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Bailey finally got his training wheels taken off in 2006, and he seemed to enjoy the freedom. Shackled to a 75-pitch limit in a tandem-starter system under previous general manager Dan O'Brien, he handled an increased workload with aplomb in 2006. He was allowed to work six innings in an outing 11 times, compared to just once the year before. The longer starts forced Bailey to rely more on his secondary stuff. The seventh overall pick in 2004, when he was also Baseball America's High School Player of the Year, he pitched the best baseball of his pro career following a mid-season promotion to Double-A Chattanooga. While Bailey impressed scouts and prospect-watchers all season, he popped up on the national radar with a Joel Zumaya-esque inning at the Futures Game. Bailey threw 20 pitches, topping out at 98 mph and not dipping under 92. He has good secondary pitches, but decided to challenge hitters with his heat at the prospect all-star game. Bailey's stuff is as good as anyone's in the minors. He has an athletic frame and a free and easy motion that makes it seem like he's just playing catch even when he's lighting up the radar gun. His fastball sits at 92-96 mph and touches 98. Because of its late life, his heater seems to have an extra gear, exploding on hitters just before it reaches the plate. He has learned to work the bottom of the zone. His curveball is also a plus pitch. He can throw a 12-to-6 hammer or a slower, loopier version with 11-to-5 break. It's effective both as a kneebuckler for righthanders and as a backdoor pitch that sneaks over against lefties. While it will always be his third best offering, Bailey's changeup has improved and shows some potential. He throws it with good arm speed, generating some deception and a little sink. He has good control for a power pitcher. He also has impressed the Reds with his competitive nature. Finding weaknesses in Bailey's pitching is nitpicking at best. He needs to continue to refine his changeup and sharpen the command of his fastball, though he already works both sides of the plate well. He has just started working on hitting and bunting in preparation for his role as a National League starter, but he's a good athlete and already looks comfortable with the bat. He can quicken his delivery to the plate and hold runners better, but he did show improvement in those facets in 2006. The Reds resisted the temptation to call Bailey up in September, when he might have given their rotation a boost or bolstered their bullpen. They're not going to be able to hold off too much longer, and he could win a spot in the Cincinnati rotation during spring training. It's more likely that he'll head to Triple-A Louisville for some final polish before a mid-season callup. In time, he should become a true No. 1 starter.
The low Class A Midwest League was loaded with outfielders last year--including fellow 2005 first-round picks Cameron Maybin, Colby Rasmus and Justin Upton--but it was Bruce who ranked as the circuit's No. 1 prospect. The youngest player in the MWL all-star game, he came away with the MVP award, and led the league in doubles and extra-base hits (63). Bruce quickly has established himself as the best hitting prospect in the system and one of the best in the minors. He has quick hands and a smooth swing path that allow him to keep the bat in the strike zone for quite a while. Scouts were impressed that he could turn on 95-mph fastballs with his plus bat speed, and he also knows how to go the other way if pitchers try to work the outside corner. He projects to be an above-average hitter with above-average power. In the outfield, Bruce gets good jumps to go with his slightly above-average speed. He can handle center field, though most scouts expect he'll end up as a strong-armed right fielded once he fills out. He can show more plate discipline, but the Reds will happily live with some strikeouts if Bruce continues to pound the ball. A pulled quadriceps muscle helped lead to a late-season slump. The Reds took a cautious approach with Bruce in 2006, letting him remain in low Class A all season even as he dominated. He'll likely begin this year at high Class A Sarasota, but he could start to move quickly and reach Cincinnati at some point in 2008.
Votto bounced back from a difficult 2005 season to emerge as the Double-A Southern League's MVP last year. He led the SL in batting, onbase percentage and slugging, as well as runs, hits, total bases (278), extra-base hits (70), doubles and walks. Votto has the ability to drive the ball to all fields, especially to left-center when he's locked in. His hands are quick enough that he can punish pitchers if they try to bust him inside. A hard worker, Votto devoted time to his baserunning and stole 24 bases in 31 tries last year despite average speed. A catcher when he signed, Votto still is a little raw at first base. He sometimes goes too far into the hole on balls, leaving him out of position. He also can improve his footwork and throwing accuracy. Like many young lefthanded hitters, he struggles against southpaws. Votto is the Reds' first baseman of the future--and that future could begin as soon as this year. He'll head to Triple-A and be in line for a September callup, though he could accelerate that timetable with a strong start.
