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Alonso's father Luis played and coached for the Havana Industriales of Cuba's Serie Nacional. When Luis brought his family to the United States in 1995, it was baseball that helped Alonso learn English as he played in pickup games with friends around the neighborhood. He established himself as a prospect as a four-year starter at Coral Gables (Fla.) High, the same school that produced Mike Lowell. A 16th-round pick of the Twins out of high school, Alonso opted to head to Miami instead. He showed his ability to hit with wood bats by batting .338 with a .468 on-base percentage in the Cape Cod League in 2007. He followed up by finishing second in the Atlantic Coast Conference in homers (24), slugging percentage (.777) and OPS (1.311) as a junior, trailing only College Player of the Year Buster Posey. The Reds drafted Alonso seventh overall in June and the negotiations went down to the wire. He wanted a $7 million bonus, and friend Alex Rodriguez offered to let him stay in A-Rod's New York apartment while playing independent ball to prepare for the 2009 draft. In the end, Alonso agreed to a five-year, $4.55 million big league contact that included a $2 million bonus. He made a brief cameo in the high Class A Florida State League before heading to Hawaii Winter Baseball for his first extensive pro experience. He batted .308/.419/.510 with the Waikiki Beach Boys to earn HWB all-star honors. Alonso is the rare hitter who has both plus power and the swing and pitch awareness to hit for a high average as well. He has good balance and a loose, short stroke that allows him to drive the ball to all fields. His best power is to the alleys, which fits perfectly with Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark. Unlike most sluggers, Alonso is allergic to strikeouts. He drew 172 walks while fanning just 103 times in his college career. The Reds also are excited by his workaholic makeup. Offensively, Alonso has yet to prove that he can recognize and hit a quality breaking ball, though Cincinnati thinks he'll be able to do just that. The bigger question is how the Reds eventually will fit him and Joey Votto into the same lineup. They had flirted with the idea of letting Alonso play some third base, his high school position, but they have decided to leave him at first. He's a below-average athlete runner whose range lack of range would have made him a liability at the hot corner. He's no Gold Glover at first base either, though his soft hands and adequate arm should allow him to develop into at least an average defender. Though Cincinnati already had Votto, Alonso's polished bat was too good to pass up. He was one of the most big league-ready hitters in the 2008 draft and could start 2009 at the Reds' new Double-A Carolina affiliate. Because he's already on the 40-man roster, it's not inconceivable that he'll play in the majors by September. He could battle for an everyday job in Cincinnati in 2010, with Votto possibly moving to left field.
The third brother in his family to get drafted, Frazier first hit the national stage when he led Toms River, N.J., to the 1998 Little League World Series title. A 2007 supplemental first-round pick who signed for $875,000, he played four positions and hit well at two Class A stops in his first full season, which he concluded by leading Hawaii Winter Baseball in slugging (.547). Frazier has above-average raw power and translates it well into games. While he has an unconventional swing, he clearly understands it and knows how to make adjustments. Since turning pro, he has learned to quicken his stride, enabling him to get his left foot down quicker and handle fastballs that previously gave him trouble. Though his future defensive home remains in doubt, his soft hands and strong arm should fit at third base and he has looked solid in limited time in left field. He has average speed and is a good athlete for his size. The Reds have been impressed by how he's both a team leader and one of the guys in the clubhouse. Frazier extends his front arm early in his swing, and though he has shortened the arm bar as a pro, it still leads some scouts to wonder if he'll be able to handle inside fastballs in the big leagues. His range is substandard at shortstop, and his versatility has meant that he's competent at many positions but a master at none. Frazier likely will continue to play several positions in Double-A and could get his first big league exposure late in 2009. He profiles best at third base but the Reds have more holes in the outfield, so he could wind up in left.
