the 1998 draft as a position player and refused to panic when he homered just once in 108 Rookie-level at-bats. He made steady progress in the low Class A Midwest League in 1999, then dominated when the organization's lack of a high Class A club (which finally was addressed with the addition of the California League's Mudville franchise for 2001) sent him back there last season. He ranked among the league leaders in nearly every offensive category and topped the circuit in runs, homers, RBIs and extra-base hits (66). He shared the league's official prospect-of-the-year award with Cardinals third baseman Albert Pujols. Kearns' power is now in full bloom. He homered in eight consecutive games from July 17-24, establishing a Midwest League record and falling two games short of the all-time minor league mark. Reds officials like Kearns' ability to distribute that power to all fields. Another of his assets is the ability to make adjustments at the plate. He made impressive strides with his strike-zone judgment in 2000, and the dividends were obvious. Kearns has decent speed, a strong arm and is proficient enough in right field to keep Cincinnati from considering switching him to first base. Though his attitude has earned praise, the Reds want to see him continue to push himself. Some say he's so good that he occasionally eases up a little bit. Developing a gameday routine--extra hitting, mental preparation and even a short workout, similar to the regimen most top major leaguers maintain--would benefit him. That also could help him fine-tune his swing, which gets a little long from time to time. The blueprints for Great American Ball Park, which is scheduled to open on Cincinnati's riverfront in 2003, might as well have Kearns' name etched in right field. He tops the group of prospects whom the Reds hope will provide an influx of young, economical talent as they move into their new stadium. The organization braintrust loves the idea of Kearns and Adam Dunn, the system's gems, flanking Ken Griffey, the franchise's crown jewel. For 2001, the Reds will be happy to watch Kearns continue to improve at Double-A Chattanooga.
Dunn continued his conversion to becoming exclusively a baseball player with a solid all-around performance in his second full professional season. The former University of Texas quarterback announced his commitment to baseball in spring training 1999, thrilling Reds management. It's easy to understand when you look at Dunn's dimensions and then watch him move. Not only has he displayed power potential, but he also stole 24 bases in 29 tries at Dayton in 2000. He enhances his skill with a keen eye and patience, leading the Midwest League with a .428 on-base percentage last year. Dunn still shows the effects of spending all that time on the gridiron, though. Reading balls off the bat and taking the proper routes when tracking balls sometimes challenges him. His arm isn't what you would expect from a former quarterback, which is why he has been playing left field. As is the case with many patient hitters, Dunn occasionally falls into the trap of taking too many pitches. Dunn's size-speed-power combination gives him the potential to be a more spectacular player than Kearns. He'll play with Kearns for the fourth straight season, this time in Double-A, and is on the same 2003 timetable for arriving in Cincinnati.
The Yankees drafted Henson and signed him for a $2 million bonus, fully aware that the pull of football might prevent the University of Michigan quarterback from ever reaching the Bronx. Henson's future became the Reds' headache when they acquired him with three other prospects in the Denny Neagle deal. Obviously, his all-around athleticism is enviable. He displays nimble feet at third base, outstanding hands and a cannon arm. He runs well for his size and hits proficiently to all fields. His power is his best tool. It almost goes without saying that he has poise, as he's about to thrive in front of 110,000 fans at Michigan on home Saturdays. A baseball chauvinist might say that Henson's only weakness is football. Having divided his athletic attention, he needs at-bats--which may never come--to polish his plate technique. He would be a top-rated quarterback prospect and a possible No. 1 overall pick if he enters the NFL, but he passed on the 2001 draft, which the Reds take as an encouraging sign. Football still offers him guaranteed millions and a shot at playing at the highest level right away, while baseball will require a couple of additional years in the minors before he might get a call to the majors. Idealists who think Henson will choose baseball over football should repeat these two words: John Elway.