Cueto was the first player the Reds signed in the Dominican after revitalizing their nearly dormant Latin American scouting program. In his first extended taste of full-season ball, he went 15-3, 3.00 and allowed just one run in his final 30 innings in high Class A. The 5-foot-10, 192- pounder doesn't look like he has a big arm, but Cueto throws a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 96 mph. He does so with a relatively free and easy high three-quarters delivery, and he commands his heat to both sides of the plate. During spring training, former Reds ace Mario Soto taught Cueto a changeup that quickly became a major league average pitch with tailing life. He also throws a slider that overmatches hitters at times. Cueto's size doesn't lend itself to durability, but Cincinnati believes he'll be able to remain a starter. He has long arms that give him good leverage, so he doesn't wear himself out by throwing hard. He needs to get more consistent with his secondary pitches. While he likes to challenge hitters up in the zone, that won't work as well at higher levels. He could open 2007 in Double-A at age 21.
A borderline first-round talent with questionable signability coming out high school in 2003, Stubbs was set to sign for $900,000 as a thirdrounder until the commissioner's office talked Astros owner Drayton McLane out of the deal. Stubbs starred in three years at Texas, winning the 2005 College World Series and the 2006 Big 12 Conference co-player of the year award. He signed for $2 million after the Reds took him eighth overall in June. His younger brother Clint turned down a 49thround offer from the Rangers to follow his brother's footsteps with the Longhorns. Stubbs has evoked comparisons to Dale Murphy as a tall speedster with plus power, speed and Gold Glove ability in center field. He has light-tower power and is a 70 runner on the 20-to-80 scale, clocking in at 4.1 seconds from the right side of the plate to first base. He has an average arm. Since high school, there have been concerns that Stubbs' long swing would lead to strikeouts and extended slumps. He struggles at times to make contact, and a smart pitcher can take advantage of his difficulties with breaking balls. He was hobbled by turf toe in his pro debut but played through it and is healthy now. Stubbs probably always will strike out a lot, but he could develop into a Mike Cameron/Torii Hunter type, which would more than satisfy the Reds. They'll be patient with him, which means he'll start 2007 at low Class A Dayton.
Wood became a rare find as an Arkansas high school pitcher with some polish. The Reds were intrigued enough to draft him in 2005's second round and entice him from his college commitment to Arkansas with a $600,000 bonus. He handled low Class A well as a teenager last year. Wood boasts the system's top changeup, and it's one of the best in the minors. It's nearly impossible to discern that it's not a fastball coming out of his hand, and it has good sink right before it crosses the plate. He also has the confidence to throw it in any count, and his overall approach is extremely advanced for his age. He regularly topped out at 93-94 mph with his fastball as a high school senior and in his debut, though he pitched at 87-91 in 2006. He's a good athlete who repeats his delivery well and throws strikes. After two years of trying, Wood still is seeking a consistent curveball. There's some effort to his delivery and he doesn't have the biggest frame, so Cincinnati will have to watch him closely. He needs to add some strength. The curve will be the key ingredient in Wood becoming a No. 3 or 4 starter. He'll focus on his breaking ball this year in high Class A.
Watson teamed with fellow Reds 2006 draftee Chris Valaika on the U.S. national team that won the 2001 World Youth Championships in Mexico. At Tennessee, Watson began his career as a member of the weekend rotation but shifted to the closer's role as a sophomore. He and Todd Helton are the only Volunteers to record 10 saves in a season. Watson has two plus offerings. He has a 92-93 mph fastball that touches 95, and he pairs it with an 82-85 mph knuckle-curve that's a true out pitch. It's a hard tumbler with tilt and depth. He goes after hitters with an aggressive approach that serves him well in a closer's role. Watson's mechanics are inconsistent, so his pitches are as well. He sometimes struggles to locate his fastball, which is why he got hammered in low Class A. He'll need to come up with a changeup if he's going to be a starter, and his slider needs improvement as well. With two above-average pitches, a tough mindset and some effort to his delivery, Watson has strengths and weaknesses that seem to point him to a future in the bullpen. For now, however, the Reds will let him build up innings and refine his arsenal as a starter. He'll probably return to low Class A to open 2007.
