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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) renewed 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. Though Kearns' injury affected his performance, it didn't spoil his approach--which is why he's the organization's 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 game's biggest stars. While no one would label Kearns lazy, because success has come easily to him, some in the Reds' inner sanctum fear he won't always apply himself as diligently as they might hope. Establishing a daily routine involving on- and off-field preparation--something the Reds try to stress throughout the organization--remains 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. 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 limited budget forced them to trade Reese and Dmitri Young for pitching help. Unless he regresses, Kearns' arrival in Cincinnati probably will occur no later than midseason.
Arthroscopic elbow surgery in late March delayed the start of Howington's 2001 season, but he recovered smoothly to excel at both Class A levels and perform respectably in Double-A. That followed a 5- 15, 5.27 pro debut in 2000 at Class A Dayton, during which the Reds were pleased that he gained experience and showed durability by making every start. Howington aroused concern at the start of his pro career with his complicated delivery, but he has streamlined his mechanics. Proof comes in his fastball, which regularly travels at 92-93 mph. Howington's curveball and changeup are both effective when he finishes his delivery, giving them late life. He still needs the sheer repetition of performing a fundamentally sound delivery. Not only will that increase the effectiveness of his pitches, but it also will help him avoid future arm trouble. He must devote attention to his pickoff move. Howington is tentatively slated to open 2002 at Double-A Chattanooga. He's almost certain to reach Triple-A at some point.
The Reds longed for Pena as far back as the spring of 1999, when he signed a $3.7 million major league contract with the Yankees. They weren't heartbroken to part with third-base prospect Drew Henson, whom they knew they couldn't keep away from a potential NFL career, because Pena came in return. Cincinnati figured Pena could flourish if they left him in one place for an entire season and allowed him to settle in. His impressive build, which prompts comparisons to Sammy Sosa, magnifies his five-tool skills. So did Pena's performance, which made him one of three minor leaguers with 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases. Pena's work ethic and enthusiasm are almost as impressive as his physical gifts. Pena needs to stop swinging at everything, especially breaking pitches off the plate. Defensively, he still needs work on reading the angles of batted balls, which should come once he learns to get better jumps. Pena's contract requires him to open 2003 in the majors or be exposed to waivers. The Reds must hope he accelerates his development, aware that he's doomed to be rushed to the bigs.
Aware they couldn't afford to retain reliever Mark Wohlers in 2002, the Reds sent him to the Yankees for Aramboles, who has recovered from Tommy John surgery in 1999, though he was shut down with a strained elbow shortly after the trade. Aramboles thrilled the Reds because they've recently had so few pitchers like him. He has an uncanny ability to adjust to changes in game situations, with a fastball that regularly travels at 93-94 mph, an excellent changeup and a decent curveball. He was the club's top pitcher in instructional league. Aramboles must stay on top of all of his pitches and resist the temptation to push off the rubber too quickly so he can drive down off the mound more forcefully. His results aren't as overpowering as his stuff because he trusts his changeup too much. After bouncing around with four teams in 2001, Aramboles could benefit from some stability in Double-A.
The Reds didn't have money for Moseley in their 2000 signing budget, so he signed that November after their 2001 fiscal year began. They figured he was mature enough to begin his professional career in low Class A in 2001, and his performance justified the decision. Invited to big league camp in 2001, Moseley endured volleys of good-natured razzing from veterans who asked if he had his driver's license. He demonstrated an excellent feel for pitching, despite his youth, guiding his pitches through the strike zone and past hitters. Moseley's fastball can hit 92 mph, which isn't overpowering but is hard enough when he hits his spots with late movement. His curveball and changeup were effective more often than not. With his beanpole build, Moseley must gain the strength that will enable him to reach the 200-inning level in coming years. Polished as he is, he can tweak his delivery by staying over the rubber a little longer, which will help him maintain better balance. The Reds don't need to rush Moseley. They know he'll progress quite nicely on his own. For now, moving up to high Class A Stockton will suffice, though he could finish the season in Double-A.
Adam Dunn deservedly got most of the headlines, but Broussard also had a productive 2001 season. He led the Southern League in hitting and slugging percentage (.592), while ranking second in on-base percentage (.428) and fifth in home runs. Broussard's performance erased the disappointment of a 2000 season that was marred by a wrist injury. The Reds' hopes that Broussard would cut down on his strikeouts were fulfilled. Like Sean Casey, Broussard hasn't yet developed overwhelming power but compensates by using the entire ballpark. Broussard uses nice quick hands in his swing, the key to his versatility as a hitter. Broussard played primarily first base in 2001 after drifting between there and left field the previous two seasons. He's barely adequate at both spots. The focus on Broussard will intensify now that he's on the 40-man roster. The Reds' emphasis on employing young, inexpensive talent could afford him the opportunity to reach the majors soon, though he'll also have to deal with a logjam at his positions.
