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A boot-wearing, drawling cowboy, Bailey plays the role of fireballing Texas righthander well. He grew up on an egg farm, and is an avid hunter who keeps a collection of the tusks of wild boar he has killed in his room. He also maintains that image on the mound. He established himself as a winner as a high school freshman, beating Forney High and current Reds reliever Ryan Wagner to win the state 3-A championship for La Grange High. Entering 2004, Bailey already was considered a certain top-10 draft pick, and scouts respected how he rose to that challenge as well as being the pitcher others teams gunned for during his entire prep career. He capped a tremendous senior season by leading La Grange to another state title, striking out 14 (including 10 of the last 12 outs). He was Baseball America's High School Player of the Year, though that in itself is far from a guarantee of future success. Three other righthanders have won it: Matt White in 1996, Matt Harrington in 2000 and Jeff Allison in 2003--none of whom won a game in Organized Baseball in 2004. The Reds believe Bailey's maturity and track record of dealing with success will set him apart from that disappointing trio. They gave him a $2.3 million bonus, the second-largest in organization history. Bailey has the frame and arm speed to throw hard, and he does so consistently. His fastball sits at 92-97 mph when he's at his best, and it has good life as well. Scouts considered it the best fastball in the draft among high school pitchers, not just because of its velocity but also because he consistently throws it for strikes. Bailey's command also rated as best among prep pitchers. He's more polished than the average high school pitcher, though he won't be confused with Kansas City's Zack Greinke, either. The fastball is his best pitch, but he gets plenty of strikeouts with his plus downer curveball as well, the best bender available in the prep ranks in 2004. Athletic and projectable, Bailey should be able to throw harder and maintain his delivery as he fills out. Bailey was used conservatively in his first pro season, and Cincinnati didn't get a long look at him in instructional league. He injured his right knee during the 2003 Area Code Games, leaving a game after just four pitches, and he tweaked the knee again in instructs. The Reds and Bailey decided it would be best if he had arthroscopic surgery to head off any long-term problems. He was back to full speed in December, beginning his offseason workouts. Now he needs to show he can pitch a full season. His changeup needs work to become a legitimate third pitch. Bailey's combination of power and polish should allow him to move quickly. The Reds have had little success with taking high school pitchers in the first round as of late--Ty Howington (1999) and Chris Gruler (2002) have had repeated injury problems--so they'll be careful with Bailey. He'll be in their tandem-starter system, most likely at low Class A Dayton, which should keep him fresh. He could start to take off toward Cincinnati in 2006.
Encarnacion enhanced his standing as the Reds' top position-player prospect with a solid 2004. Acquired in 2001 from the Rangers in a trade with Ruben Mateo for Rob Bell, Encarnacion impressed the Reds with his maturity, returning to Double-A Chattanooga after a failed stint there in 2003 and showing a more consistent work ethic and attitude. Encarnacion has excellent hitting tools, including developing patience (career-high 53 walks in 2004) and power (he tied for the Southern League doubles lead). His improved willingness to go the other way and good bat speed have scouts projecting him to hit .280-.300 with 20-25 homers annually. Defensively he has a plus arm, quick hands and middle-infield actions. While his 25 errors marked his first season with less than 30, Encarnacion still topped the SL. Many of his errors have come on poor throws related to his footwork. Offensively, his swing tends to get long when he tries too hard to hit for power. Cincinnati signed free agent Joe Randa to a one-year deal, giving Encarnacion another year to develop. He'll head to Triple-A Louisville this year with an eye on replacing Randa in 2006.
Gardner has overcome long odds. As a sophomore at Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College, his progress was stunted by mononucleosis and then by a concussion after he was hit in the head by a throw during infield drills. He has recovered nicely and was the best pitcher in the Reds system in 2004. Gardner has the best command in the organization, throwing three pitches for strikes. He keeps his plus sinker down while throwing it at 90-94 mph. His slider kept improving over the course of the season and now rates as the best in the system. His changeup mimics his fastball with late sink and helps him attack lefthanders. At times Gardner's slider gets slurvy, though he has improved the consistency of its power and bite. While he admits to lingering affects from the concussion, it hasn't showed up in his pitching. He just needs to stay healthy and get innings. The Reds like Gardner's no-fear attitude as much as his three-pitch mix. It will be hard to keep him out of Cincinnati if he repeats his pro debut in 2005, which should start in Double-A.