The Reds had to draft Loo twice and wait for his Yavapai (Ariz.) CC team to finish up at the 2006 Junior College World Series before they could sign him as a draft-and-follow for $200,000. He hit three homers and stole home at the Juco World Series, where Yavapai finished second. He barely played after turning pro because of lingering elbow pain. Loo is a tremendous athlete who flashes five-tool potential. He has good life in his bat, allowing him to hit for average and giving him power potential. He's also a plus runner with the actions, hands and arm strength to play almost anywhere on the diamond. Loo's biggest hurdle is proving that he can stay healthy. He was able to participate in instructional league, but he also missed time in 2005 with ankle and thumb injuries. While his swing and frame project power, he has yet to show he can drive the ball with a wood bat. Though he eventually may move to third base or center field, the Reds want to keep Loo at shortstop for now. They also need to play 2006 third-rounder Chris Valaika at short, so they may push Valaika to Sarasota and put Loo at Dayton.
A member of Rice's 2003 College World Series champions, Janish was just starting to get his bat going in pro ball in 2005 when he blew out his throwing elbow and needed Tommy John surgery. He picked up where he left off when he returned last year, hitting .304 with 14 homers while reaching Double-A. Janish is a major league caliber shortstop. His range and quickness are average but play up because he's an expert at positioning and has nearly flawless footwork, soft hands and a plus arm. He has made strides at the plate, learning to use the entire field and to drive the ball for occasional power. He always has controlled the strike zone well. He's a natural leader who inspires his teammates. Janish will go as far as his bat allows him. He may not do much more than make contact and likely always will be a bottom-of-the-order hitter, but that should be sufficient considering his defense. Set to return to Double-A, where he finished 2006, Janish once again will need to prove that his bat can handle the jump to a higher level. The Reds need a long-term shortstop, and they suddenly have three candidates in Janish and 2006 signees Milton Loo and Chris Valaika.
Valaika has extensive experience with USA Baseball, playing on national youth, junior and college teams. He was a Freshman All-American in 2004, but missed most of his sophomore season with a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in his right knee. He had a brilliant pro debut after signing for $437,500 as a third-round pick, setting a Pioneer League record with a 32-game hitting streak and winning league MVP honors. Valaika uses quick hands and a short stroke to spray liners to all fields. His bat was his calling card coming out of college, and he showed even more hitting ability than expected with a dominant debut. Some Pioneer League managers compared him to Bobby Crosby as an offensive shortstop. Valaika also has advanced pitch recognition and gap power. Defensively, he offers a strong arm and good hands. Valaikia's below-average speed limits his range at shortstop, and one day he may end up sliding over to second base but the Reds will leave him at shortstop until he plays his way off the position. Milton Loo needs to play shortstop in low Class A so Valaika will likely jump to high Class A.
Beaumont, Texas, has been very good to the Reds. Jay Bruce, the team's top outfield prospect, and Strait both grew up in the southeast Texas town. A University of Evansville product, Strait is proof that basestealers can be made. He possesses 55 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale and has worked hard on getting good jumps, which allowed him to steal 50 bags last season to tie for the high Class A Florida State League lead. He also has tick aboveaverage power, as he also tied for top honors in the FSL with 57 extra-base hits. He's a plus defender in right field, with a strong throwing arm that ranks with the best in the organization, and is adequate in center. Though strikeouts have been a problem for Strait, he trimmed his strikeout rate compared to 2005, and scouts in the Arizona Fall League were impressed with his improved two-strike approach. The hit tool is Strait's biggest problem. He projects to be a below-average hitter unless he can shorten his swing and tone down the aggressiveness that sometimes leaves him chasing pitches out of the zone. Some scouts don't see a lot of projection left in Strait--he already has a very muscular build. Strait is headed to Double-A in 2007.
