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The Reds' scouting contingent was split on which high school pitcher to draft with the third overall pick in 2002: Gruler or Scott Kazmir. Then-scouting director Kasey McKeon led the Kazmir bandwagon, but he was outnumbered. The consensus in the game was that Kazmir had a higher ceiling, but his price tag was considered much higher as well. Gruler, who got a club-record $2.5 million bonus, wasn't purely a signability pick, though. After his predraft workout in Cinergy Field, Johnny Bench said Gruler's breaking ball and changeup were better than Tom Seaver's. Gruler's stock soared in the months leading up to the draft, as his velocity increased from the upper 80s to the mid-90s. With nine Reds scouts on hand for his final prep start, he hit 95 mph in the seventh inning. He finished with a 4-3, 1.49 record for a poor team, showing his dominance by fanning 135 in 66 innings. Upon reporting to Rookie-level Billings, Gruler was shut down after his first start as a minor precaution. He threw pain-free for the rest of the season, highlighted by six no-hit innings in the low Class A Midwest League. But he experienced shoulder soreness during instructional league and doctors discovered fraying in his rotator cuff. Instead of having surgery, Gruler was ordered not to throw for two months and concentrated on rebuilding his shoulder strength. Gruler already has two plus pitches to go with a clean and effortless delivery. His fastball explodes out of his hand and he consistently pumped 89-94 mph fastballs with boring action in on righties. He snaps off nasty curveballs from the same arm slot, generating hard downward bite through the zone. While he toyed with a splitter in high school, Gruler shelved it in favor of a changeup. He has been a sponge since signing, soaking up knowledge from veteran pitching instructor Sammy Ellis and video work. The biggest hurdle for Gruler to overcome is his rotator-cuff injury. The fear is that while he has avoided surgery for now, an operation is inevitable. As for his arsenal, he needs to hone the command of his fastball and continue to develop his changeup. Gruler's shoulder ailment could keep him out of action until May, and the Reds will monitor his pitch counts closely. Provided he returns at full strength, he'll likely return to low Class A Dayton after a stint in extended spring training. He should move fast starting in 2004.
A former backup quarterback at Richmond, Basham posted an ugly 0-7, 6.39 record as a Spiders junior but showed enough the previous summer in the Cape Cod League to intrigue the Reds. They've allowed him to attend spring classes in each of the last two years, so he didn't report to Dayton until late May last year. He hurled three consecutive shutouts at Dayton--including two 78-pitch outings--and finished the year with a dominating performance in the high Class A California League championship game. Basham has made a rapid transition from raw thrower to pitcher. He had a two-week spring training but showed tremendous aptitude by incorporating mechanical adjustments on the fly. He fills the zone with a lively 90-93 mph fastball, devastating two-plane slider, plus knuckle-curve and fosh changeup. He has a slightly complex delivery, so Basham will have to work hard to maintain consistency. He worked with Dayton pitching coach Ted Power to correct his flaws. Basham will start the year at Double-A Chattanooga. After an encouraging trip to the Arizona Fall League, he could get through the upper levels in a hurry.
Pena had deals with the Marlins and Mets nixed by the commissioner's office before he turned 16. He eventually signed a four-year major league pact for $3.7 million with the Yankees, then was traded to the Reds for Drew Henson. He tore his hamstring in the Arizona Fall League and had surgery that will keep him out at the beginning of spring training. Pena is often compared to Sammy Sosa at the same stage of their careers. He owns similar raw power and may have more than anyone in the minors. He put on a home run display at Miller Park before the Futures Game last year. Pena is the fastest athlete in the system, and he projects as a prototypical right fielder with a cannon arm. His plus-plus bat speed allows him to crush any fastball. His biggest weakness is his contract. Pena has to be kept on the 25-man roster or be exposed to waivers, where he certainly would be lost. He needs more minor league at-bats because he's ultra-aggressive and hasn't grasped the idea of selectivity yet, but he's not going to get them. The Reds may buy a little time by sending Pena to the minors on a rehab assignment. After that, he'll have to learn on the job in the major leagues while sitting behind Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey and Austin Kearns.