The Yankees had Votto fly in from Canada to work out before the 2002 draft. When the Reds found out, they asked him to work out for them first, and they picked him 44th overall after he put on an impressive display. Votto has excellent strength, discipline and savvy at the plate, a combination that makes him the best hitter in the system and gives him above-average power potential. He works hitter's counts and has a short, compact swing that he repeats well. His 90 walks ranked fifth in the minors in 2004. Votto's average bat speed prompted one scout to compare him to Brian Daubach. He can be patient to a fault, passing on pitches he can drive. He's still raw as a baserunner and defender. While Votto's upside is debatable, scouts agree he's a polished hitter who could rush through the minors. Sean Casey's contract has a club option for 2006, so Votto is a rare Reds prospect who could be pushed. He'll start this year back at high Class A, where he ended 2004.
Szymanski broke out as a junior in two sports at Princeton. In football, he had more catches (44) and yards receiving (823) than in his first two years combined. He then led the Tigers to the Ivy League baseball title as their top hitter (.362). The Reds were surprised he fell to the 48th overall pick and signed him to a $750,000 bonus. Szymanski instantly became the top athlete in the organization and shows five-tool potential. He can cover 60 yards in 6.5 seconds, has plus arm strength and has shown above-average power potential. A switch-hitter, he shows a similar swing from either side. A quad injury short-circuited Szymanski's first pro season, and the Reds already had agreed to let him return to Princeton to complete his psychology degree. He may need to shorten his swing and develop more patience. His ability to make consistent, hard contact will determine his success. If he has a strong year in low Class A, he could zoom to the top of this list.
Pauly drew scouts' attention when he started reaching the low 90s as a sophomore reliever at Princeton, where he was B.J. Szymanski's teammate. He returned to Princeton each of the last two falls to complete his thesis and finish his chemical-engineering degree. He led the high Class A Carolina League in strikeouts in 2004. Pauly's fastball got him drafted and remains his best pitch. It touches 95 mph, sits in the low 90s and has good life down in the zone. Pauly has picked up a nifty, sweeping slider since signing, and it has become an above-average pitch at times. His changeup has shown flashes of brilliance. Pauly still is learning the nuances of starting, from throwing a changeup to using his offspeed stuff to set up his fastball. He's shown aptitude in all areas. The tandem-starter system worked well for Pauly, who gained innings and got acclimated to the rotation. His changeup will determine if he's effective as a starter at higher levels. His next test will come in Double-A.
Coffey had a rough career before blossoming in 2004, reaching Triple-A and earning a 40-man roster spot after a strong Arizona Fall League. He battled weight problems early in his career, ballooning to as much as 280 pounds, and missed 2000 with Tommy John surgery. While the Reds nearly released him several times, he rewarded their patience with an organization- best 24 saves last year. Coffey has an intriguing combination of power and control. His fastball sits anywhere from 90-96 mph. His improved mechanics help him maintain a good downhill plane with the pitch. He plays off the heater with a good splitter, his strikeout pitch. He has impressive control of the strike zone. Coffey will need to keep an eye on his weight. He wore down as the 2004 season went on, causing his velocity in the AFL to fluctuate. His lack of a third pitch limits him to one turn through the order. Coffey's stuff profiles as a set-up man, but his command could make him a closer as he gains more experience. His perseverance should be rewarded with big league time in 2005.