The Reds were able to get LeCure in the fourth round because he had to sit out the 2005 season at Texas because he was academically ineligible. They've been impressed with his feel for pitching and his makeup, which led them to send LeCure straight to high Class A in his first pro season. LeCure struggled a bit at first, but once he settled down he proved unhittable at times, stringing together a stretch of three straight scoreless starts in July, spanning 16 innings. LeCure's biggest strength is his refined approach. He has a clean delivery and the ability to pound the zone. He has three solid pitches, though none stands out as a plus pitch. He sits at 90-91 mph with his fastball, throwing up occasional 92s and 93s, and he also throws an average slider and an average changeup. He commands his fastball to both sides of the plate and does a good job of busting hitters inside. He throws his slider and changeup at any point in the count. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, LeCure lacks physical projection, and what the Reds see in his stuff now is what they'll get. He'll head to Double-A with a chance to prove his average stuff works against more advanced hitters.
Ravin has been on scouts' radar for years as a member of Chatsworth (Calif.) High program that won back-to-back national championships in 2003 and 2004. But during his senior season in 2006 his velocity dropped to 89-91 as he was sidelined for a month with a tired arm. The Reds stuck with him, and after they signed him for $200,000, they found they were getting a better arm than he had shown in high school. Ravin sat at 90-94 mph and touched 96 with heavy life in the Gulf Coast League. He has a free and easy high three-quarters delivery with a durable pitcher's body that still has some projection, with a large frame and sloping shoulders. While his delivery is clean, like many young pitchers he doesn't always repeat it. His curveball and changeup are advanced for his age, but still have to be refined as he heads to full-season ball. He needs to learn to rely on them more. Expect to see him near the front of the Dayton rotation in 2007.
The Reds have never been afraid to scout Canadians, but unlike most Canadian prospects, Avery was a relatively refined product when drafted. He had been taken by the Twins in the 29th round in 2002 out of high school, but chose to sign with Niagara. Pitching at Niagara and two summers in the Cape Cod League helped add polish. Like Sam LeCure, the Reds sent Avery to high Class A in his first full pro season, and like LeCure he got better as the season went along. Avery was hit around in the first half of the season, but bounced back to go 2-1, 1.91 in 33 innings (allowing 33 hits, nine walks and 25 strikeouts) in his final five starts. The Reds were impressed enough to give him a one-start cameo in Triple-A. Avery throws a 88-92 mph fastball with a clean three-quarters delivery. He has an improving 12- to-6 curveball and an average changeup. He relied more on his curveball in 2006, which has developed into an average pitch. He doesn't blow away hitters, as evidenced by his 5.8 strikeouts per nine innings, which could be a concern as he climbs the ladder, but he's likely earned a promotion to Double-A for 2007.
Whether you want to focus on the positives or the negatives, Chris Dickerson provides plenty to mull over. If you're looking for negatives, Dickerson doesn't hit for average, strikes out too much and has made little progress in improving those drawbacks over his four-year pro career. He doesn't recognize pitches well and is overaggressive at times with a uppercut swing that gets too long. He can't handle lefthanders, who have limited him to a .204 average with 89 strikeouts in 245 at-bats the last two seasons. But on the plus side, Dickerson is the best athlete in the system, and he managed to play the entire season despite a nagging injury in his non-throwing shoulder. He plays an exceptional center field. He reads the ball off the bat well and his plus speed (4.0-4.1 seconds from the left side of the plate to first base) allows him to track down balls to the gaps and over his head. He has an accurate, average throwing arm and he's a threat to steal on the basepaths. And he did show progress at the plate--he hit .273 with a .515 slugging percentage over the final three months of the season, and slugged .487 overall against righthanders--which was enough to convince the Reds to add him to their 40-man roster. If Chris Denorfia and Norris Hooper end up in Cincinnati, Dickerson will play center field in Triple-A this year.
Dumatrait joined fellow southpaw Tyler Pelland as the Reds' bounty in the 2003 Scott Williamson trade with the Red Sox. And like Pelland, his development has been slow. Dumatrait missed the 2004 season because of Tommy John surgery, but has shown few ill effects from the injury over the last two seasons. Dumatrait has an average 88-91 mph fastball, a changeup that's a tick below average and a slurvy breaking ball. Dumatrait doesn't repeat his delivery particularly well. He struggles with flying open with his front shoulder, which causes him to leave the ball up in the zone. Unlike Pelland, the sum of the parts is actually a little better than it would appear because Dumatrait has a feel for pitching. He'll get a shot to earn the No. 5 starter job in Cincinnati in 2007, competing with Matt Belisle and Elizardo Ramirez. Otherwise, he'll head back to Triple-A to refine his delivery.