The Rangers considered Encarnacion a throw-in to the Rob Bell-Ruben Mateo trade two years ago, but the Reds insisted on his inclusion in the deal. He has blossomed while Bell and Mateo have floundered. Encarnacion's athleticism enticed the Reds into moving him to shortstop late in 2002. Encarnacion combines outstanding bat speed with natural loft in his swing to drive the ball with authority. He covers the plate well and can make hard contact even on pitches out of the zone. His hands are quick at the plate and in the field, and his arm is the best in the system. While he has the tools--plus arm strength, first-step quickness and great hands--to be an asset in the field, Encarnacion committed 40 errors last year. He tends to rush his throws, and needs to square up and get his feet set. He's a slightly below-average runner. His bat will be even more dangerous when he stops trying to pull everything and displays more patience. He was originally drafted as a shortstop, so it's not out of the realm of possibility for Encarnacion to stay there. Most scouts believe he's better suited for third base, and his bat will allow him to play there.
Moseley signed for $930,000 as a 2000 supplemental first-rounder, but because the Reds ran out of money in their draft budget, the deal wasn't finalized until the start of their 2001 fiscal calendar in November. His late start hasn't bothered him at all. Moseley has shown a great feel for pitching since his high school days. His fluid delivery and arm action allow him to fire three pitches for strikes. His fastball is gaining velocity, and he'll dial his two-seamer up to 92-93 mph. He regularly sits at 90-91 with good life. His 76 mph curveball is a plus pitch, ranking with Josh Hall's for the system's best. Moseley has improved his mechanics and does a better job staying back over the rubber. He shows a good feel for his changeup, but could improve it and incorporate it more frequently. He also has worked hard to develop his lower-body strength this offseason. Moseley got knocked around after his promotion to Double-A, so he'll return there in 2003. He'll be part of a prospect-laden rotation that will include Bobby Basham, Ty Howington, Ricardo Aramboles and Hall.
Considered the top southpaw in the 1999 draft, Howington has been stymied by injuries since signing for $1.75 million. He overcame arthroscopic elbow surgery in the spring of 2001 but wasn't as successful trying to work through shoulder tendinitis last year. He was shut down in April, returned in June, then had his season end in early August. The Reds expect Howington to regain the velocity on his plus fastball. He threw 92-94 mph prior to 2002, when he still got to 89 with a dead arm. His pitches have life down in the strike zone. He flashes an above-average curveball and good fading changeup. Howington's mechanical flaws are probably the root of his injuries. He was cutting his delivery off, putting unnecessary stress on his arm. More consistent mechanics not only will keep him healthy, but also will improve the quality of his three pitches. Howington was back throwing darts in instructional league, hitting 89-91 mph without pain. At 22, he's still on schedule and will try to re-establish himself in Double-A.
Like Wily Mo Pena, Aramboles signed with the Yankees after Major League Baseball voided his first contract with the Marlins because he was too young. He had Tommy John surgery in 1999 and was traded for Mark Wohlers in 2001. Aramboles hasn't been able to get through a full season since 2000. Last year, he strained a thumb ligament swinging a bat in spring training and came down with a tender elbow during the season. Aramboles has major league-caliber stuff. His deceptive changeup is a plus pitch and makes his 92-94 mph fastball that much better. He backs those pitches up with a power 78 mph curveball with depth. He has a big league body, but Aramboles must prove he can withstand a full season without injury. He has a good delivery and clean arm action, but needs to gain more consistency with it. He has worked with pitching instructor Sammy Ellis to fine-tune his mechanics. He was on the cusp of the majors last spring and could impress the big league staff in the same manner again. Aramboles might be better served getting consistent innings in Double-A before being rushed. He was at full strength in instructional league.