Shaking off the effects of a broken left hamate bone from the previous winter, Bergolla continued to win fans in the organization with his hustle, defense and line-drive bat in 2004. He missed the last three weeks when he aggravated the hamate injury. He returned in time to play winter ball again in his native Venezuela. Bergolla has good bat control, using the whole field with a compact, line-drive swing. He's also a good bunter and is learning the value of a walk. He's an above-average runner who led the organization in steals for the second straight year, and he has improved his baserunning savvy. He has the range and infield actions to play shortstop, as well as solid-average arm strength. Even if he fills out his skinny frame, Bergolla never will be a power threat. The Reds would like to use him at shortstop more often, but his arm comes up sore after extended playing time there. If Bergolla can keep his arm healthy, he'll be a shortstop candidate for Cincinnati this year, or his versatility and speed could earn him a spot as a major league utilityman soon.
The Reds got Pelland, a Vermont prep phenom who led the state in strikeouts and ERA as a senior, from the Red Sox in the Scott Williamson trade in 2003. Pelland righted himself after a disastrous stint in low Class A with a strong second half at Rookie-level Billings. Pelland has power stuff. His four-seam fastball sits at 92-94 mph and reaches 95. He added an 89-90 mph two-seamer with good life last year. His circle changeup has the makings of a plus pitch, as it arrives in the low 80s with late tumble. He's athletic and has a durable frame. Midwest League hitters hammered Pelland because he threw across his body and couldn't spin his curveball for strikes. Billings pitching coach Vern Ruhle, now the Reds' minor league pitching coordinator, helped him pitch more directly to the plate, improving his curve and his command. Ruhle's adjustments and Pelland's aptitude turned a nightmare season into a learning experience. He'll get another shot at low Class A in 2005. The progress of his curve will determine whether he reaches his ceiling as a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
The shortstop on Rice's College World Series championship team in 2003, Janish would have gotten a chance to pitch in 2005 had he not turned pro for $210,000. He has hit 93 mph off the mound, but his defensive prowess will keep him at shortstop. He was the Reds' MVP in instructional league. Janish is a fluid athlete and a polished defender. He has tremendous hands, and his arm combines above-average strength with accuracy. One club official compared him to Adam Everett. Janish made major offensive strides in 2004, shortening his swing and showing a willingness to go the other way. He has the patience to draw walks and is an average runner. While he held his own in his pro debut, Janish's bat will never be his best tool. He lacks strength and has a sweepy swing that can get long, resulting in below-average power and too many strikeouts. If Janish continues to get on base, he should move quickly in an organization lacking shortstop depth. A jump to Cincinnati's new high Class A Sarasota affililate is possible for 2005.
Ramirez spent a month last season in Philadelphia as an emergency fill-in reliever. He finished the year in a new organization. The Reds acquired him from the Phillies in a deal for righthander Corey Lidle. The other players in the trade, outfielder Javon Moran and lefthander Joe Wilson, have flashier tools, but Ramirez is much more polished. He emerged as a prospect with a 73-2 strikeout-walk ratio and 1.10 ERA in the Gulf Coast League in 2002. While he hasn't posted numbers quite that gaudy at higher levels, he's still pounding the strike zone with three average pitches. Ramirez has an effortless, easily repeatable delivery and a loose arm, which account for his excellent command. He has maintained his mechanics while going from 140 pounds when he signed to his current 180. He throws his fastball anywhere from 86-92 mph, complementing it with an average curveball and changeup. The Reds want him to be more aggressive early in the count because he lacks a true out pitch that misses bats. In past years, he'd stand a good chance of making the Cincinnati rotation, but the club's improved depth will allow it to give Ramirez his first taste of Triple-A in 2005.
Until B.J. Szymanski's arrival, Dickerson was the best athlete in the system. He has just started scratching the surface of his considerable potential as a power-speed players. So far as a pro, only the speed has shown up. Dickerson has taken to the organization's emphasis on patience and was effective as a leadoff man in low Class A. He's an above-average runner with good range in center field. In fact, with his combination of speed, route-running and an average, accurate arm, the Reds rate Dickerson as a 70 defender in center on the 20-80 scouting scale. Aggressive in the outfield, he hurt his left elbow diving for a fly ball last year. The injury was one reason that Dickerson has yet to translate his raw power into homers. The other reason, scouts say, is that he cuts himself off in his swing and settles for a little man's approach instead of taking advantage of his natural strength with a healthier cut. Dickerson will return to high Class A, where he finished last season, to begin 2005.