The Reds have patiently waited for Pelland to prove to be the payoff from the 2003 Scott Williamson deal, but the Vermont native has struggled with inconsistency. The sum of Pelland's stuff has proven to be less than expected. He throws a 92-93 mph four-seamer and a two-seamer that shows good, if inconsistent, life. He'll spin off a plus curveball though his feel for the pitch comes and goes, and he also throws a below-average changeup. He doesn't trust his stuff, which leads to him nibbling. He gets behind in the count and his lack of a secondary pitch he can trust leads to too many walks. He walked three or more batters in 22 of his 28 starts. He also has had trouble fielding his position. His 3.99 ERA is somewhat misleading, as he gave up 15 unearned runs. At some point, Pelland may have to move to the pen if he can't cut down on his walks, but the Reds continue to exercise patience.
If he fully recovers from a torn labrum, Thompson could quickly become one of the Reds' top pitching prospects. Part of the eight-player trade that sent Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez to the Nationals for relief help last summer, Thompson had a 92-94 mph fastball before he got hurt. He also had an average changeup and an average curveball that shows good rotation and has some potential to be a plus pitch. But Thompson has been sidelined for nearly a year after shoulder surgery, and the success rate on labrum repairs is sketchy. The Reds were very cautious with Thompson after acquiring him. They sent him to the Gulf Coast League for some very limited work. He had his fastball back up to 92 mph at instructional league and he once again showed the ability to work both sides of the plate with it. Thompson needs to show that he can maintain his velocity deeper into games, and the Nationals had some worries about his professionalism, largely because they felt he could eat better and get into a little bit better shape. After missing nearly a year and a half of development because of the shoulder injury, the Reds will continue to be cautious with Thompson, but they hope he can kick-start his development in high Class A.
It's been a long climb for Vasquez, a Cuban native who emigrated legally to the U.S. in 1999. After arriving in Florida, Vazquez quickly became the ace lefty on back-to-back state champions at Hialeah (Fla.) High, and he also was one of the best hitters in the state. Since signing it's been a slow climb through the minors. He missed almost the entire 2004 season after Tommy John surgery and struggled in his low Class A debut in 2005, when he missed time with an eye infection. Vasquez started to put things together last year and earned a promotion to Double-A. He features an 89-91 mph fastball with late movement. His best pitch is an above-average 12-to-6 curveball that's effective against both lefties and righties. His straight changeup is a tick below average. He still needs to sharpen his command, but he's showing signs of developing into a serviceable back-of-the-rotation starter.
Shafer has worked his way out of the organizational player tag to put himself in position to compete for a job in the Reds bullpen. Shafer was nearly unhittable during the first half of the season, when he was being used exclusively as a one-inning closer. At the end of June he had a 1.37 ERA with 25 saves in 26 innings. But over the second half of the season, the Reds worked him in longer stints of two innings to prepare him for eventual use as a setup man in the majors. He wasn't as dominant in longer outings, but the Reds believe it will help him when he reaches Cincinnati. Shafer works off a fastball/slider combo, using an 88- 92 mph fastball and an average slider that he commands well. His overall command is above average, which allows him to challenge hitters. He started using his changeup more once he was stretched out though it's not an average pitch yet. Shafer has a loose arm and has gotten stronger and added velocity as a pro. He has worked himself into the position to compete for a spot in the Reds bullpen, and if he doesn't win a job, he'll head to Triple-A.
Perez is ready to catch at the major league level right now, as he shows off a plus-plus arm and above-average receiving skills. He blocks balls in the dirt well, frames pitches and controls the running game. He threw out 41 percent of basestealers last year, and he throws behind runners aggressively, though he found his success rate at picking off runners dropped against the more experienced Double-A baserunners. His bat is significantly behind his defense, which could leave him stalled in the high minors. Perez has some raw power that comes out in batting practice, but he's been unable to convert it into production, as evidenced by his .326 career slugging percentage. At his best, Perez waits back and hits to the other field. He gets into ruts where he presses too much trying to pull the ball. Pitchers have also found they can get him to chase pitches out of the zone. Perez still has a long ways to go with the bat to prove he can be more than a fill-in. With the signing of Chad Moeller, Perez could end up back in Double-A to work on his hitting. The Reds dropped him from the 40-man roster in December, but quickly re-signed him to a minor league deal.
