Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TEAM #23 – Cincinnati Reds

The promise of Alonso is causing the Reds to look for options for Joey Votto

Next up in our series are the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds are one of the organizations that are likely to generate much controversy, as there are players here that we like significantly more than the mainstream media does, and also some players that are other ‘experts’ favorites that we don’t think nearly as highly of. While we really like the Top 3 players here, the list of high ceiling players still isn’t very deep. The other weakness of the organization is a dearth of high upside arms. On a brighter note, the Reds have one of the stronger organizations of players that could contribute in 2010.

Grade A

1) Yonder Alonso, 1B (2009 Performance Scores – Power 76; First Base Rate 64; Discipline 66; Speed 33)

We got to see Alonso a half dozen times during his junior year at Miami, and quickly became enamored with his advanced hitting approach, as he posted the 3rd best Performance score of the 2008 season (Behind only Gordon Beckham and Buster Posey). 2009 was a difficult year due to a broken hamate bone, but he still managed to post the #8 and #9 Performance scores in the FSL and SOL respectively. Alonso has plus plate discipline skills, with potentially plus contact and power skills as well. The downside for Alonso, besides relatively base-clogging speed, is that he still is showing reduced power effects from the broken hamate (only 2 HRs so far in 130 AZFL/PRWL ABs). It often takes as much as 18 months to fully recover from this injury. Expect to see Alonso spend most of 2010 in AAA. We don’t expect him to make his Major League debut before late summer. With Alonso pretty much limited to first base, his performance this season will dictate what the Reds do with Joey Votto.

Grade A -

2) Mike Leake, RHP -

Leake is one of those guys where the tools guys and the performance guys differ widely. First off, Leake is smallish at just a tad over 6’0”. Then you add to that a fastball that tops out at 93MPH, and sits right at 89-90MPH, and the tools guys start getting squeamish. We’d prefer to take a glass half-full approach to Leake, as he put together, without question, the second best collegiate pitching season in 2009—to some guy named Strasburg. He signed late, and didn’t make his professional debut until the AZFL, but that didn’t slow him any, as he posted a Top 5 Performance score in Arizona. What we like about Leake is that he has a repertoire of 4 above average pitches, all of which with he shows excellent command. Add to that a ‘bull-dog’ type mentality, and, for us, he evokes memories of another smallish, hi-80s, excellent control, ‘mad-dog’ of a decade or so earlier. We won’t hang that burden on him right now, but we do expect him to become a solid #2/#3 starter that should move through the Reds system very rapidly—perhaps even reaching Cincinnati by mid-year.

3) Juan Francisco, 3B/LF (2009– Power 77; First Base Rate 42; Discipline 36; Speed 42)

One of the more controversial players in the prospect world, the question on Francisco invariably comes down to will he make enough contact to succeed at the Major League level. For us that is a two part question. The first part focuses on his strikeout rate, which was a career 24% in 4 Minor League seasons entering the year. In 529 ABs over two levels in 2009, both higher than any he had seen prior to this year, he cut his strikeout rate to 20.8%. That is significant improvement and bodes well. The other measure that we use is something we call First Base Rate (FBR), which essentially is calculation that we use that measures the rate a player ends up on first base. Entering the season, Francisco had a career FBR of .209. This season, again at higher levels, the number jumped to .223. Neither of these numbers are good, but they are moving in the right direction and he has continued to sustain the improvements this Winter in the DWL. While we don’t ever see Francisco becoming a high OBP guy, he should post adequate Average and OBP numbers while posting some huge power numbers. Minor League History has shown that to be a recipe for Major League success. Francisco’s other negative is his defense, as it is doubtful that he sticks as a third baseman, forcing either a move to first (where a logjam already exists), or LF. Francisco will be offered an opportunity to compete for a roster spot this Spring. Given that the Reds are set at first and third, he is likely ticketed to AAA. Sometime during the season, we are expecting the Reds will have to find a way to get his bat into the lineup.

Grade B+

4) Todd Frazier, LF/3B (2009– Power 73; First Base Rate 40; Discipline 67; Speed 42)

We must admit a bias here, as we have never been as high on Frazier as much of the baseball world seems to be. A great example of this is in the head-to-head comparison of Frazier and Francisco. Both players had about 560 PAs in 2009, in a relatively equal mix between Carolina and Louisville. Comparing their wPOW scores (the highest correlating statistical factor to Major League success), Francisco crushed Frazier, .634 - .493. For FBR, Frazier edged Francisco .254 to .223. Francisco posted a better Speed score (6.3 to 3.7) and Frazier posted a slightly better Plate discipline score .154 to .217. All in all, they posted relatively equal, if not slightly in Francisco’s favor, seasons in 2009, BUT…Francisco is nearly 1 ½ years younger. Now when you throw in remaining upside projection, again skewed heavily toward Francisco, and that they are likely competing defensively for the same positions (edge to Frazier), I don’t see how anyone comes down on Frazier’s side of this discussion. Only if one assumes that Frazier will end up at 2B (we aren’t believers), can an argument be made in Frazier’s favor. We see Frazier as a low-ceiling/high-floor type, that may end up (ceiling) as an average Major Leaguer, but is more likely to be a slightly below average regular or utility player.