The Reds' tandem-starter system obscured Shafer's 2004 performance, precluding him from putting up big numbers on a bad Dayton team. It couldn't obscure his development as one of the system's higher-ceiling arms. Shafer played at Junior College World Series champion Central Arizona Junior College in 2002, alongside Scott Hairston, Rich Harden and Rangers shortstop prospect Ian Kinsler, going 16-5 in two years as a starter. Cincinnati liked his loose arm, signed him as a draft-and-follow in 2002 and moved him to the bullpen. He worked as both a reliever and starter in 2004, finishing the year as high Class A Potomac's closer. The wiry-strong Shafer has some projection left on a fastball that sits at 88-92 mph and reaches 94. It has good life down in the zone, is always around the plate and works well with his slider, which he commands well but needs to tighten. His advanced command of both pitches could help him move quickly. Shafer has worked on a changeup that he would need as a starter, but his durability and live arm profile well for relief. The Reds say his makeup could make him a closer, and with a good spring he could open 2005 in that role in Double-A.
Howard has an impressive track record and keeps succeeding despite average tools and an unorthodox style. He was on the Long Beach team, led by Sean Burroughs, that won the 1993 Little League World Series, and he won a College World Series championship at Miami in 2001, a year after he was Baseball America's Freshman of the Year. He hit .413 as a freshman, played for Team USA as a sophomore and had a strong junior season, yet lasted until the fifth round in 2002 because he didn't have a clear position and lacked an outstanding tool. Howard is a good athlete whose best attribute is his bat. He's a patient, line-drive hitter who knows and exploits situations, and he has shown improved power. He hangs in well against lefthanders, and his overall game reminds the Reds of Adam Kennedy's. Howard played shortstop and third base in college, but Cincinnati moved him to second base because his arm strength, short-circuited by a funky delivery, is below average. Howard is taller and rangier than the usual second baseman and has average range, but he's still learning his way around the right side of the infield. He needs to improve his footwork around the bag on the double-play pivot. His winning makeup, athleticism and solid bat make him a good bet to reach the majors as at least a utilityman. After a solid Arizona Fall League performance, he's headed for Double-A.
In 2002, Kozlowski looked like one of the game's emerging prospects. After the Braves traded him to the Rangers, he reached the big leagues and entered 2003 as Texas' No. 2 prospect. He had Tommy John surgery that June, however. He got back on a mound in spring training last year and was pitching in games by June at high Class A. While the Rangers were pleased with his work ethic in his rehabilitation, as well as his leadership role on a prospect-laden Stockton staff, Kozlowski had the requisite post-Tommy John struggles with command and a feel for pitching. His fastball velocity was solid, though more in the high 80s than the low 90s he used to flash. The biggest difference last year was that his once plus curveball wasn't biting as it had in the past, leaving Kozlowski without a strikeout pitch. The Rangers tried to move him off their 40-man roster in October, and the Reds claimed him on waivers. Cincinnati won't know exactly what it has in Kozlowski until spring training. He never has pitched in Triple-A, and 2005 seems like the perfect time.
The Reds have three catchers--Miguel Perez, Brian Peterson and Dane Sardinha--with advanced defensive skills who can catch and throw in the majors right now, but all three have serious questions about their offense. Perez is the youngest and has the most upside offensively. Some in the organization consider Perez its best position-player prospect after Edwin Encarnacion, based almost solely on his defense. Perez produces 1.8- to 1.9-second pop times to second base, and Cincinnati rates his arm and defense as 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He's agile, athletic and intelligent, all traits of an elite defender, though he threw out just 28 percent of basestealers last year. Perez has a long way to go for his offense to be in the same ballpark as his defense. His ceiling is .260 with 10-15 homers. He has average power potential and is filling out his solid frame. But he lacks the approach to make consistent contact to take advantage of his power. Perez is overly aggressive and lacks patience. He needs to start hitting at the Reds' new high Class A Sarasota affiliate this year if he's going to have a reasonable chance of fulfilling the organization's high hopes.
