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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Reds Prospects Making Headlines

Here we are at the season midpoint. I'm working on a look back on the first half, but I wanted to take a bit to talk about the Reds minor leagues because things are finally looking up in the Reds farm system. First, do you know who the Reds' top prospects are? Homer Bailey, Jay Bruce, and Joey Votto get all the press these days, but who else do we have? A good start is to read Doug Gray's top-10 prospect list, which includes both stats and insightful analysis for each player. Well worth the read, as is just about everything he posts on his site. Here's an excerpt:
5. Johnny Cueto - RHP - 20 years old
Johnny Cueto was a relative unknown prospect coming into this season. In Baseball Americas top 30 preseason rankings, he was nowhere to be seen. The Dominican product burst onto the season by dominating the Midwest League the first few months of the season. Cueto fired a no-hitter earlier in the season and has since gotten a promotion to Advanced A Sarasota. His first three outings have been from horrible to bad, but each start has gotten better and I am not to worried about Johnny adjusting and adapting to his new competition.
There was a similar thread over at recently asking for top-10 team prospect lists. Here are a few alternatives that posters there provided (see the link to read comments/justifications:
Havok1517's top-10:
1. Bailey
2. Bruce
3. Votto
4. Wood
5. Stubbs
6. Ward
7. Szymanski
8. Shafer
9. Guevara
10. Perez

IndyRedsFan's top-10:
1. Bailey, A
2. Bruce, A-
3. Votto, B+
4. Wood, B
5. Cueto, B
6. Dumatrait, B-
7. Denorfia, B-
8. Ward, C+
9. LeClure, C+
10. Stubbs, C+
I think the point here is that people can generally agree on the top 4 or 5 prospects in our system, but once you get into the 7-8-9 range you start to see new names. For the record, I think IndyRedsFan's list looks pretty on the mark.

And now, I wanted to run down a smattering of prospect news from the past week or so among the general baseball sites I frequent. Some (though not all) of it has been posted elsewhere, but I like to have it here too -- if for no other reason than so I can search for it later. :)

Baseball Analysts' top-75 prospects included three Reds, and I'll be you can name them:
10. Homer Bailey, sp: Reds (AA)
Bailey was not an oversight in my listing of the top pitching prospects weeks ago, I told someone after that article that Bailey wouldn't rank high for me until he showed "consistent dominance." So, upon promotion, Bailey decided to go off, and currently has a 17 inning scoreless streak going at Double-A. He has earned his status as the game's 1A pitching prospect, especially after a dominating performance in Sunday's Futures Game.

11. Jay Bruce, of: Reds (A-)
Earlier in the season, I did a study on teenage hitters in the Midwest League. Needless to say, the list of success stories was a short one; the expectation level for this group is (as a result) low. The type of season that Jay Bruce is having so far is unprecedented. Bruce is hitting for power at rates that even Prince Fielder did not at such an age. And he's doing so with a decent-enough strikeout rate. On the shortlist of people that wouldn't surprise me to be atop this list in a year.
56. Joey Votto, 1b: Reds (AA)
I was told a couple years ago by an industry executive that Votto would break out in 2005. It appears my information was a year early, as Votto has been fantastic this season, making Adam Dunn's non-move to 1B look genius. He should be manning the corner in Cincy by Opening Day 2008, at the latest.
The most exciting thing about this list is that two of the three are in the high minors...

Baseball Prospectus's Kevin Goldstein has been talking about Bruce both Votto:
Jay Bruce, of, Low Class A Dayton (Reds)

With the 10th, 11th and 12th picks of the 2005 draft, the Tigers, Pirates and Reds all took high school outfielders. Both Detroit's Cameron Maybin and Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen have been impressive in their full-season debuts, but Bruce has been the best of the trio. Bruce went 5-for-10 over the weekend with a double and his 13th home run of the season, raising his batting line to .320/.386/.575 (including a .416 batting average in his last 30 games). There's so much to like about Bruce: from his pro body to his pretty left-handed swing that has sent exactly half of his 104 hits for extra bases, to his plus arm and the requisite athleticism to hold his own in centerfield for now. The Reds system is still wading-pool shallow, but few organizations can match the elite-pitcher/elite-hitter combination of Homer Bailey and Bruce.
He ranks Votto as the #3 1B prospect in the majors:
3. Joey Votto, Reds
Age: 22.8 Hitting: .322/.396/.579 in 84 G (AA)

What a difference a year makes. Votto put himself on the map in 2004 when he hit .302/.419/.486 for Low Class A Dayton and then put up a .945 OPS in 24 Carolina games. Last year, he almost took himself off the map with a rough year in the Florida State League, where he got off to a bad start and then tinkered with his mechanics, losing both timing and fluidity in his stroke. The Reds worked with him in the offseason on shortening his swing and improving his approach against lefthanders. The results have been phenomenal, as Votto leads the Southern League in batting and home runs (17), while sitting just two behind Jacksonville's Craig Brazell for the RBI lead. Drafted as a catcher, Votto has good hands at first base but isn't especially athletic. If the offensive outburst continues, Votto could be in line for a look in 2007--while Scott Hatteberg is having a nice season, he doesn't represent any kind of major roadblock.
Chris Costansio of the Hardball Times rates Votto as the biggest surprise in the Southern League:
Joey Votto has had an up-and-down career in the Reds system. This is a good year for him; he is on pace to hit over 30 home runs with a .400 OBP. Only one player, Josh Phelps, has finished with comparable numbers in the Southern League during the past five years. Chattanooga is a hitter-friendly place to play, but Votto has actually hit 13 of his 19 home runs on the road in the Southern League.
I got a chance to see both Bailey and Votto in the Future's game last Sunday. Bailey looked good until he cut his finger--after that point he didn't seem willing to throw anything but a fastball, and his velocity and location were all over the place. But he was absolutely filthy during his first two batters. Really, really exciting to watch.

Votto also looked very good, though it's hard to judge a guy by two at-bats. Still, one thing I noticed that was fun: when he sets his stance, Votto glides back and downward ever so slightly in a smooth and very controlled motion. Reminds me of a left-handed version of another power-hitting first baseman, though his name escapes me. I think he plays for the Cardinals... :)