When the Reds signed Stubbs for $2 million as the eighth overall pick in 2006, they knew he was a stellar athlete but would need some time to adjust to pro ball. Things started to click for him last season, when he regained his speed after having surgery for a turf-toe injury. He climbed to Triple-A Louisville and had his best season as a pro. Stubbs has excellent bat speed, above-average raw power, a plus arm and plus-plus speed that allows him to steal bases and run down everything in center field. He made significant strides at the plate by widening his stance, cutting down his swing a little bit and improving his already solid selectivity. His home run production diminished as a result, but scouts believe it was a wise tradeoff, as his power will re-emerge as he continues to make solid contact. The biggest concern with Stubbs always has been strikeouts, and he probably never will hit for a high average. He could help his cause if he were a better bunter, but he hasn't mastered the skill. While he's very good in the outfield, he seems uncomfortable going back to the wall on balls. The Reds have an opening in center field that Stubbs may be able to fill in the second half of the season. First, he'll head to Triple-A for some final tuneups.
Valaika broke into pro ball by fashioning a 32-game hitting streak and winning the MVP award in the Rookie-level Pioneer League, and he hasn't stopped hitting. He led Cincinnati farmhands with a .317 average and ranked second with 81 RBIs in 2008, earning him the team's minor league player of the year award. The Reds love Valaika's instincts and his desire to outwork everyone else, which help explain why he's an above-average hitter despite tools that don't blow scouts away. His swing is easily maintainable and he's comfortable hitting to the opposite field. He has a tick above-average bat speed, which should allow him to slug 15 homers annually in the big leagues. He's an average runner. Valaika continues to survive at shortstop and has the bat to profile at second base if he needs to move. Valaika doesn't have the quick feet clubs want in a shortstop, though his quick release and strong arm does help make up for his lack of range. When he first made it to Double-A, he chased fastballs up and out of the zone, though he quickly adjusted. His aggressiveness leads to strikeouts. His swing isn't picture-perfect, as he sometimes drops his shoulder and collapses on his backside. Valaika has exceeded expectations and has proven he can be a solid-hitting regular in the middle infield. Second base seems like his best fit, but that's occupied by Brandon Phillips. Cincinnati has a greater need at shortstop, and Valaika might get the chance to fill it by the end of 2009.
The Reds scouted Rodriguez for three years before signing him in August for $2.5 million, the largest bonus ever for a Venezuelan prospect. His first pro experience came in instructional league. Talk about jumping into the deep end--his first at-bat was against Orioles righthander Brian Matusz. In Rodriguez and Dominican outfielder Juan Duran, Cincinnati believes it got the equivalent of two extra first-round picks in 2008. No one doubts Rodriguez's athleticism. He projects to hit for above-average power, already has gained 10 pounds during his short time in the United States and should continue to get stronger as he matures. He has plus-plus speed and uses it well in center field, where he's an above-average defender. He showed off the best outfield arm in the system during instructional league. Multiple scouts from other teams say that Rodriguez is helpless against breaking balls right now because he gets caught lunging for the ball instead of staying back and trusting his hands. He also has next to no experience against pro-caliber pitching, so his bat could take time to develop. Several scouts also were worried about how he carried himself, saying he has a cockiness that could prove to be a problem. Rodriguez didn't look lost against older pitchers in instructional league. He'll open 2009 in extended spring training before seeing his first game action in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Lotzkar set the stage for going 53rd overall in the 2007 draft when he touched 96 mph with Team Canada in the World Junior Championships the previous fall. His 2008 season ended when he came down with a small stress fracture in his elbow in August. However, he was back throwing on the side a month later and showed no ill effects when he participated in instructional league. Before he got hurt, Lotzkar confirmed his status as the Reds' most promising young pitcher. He has the potential to have three plus pitches. His fastball sits at 91-93 mph with excellent life, and his free-and-easy delivery allows it to jump on hitters. Unlike many young pitchers, he trusts his secondary pitches, a power curveball that gets strikeouts and a changeup. Health is the biggest concern with Lotzkar, who also was held back in extended spring training until June because he had a sore neck. His control and command need refinement, and his curveball and changeup lack consistency. If he can stay healthy and add polish, Lotzkar could end up becoming a No. 2 starter. At age 19, he'll still be on track if he returns to low Class A Dayton in 2009.