After transferring to Louisiana State from Blinn (Texas) Jumior College for his junior season, Larson finished second in NCAA Division I to Rice's Lance Berkman with 40 homers and was the College World Series MVP in 1997. Years of battling through knee, ankle and wrist surgeries slowed his progress as a pro and led to his removal from the 40-man last spring. Then his bat heated up at Triple-A Indianapolis. Larson is a deadred fastball hitter, geared to yank heat out of the park. He made adjustments to hit offspeed stuff last year and became a more complete hitter when he started using the whole field. He also had laser eye surgery, which coincided with his improved pitch recognition. He's average at the hot corner. Larson is a full-effort hacker with a lot of pre-swing movement. He has an aggressive, power hitter's mentality that doesn't lend itself to working counts and still leaves him susceptible to offspeed pitches. After trading Todd Walker, the Reds will move Aaron Boone to second base to make room for Larson at third. At 26, he needs to seize his opportunity.
The Reds agreed to a trade that would have sent Hall and position prospects Alan Moye and David Espinosa to the Rangers for Kenny Rogers last July, but Rogers nixed it. Hall sustained a major knee injury in high school and had reconstructive shoulder surgery that cost him all of 1999 and most of 2000. Since then, he has emerged as one of Cincinnati's best pitching prospects without much fanfare. Hall is similar to Dustin Moseley. Neither is overpowering, though Hall has touched 94 mph. His fastball is usually average at 88-90, but he keeps it down and hits his spots with pinpoint command. His 12-to-6 curveball is a strikeout pitch, and his changeup is also a plus offering. He's poised on the mound with a feel for pitching that belies his youth. Hall has little margin for error and will have to continue to be fine with his control. His feel for his offspeed pitches is so advanced that he should be able to keep hitters off balance without blowing them away. Hall was forced to rebuild his mechanics after surgery, and farm director Tim Naehring said his rehab could be used as a blueprint for injured arms. Hall should return to Double-A and could find himself in Triple-A before the end of 2003.
The Reds say they landed the best college hitter available in the draft by taking Schramek, the Southland Conference's 2002 MVP and defensive player of the year, with the 40th overall pick. That didn't stop them from taking a hardline negotiating approach, which spurred Schramek to work out for Japan's Orix Blue Wave and to sign with the independent Atlantic League's Long Island Ducks. The Reds finally got him in December for $200,000, which tied for the lowest bonus in the first three rounds. Schramek has a pure line-drive stroke with quickness and strength through the zone. He has the defensive tools to project as a potential Gold Glover at third base. The Reds coveted his arm as a pitcher in high school, and it's still an asset from the hot corner. Schramek tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the 2001 Southland Conference tournament, had reconstructive surgery and played last season with a brace. That caused some teams to back off of him, but scouts say he has regained his mobility and has no lingering effects. Schramek should hit the ground running at the Reds' new high Class A Potomac affiliate. The Reds have little doubt he'll hit for average at any level.
Hudson was part of two national championship youth teams and won consecutive California state high school titles in 1994-95. He spurned an Orioles fifth-round offer out of high school to attend Tennessee, where he posted a 6.82 ERA in his draft year (1998) yet still went in the fourth round. He joined the Reds in the Pokey Reese trade with Colorado in December 2001. Hudson's fastball sat in the 91-93 mph range when he was a starter, but after moving to the bullpen last year he should be able to reach the mid-90s consistently. His curveball is a tight knee-buckler. Command always has been an issue for Hudson. He still hasn't learned to locate his fastball to both sides of the plate, which is what prompted his shift to relief. His changeup velocity is too close to his fastball, though he doesn't need the change as much out of the bullpen. He made strides with his delivery last year. General manager Jim Bowden was a proponent of moving Hudson to the pen. He could settle into the role and break camp as part of the Reds staff.