Like Dustin Moseley, Espinosa spent the summer of 2000 negotiating and made his debut in full-season Class A in 2001. The cash-strapped Reds signed him to an unusual eight-year major league contract worth a guaranteed $2.75 million, but no bonus. He started shakily at Dayton before righting himself. Espinosa is a switch-hitter with some pop, and he has the speed to be a threat on the bases. He also draws walks, so he could fit at the top of a lineup. Despite committing 48 errors, Espinosa actually improved markedly on defense as the 2001 season progressed. He moved back to shortstop after trying second base briefly. Though Espinosa has slightly more pop in his bat as a lefthanded hitter, he maintains the same aggressive approach from both sides. He often is too aggressive, as his strikeout total indicates. He struggled at times with his throwing because he lacked a consistent arm angle and polished footwork. Some Midwest League observers project Espinosa as a second baseman and center fielder. The Reds will keep him at shortstop in 2002, which he'll open in high Class A.
Having spent part of the last three years in Double-A, Dawkins appears stuck in neutral. Yet the Reds maintain faith in his ability. Bothered by a right knee injury at the end of 2000, Dawkins had barely recovered when he sprained a ligament in the same knee rounding third base in April. His 2001 season essentially didn't begin until mid- May. As a veteran of the 1999 Pan American Games and the 2000 Olympics, Dawkins has a well-rounded understanding of the game. His knee injuries haven't ruined his speed and quickness, which he uses in the field and on the basepaths. His range and strong arm help him make difficult plays look routine. The Reds aren't sure what has kept Dawkins in a two-year offensive funk, which he started to come out of in the Arizona Fall League. He tends to drift into pitches, resulting in a lot of awkward swings and the sense that pitchers can knock the bat out of his hands. Dawkins is a strong candidate to open 2002 in Triple-A, though a return to Double-A isn't out of the question. He has experience at second base, but shortstop is Dawkins' natural position. Obviously, as a result of the Pokey Reese trade, he's got a much better chance of seeing time there when the chance comes.
Sardinha signed a deal similar to David Espinosa's, getting no bonus but a six-year big league contract worth at least $1.75 million. In his pro debut at high Class A, he gave the Reds about what they expected. He sparkled defensively and continued to need help offensively. The Reds believe Sardinha could survive defensively in the majors right now. He gets rid of the ball quickly and with plenty on his throws, finishing second in the California League by nabbing 38 percent of basestealers in 2001. While his offense wasn't overwhelming, he does have power to the gaps. To avoid becoming branded as a defensive specialist, Sardinha must keep refining his offensive approach, particularly by getting himself in decent hitting position as he uncorks his swing. He also has to refine his strike zone. Quiet by nature, he needs to assume more of a take-charge attitude behind the plate. With Jason LaRue establishing himself in the majors, veteran Kelly Stinnett serving as his backup and Corky Miller becoming a factor, Sardinha should be allowed to progress at a comfortable pace. He'll move up to Double-A in 2002.
Olmedo plays the most exciting infield defense the organization has seen since Pokey Reese was ascending through the system in the mid- 1990s. In Olmedo's native Venezuela, the comparisons he draws are to that nation's other great shortstops. He has the quickness, deft footwork, arm strength and range of an elite shortstop. With those gifts, his flashiness is no surprise. Asked to try switch-hitting in 2001, Olmedo accepted the task and held his own when he batted lefthanded for the first time. He used his speed to lead the organization in stolen bases. Olmedo occasionally is too slick for his own good and needs to make routine plays more routinely. He has work to do offensively, because he doesn't walk or make contact often enough for the singles hitter that he is. He also needs to refine his basestealing technique after getting caught 17 times. The Reds are confident Olmedo, who has an unquenchable work ethic, can hone his game while receiving a promotion to Double-A. Though Cincinnati has a glut of middle infielders, Olmedo may force the organization to make room for him.
Like most of Cincinnati's top 2000 draft picks, Snare signed too late to play professionally that year. This didn't bother the Reds, who knew that his college experience had given him the polish many other pitchers lacked. His stuff isn't overpowering, but he makes it work with impressive command. He's especially adept at spotting his fastball, which ranges from 88-91 mph. Snare complements it with a sharp-breaking curveball that's major leaguecaliber. His changeup is decent and he has a good pickoff move. Snare has no glaring flaws. He struggled with his consistency at times last season, the only reason he wasn't promoted to high Class A. He probably will bypass that level and begin this year in Double-A. He could make his major league debut sometime in 2003.