Soto was supposed to spend 2008, his first full pro season, at Rookie-level Billings. But when Dayton third baseman Brandon Waring fractured his thumb in early July, Soto moved up to low Class A and never left. His .500 slugging percentage would have ranked second in the Midwest League if he had enough at-bats to qualify. Soto broke Juan Gonzalez's youth home run records in Puerto Rico. His raw strength and bat speed give him 60-65 power on the 20- 80 scouting scale. Though he has a long, vicious swing, he has hit for average and made contact thanks to his excellent hand-eye coordination. He has a strong arm at third base. Soto's speed is well-below-average and his athleticism isn't much better. He moved from shortstop to third base last year, and he may need a less challenging position in the future. He struggles to charge bunts and slow rollers, his range is limited, his footwork is rough and his throws sometimes lack accuracy. He has a solid gameplan at the plate but needs to show he can take a walk when pitchers work around him. Soto was held back in Billings because of the Reds' logjam at third base, which also could mean that he starts 2009 back in low Class A. His bat is ready for a bigger challenge, but Cincinnati wants to keep him at the hot corner as long as possible.
Johnny Cueto's emergence was the Reds' first significant Latin American success story since Mario Soto starred in the early 1980s. Next in line is Francisco, who led the Midwest League with 25 homers in 2007 and Cincinnati farmhands with 23 in 2008. He appeared in the Futures Game last year, wowing observers with his power during batting practice. Francisco's game is all about power, and he can drive the ball out of any part of any park. He has a quick bat and his long arms give him tremendous leverage. He also owns a strong arm that rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Though he's expected to outgrow third base, he does have a solid first step and decent speed. Francisco has a long stroke that isn't conducive to consistent contact. His plate discipline is poor and he gives away too many at-bats by being overly aggressive. Scouts are worried that he could grow to Dmitri Young proportions if he doesn't stay on top of his conditioning. His range already is below average at third base, and he'll probably wind up at first base rather than the outfield. The Reds eventually will have to sort through all their third-base candidates, but for now, Francisco appears headed to Double-A to man the hot corner. They're worried less about his defense and more with him learning to lay off pitches out of the strike zone.
The Reds exploited a little-noticed loophole to sign Duran six months before other teams realized he was eligible. He didn't reach the minimum age of 16 until two days after the international signing period ended in 2007, but Cincinnati assistant GM Bob Miller knew of a rule that permitted a player to sign if he'd turn 17 before the end of his first season. The Reds landed Duran in February for $2 million and assigned him to the Pioneer League, where the season ended Sept. 5. He didn't play for Billings, instead spending the summer in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. Duran already has the best raw power in the system. His swing has natural loft and the ball carries off his bat to all fields. His massive frame has room for another 40-50 pounds of strength, so he could be a beast in a few years. He had a balanced approach and a fluid swing. He has plus speed, though he'll slow down as he fills out. That likely will mean he'll move from center field to right, and he has the arm for the latter position. Duran grew six inches in the span of a year, and he's still getting adjusted to his newfound height. He's more gawky than fluid at this point and sometimes looks awkward on the bases and in the outfield. He has a balky elbow, possibly related to his growth spurt, but it should clear up. Duran's rough performance in the DSL shows that he's still raw and needs time to develop. He's still just 17 and will be well ahead of the development curve in the Gulf Coast League this summer.
Mesoraco blew out his elbow pitching as a sophomore in high school, but recovered from Tommy John surgery to become a first-round pick two years later as a catcher. The first backstop drafted in the first round by the Reds since Dan Wilson in 1990, he signed for $1.4 million. Injuries to both his thumbs have nagged him in pro ball, the result of diving head-first into bases. Mesoraco has the tools to be an all-star catcher. He has natural strength and a strong arm, and he's a better runner and athlete than most backstops. Once his thumbs healed, he was Cincinnati's best player in instructional league. The Reds believe his desire to succeed will help him work through the adjustments he has to make. Several scouts said that Mesoraco was one of the more disappointing players in the Midwest League last year. They felt he had gained some bad weight and showed bad body language on the field. He has yet to produce much at the plate and his bat seemed to slow as the season went along, though his thumb injuries contributed. He got too mechanical in his throwing and erased just 17 percent of basestealers. He also has problems blocking balls in the dirt. Mesoraco might benefit from repeating low Class A. He's young enough that it wouldn't put his development behind, and catchers generally have a slower path to the majors anyway.