An all-Alabama performer in baseball, basketball and football in high school, Thigpen is one of the system's better athletes. He joined the Reds in a December cost-cutting trade that sent Todd Walker to the Red Sox. In 2002, Thigpen developed a knot in the back of his shoulder that sidelined him sporadically and relegated him to the bullpen and strict pitch counts for much of the year. He came on in the final month, with a 1.08 ERA, 23 strikeouts and a .143 opponent average in 25 innings. Thigpen's fastball sits at 93 mph and is capable of reaching 96. His solid-average curveball returned by the end of the season. While he's very much a work in progress, his athleticism should enable him to repeat his delivery and develop command. Thigpen has spent relatively little time pitching, dividing himself among three sports in high school and working a total of 125 innings in three pro seasons. As a result he's raw. His changeup and control are rudimentary, and he lacks touch. If Thigpen can make the transition from two-pitch thrower to three-pitch pitcher, he can be a frontline starter. He'll begin 2003 in high Class A.
Smitherman was a 23rd-round find by area scout Jimmy Gonzales, who also signed Scott Williamson and four other players among the Reds' top 30: Dustin Moseley, Mark Schramek, Daylan Childress and Jesse Gutierrez. Gonzales saw something in Smitherman, who hit a disappointing .326-9-53 as an Arkansas-Little Rock senior and has transformed himself into a prospect with three productive seasons in the low minors. Despite playing his home games last year at high Class A Stockton's Billy Herbert Field, a graveyard for righthanded power hitters, Smitherman finished among the California League leaders in average, hits, doubles and RBIs. He was the MVP of the playoffs, batting .522 to lead the Ports to the championship. An impressive physical specimen, he hits from an open stance and dives into the plate with an aggressive approach. This often leaves him vulnerable to getting tied up by pitches in on his hands. When he closes up early, he drives the ball to all fields. He displays good strike-zone awareness at times but needs to do so more consistently. Smitherman is athletic and runs well for his size. Below-average arm strength will relegate him to left field, but he has improved his routes and ability to cut off ground balls. He's a diabetic but that hasn't limited him. To this point, the Reds have asked him to prove himself one level at a time, and he has done so. A good spring showing could earn him a trip to Triple-A.
The Reds signed Votto to a $600,000 deal on day two of the draft. He had a tremendous predraft workout in Cinergy Field, highlighted by catching advice from Johnny Bench and home runs into the second deck against 91 mph fastballs. His fluid lefthanded stroke with natural loft and raw power also garnered predraft looks from the Yankees and Angels. Votto moved to catcher in the summer of 2001 and caught just 15 games in high school. Primarily a third baseman as an amateur, he spent most of his time in his pro debut there. He led the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League with 25 extra-base hits in 50 games. Votto has outstanding bat speed and demonstrates good hitting instincts. He shows a feel for hitting the ball to all fields. Defensively, some scouts question if he'll be able to stay behind the plate. He has a good arm and receives the ball well, but has a lot of room for improvement on footwork and glove-to-hand transfer. He threw out four of 18 basestealers in the GCL. The Reds want him to concentrate on hitting adjustments before stressing his defensive development. A strong spring effort could propel him to low Class A.
Sardinha signed a major league deal for $1.75 million that included no bonus, another concession to the Reds' budget machinations. He has two younger brothers in the minors: Bronson, one of the best hitters in the Yankees system; and Duke, a Rockies third baseman. Dane's .221 average in two years of pro ball underscores his biggest weakness, but the Reds remain confident he'll come on offensively. They were encouraged by his Arizona Fall League performance (.311-4-24), but that was only 101 at-bats. He did start to shake his aluminum- bat approach and learned to stay back and trust his hands and strength. He has a two-piece swing, where his upper and lower body don't quite work together. He needs to tone down his aggressiveness and develop more patience. Sardinha likely won't hit for much of an average, but the reason most scouts still consider him a prospect is his advanced catch-and-throw skills. He's adept at framing pitches, and he has soft hands and a quick transfer. He threw out 37 percent of basestealers last year. He's slated for a return to Double-A, where the Reds would love to see Sardinha carry over his AFL progress.