Grade B

5) Chris Heisey, CF (2009– Power 74; First Base Rate 51; Discipline 66; Speed 73)

During the course of the 2009 season, Heisey went from an ‘interesting’ story to legitimate prospect, as he posted the 5th and 19th best Performance Scores in the SOL and INT respectively. None of his skills are exciting, yet he has a well-rounded package. A classic Low-Ceiling/High-Floor type, we aren’t without our concerns. Chief among them is our belief that he can’t be an everyday CF in the Big Leagues, and we don’t see enough power for him to play a corner. All in all, Heisey has the ceiling of a Major League average OF, but we foresee him more along the lines of a 4th OF at the next level.

6) Travis Wood, LHP (2009 – Dominance 57; Stamina 74; HRrate 50; Control 59)

One of our favorite stories from the 2009 season, Wood’s career was at a precipice after the 2008 season. He spent the following off-season adding a cut fastball and a two-seam fastball, giving him five pitches that he felt he could throw for strikes. He cut his walks from 5.0 per 9IP in 2008, to 2.8 per 9IP this year. This all resulted in Wood posting a 1.77 ERA, 1.038 ERA, with a 135:53 K:BB ratio, between stints in the SOL and INT. While Wood doesn’t have a ceiling above that of a mid-rotation starter, he looks like a good bet to post a reasonable Big League career, likely as a #4 left-handed starter. Expect Wood to compete for a rotation spot this Spring, eventually nailing one down by season’s end.

7) Neftali Soto, 3B (2009– Power 55; First Base Rate 35; Discipline 61; Speed 31)

Soto was a disappointment for us, as we had him as a Top 100 prospect entering this season. The positive is that he was able to post essentially League average numbers in the FSL, despite being only 20yo. There is plus power potential here, and above average contact/plate discipline skills. Soto will need to take a more patient approach at the plate in 2010, to right the ship. Despite a less-than spectacular showing in Hi-A, look for Soto to move to AA this season. He is still one of the higher ceiling players in the organization.

8) Yorman Rodriguez, OF (2009– Power 37; First Base Rate 45; Discipline 29; Speed 58)

Rodriguez clearly put separation between himself and the Reds’ other high profile 2008 Latin American signing, Juan Duran, during 2009. Although he, himself, struggled on the field, we have to keep in perspective that he is just 17yo. Rodriguez is pure projection at this point of his career, a gifted athlete, with plus speed and plus defensive abilities. Given his 6’3”, 175lb, frame, there is every reason to believe that power will eventually develop. The main question is whether or not his plate discipline skills will develop, as he currently posting a 30% strikeout rate. Look for the Reds to keep Rodriguez in extended Spring training before returning him to the Pioneer (PIO) League in 2010. He still is many years away.

9) Zack Cozart, SS (2009– Power 56; First Base Rate 58; Discipline 55; Speed 71)

After watching the Reds faithful tout Chris Valaika as the SS of the future for two years, they watched in horror as the position was manned by offensively inept players like Alex Gonzalez, Paul Janish and Drew Sutton in 2009. Valaika took himself out of the mix with his own dismal showing in the International League (INT). The pendulum now swings to Cozart. A second round pick in 2007, Cozart had been considered a defense first SS prospect prior to his bat showing signs of life during 2009, posting a Top 30 Performance score in the Southern League (SOL). Cozart now profiles as a Major League average offensive SS, with a plus glove. The Reds need a SS desperately, but Cozart is unlikely ready, offensively, at the start of the season. If they don’t acquire someone else though look for Cozart to be manning the position sometime during the 2010 season.

Grade B –

10) Brad Boxberger, RHP –

Admittedly, we felt that the Reds taking Boxberger with a supplemental first round pick was a bit of an overdraft. For us, there are significant questions regarding whether Boxberger is a starter or reliever at the Big League level. While he has a fastball that sits in the low-90s, he can dial it up into the mid-90s in short spurts. His slider could become a plus pitch, and he isn’t afraid to use his curve or change—neither of which are ever likely to be anything more than average. And perhaps the biggest negative is his frequent battles with control. For a college pitcher, he isn’t as refined as we would like to see at this stage of his career. That said, his ‘raw’ stuff is as good as anyone in the system, and as a relief pitcher, he would get to Cincy quickly. Look for him to start 2010 in Hi-A, and for the Reds to leave him as a starter—at least for now.