As the highest-ranked 2001 draftee on this list, Gillman made an immediate impression. The Reds were astounded that such a young pitcher could have as much command and poise as he displayed. He thrived with his fastball, which hovers from 89-93 mph. He also has an above-average curveball and an average changeup. The Reds believe that Gillman can ultimately be a No. 2 or 3 starter in their rotation, though he obviously needs plenty of seasoning. Gifted with a pitcher's frame, Gillman still needs to work on his strength and conditioning to realize his full potential. With a little more beef behind his pitches, he could develop into a bona fide power pitcher. The Reds don't want to rush Gillman, but they're not averse to challenging him. He could open 2002 in high Class A.
Reith and outfielder Jackson Melian are the only two players remaining in the organization of the four the Yankees gave up for lefthander Denny Neagle in July 2000. Last spring, third baseman Drew Henson was traded back to New York and lefthander Ed Yarnall was sold to Japan's Orix BlueWave. Some Reds officials wonder if Reith might as well be gone too. Nobody doubts his ability. But being rushed to Cincinnati in 2001 to shore up a starting rotation riddled with injuries and ineffectiveness may have scarred him. He got shelled once he returned to Double-A, which wasn't a good sign. Reith gave up 13 homers in 40 big league innings, a tipoff that hitters knew what was coming. He still has plenty of stuff: a lively fastball that ranges between 90-93 mph, a crackling slider and a changeup that he didn't use enough in the big leagues. He just needs to gain savvy and regain his confidence. Reith probably will open 2002 a step away from the majors in Triple-A Indianapolis.
Encarnacion initially attracted attention before the 2000 draft, when he was considered one of the top prospects in Puerto Rico. The Reds wouldn't have traded righthander Rob Bell to the Rangers unless he was included in the return package along with outfielder Ruben Mateo. The Cincinnati brass loves his Encarnacion's athleticism, which essentially makes him a shortstop playing third base. He has the organization's strongest infield arm, plus good range to either side as well as soft hands. He's still learning to hit--more patience at the plate would help--though the Reds were encouraged that he began to display a little bit of power in 2001. He must fill out physically to withstand the rigors of professional ball. Complaints also linger about Encarnacion's intensity. Though he's hardly a malingerer, some observers believe he doesn't play as hard as he should every day. Diligence often comes with maturity, which the Reds hope Encarnacion will gain with a full season in low Class A this year.
The Reds' first-round pick in 1997, when he set an NCAA record for homers by a shortstop with 40, Larson finally made his big league debut last season. However, there's plenty of internal debate as to whether he can prosper in the majors over the long haul. Having built his reputation with offense as an amateur, Larson has proven to be a solid third baseman as a pro. He charges balls and makes off-balance throws expertly, and he shows a well above-average arm on more routine plays. At the plate, Larson's power is beyond question. When he hits a ball solidly, it stays hit. But his lack of consistency concerns the Reds, who think he might benefit from trying to hit to the opposite field more often. The club also began to wonder about his conditioning as 2001 progressed and are curious to see if he eliminates the perceived flab by spring training this year. Larson is likely to begin 2002 in Triple-A.
Moye's potential to combine power with speed thrills the Reds. As is the case with many young players, he didn't show much of the former immediately, though he displayed plenty of the latter. He has inspired comparisons within the organization to Wily Mo Pena for being so richly gifted yet raw. Moye needs extensive work on his outfield play. He has a fair arm, but his faulty footwork prevents him from uncorking good throws when he comes in on balls. He nullifies his quickness by getting bad jumps and taking indirect routes to fly balls. The Reds are convinced that Moye will hit for average, so if he develops his power he could advance quickly. They'll probably start Moye this season at Dayton, where outfield prospects Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns and Pena have flowered in the last two years.
Melian's stock has slipped since he joined the organization in the Denny Neagle trade with the Yankees in July 2000. He's impressively built and looks like a big leaguer. Of course, looks aren't everything, as his batting average reflects. He did show promise in 2001, nearly doubling his previous career high for homers as he began displaying the power everybody knew he had. Better yet, Melian can hit the ball out to all fields. He again showed off a strong throwing arm, legitimizing his reputation as a solid defender. But he remained erratic overall and prone to impatience at the plate. He managed to avoid serious hamstring injuries, a problem for him in previous seasons, and the Reds want him to continue to improve his flexibility. Though overenthusiastic club officials lumped Melian with Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns a year ago, he unquestionably has been left in their wake. Melian probably will spend more time at Double-A until he develops consistency, and he'll have a hard time cracking a potential big league outfield of Ken Griffey Jr. flanked by Dunn and Kearns.