Primarily an infielder until his junior year in high school, Gillman didn't attract scouts' attention until he took the mound and started throwing 88 mph. His velocity jumped into the low 90s before the 2001 draft, and he showed a tremendous feel for pitching. After signing for $625,000 as a second-round pick, he dominated in his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League thanks to his command of three pitches. He would have pitched in the Midwest League playoffs had Dayton not been eliminated quickly. He returned to low Class A last year, but went down in May with elbow trouble that required Tommy John surgery. Gillman will start 2003 in extended spring training and probably won't see game action until instructional league. The history of the ligament-replacement operation suggests he'll regain his explosive 90-93 mph fastball and plus curveball. He also had shown a promising changeup. The good news is that he'll still be just 20 when he returns at full strength in 2004.
The Reds approached the Red Sox about acquiring Gamble in a trade last summer, and couldn't pass up the opportunity to take him in the Rule 5 draft. Two years ago Gamble was considered to have the best raw arm in the Boston system, though he had been limited to 31 appearances because of elbow problems. The news didn't get any better in 2001, when he pitched just three times before requiring Tommy John surgery. When he returned in mid- 2002, he was on strict pitch counts and never went past five innings. He was dominant in his short stints, and his quality stuff returned. Gamble again was throwing 92-94 mph with ease, and his hard curveball came back. He doesn't throw his changeup for strikes yet, but he believes in the pitch and throws it with the same arm slot as his fastball. Gamble was to be turned loose as a high Class A starter in 2003. He'll have to stay on Cincinnati's 25-man roster all year or be offered back to the Red Sox, who hope they'll be able to reclaim him.
Childress pitched in the same McLennan CC rotation in 2001 as Sean Henn, who signed with the Yankees for a draft-and-follow record $1.701 million bonus. Childress flashed a mid-90s fastball and agreed to a predraft deal worth $40,000, the lowest bonus among fifth-rounders. The Reds tinkered with Childress' mechanics, but he didn't take to the adjustments until last season. Once he did, scouts noticed a significant difference in his repertoire. Childress pitches with a fluid arm action and has sacrificed a little velocity--his fastball now ranges from 89-93 mph--for more life down in the strike zone. Strictly a fastball/slider pitcher in college, he added a changeup that now grades as his best pitch. Reds scout Jimmy Gonzales, who signed him, describes the pitch's movement as "cartoon-like." Childress' slider has tight rotation but is still erratic, as is his control at times. His aggressive makeup leads some scouts to project him as a reliever down the road, and his mid-90s velocity could return in a shorter role. He has added 15 pounds of lower-body muscle during the offseason, which will help him continue to amass innings as a starter in high Class A this year.
Olmedo draws comparisons to Omar Vizquel for his flashy glovework. He has outstanding actions, soft hands and plus arm strength. He gets careless at times, but cut his errors from 40 in 2001 to 25 last season. After Olmedo batted .237 against righthanders in 2000, the Reds decided to make him switch-hitter. A natural righty, he has batted .255 and .260 as a lefty the last two years, but his righthanded production has suffered as a result. Olmedo is a slap hitter who lacks power and gets the bat knocked out of his hands by overpowering stuff. He made more consistent contact last year and showed more patience at the plate. He's a solid-average runner who will be a threat on the bases once he improves his reads and jumps. His work ethic is as good as any player in the organization. Olmedo could move up to Double-A, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to return to high Class A at the start of 2003.
In 2002, Dawkins spent time in Double-A for the fourth straight year and made his third consecutive trip to the Arizona Fall League. Once rated ahead of Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns as the organization's top prospect after his breakthrough 1999 season, he hasn't developed offensively. Once regarded as the heir apparent to Barry Larkin at shortstop, he looks more like he'll have to settle for a utility role. Dawkins can run and field, though he stole a career-low nine bags last season. He has quick hands, good range and an above-average arm that's very accurate. At the plate, however, he struggles to stay back and recognize pitches. He doesn't strike the ball with authority, and he hasn't improved his plate discipline either. Dawkins is out of options, so he'll need to win a spot on the Cincinnati bench this spring.