Part of the Cory Lidle trade last August, Moran was particularly impressive after switching organizations, recording 11 multihit efforts in 25 games. He has good speed and instincts, and will profile as a center fielder/leadoff man if his bat plays. A plus runner, he had 52 steals last year, more than any Reds farmhand. He does need to boost his 72 percent success rate. Moran has enough range for center field, where he's a solid-average defender with a below-average arm. His slashing swing produces line drives from foul pole to foul pole, and his wiry strong frame keeps him from being overpowered by good fastballs. Plate discipline will dictate Moran's success. He drew 20 walks during his last two years of college combined, and that impatience continued with the Phillies. The Reds forced him to take a strike before swinging (as they do for all their minor league hitters), and Moran's patience and performance at the plate improved. Now the Reds want to see him do it again in high Class A.
When Kelly was a high school senior in 1998, a sudden leap in fastball velocity to the 90-92 mph range made his draft stock soar. Many scouts considered his curveball one of the best in the draft, and the White Sox selected him in the fifth round. He didn't sign, though, instead heading to Georgia Tech. After an injury-plagued freshman year, Kelly went 15-7, 4.63 his last two seasons. He has had his greatest success since moving up to Double-A, tying for the Southern League lead in wins, innings and starts last year. Kelly's curveball is no longer considered a plus pitch, but it's solid-average, as are his changeup and a slider he has added since turning pro. He commands his fastball well, but it usually has below-average velocity at 86-88 mph. He does the little things well, such as holding runners and fielding his position. His overall package resembles that of Jeff Suppan, though Kelly's fastball and curve are a notch below Suppan's. Kelly will head to Triple-A for the first time in 2005.
The first round of the 2000 draft was one of the worst in baseball history, as clubs worried more about signability than ability in a lean year for talent. Complicating matters, Scott Boras was advising most of the top college players available. His stable included Sardinha, who signed a $1.75 million major league contract with no bonus as a second-rounder. But fears that he wouldn't hit have proven well-founded, and there were no takers when the Reds removed him from their 40-man roster in 2003. Sardinha, whose brothers Bronson (Yankees) and Duke (Rockies) were active in the minors last year, still has excellent catch-and-throw skills. He's as good a receiver as Miguel Perez is, but his arm isn't quite in the same league. It's better than his 24 percent rate of catching basestealers last year would indicate, however. Sardinha is more advanced offensively than Perez, but his ceiling with the bat is low. While he has improved at using the whole field and letting his natural strength produce average power, Sardinha is among the minors' least choosy hitters. He had his best year at the plate in 2004, though that's not saying much. Sardinha's bat is that of a backup at best, and the Reds will keep in Triple-A as big league insurance.
Gonzalez drew scouts to George Washington High in the Bronx--Manny Ramirez' alma mater--before moving to the Dominican Republic, his parents' homeland, in 2003. The Yankees signed him for $200,000 after a tryout, but the commissioner's office voided the contract after discovering Gonzalez was an American citizen subject to the draft. He returned to New York but was ineligible for his senior season, pitching instead on a scout team once a week. His body, once long and lean, got out of shape, leaving his stuff and velocity in flux. The Reds took a chance on him and signed him for $315,000. As his conditioning improved, Gonzalez showed better velocity in the Gulf Coast League, touching 96 mph. He has a loose arm and is a power pitcher, throwing an inconsistent but at times nasty splitter. His knuckle- curve will have to improve for Gonzalez to remain a starter. His raw arm strength rates near the top in the organization, and the Reds are eager to see how it plays in low Class A this year.