Be careful before labeling Diaz a bust. Most of the Reds' inner sanctum remains sensitive about Diaz and the inexplicable $1.175 million bonus he received when Cincinnati purchased him from Japan's Hiroshima Carp in 1999. But he might be on the brink of blossoming, though a shoulder injury prevented him from doing so last season. He played this winter in the Dominican League in an attempt to make up for lost time. The Reds particularly like Diaz' vast fielding range and, when healthy, his imposing throwing arm. Though his injury robbed him of his timing at the plate, he looked pretty good before his season ended. He still has to tighten his strike zone, but Cincinnati continues to believe he just needs repeated opportunities to play. The club's growing glut of outfield prospects may eventually make him an afterthought. The Reds believe that a return to Chattanooga and full health will help Diaz the most right now.
Because they didn't want to tender a contract to Pokey Reese, whom they didn't want to go to arbitration with, the Reds traded him to the Rockies in December. The transaction was essentially a salary dump plus a swap of lefthanded relievers (Dennys Reyes for Gabe White), but Cincinnati also got Hudson. He could amount to more than a throw-in. Hudson had a lot of success as an amateur--winning national titles in Pony Baseball's Pony (13-14) and Colt (15-16) programs, plus two California state championships in high school--but hasn't translated it to the professional level. Despite having a losing record in three of his four pro seasons, Hudson has the physical ability. Scouts love his body and his arm, but he lacks command of his fastball. Hitters seem to pick it up easily though he throws in the low 90s. He does have a good curveball with depth and a decent changeup. The Reds will take a good look at Hudson in spring training before deciding whether to send him to Triple-A or back to Double-A.
Were it not for a minor arm injury and a pulled groin muscle, Gil might have joined the procession of minor league pitchers who found their way to Cincinnati in 2001. That would have been quite an accomplishment, considering it was his first full pro season. He reached Double-A the year before, shortly after signing out of the University of Miami, where he went 31-5 and was part of one national championship in four seasons. Gil throws his fastball in the low 90s and sharpened its consistency last year. He also has the standard complement of secondary pitches, including an effective slider. His control got out of whack at times in 2001, though that may be attributable to his physical problems. Gil will compete in the spring for a spot in the Triple-A starting rotation, though it wouldn't be a shock to see him back at Chattanooga.
Like Luke Hudson, Pinieda joined the Reds this winter in a trade designed to keep the club out of arbitration. Juan Encarnacion was the bigger-name player acquired from Detroit for Dmitri Young, but Pineda could make the Cincinnati bullpen in 2002. After never having pitched above high Class A going into last season, he finished the year in the majors. Pineda has a power arm capable of delivering 92-95 mph fastballs with regularity while occasionally touching 98. On a given day, his curveball can be anything from a very good to a below-average pitch. He's not closer material but he can be a useful middle reliever. Control of his pitches and of himself have been his biggest problems. Both the Rangers and Diamondbacks released Pineda before he made his climb through the Tigers system. He missed much of 2000 with an elbow strain but held up throughout last season.
After spending four years in the Cubs system as a middle reliever, Piersoll joined the Reds as a Triple-A Rule 5 draft pick and quickly found a cozier niche as the Double-A closer. He isn't overpowering, as his fastball ranges from 90-92 mph, but he neutralizes hitters with his sterling command and movement on his pitches. He induces plenty of ground balls with his sinking two-seam fastball, which he'll throw to either side of the plate. Piersoll predictably suffers when he elevates his pitches, a pitfall for pitchers lacking tremendous stuff. He needs to improve his command so he can pitch down in the strike zone and cut down on his walks. Piersoll will get the chance to win a middle-relief role in the majors this year. If he fails, he'll secure a prominent role in the Triple-A bullpen.
It's rare but not unprecedented for a successful reliever to begin his career as a position player. Cincinnati believes Valera could join the company of Trevor Hoffman, Troy Percival and Felix Rodriguez. He hit .210 in two years of Rookie ball and didn't look like he'd ever hit enough to hold down an everyday job. Moreover, he lacked the fluid footwork and hands required of a catcher. The Reds didn't want to waste Valera's valuable arm strength, so they converted him to pitching last summer--ironically, the day after he hit a grand slam. Despite never having pitched before, Valera immediately warmed up to the role. His fastball ranges from 90-94 mph and he garnishes it with a wicked 84-mph slider. He continued to progress after the season, earning most-improved-pitcher honors in Cincinnati's instructional league camp. As expected, he needs work on his command and on such subtleties as holding runners on base and developing a changeup. He's likely to spend his first full year as a pitcher in low Class A.