Bergolla's sweet, natural stroke stood out to Reds assistant scouting director Johnny Almaraz at a Venezuela tryout camp in 1999. Bergolla started last year as one of the youngest everyday players in the Midwest League. While he wasn't overmatched, he spent the second half of the year in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, where he finished third in hitting. Bergolla uses his hands well, and scouts like the way the ball comes off his bat. They see that as a sign he'll find the gaps more frequently as he fills out his wiry frame. Showing more patience also would help. Bergolla is a solid-average runner down the line and even better once he gets going. He demonstrates a good feel for taking extra bases. Bergolla's arm is average, but some scouts question if he can stay at shortstop. He projects as an above-average second baseman with good hands, though he needs to improve his footwork on grounders and double-play pivots. He'll be tested in low Class A again this year.
Considered the top position player in the Red Sox system the previous two years, Blanco saw his stock fall considerably in 2002. He fell behind Shea Hillenbrand and Kevin Youkilis on Boston's depth chart before being included in a December trade for Todd Walker. Blanco still has impressive power tools. His pop and infield arm remained the class of the Boston organization until the trade. But he has hit just .248 in two years of full-season ball, and his 148-23 strikeout-walk ratio during that time is even more disturbing. The Red Sox worked extensively with him and he showed signs of making adjustments in batting practice, but Blanco didn't carry his lessons into game action. His swing gets too long, and he flies open in his stance trying to pull pitches way out of the park. After shoulder problems cost him time in 2001, he missed the first two months of 2002 when an errant pitch broke his left hand in spring training. He doesn't move especially well at third base, but he does have a cannon for an arm. With Mark Schramek ticketed for high Class A this year, Blanco may have to take a step back to low Class A.
Moye wasn't highly touted entering his senior year of high school in 2001. The baseball competition in east Texas isn't highly regarded by scouts, and his parents, both educators, were expected to steer him to Baylor. He also was a standout wide receiver, which took away from his time on the diamond. The Reds were delighted when they were able to draft him in the third round and sign him for $400,000. He's a special athlete built along the lines of a young Eric Davis, which is why the Rangers tried to acquire Moye last July in a trade that Kenny Rogers vetoed. Moye was the most improved player in the system last year and was the standout in Cincinnati's 2002 instructional league program. He applies his wiry strength at the plate, where the ball takes off upon contact, as well as on the bases and in the outfield. While he's a plus runner, Moye needs to use his speed more effectively on the diamond. His strike-zone knowledge also is undeveloped. The Reds expect him to adjust quickly, starting this year in low Class A.
Signed by Reds international scouting director Jorge Oquendo, Perez made an impressive U.S. debut in the Gulf Coast League last year. Now Cincinnati has him slotted behind Joey Votto and Dane Sardinha on its catching depth chart. His defensive tools also rank a close second to Sardinha. Perez threw out 31 percent of basestealers last year, a rate scouts expect to rise as he learns to harness his plus arm strength. He tends to drop his arm angle, causing his throws to tail and lose carry. A simple adjustment with his footwork and more experience should help him become a menacing presence behind the plate. Perez doesn't produce much power now, but he's an aggressive hitter with a knack for putting the ball in play. He needs to shorten his stroke. Coming off an encouraging instructional league stint, he has a chance to jump all the way to low Class A this year.
Booker has pitched all of 16 innings for the Reds since being acquired from the Cubs in a mid-2001 deal for Michael Tucker. Nevertheless, Cincinnati placed the fireballer on its 40- man roster in the offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Booker missed all of 2002 after spring surgery to repair a torn labrum. Before he got hurt, his stature and upper-90s fastball reminded observers of Lee Smith. His splitter, slider and command all needed refinement, but it was easy to project him helping the Reds bullpen in the not-too-distant future. Now Booker's timetable may be pushed back as far as 2004. He likely won't return to the mound until spring training, though he showed his range of motion and flexibility were back in instructional league last October.