The Reds have several middle-relief prospects whose value would soar if they could cut it as starting pitchers, such as David Shafer, or if they had closer stuff and makeup, such as Todd Coffey. Childress sits in between. Cincinnati has decided his best role is in relief, and they think he has the resilience and makeup for a set-up role. His fastball velocity picks up in short stints, and he pitched at 90-93 mph in Double-A and the Arizona Fall League. His breaking ball is a slurvy hybrid. Sometimes it's more of a slider, but it works better when he stays on top of it and throws a true curve. After showing progress with a changeup earlier in his career, Childress never gained a feel for the pitch. His competitiveness and strong, compact frame should be assets in relief, though he needs to throw more strikes. Childress is a candidate for a big league job this spring but likely is headed for his first stint in Triple-A.
Denorfia is the greatest player to come out of Wheaton College, which went from a women's college to a co-ed school in 1987, and the first player drafted from the school. They liken him to former Reds farmhand Brady Clark, though they admit Clark has the better bat due to his power. Denorfia relies on his savvy, patience and average strength, using the whole field and repeating his swing well. He's a good enough baserunner to steal 10-15 bases as well. His spike in home runs in 2004 owed mostly to his experience in the Carolina League, and his power is fringy. His defense will help him get to Cincinnati, as he's an average defender in center field with an above-average arm, the best of a weak lot in the organization and good enough for right field. On a championship team, Denorfia would be a solid fourth outfielder, like Clark. He'll likely be the center fielder in Double-A this year.
Machado came from Philadelphia in a trade-deadline deal for Todd Jones last July. He had been the Phillies' top middle-infield prospect, and they had been patient with him. He has been known for his glove, which got him to the big leagues in September with Cincinnati. He's a premium defender with soft hands, plus range and good arm strength. Offensively, Machado has tried different swings and approaches, to the same frustrating effect. His best offensive trait is he's patient and willing to take a walk, but he has dangerous power--just enough to think he can hit home runs. He's also an above-average runner. Machado was playing winter ball in his native Venezuela, tuning up for a shot at the Reds' shortstop job, when he injured his left knee. It took him a month to get a visa so he could come to the United States and have his knee examined. He didn't tear his anterior-cruciate ligament, as had been feared, but needed arthroscopic surgery and won't be ready for the start of the season.
Gutierrez is one of the Reds' best hitters and stands out in the organization for his steady, solid track record with the bat. Gutierrez hit in college, leading NCAA Division I with an .855 slugging percentage at Texas-Pan American in 2000 and Division II with 28 homers for St. Mary's in 2001, leading the school to the D-II College World Series championship and winning tournament MVP honors. He's coming off his best full season as a pro, ranking third in the Southern League in RBIs and extra-base hits (53). Gutierrez is an above-average hitter who has excellent pull power, and he makes consistent contact for a power hitter. He stays on breaking balls and mashes against lefthanders (.312 average, .507 slugging in 2004). He's limited defensively at first base and profiles better as an American League player. He has played catcher in the minors and would enhance his value if he could stick there, but he didn't see time behind the plate last year. His defensive abilities lag far behind other Reds catching prospects. His most realistic role is as a righthanded bat who occasionally catches and plays first base. After a successful Arizona Fall League stint, he'll move up to Triple-A in 2005.
For Cincinnati fans who follow the draft, Gruler is a painful reminder of a missed opportunity. The Reds held the No. 3 pick in the 2002 draft, and Gruler's excellent workout and strong finish to the spring season swung the organization to pick him instead of Scott Kazmir. Three years later Kazmir is the top lefthanded pitching prospect in the game, while Gruler is fighting his way back from shoulder surgery performed in April 2003. Gruler had both a torn labrum and rotator cuff, requiring a long year of rehab. He hasn't regained his pre-injury stuff, which included an 89-95 mph fastball and a plus curveball. His command hasn't come back either, but he was pain-free and pushing 90 mph in instructional league. His fall performance and relative youth (21) make him more likely to return from his injury than other top Reds pitching prospects who have gone down, including lefthanders Phil Dumatrait and Ty Howington and righty Bobby Basham. None of those three pitched in 2004. Cincinnati's immediate goal is for Gruler to turn in a full, healthy 2005 season in low Class A.