The knowledge that agent Scott Boras was "advising" Sardinha scared most teams off, though his skills prompted some to project him as an early first-round choice. But little intimidates Reds general manager Jim Bowden, who ordered his staff to take Sardinha in the second round. Signing Sardinha did prove to be a chore, but the Reds got it done with a six-year big league contract worth $1.75 million guaranteed that didn't include a signing bonus. The consensus in the organization is that Sardinha could catch and throw in the big leagues right now. His hands, release and arm strength are all considered assets. For a player with no professional experience, he exudes leadership that should help him work with pitchers. His speed and opposite-field power were encouraging in instructional league. Yet his next professional game will be his first, so he needs plenty of at-bats and innings behind the plate. As with many young catchers, Sardinha must continue to refine his footwork before he truly can be considered big league material. Some scouts have questioned his ability to hit since he struggled in the wood-bat Cape Cod League in the summer of 1999. Because catching has been the weakest position in the Reds organization for about a decade, and no holdover prospects are around to complement Jason LaRue, Sardinha could ascend rapidly to Cincinnati. He has been stamped as part of the 2003 group, though he could arrive sooner. Sardinha may debut at high Class A Mudville and reach Double-A by the end of the season.
Like Dane Sardinha--a fellow Boras client--Espinosa didn't sign until September, when he got a major league, bonus-free deal. Espinosa's was for eight years and $2.75 million guaranteed, and it kept intact Cincinnati's streak of always signing its top pick. The Reds like Espinosa's aggressive approach from both sides of the plate. It's not mindless aggression, either. Coaches noticed in instructional league that he has a good idea at the plate, seldom looking overmatched or fooled. He also has above-average speed and arm strength. As with most young players, Espinosa needs to refine his defensive footwork. This could be especially challenging, given his move from shortstop to second base. The plethora of experienced shortstop prospects in the organization and the need to accelerate his progress because he's on the major league roster prompted the decision. The Reds also want Espinosa to gain flexibility, which they think he'll develop over time. He shouldn't regard his position switch as a negative. The Reds are fond of major league second baseman Pokey Reese, but he's likely to move to shortstop once all-star Barry Larkin retires. Espinosa will have to stick in the majors by 2004, when he'll run out of options, but that isn't expected to be a problem. The club's leadoff man of the future, he'll break in at low Class A Dayton.
Howington was considered the best high school lefthander available in the 1999 draft. The Reds chose him in the first round but didn't sign him until late August, preventing him from making his pro debut until 2000. He showed promise despite his ugly stats. Howington's lively fastball regularly reaches 95 mph. He complements it with an above-average curveball and a changeup. The Reds were thrilled that he managed to make every start in his first professional season, reflecting his physical and mental durability. With continued work on his mechanics, he should manage to improve the late life on his fastball and the break on his curve. He must develop consistency in his mechanics, which hindered his command and effectiveness last year. His delivery was considered unorthodox before the Reds tried to streamline it. As this ranking indicates, the Reds remain enthusiastic about Howington. He'll move up to Mudville in 2001 and probably won't be ready for the majors until sometime in 2003, at the earliest.
Among high school prospects in the 2000 draft, Baseball America regarded Moseley as closest to the majors. His precociousness attracted the attention of the pitching-poor Reds, who couldn't sign him until mid-November after a new fiscal year started. They landed him with a $930,000 bonus and a $100,000 scholarship plan. Moseley already shows a seasoned professional's polish and control. Scouts who have met him say he's confident and knows what he must do to get to the majors. He spots his fastball well, complementing it with a wicked curveball and an adequate changeup. His intelligence allows him to survive on the mound even on days when his stuff falls a little short. Moseley's velocity is good but not great. His fastball was clocked at 89-90 mph, which is fine for Greg Maddux but few others. The Reds hope he can push it to 90-92 mph with maturity and added strength. He needs experience to test his impressive self-assurance. Moseley is expected to start 2001 at Dayton. Though his maturity suggests that he might not stay there for long, the Reds might want to keep him in low Class A for most of the season so he can learn to adjust to hitters the second and third time he faces them.