It may seem like Thompson has been around forever--he was drafted by the Montreal Expos, after all--but he's actually right on schedule and will play the entire 2009 season as a 23-year-old. The Reds' last hope to get something significant out of the 2006 Austin Kearns/Felipe Lopez trade with Washington, Thompson needed more than two years to fully recover from labrum surgery. He regained 3-4 mph on his fastball in 2008 and can spot his 92-94 mph heater to both sides of the plate. He also throws an inconsistent changeup, an improving 78-82 mph slider and a slow curveball. His changeup has the potential to be his second-best pitch, with fade and sink when he has a feel for it. Thompson did a good job early in the season of getting ahead of hitters, which allowed him to use his full assortment of pitches. He's willing to throw all four at any point in the count. His curve is best used sparingly, when hitters aren't looking for it, because it isn't a swing-and-miss pitch, and his slider lacks the velocity to be a true out pitch. Thompson's fastball is major league-ready, so if his offspeed offerings catch up he can be a solid No. 3 or 4 starter, but concerns about his durability persist. His fastball lost some of its zip as the season progressed, and he seemed to wear down after his big league callup. Thompson will compete for the Reds' fifth-starter job in spring training, and his command and steadiness give him a solid shot at winning it.
For years, the scouting report on Dickerson was the same. He was the organization's best athlete, but no one was sure whether he ever would turn his impressive tools into production because he would mix hot weeks with monthlong slumps. But in 2008 he showed an improved ability to recognize sliders, his nemesis in previous years, which paid off in his most productive season and an outstanding major league debut that ended early because of a stress fracture in his heel. Dickerson still struck out once every 3.2 at-bats last year, but that was an improvement over 2007. He did a better job of recognizing which pitches to lay off, got himself into more fastball counts and better tapped into his impressive raw power. A cousin of NFL Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson, he's an outstanding center fielder, with the speed to run down balls in the gaps and an average arm. He could steal 25-30 bases a year if he gets 500 at-bats. But that might never happen because he struggles to hit lefties. Last year 16 of his 17 homers and 44 of his 53 extra-base hits came against righthanders. His other goal for 2009 is to stay healthy. The stress fracture is the latest in a litany of injuries that includes elbow problems (2004) and a sore shoulder (2006). Some scouts question whether Dickerson can sustain the progress he made last year, but his strong debut should at least give him a shot to be a platoon center fielder.
Smith's 2008 season started strong and finished poorly, but he provided reason for optimism. He opened 2008 at high Class A Sarasota and quickly earned a promotion to Double-A, after which he failed to make it out of the sixth inning in seven of his 11 starts. Finally in late July, Smith told Chattanooga's trainer that his knee had been bothering him for a while. An exam showed he had torn cartilage, which required surgery and shut him down for the rest of the season. The injury was a relief of sorts because it explained why his season had gone south. When healthy, Smith has a heavy 91-94 mph fastball with excellent sink. He also throws a plus slider that induces weak contact rather than strikeouts and a fringy changeup. Smith doesn't miss a lot of bats, but everything he throws is heavy and he induces lots of grounders. Even while scuffling in Double-A, he recorded twice as many groundouts as flyouts. He also lives in the strike zone and likes to pitch inside, busting hitters in on the hands with pitches that can sting. Smith's knee has recovered, and he'll return to Double-A to start the season.