Farfan garnered attention last summer when he moved to the bullpen during his U.S. debut and lit up radar guns with 96-97 mph readings. General manager Jim Bowden included him among the organization's top up-and-coming arms. Right now, however, Farfan is little more than an arm-strength guy. He threw in the low 80s when he signed in June 2000 and since has added 25 pounds to his projectable frame. His primary objective in instructional league was to work on his secondary pitches. He is trying to develop a consistent arm speed and grip on his changeup and slider. Farfan was one of 55 pitchers invited to the Reds' minor league advanced development program in February to get a head start on spring training. He could skip a level and begin 2003 in low Class A.
Edens played with Mark Schramek at San Antonio's James Madison High, and like Schramek was one of the more attractive college seniors in the 2002 draft. He didn't sign until November so the Reds could fit his $300,000 bonus--the lowest in the third round-- into their 2003 budget. Undrafted in 2001, he turned heads when he was clocked at 96-97 mph in Baylor's season opener at Minute Maid Park last February. Edens didn't maintain that velocity throughout the college season, but he sat at 93 mph and flirted with the mid- 90s while tying for the Big 12 Conference lead with 14 saves. He's similar to Scott Williamson (another Big 12 product) in stature, stuff, aggressive mentality and the effort in his delivery. Edens is a two-pitch guy with a slider that breaks 15 inches. He occasionally mixes in a decent changeup, giving the Reds hope he can handle a starting assignment, if for no other reason than to accumulate innings. He'll make his pro debut in Class A this year.
Gutierrez led NCAA Division I with an .855 slugging percentage at Texas-Pan American in 2000, then transferred to St. Mary's and led Division II with 28 homers the following year. He also hit two homers in his final game, earning MVP honors as the Rattlers won the national title. Reds area scout Jimmy Gonzales saw Gutierrez launch six home runs in a doubleheader for St. Mary's and was impressed with his electric bat speed. He makes good contact for a power hitter, though his plate discipline slipped in 2002 when he got his first exposure to full-season ball. Primarily a first baseman in college, Gutierrez has experience behind the plate, and the Reds project his value soaring as he learns the nuances of catching. He has good arm strength, but has to work on the fundamentals and shortening his release. He threw out 24 percent of basestealers last year and didn't commit an error in 33 games as a catcher. Gutierrez spent the offseason in a conditioning program at IMG's Baseball Academy in Bradenton, Fla., in preparation to handle the catching chores at Stockton.
Williams was one of the biggest surprises in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft in December after missing most of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. He had the operation in July 2001 and returned to the mound ahead of schedule. He may have come back too soon, though, making just two starts before being shut down with a mild case of tendinitis. The Cardinals wouldn't let him return to the mound as a precaution, and possibly in an attempt to hide him from the Rule 5 draft. All three of Cincinnati's big league Rule 5 picks came with disclaimers, as Luke Prokopec is recovering from arthroscopic shoulder surgery and Jerome Gamble is a member of the Tommy John fraternity. The 24th overall pick in the 2000 draft, Williams began his pro career in promising fashion before being sidelined. When healthy, he has an average fastball, a plus curveball, a developing changeup and good command. His delivery was considered clean before the injury, and because he didn't rely solely on arm strength--though he touched the mid-90s in college--he should be able to recover his form. The Reds' reports had Williams at 100 percent during the offseason.
Tiburcio ranked 27th on this list a year ago, under the name of Danny Mateo. In addition to his change of identity, Tiburcio also turned out to be 14 months older than previously reported. He still remains an intriguing prospect because of his raw tools and phenomenal defensive ability. His pure shortstop actions are nearly as good as Rainer Olmedo's. Tiburcio has soft hands, quickness to go with raw speed, the ability to make plays on the move and a plus arm to boot. He needs to play more under control after committing 32 errors in 52 games at shortstop last year. As with Olmedo, his bat is questionable. Tiburico must learn the importance of working counts and showing plate discipline. A switch-hitter, he's aggressive at the plate with a decent swing and projectable gap power. He'll move slowly until he develops more offensively.