Dawkins is collecting more medals than an Armed Forces veteran. He hit .273 in the 1999 Pan American Games as Team USA captured the silver medal and qualified for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. In Australia he appeared in seven games, starting twice, for the gold medal-winning Americans. The Reds' plethora of shortstops in the majors and in the system led them to try Dawkins at second base this year. If he were to play a full season alongside two-time Gold Glove second baseman Pokey Reese, the Reds might be able to count the number of ground-ball base hits up the middle on one hand. Like Reese, Dawkins has excellent range and a sure, strong arm. Though Dawkins could stand to polish his footwork, he proved during his stints with Cincinnati in the last two seasons that he could hold his own defensively in the majors already. The problem is that he regressed offensively last year. He made less contact, hit for less average and power and wasn't as much of a factor on the bases as in 1999. The Reds say he'll thrive if he can develop a consistent approach at the plate. With Barry Larkin signed through 2003, Dawkins may encounter the proverbial glass ceiling if he continues to stay with the Reds. He can use another minor league season to improve offensively but may be ready in 2002--with no clear job awaiting him.
After he was put on the 40-man roster, released and re-signed by the Reds after the 1998 season, Riedling's career was revived by a move from the rotation to the bullpen in 1999. In 2000, the only question was why he wasn't called up earlier. He was called to Cincinnati on Aug. 28 when Scott Williamson went on the disabled list, and Riedling was breezed through his first big league stint. When he joined the Reds, catcher Jason LaRue compared his stuff to that of closer Danny Graves. Skeptics scoffed, then quickly agreed once they saw Riedling pitch. He has a quick, darting fastball that indeed rivals Graves', and a sharp breaking ball. Riedling's makeup also thrills Cincinnati. He needs no help with his pitches but could benefit from more consistent command in the strike zone. He'll need to cut down on his walks to maintain his effectiveness. It's a virtual certainty that Riedling will open the season in Cincinnati's bullpen. His late-season effectiveness seeded trade rumors involving Scott Sullivan, the workhorse set-up artist whose arbitration-eligible status might make him too expensive for the Reds.
Acquired from the Red Sox, Reitsma has overcome a broken elbow he suffered while pitching in 1997 and a stress fracture in his elbow the following year that set him back. Finally healthy in 2000, he pitched nearly as many innings as he had in his first four years as a pro combined. Able to touch 95-97 mph before his injuries, Reitsma has pushed his fastball back into the low 90s, hard enough to be assertive. Like some hard throwers who lose their blazing stuff, Reitsma has survived by improving his offspeed deliveries, including a pitch described as a power changeup. The Reds like his ability to set up batters and work both sides of the plate. Having been robbed of close to two seasons of development, Reitsma needs innings to complete his big league entrance exam. The Reds wouldn't mind if a little more of his velocity would return, too. Some optimists think Reitsma can pitch in the majors this year. Since he hasn't pitched above Double-A, that might be a little unrealistic. Nevertheless, he's clearly the organization's top pitching prospect in the upper levels of the minors.
The Reds made sure to trumpet Melian's skills loudly after they acquired him in the Denny Neagle trade with the Yankees. That trade initially was unpopular with fans, so the organization had to put as good a spin on it as possible. If Melian develops, he might be able to make the fans forget about Neagle. Though hamstring problems bothered the center fielder throughout the 2000 season, the Reds know what he can do. He has excellent instincts that enhance his tools, which include power and excellent throwing ability. Though he's strong, he needs to work on his conditioning, particularly to ward off further problems with his hamstrings. He'll also need to tighten his strike zone if he's to maximize his offensive potential. Melian likely will return to Double-A Chattanooga to start 2001. He could be blocked in the future, as he won't ever displace Ken Griffey in Cincinnati and is unlikely to take a corner spot away from Austin Kearns or Adam Dunn.
Another part of the Denny Neagle package, Reith established himself as a prospect in 1998 when his 2.28 ERA at Class A Greensboro ranked fifth among all minor leaguers. The Reds believe he can develop into a competent major league starter with continued experience. He's durable, with good life on a low-90s fastball and a nifty slider. Reith complements his harder stuff with a deceptive changeup. He has maintained favorable strikeout-walk ratios throughout his climb, another good sign. Reith probably will begin the season at Chattanooga. Given Cincinnati's eternal hunger for pitching, he might not stay there long if he shows any semblance of competence.