The Giants drafted Coutlangus as an outfielder, but player-development chief Dick Tidrow always hoped to move him to the mound. After he batted .194 in low Class A in 2004, Tidrow got his wish. Coutlangus quickly showed a feel for pitching, even though he hadn't done it since high school. As a good natural athlete, he repeats his delivery well. The Reds claimed him off waivers when the Giants dropped him from their 40-man roster to add non-roster invitee Jamey Wright to the major league roster. He quickly proved to be a nice pickup: he features an 87-91 mph fastball that plays up a little bit because of his funky delivery that makes it hard for hitters to pick up the ball. Coutlangus profiles as a lefty who can be more then a specialist as he's also effective against righthanders thanks to a cutter that he can bust in on their hands. He also throws a sweeping slider that could be a plus pitch because he commands it so well. He occasionally throws a below-average changeup as well. Coutlangus was one of the surprises of the Arizona Fall League, where he impressed with his feel for pitching. He's ticketed for Triple-A, but he's not far away from helping out the Reds bullpen.
Smith was a catcher/first baseman when he began his college career at Salt Lake CC, but it quickly became apparent that his arm was more promising than his bat and he moved to the mound midway through his freshman season. He transferred to the CC of Southern Nevada to get more innings as his new club's closer. He showed a plus fastball, a durable, projectable pitcher's frame and enough athleticism and durability to intrigue scouts, whose only disappointment was how infrequently Smith pitched. For a converted position player, Smith has shown some natural feel for pitching and he has a smooth free and easy delivery. The Reds, who signed him for $152,500, believe he has potential as a starter even though right now his fastball is the only pitch he's truly comfortable with throwing. Smith's fastball sits at 90-93 mph, touching 96 with some good natural movement. Smith had thrown a little harder in college, but the Reds told him to worry less about velocity and more about repeating his delivery without overthrowing. His hard curve and changeup are significantly behind his fastball, but his curve has some potential. Smith is rawer than most 20-yearold pitchers so expect the Reds to be patient. He'll open 2007 in low Class A
Mississippi doesn't produce many star high school baseball players, but Reed established his credentials as he made it to the final cut for the junior national team. He turned down a baseball scholarship from Mississippi to turn pro for $287,000. Reed's best asset is his speed. He's a 60 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale and profiles as a top-of-the-order hitter. He has a relatively short swing, which fits his profile, as he projects as having only gap power. His arm is a tick below-average, but should be playable for center field, where Reed fits best. The Gulf Coast League chewed up Reed and spit him out, as he hit only .150 over his final 40 at-bats. The Reds aren't especially concerned, as there are plenty of examples of high school players struggling in the complex league. He is a long ways away, and could use another year of short-season ball unless he stars in spring training.
Salmon has been in the system long enough that he was around before the Reds traded for Ken Griffey Jr. He was added to the 40-man roster for the first time in November. His upside is very limited, as he's a 27-year-old with eight years of pro experience. But after a solid season at the upper levels, Salmon has a chance to help the Reds bullpen this season thanks to a 93-95 mph sinking fastball. Salmon does a good job of keeping his fastball down in the zone, giving up plenty of ground balls and few homers. His out pitch is a hard slider that's effective if inconsistent. As you would expect from a minor league vet, Salmon doesn't rattle easily, and his newfound confidence could pay off with a spot in the Reds bullpen.
The Reds' minor league depth at third base is pretty thin, which isn't much of a concern since Edwin Encarnacion has the job locked up for the next several years. Just about the time that Encarnacion nears free agency, Francisco could be ready to replace him. Francisco has a plus arm that's strong and accurate and good athleticism at third base. For a 19-year-old in his first season in the U.S., Francisco showed a very advanced approach at the plate with a smooth lefty swing and strong hands that allow scouts to project him to hit for plus power. He shows the ability to drive outside pitches to the opposite field and shows solid pitch recognition. His bat is his best tool, but his defense could also be above average. His only present below-average tool is his speed. He's a long ways away from the majors, but he already has a solid frame. He should be one of the cornerstones of the Dayton team in 2007.