A standout reliever in junior college and in his pro debut, Medlock got a chance to pitch in the rotation last year because Dayton needed arms for its tandem-starter system. He broke out in the first half before struggling after a promotion to high Class A. Medlock stands just 5-foot-10, which leaves his fastball on a relatively straight plane to home plate, and he commands just two pitches. His fastball can reach 93 mph on occasion and sit in the high 80s on others, and he's adept at using it inside. He also has a solid two-plane curveball that he uses as a strikeout pitch. He's poised with runners on base and is a tough competitor. The whole package screams middle reliever, slotting Medlock in behind Todd Coffey, David Shafer and Daylan Childress, all of whom either throw harder or have a better secondary pitch. Medlock will go back to high Class A as a reliever this year and could move quickly.
Guevara is a short righthander who went to St. Mary's, where he played with Jesse Gutierrez and helped the team win the 2001 NCAA Division II national championship. Guevara lacks a plus fastball, as his sits in the 87-89 mph range. His curveball is just a decent pitch, clearly his third-best. And he already has had elbow problems, as bone chips sidelined him for much of the 2003 season. But he's on this list because he has a plus screwball that he commands well. St. Mary's pitching coach John Maley was a disciple of Mike Marshall's pitching methods and taught Guevara the pitch, which he took to immediately. It makes hitters swing and miss, and it was the biggest reason that Guevara ranked third among minor league relievers last year with 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings. His build and elbow trouble, plus his reliance on a gimmick pitch, consign him to the bullpen. He probably will open this year as a closer in high Class A.
The Reds system is dotted with former Braves pitching prospects, none of whom has helped Cincinnati in the big leagues yet. Scouts hold out more hope for Belisle than Bubba Nelson, who was pummeled in the majors last year. Nelson can show better stuff, but Belisle competes much harder. A former prep phenom, Belisle has relied more on guile and command than stuff since rupturing a disc in his back and missing the 2001 season. His fastball sits in the 86-89 mph range. When he's at his best, his heater scrapes the low 90s and gets lots of groundballs because he stays tall in his delivery and throws downhill. Belisle's curveball and changeup are fringe-average, and he needs to be fine to succeed. One Reds official called him the organization's hardest worker and champions Belisle as a future fourth or fifth starter as he gets stronger and gains consistency with his sinker. Both Belisle and Nelson were protected on the 40-man roster and should return to Triple-A this year.
No Reds farmhand had a bigger 2003 than Smitherman, who led the Southern League in on-base percentage, played in the Futures Game and finished the year in the big leagues. So his 2004 season was a major disappointment, as he regressed offensively and was left off the 40-man roster. Pitchers tied up Smitherman inside and he consistently expanded his strike zone when behind in the count. He salvaged his season by making adjustments in the second half, showing more patience and started going the other way, relying on his above-average natural raw power rather than trying to pull everything. Smitherman profiles best as a platoon corner outfielder against lefthanders, and he hit .337 against them in 2004. He'll return to Triple-A to see if he can recapture his prior form.
The last thing the Reds would seem to need is a defense-first catcher, but they paid Tatum $450,000 as their third-round pick last June. He offers premium defensive skills, including an arm scouts rated as a 65 on the 20-80 scale. He used his plus arm and quick release to catch 36 percent of basestealers to lead the Rookie-level Pioneer League in his debut. His defense was good enough to earn him the nod on the league's postseason all-star team. Tatum will have to work hard to get stronger and keep his fundamentals sound over the course of a long season. He still has work to do offensively, though he has raw power and eventually could hit 15-20 homers a year. His plate discipline will have to improve for his power to show through, but he progressed after signing and had more walks with Billings than in either of his two seasons at Mississippi State. He should open 2005 in low Class A.