Broussard was the talk of the organization in 1999 after getting drafted in the second round. He soared almost immediately from Rookie ball to Double-A, batting .332 overall. He followed that by hitting .387-9-34 in the California Fall League, narrowly missing the league's triple crown. A wrist injury bothered Broussard throughout 2000, and he hit .353 before he got hurt and just .094 afterward. A good low-ball hitter, he can drive the ball out of the park to all fields. He's selective at the plate, though he can improve his contact. The Reds expect him to play mostly first base, after shifting him between first and the outfield the last two years. Broussard likely will return to Double-A at the outset of 2001, though he could be promoted quickly.
Yarnall probably would be wearing a World Series ring if he had shown a smidgen of his talent a little earlier. He was virtually handed the Yankees' No. 5 starter's job in spring training last year but gave it back with a series of poor exhibition performances. That didn't deter the Reds, who are intrigued by Yarnall's arsenal and got him in the Denny Neagle trade. He throws a sneaky fastball that reaches the low 90s, a slider that he commands well and a curveball that he uses to put batters away. The Reds say he has a pitcher's physique, marked by strong thighs and hips, as well as a healthy competitive attitude. They want him to gain consistency and believe that he can reach his potential more quickly out of the New York spotlight. He pitched better after the trade, though his control never was as sharp as it was in 1999, when he was the Triple-A International League's pitcher of the year. Yarnall could compete for a major league rotation spot this spring and will begin the season in Triple-A Louisville if he doesn't win it.
Estrella made his second move in three seasons in November, coming to the Reds with lefthander Clayton Andrews when the Reds decided to trade Steve Parris rather than offer him arbitration. Estrella was preceded by his reputation, which was enhanced by two no-hitters in 2000: a six-inning job in Double-A that required just 64 pitches, and a seven-inning perfect game in his first Triple-A start. He produced those gems with a lively fastball that has good movement low in the zone. When his mechanics are sound, he combines his fastball with a solid splitter and changeup to keep hitters off balance. His breaking ball, which is more of a slurvy slider, can be his out pitch when he stays on top of it and gets the proper break. Estrella tends to lose his mechanics by flying open with his left side, which robs his fastball of effectiveness. The Reds believe he can excel as a starter, though his resilience makes him a candidate for bullpen duty.
Traded by Red Sox with 2B Donnie Sadler to Reds for 3B Chris Stynes, Nov. 16, 2000. After obtaining Coleman and infielder Donnie Sadler from the Red Sox for Chris Stynes, another arbitration-eligible player they couldn't afford, the Reds released Kimera Bartee and Brian Hunter. That was an indication of their faith in Coleman, a five-tool prospect who could have attended the University of Alabama on a football scholarship. He pronounced himself ready for Fenway Park with a 30-homer season in Triple-A in 1999, but Boston's acquisition of Carl Everett blocked him. Sent back to Triple-A, Coleman was leading the International League in homers in April when he broke his left wrist diving for a fly ball, ending his season. His tools still overshadow his skills, as he lacks polish at the plate and on the bases. He does have plus range and arm strength in center field. He had attitude problems in the Red Sox system, which led to counseling in the summer of 1998. Cincinnati believes he can thrive with a fresh opportunity. He could begin the season as the Reds' fifth outfielder, though Triple-A is also a possibility.
Staying healthy has been Larson's biggest challenge since he was drafted in 1997. He was the College World Series MVP that year, leading Louisiana State to the national championship and setting a college record for shortstops with 40 homers. After enduring ankle and knee injuries in his first two pro years, Larson has stayed in the lineup and shown his power the last two seasons. Of course, the Reds always knew Larson could hit. They have a healthy appreciation for his quick bat and ability to turn on a fastball. Larson also has continued to develop defensively. He still needs a little more patience at the plate before he can get his first look at Cinergy Field. Larson probably will begin the season at Triple-A and could arrive in Cincinnati if Aaron Boone's surgically repaired knee gives him any trouble.
The Reds beat out the University of Arkansas to sign Love. As a high school senior, he allowed the unfathomable totals of nine hits and four walks while striking out 120 in 54 innings. He has had intermittent success as a pro, and shoulder problems limited him to nine appearances last season. When he's right, he had a hard fastball with late life to go with a bulldog attitude. Love won't advance much, however, unless he develops a second pitch. He hasn't been able to throw a breaking ball or changeup for strikes, enabling hitters to sit on his fastball. Love probably will return to Dayton until he proves he's healthy and shows improvement.