At spring training last year, Roenicke made a big impression by coming into manager Dusty Baker's office and introducing himself. He also impressed on the mound, where Roenicke quickly showed he had the organization's best arm. His fastball is a plus-plus pitch with natural life, sitting at 94-95 mph and touching 99. He has the natural athleticism expected from a former college quarterback/wide receiver. He walked on to UCLA's baseball team after coming to school on a football scholarship. Besides his fastball, Roenicke also throws an 88-89 mph cutter and an inconsistent slider. He also has an adequate changeup, but he rarely uses it as a short reliever. When he's on, Roenicke can strike out the side, as he did in his final big league outing of the season, but he can get too enamored with velocity and focus on firing fastballs rather than setting up hitters. He'll come to spring training with a chance to earn a job in the Cincinnati bullpen and has the stuff to eventually pitch at the back end of it. The son of former outfielder Gary Roenicke and the nephew of Ron Roenicke, Josh became the family's third big leaguer when he earned a September callup. He also has two brothers, Jarrett and Jason, who are minor leaguers.
Though he was just drafted last June, Stewart could find a role in the big league bullpen quickly. He started his college career at Angelo State (Texas) and North Central Texas CC before spending the 2008 season at Texas Tech. He earned attention as a possible first-round pick early in the spring but slid to the third round, in part because the Red Raiders used him in different roles as their pitching staff fell apart. He spent most of the season as the closer but ended up as the Friday starter at the end of the year, putting together a 130-pitch masterpiece against Baylor in his last start of the season. After signing him for $450,000, the Reds were happy to move him back to the bullpen, where his 93-96 mph fastball and biting 82-85 mph slider give him a pair of potential out pitches. His fastball has lots of natural sink, which makes it hard for hitters to drive. His slider became sweepier as a starter, but it tightened back up once he joined the Reds. He threw a somewhat promising changeup as a starter, but will have little need for it now that he's back in the bullpen. His command and delivery are polished for a late-inning reliever, and he should spend most of his first full pro season in Double-A.
Hanigan made it to the big leagues the hard way. He signed as a nondrafted free agent after impressing the Reds in the Cape Cod League in 2002, then made a steady six-year climb through the system. Injuries earned him an emergency callup in September 2007, and his steady hitting and defense forced the Reds to take notice last season. They waived David Ross in August to give Hanigan a shot. He's a line-drive hitter who hits from an exaggerated closed stance. He has solid plate coverage and draws plenty of walks, while his strikeout rate was among the best in the system. And while he doesn't have a lot of power--he never has hit more than six homers in a season--his ability to get on base means he won't be a liability in the lineup. Hanigan doesn't have any tool that grades out better than average, but he has solid catch-and-throw skills and pitchers like working with him. He threw out 37 percent of basestealers in 2008. Hanigan is 28, so there's no projection left to him, but his package is interesting. He should win the Reds' backup catching job after the December trade for Ramon Hernandez provided a veteran starter.
For a team that struggled for years to develop international talent, the Reds now have several interesting prospects coming out of their Latin American program. They picked up Ramirez in 2003 after he was released by the Padres, and the only real attention he drew came from a 50-game steroid suspension in 2006. A midseason promotion to Triple-A last season seemed to give him a new boost of confidence. His outstanding changeup got even sharper and some scouts rate it as an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. He maintains his arm speed with the pitch, commands it, keeps it down in the zone and has the confidence to throw it at any time. It also has the fade to generate swings and misses. The rest of Ramirez's pitches are pretty average, though his changeup makes them play up. He throws an 89-92 mph fastball, a 79-82 mph slider and an inconsistent curveball, and his command of those pitches doesn't match that of his changeup. Some question whether his reliance on the changeup will work as a starter over the long term--he threw nearly 50 percent changeups in the big leagues--but it was quite effective in his big league audition late in the season. Ramirez will be in the thick of the race to be Cincinnati's fifth starter, and if he doesn't win that job, his fastball/changeup combo also would be effective out of the bullpen.