11) Matt Maloney, LHP (2009 – Dominance 62; Stamina 75; HRrate 48; Control 75)

A 3rd round pick in 2005, Matt Maloney continued to put up impressive numbers in 2009, despite not having premium raw ‘stuff’. Maloney, like Travis Wood, gets by by mixing speeds extremely well, varying as many as five pitches, and using plus control. It has proven to be an effective mix that should have Maloney competing for a back-of-the-rotation spot in 2010. We see Maloney as very similar to Wood, possessing a relatively high-floor, but with a little less ceiling.

12) Miguel Rojas, SS (2009– Power 31; First Base Rate 62; Discipline 78; Speed 57)

Rojas is one of those players that we are higher on than most. A legitimate plus defender at a premium position, he possesses above average contact skills and plus plate discipline—both of which are indicators that he will continue to show offensive improvement as he moves up the ladder. As it is, Rojas posted a Top 20 Performance score in the MWL in 2009—despite being just 20yo. The downside is that Rojas has almost no power, and at 5’9”, 175lbs, he isn’t likely to develop any, anytime soon. Rojas has the ceiling as a below average offensive everyday SS, with above average defensive skills. He will still have to demonstrate more offense to reach it, but the Reds are likely to be patient with him, keeping him in Hi-A for all of 2010.

13) Billy Hamilton, SS (2009– Power 31; First Base Rate 29; Discipline 36; Speed 79)

We’ve reached the part of the Reds’ prospect list where the players have more questions than answers. Extremely athletic, Hamilton is a slight, 6’1”, player with plus-plus speed and a solid arm, who may be best suited for CF in the long run. Currently however, the focus is on his bat, as he is extremely raw offensively, showing minimal power, less contact skills, and below average plate discipline. In a 166 AB ARZ debut, Hamilton posted a .531 OPS. The Reds will be very patient with Hamilton, likely keeping him in extended Spring training to start 2010, before sending him to the Pioneer League (PIO). While the jury is still out, as Hamilton has a vast ceiling, we will need to see much more.

14) Matt Klinker, RHP (2009 – Dominance 73; Stamina 71; HRrate 46; Control 51)

Klinker showed strong performance across three different levels in 2009, finishing in AAA with a 2.48 ERA over 5 starts. Klinker pitches off of a low-90s fastball, to set-up what could become an above average curve. His change still needs work, so there is still questions as to whether he is long-term a bullpen or a rotation candidate. Expect Klinker to return to AAA to start 2010, and he will need to tighten up his control. If he refines his offerings, he could end up in the back-of-the-rotation. Perhaps more likely is a middle relief role that could begin as early as mid-2010.

15) Devin Mesoraco, C (2009– Power 70; First Base Rate 34; Discipline 42; Speed 30)

Mesoraco continues to fight the label as one of the biggest draft mistakes of the last three years. The Reds spent the #15 overall pick on a player that was virtually all tools. Three seasons later, the tools have still not translated into production, and with each passing year there becomes significantly more questions regarding his body type and work ethic. It is hard to find much to like about his 2009 season except that he nearly held his own in Hi-A as a 21yo. We still haven’t given up on Mesoraco, but 2010 will be a pivotal season for him. Look for him to spend much of it at AA.

16) Josh Fellhauer, OF (2009– Power 72; First Base Rate 41; Discipline 73; Speed 49)

We had Fellhauer as a 4th round prospect heading into the June draft, and the Reds found him still on the Board in the 7th round. However, his debut even surprised us, as he posted 236 MWL ABs and the 13th best Performance score in the process. Still, this isn’t a high-ceiling type of player, as he profiles more as the classic ‘over-achieving’ 4th OF type. He will have to fight this label for a while, but he is the gritty type, that possesses excellent plate discipline that very well could overcome it. He will begin 2010 in Hi-A and could move rapidly.

Grade C+ Prospects –

17) Chris Valaika, MI; 19) Markeson Gregorius, SS; 20) Sean Henry, OF; 21) J.C. Sulbran; 22) Logan Ondrusek, RP; 23) Danny Dorn, LF; 24) Sam LeCure, RHP; 25) Juan Duran, LF; 26) Donnie Joseph, LHP; 27) Matt Fairel. LHP; 28) Ezequiel Infante, LHP; 29) Juan Silva, OF; 30) Mark Fleury, C; 31) Daniel Tuttle, RHP; 32) Josh Ravin, RHP; 33) Junior Arias, SS; 34) Humberto Valor, SS.

Grade C Prospects –

Tucker Barnhart; Alex Buchholz; Oscar Castro; Kevin Coddington; Enerio Del Rosario; Jeremy Horst; Harold Johnson; JR Morillo; Alexis Oliveras; Brian Pearl; Henry Rodriguez; Carlos Sanchez; Dave Sappelt; Mark Serrano; Alexander Smit; Jordan Smith; Dave Stewart; Daryl Thompson; Phillippe-Alexandre Valiquette; Pedro Viola.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

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