Olmedo is one of several promising players signed by international crosschecker Johnny Almaraz. Olmedo is as raw as he is gifted. Cincinnati officials, some of whom rate Olmedo above the since-traded Wilmy Caceres, say his defensive skills are reminiscent of perennial Gold Glover Omar Vizquel's. Olmedo has incredible hands, though he must remind himself to stay down on ground balls. A natural righthanded batter, he's working on hitting from the left side, which would enhance his value. He's a quick learner with excellent instincts who's willing to bunt and move runners along. Olmedo stole 17 bases this year at Dayton but still needs to refine his technique. More important, he must walk more and strike out less. He'll probably begin 2001 in Double-A with many of Cincinnati's other top prospects.
Andrews was regarded as one of the Blue Jays' top prospects after he led the Class A South Atlantic League in ERA in 1998. He wasn't burdened by similar expectations when he came to the Reds in November, but he did bring an excess of comparisons along with him. Various scouting reports likened him to Tom Glavine, Rick Honeycutt, Jimmy Key and Jamie Moyer--lefties who aren't overpowering but pitch intelligently. The comparisons are apt. Andrews' repertoire includes a fastball with a slight tail and a changeup with a nice sink that's thrown with good arm speed. His fastball has aroused some concern. Jays scouts say that it used to hit 93 mph but rarely exceeds the 88-90 range now. They also think the pitch now cuts more than it runs, which could be indicative of a mechanical problem. Still, Andrews can move the ball around both sides of the plate, essential for a finesse pitcher. The Reds believe Andrews will help anchor the back of a rotation someday.
Davis has been in the organization since 1995, a long gestation period for a prospect. But being lefthanded has bought him some time. Shoulder tendinitis bothered Davis late in the year, and he later was diagnosed with a small rotator-cuff tear that won't require surgery. That came after he led all Reds farmhands with a 2.44 ERA last season. Though his fastball hovers in the 87-89 mph range, he has good command of it and supplements it with a sharp curveball. He needs a better changeup to succeed at the game's highest levels. The Reds aren't sure where they'll start Davis in 2001. They'd like him to prove he's healthy before making a decision.
Traded by Indians with RHP Jim Brower to Reds for C Ed die Taubensee, Nov. 16, 2000. Pugmire perpetuated the jinx of the Bob Feller award when the Reds obtained him in November. Only one of the previous nine winners of the award, which is given to Cleveland's top minor league pitcher each year, remains with the Tribe. Pugmire's exit was hastened by a partially torn labrum that required surgery in May. The injury limited him to four appearances, a disappointment after a breakthrough 1999 season that came after he missed all of 1998 with a stress fracture in his back. Cincinnati, which has supreme faith in its medical staff, is gambling that Pugmire can stay healthy. The Reds are impressed by his ability to keep his deliveries low in the strike zone, particularly his fastball and curveball, which has a nice, tight rotation. Pugmire's changeup lacks deception and must improve in order for him to progress. Of course, keeping his arm sound would help as well. He'll probably be assigned to Double-A when he's ready to pitch.
Statistically, Dunn had one of the best seasons of any pitcher in the organization. He garnished his .786 winning percentage at Class A Clinton with 159 strikeouts, third-best in the system, and a 3.96 ERA, good for eighth. He fired a perfect game Aug. 3 against Lansing, striking out 12 as part of a nine-game winning streak. Dunn has several qualities that suggest he has potential for advancement: smooth mechanics, an above-average fastball with plenty of life and a curveball that can be downright nasty. He's also quick to the plate and holds runners on base proficiently. Dunn still needs to work on his command, especially with his curveball, and must work on developing his changeup. He's yet another candidate for what seems certain to be a prospect-laden team at Chattanooga.