Hopper has proven to be a nice find for the Reds, who signed him as a six-year minor league free agent before the 2005 season. Hopper lacks power, with just three homers in nine minor league seasons. After three years in Double-A he excelled in his Triple-A debut winning the International League batting title by 39 points. Hopper will probably not be more than a fourth outfielder, but he can be pretty valuable in that role. He's able to play all three outfield positions with a tick above-average defense and an average arm. Adding to his versatility, he can play second base in a pinch. He's a 60 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale and also is a plus contact hitter with the ability to center the ball and spray hits to all fields. He doesn't walk much, but he also doesn't strike out. The Reds expect Hopper to compete for a backup job in Cincinnati during spring training.
When it comes to pure stuff, Gonzalez had a chance to be only a notch or two behind Homer Bailey as far as Reds starters. But while Bailey has gotten better and better each year, refining his command and improving his fastball and curveball, Gonzalez has to have the Reds wondering if the light bulb will ever turn on. Gonzalez showed up out of shape again this season, which has sapped a little from his fastball--it used to sit at 92-94, touching 97 mph, but it was more consistently 88-93 in 2006. Some scouts saw him sit at 92-94, while others saw only an average fastball combined with poor command. He also has the makings of a plus curveball but lacks consistency, largely because he struggles to repeat his delivery. After three seasons, Gonzalez has yet to prove he can succeed in low Class A. If he ever dedicates himself to being a pro, works himself into shape and focuses on becoming more consistent, he could move quickly, but up to now, he's not shown the willingness to pay the price greatness requires. Gonzalez will pitch this season as a 21-year-old, so a return to low Class A shouldn't stunt his development.
The book on Szymanski coming into the season was that he needed to prove that he could stay healthy after two injury-prone pro seasons. Szymanski was healthy in 2006, but that was about the only good news in a very difficult season for the former Princeton football star. He'll have to cut down on the strikeouts to have any chance of making the majors. He led the minors with 191 whiffs--one every 2.5 at-bats--in his second year in low Class A. His aggressive approach leaves him an easy mark for offspeed offerings, as he's struggled with pitch recognition. His lefthanded swing isn't as smooth and natural as his stroke from the right side, which explains his large splits (.302 against lefties, .216 against righties). The Reds will keep giving Szymanski chances because of his great athleticism, plus raw power, plus speed and above-average defense in center. He hasn't really earned a promotion to high Class A, but it's hard to imagine the Reds sending him back to Dayton for a third straight season.
The Reds electrified the major league Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings, paying the Cubs to move up into their slot and take Hamilton with the third overall pick in the draft. Cincinnati felt it needed to move up the board to select Hamilton before the Marlins could choose Hamilton with the sixth selection. For the Reds, selecting Hamilton is a low-risk throw at the dart board. In his brief stint in the New York-Penn league and during instructional league Hamilton showed that he still possesses the stellar raw tools that made him the No. 1 overall pick by the Devil Rays in the 1999 draft. He has above-average raw power that he showed off by putting on batting-practice shows again in 2006. He has exceptional arm strength in right field and he can still play all three outfield positions. He doesn't run as well as he did as a teenager, but he's still a plus runner. He has recovered from minor knee surgery that sidelined him during the New York-Penn League season. As Hamilton himself explained, his problems never have revolved around the baseball field. He was suspended for substance abuse for more than three years and will continue to be tested three times a week. The Reds believe that they can provide the support system Hamilton will need to succeed. Hamilton's baseball skills are undeniably rusty, but he'll have a legitimate chance to make the Reds if he shows signs of being able to harness the tools that once made him the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball--back when Homer Bailey was getting ready to enter high school. Cincinnati will have to keep him on its active roster all season, or else put him on waivers before offering him back to Tampa Bay for half his $50,000 draft price. The Reds face the same situation with their other big league Rule 5 pick, former Athletics righthanded reliever Jared Burton.