Picked up in the Kyle Lohse trade with the Phillies in July 2007, Maloney ranked third in the minors with 177 strikeouts that season and fourth in the Triple-A International League with 132 last year. His whiffs come not from overpowering hitters, but from his ability to mix four pitches and move them around the zone. Maloney throws an 88-91 mph fastball with natural sink, a plus changeup and an average slider and curveball. He commands all four pitches and can throw them all at any point in the count. Like any pitcher who has less than overwhelming stuff and is always around the plate, Maloney always has to walk a tightrope. He gives up a lot of fly balls and homers. His overall 2008 numbers would have looked better if he hadn't given up 19 runs in his final three starts. Maloney is close to big league-ready, with a ceiling as a fourth or fifth starter or a useful arm out of the bullpen. With the Reds suddenly flush with starting candidates, he's an underdog in the competition to become their No. 5 starter.
When the Reds drafted Cozart in the second round in 2007, some scouts thought they might be wasting $407,250 on a no-hit, good-glove shortstop. But while he still has some holes in his swing, he showed solid pop during his first full pro season while continuing to play slick defense. Managers rated him the best defensive shortstop in the Midwest League. Cozart has soft hands, fluid actions, a quick first step, a knack for positioning and solid range. His arm is a touch short for a shortstop, but his quick release and accuracy allow it to grade out as average. His excellent defense is all the more surprising considering he's a slightly below-average runner, timed at 4.3 seconds from home to first. At the plate, Cozart is still not a sure thing, but he showed some power and a knack for putting the bat on the ball last season. He still struggles to recognize breaking balls, and his swing is more inside-out than is ideal. He also could stand to draw more walks. Because of the shortstops ahead of him in the system, Cozart was stuck in low Class A all year despite being ready to move up. He'll take that step to Sarasota in 2009.
On most high school teams, Sulbaran would have been the star. But last spring at American Heritage High in Plantation, Fla., he was overshadowed by teammates Eric Hosmer (No. 3 overall pick, Royals) and Adrian Nieto (fifth round, Nationals). The Reds were intrigued by Sulbaran's three-pitch mix and bought him out of his scholarship to Florida for $500,000 after taking a flier on him in the 30th round. A native of Curacao, Sulbaran made a convincing case for his bonus by holding Cuba's national team to one run in seven innings while pitching for the Dutch team at the Haarlem Honkbal tournament. After turning pro, he got a rematch against Cuba in the Olympics, allowing two earned runs in 42⁄3 innings. In that game, he struggled with his command but showed an ability to work out of jams against experienced hitters. He'll also pitch for the Dutch at this spring's World Baseball Classic. For a teenager, Sulbaran has an advanced approach and good control. He throws a 91-94 mph fastball and a promising curveball and changeup. At 6-foot-3, he gets a good downhill plane on his pitches. The Reds got their first up-close look at him in instructional league and think that his international experience will allow him to make his pro debut in low Class A.
When the Reds finally decided to trade Adam Dunn, they acquired Buck along with Micah Owings and catching prospect Wilkin Castillo from the Diamondbacks. Buck showed first-round talent as an Oregon State sophomore in 2005, but his arm came up sore the next year. He pitched through pain and managed to succeed despite diminished velocity, playing a key role in the Beavers' 2006 College World Series championship. Buck had a partial ligament tear in his elbow, which dropped him to the third round of the draft, and he signed for a cut-rate $250,000. He tried to recover through rest and rehab before having Tommy John surgery midway through the 2007 season. He returned in mid-2008, though his fastball didn't climb back above 90 mph until after the trade. He showed 90-92 mph velocity in three starts with Sarasota, but he has yet to show the same power sink he had before the injury. He also throws a slider and a changeup, and he's still regaining the feel for them as well. Buck's ability to throw strikes and compete hasn't changed. If he can get back to what he was before the injury, he has legitimate front-of-the-rotation stuff. If not, his competitiveness and guile may allow him to survive anyway. It's too early to know if he left his best stuff in Corvallis.