Clark is the organization's poster child for desire. He hasn't given up despite not being drafted, then spraining his left wrist and breaking the hamate bone in his left hand after the Reds signed him. They released him but re-signed him when he returned to health. He won the Southern League batting title and MVP award in 1999. His late-season promotion to Cincinnati in 2000 was deserved, and he followed up by hitting .303 in the Arizona Fall League and being named to the circuit's all-prospect team. Clark has gap power and above-average speed, totaling 121 extra-base hits and 37 steals over the last two seasons. He draws walks and makes good contact. Defensively, he reads balls off the bat well, compensating for his mediocre throwing arm. Some Reds scouts say he needs to be more aggressive at the plate, a curious assessment. With nothing left to prove in the minors, Clark has a shot at an extra outfielder's spot in Cincinnati, though a numbers crunch easily could force him back to Triple-A.
The only one of Cincinnati's top five draft choices in 2000 who has actually played professionally, Gil showed plenty of polish and was one of just three pitchers selected in June to reach Double-A. That reflected his background at the University of Miami, where he went 12-0 for the Hurricanes' 1999 College World Series champions and 31-5 overall in four seasons. Gil showed late life on an 88-92 mph fastball and a decent assortment of breaking pitches. The Reds are quite pleased with his pro debut, as well as his poise and makeup. They're looking forward to seeing him again once he has a chance to refresh himself after throwing a combined 162 innings in 2000. He's a strong possibility to return to Chattanooga to start the season and could ascend quickly.
Curtice's migration to the Reds system wasn't a complete surprise. Former manager Jack McKeon scouted him heavily as an amateur and encouraged the Reds to draft him in the first round instead of Brandon Larson in 1997. Cincinnati finally got him in the Dante Bichette trade with Boston. McKeon compared Curtice to David Wells, down to the free-spirit demeanor and girth. Curtice might never match Wells' effectiveness, however. He has had problems with his arm, weight and command. The Reds hope Curtice can exceed expectations if he regains consistency with his fastball, which travels between 88-92 mph. His curveball and changeup look decent at times. Curtice still is regaining strength after shoulder surgery in 1999. After a disastrous season in high Class A last year, he'll probably need to repeat that level.
An example of the Reds' increased efforts to find talent in the Dominican Republic, Andujar spent his second year in a row in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, leading his team in homers and RBIs. The Reds are impressed by Andujar's physical tools, which become evident with just a glance at his 6-foot-3, 205-pound physique. He has above-average power, decent speed for his size and a hunger to play. Defensively, Andujar gets good jumps but his arm strength is a little short, which may limit him to left field. He’ll make his U.S. debut this year, probably in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Salmon began his pro career in uninspiring fashion in 1999. He blossomed in 2000, however, and the Reds may have a sleeper on their hands. He picked up velocity and now throws in the low 90s. He also improved his curveball and his delivery, and developed a tricky fosh changeup, a forkball/split/change hybrid that few pitchers master. He also showed a strong work ethic. As with any young pitcher, Salmon needs to continue refining his mechanics and gaining experience. The Reds have plenty of starter candidates for Double-A, so he may wind up at Mudville this season.
A Japanese League veteran who received a $1.175 million bonus to sign with the Reds, Diaz has gained more skeptics than fans in the organization. Nobody denies his obvious tools. He has a quick bat which can generate power to all fields, and his speed makes him a threat on the bases. He has excellent range in center field and one of the best arms in the organization. But he needs to discipline himself at the plate, where he swings at bad pitches, and on the basepaths, where he makes poor decisions. Walking 14 times in 122 games and getting caught 20 times in 38 steal attempts is simply unacceptable. The additions of Ken Griffey and Jackson Melian to the organization last year don’t bode well for Diaz’ future.
Acevedo put up woeful statistics in his professional debut, hitting .180 and fanning in nearly half his at-bats. Nevertheless, the Reds insist that Acevedo's shortcomings mask a wealth of talent. Where others might see an undisciplined hacker, the Reds see a switch-hitter with power to all fields from both sides of the plate. They like his aggressive plate approach, which is helped by good bat speed. Acevedo takes his gung-ho attitude to the outfield, where he has displayed a decent arm. As the numbers indicate, he has plenty of work to do. He tends to pull off the ball from the right side of the plate. He also must hone his baserunning skills. The Reds believe Acevedo could make significant improvement at Dayton this year.