Primarily known by his nickname "Noochie," Varner has done more than add to the Reds' collection of players with odd monikers. He blossomed at the plate in 2001, leading the Rookie-level Pioneer League in hits and finishing fourth in the batting race. A supremely confident hitter, he uses the entire field. He may have too much faith in himself, because there's some thought he might resist making adjustments at the upper levels. He also strikes out too much. Varner's biggest flaws come with his glove. He played his way off third base to left field last season, and he still needs to get better defensively. He's ticketed for low Class A to start 2002, but he could earn a midseason promotion if he continues his torrid hitting.
Signed out of the Reds' Venezuelan camp, Bergolla represents another mini-triumph in the organization's continuing efforts to upgrade its Latin American scouting. As impressive as his batting average was in 2001, his intangibles may have been more admirable. Displaying an excellent feel for the game, he proved adept at bunting, moving runners over and using the entire field. Though he showed signs of developing some power, he'll probably need to keep playing the little game on offense. His basestealing skills and ability to make contact should allow him to do so. He moved from shortstop to second base last year and must continue making the adjustment. Routine plays still give him trouble. As with many teenage professionals, Bergolla also has a long way to go in developing himself physically. He'll probably start 2002 in low Class A.
Older than most of Cincinnati's outfield prospects, Smitherman is trying his best to make up for lost time. Fortunately for him, he's pretty good at hurrying. His speed, which is impressive for a man of his size, helped him lead the low Class A Midwest League in doubles in 2001. Displaying the aptitude to refine his game, Smitherman began using more of the field with Dayton, hitting balls to the gaps. He continued his development in the offseason by being named MVP in the Reds' instructional league program. Among the skills he tried to refine there was recognizing curveballs. He also could use more plate discipline. Defensively, Smitherman has a decent throwing arm but must work on taking better routes to balls. At 23, he'll probably be exposed to Double-A at some point this year.
Gookie Dawkins, Ranier Olmedo and Edwin Encarnacion give the Reds an abundance of surehanded infield prospects. Some observers believe Mateo may have better defensive tools than any of them. His soft hands are rivaled by his nimble feet. He puts the latter to good use on offense, relying on his speed to leg out infield hits and steal bases. He led Cincinnati's Rookie-level Gulf Coast League club in swipes last year. He's still adjusting to switch-hitting and needs to solidify his approach from both sides of the plate. He also could stand to add about 25 pounds to his lightweight frame. Mateo will remain in Rookie ball at Billings, where he received a brief trial in 2001.
As DeHart has risen through the organization, so have expectations surrounding his projected role with Cincinnati. He's now regarded as a potential situational lefty. His makeup certainly fits the job description. He's hard-nosed and ultra-aggressive, challenging hitters with a 90-mph fastball that he doesn't mind throwing inside. He's a master at getting ground balls when needed. DeHart also has command of a nice assortment of breaking pitches that should give him an edge against lefthanders. Oddly enough, he was better against righties in 2001, as they hit .203 compared to .266 by lefties. He still needs more command, consistency and seasoning. He'll start the year in Double-A and could start to move quickly.
Darnell is another lefty who lacks overwhelming stuff but compensates with command. He likes to use his curveball and slider to get strikeouts. His fastball, clocked at 88-90 mph, is adequate. He helps himself with a deceptive delivery, subjecting hitters to a dazzling vision of moving limbs, elbows and knees before the ball suddenly comes toward the plate. The higher Darnell climbed in 2001, the more he was used in relief after having pitched almost exclusively as a starter in his pro career. Though the Reds project him as a reliever, his experience in the rotation enhances his value. His late-season success at Triple-A virtually assures him of returning there to open 2002.
Anyone who sees Booker's fastball might fantasize about John Wetteland, Robb Nen or another smoke-throwing closer. It's the main reason the Reds asked for him in the trade that sent Michael Tucker to the Cubs last summer. But you won't get any Cincinnati officials to project Booker as a closer just yet, because he's so raw. He's still a thrower, not a pitcher. He can reach 97-98 mph but velocity is essentially his lone asset on the mound. He also throws a slider and a splitter, neither of which is major league-ready. He must develop one of those two pitches to complement his fastball. If Booker can do that, he'll reach the majors in a hurry. He's likely to begin 2002 in Double-A to work on his command.