Heisey doesn't grab attention at first glance. He doesn't have any tools that stand out, he's undersized and he has no pedigree. That explains why he didn't have any NCAA Division I offers coming out of high school, and why he figured he was heading to tiny Messiah (Pa.) College to become a teacher. But as people see him over a longer stretch, his appeal grows. Heisey is an excellent defensive outfielder with a strong arm who can play all three spots. Thanks to his ability to read pitchers, he's a threat on the basepaths (he stole 32 bases in 34 tries last season), and he knows how to work counts to draw walks. He plays the game with a chip on his shoulder, thanks to how hard he has had to work to get noticed. Heisey is effective against lefthanders (he hit .378/.468/.538 against them in 2008) but will have to prove he can handle righties (.265/.346/.419) with solid stuff as he moves up the ladder. Heisey may not profile as a big league regular, but his versatility, defensive prowess and speed give him the chance to develop into a valuable role player. And that may be selling him short, something he has fought for years.
Dorn struggles to hit lefthanders, has had trouble staying healthy in pro ball and isn't a good defensive outfielder. But he has two valuable gifts: Nolan Ryan would have trouble getting a fastball by him, and he feasts on righthanders. When he's healthy, Dorn has a short swing and can drive the ball to the opposite field. Scouts projected him to hit for gap power coming out of college, but he has been better than that, delivering a homer every 20 at-bats as a pro. Dorn's bat will have to carry him because he's a tick below-average runner and is only adequate in left field or at first base. Dorn has a bad shoulder that will occasionally pop out, and he required 15 stitches and a month on the sidelines after cutting his leg open making a sliding catch last April. Dorn has hit at every level, so he'll move up to Triple-A this year. Thanks to his bat he should end up as a valuable bench player of platoon outfielder. He already has proven to be a bargain after signing as a college senior for only $1,000.
A converted outfielder who moved to the mound while playing at Citrus (Calif.) JC and later added polish at NAIA power Lewis-Clark State (Idaho), Fisher may prove to be another bullpen find for the Reds. He had success as a starter in his first pro two seasons, but wore down after a mid-2007 promotion to Double-A. That worked out fine for his long-term development because his arm action and maximum-effort delivery always have been more suited to a bullpen role. Working in relief for the first time as a pro, Fisher could focus on throwing his fastball, cutter and slider, and he scrapped his changeup. His fastball sits at 91-93 mph and will touch 95. It's effective because it has heavy sink, which helps induce groundouts. He had a rough ending to his Arizona Fall League campaign, allowing one run in his first six outings and 11 in his final four stints. Fisher should return to Triple-A with a chance to help out the major league bullpen at some point during 2009 if he can improve his control and consistency.
The Giants originally signed Viola for $20,000 as an outfielder, but they voided the deal when they learned he forged a birth certificate to make himself appear three years younger. The Reds later picked him up as a 22- year-old pitcher for $1,000. He has been inconsistent and hasn't gotten past Double-A at age 25, though he has spent just two full seasons in the United States. At his best, Viola has a 92-95 mph fastball, a slider with bite and a changeup that has a chance to be an average pitch. At his worst, he throws an 89-91 mph heater and a sloppy breaking ball while struggling with his command. Some club officials think his problems may have been tied to him still getting acclimated to life in the States, and he did post a 2.25 ERA after the all-star break. He also pitched better after moving to the rotation, going 3-1, 2.45, and the Reds now say he could be a No. 3 or 4 starter down the road. As a reliever, Viola doesn't really fit as a lefty specialist because lefthanders actually have hit him better than righties. He'll compete for a rotation spot in Triple-A during the spring.
The Reds may have drafted a future closer during the 2006 draft, though it was supposed to be Watson, not 10th-rounder Josh Roenicke. Watson has had a much bumpier path in pro ball. He has struggled with his command and his weight, but there are still times when he shows flashes of the talent that made him a secondround pick. Command is his big problem, as he too often falls behind in the count, and his 92-94 mph fastball is relatively straight, which makes it hittable if batters can sit on it. He has a tendency to fly open early in his delivery, which leads to pitches missing up in the zone. His conditioning always has been a problem, though he did get into better shape as the 2008 season went on. Watson's knuckle-curve is an out pitch when he gets ahead of hitters, but when his fingers get sweaty, he loses the feel for the pitch. He throws it sparingly and has been forced to rely more on his slider. This will be a big year for Watson, who needs to show that he can develop the consistency that has been lacking.
When scouts watch Manuel pitch, they just shake their heads. He rears back and throws 88-90 mph fastballs at hitters who are looking for fastballs. Yet time after time, they walk back to the dugout disappointed. Scouts can't explain it, but they can't quibble with the results. Manuel was a high school and junior college shortstop who didn't take up pitching until he got to Sam Houston State. He went undrafted but signed with the Mets as a free agent, and the Reds picked him up less than a year later in a swap for Dave Williams. Manuel's delivery is compact and he manages to hide the ball for a long time. Most important, his fastball seems to have a little hop to it at the plate, even if he lacks above-average velocity. Because he can spot it to all four quadrants of the plate, Manuel gets away with throwing fastball after fastball, mixing in a fringy slider or changeup infrequently. In the past, Manuel struggled because he spent time miscast as a starter. Once the Reds put him in the bullpen for good in 2008, he took off, having success in high Class A, Double-A and in the Arizona Fall League. The Reds added him to the 40-man roster after the season, fearing someone would take him in the Rule 5 draft if they didn't. Manuel will head to Triple-A needing to prove that he can continue to thrive with pedestrian stuff.
Tatum was the Mississippi high school player of the year in 2001 as a senior at Hattiesburg High, where his family has a farm not far from Jets quarterback Brett Favre's property. He went to Mississippi State to add polish, and three years later the Reds took him in the third round as a redshirt sophomore and signed him for $450,000. He quickly became one of the best defensive catchers in the system. Tatum missed most of 2005 with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, but showed few ill effects upon his return. He has above-average arm strength and threw out 38 percent of basestealers last season. He's a solid receiver who frames pitches, blocks balls well and calls a good game. At the plate, Tatum uses the whole field with power to the gaps that allows him to occasionally leave the yard. He's a well below-average runner. He probably won't hit enough to be a big league regular, and he looked overmatched in his short exposure to Triple-A last year, but his defensive skills make him a useful emergency option in 2009. If Tatum can continue to improve his hitting, he has a chance to be a major league backup down the road.
Rosales starred but went undrafted out of high school or as a junior at Western Michigan. After an outstanding senior season, scout Rick Sellers persuaded Cincinnati to take him as an inexpensive senior sign. The knock on Rosales was that he had an aluminum-bat swing, but he has performed well enough with wood to join Jay Bruce as the only members of the Reds' 2005 draft to make it to the big leagues. Rosales' swing can get loopy, but he has hit for average with adequate power. He doesn't profile as a platoon player, but he should be a good utilityman. Rosales can play all four infield positions and the outfield corners if needed, though he doesn't have the range to be an everyday shortstop. His best position is third base, where his slightly above-average arm displays good accuracy and he gets to show off his soft hands. He's a below-average runner. Rosales will head to spring training with a chance to stick with Cincinnati as a backup.
The Reds have kept a close eye on the Hens, partly because pro scout Jeff Taylor is a Delaware alum. In 2007, the Reds drafted a pair of Blue Hens, outfielder Brandon Menchaca (who signed in the 15th round) and righthander Mike McGuire (who opted to return to school after going in the 46th). But while scouting them, Jeff Brookens also took note of Buchholz, then a sophomore, and pressed the Reds to take him in 2008. Cincinnati scouting director Chris Buckley always has emphasized drafting middle infielders with solid baseball instincts, and Buchholz definitely fits that bill. Signed for $125,000 as a sixth-rounder, Buchholz played third base at Delaware, but projects better offensively at second. His hitting ability and power are solid average to a tick above, thanks to his impressive bat speed. Buchholz has a solid arm, reliable hands and good instincts, but his speed and range are below average. As with Chris Valaika, his bat will be his path to the big leagues. Buchholz had an outstanding pro debut despite missing five weeks when an errant pitch broke the hamate bone in his left hand, and he actually raised his average from .366 to .396 after returning to the lineup. The Reds are curious to see how he looks at shortstop and will play him on both sides of the second-base bag in low Class A this year.