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November 17, 2006

Future Shock

Cincinnati Reds Top Ten Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Excellent Prospects
1. Homer Bailey, RHP
2. Jay Bruce, RF
Very Good Prospects
3. Joey Votto, 1B
Good Prospects
4. Drew Stubbs, CF
5. Johnny Cueto, RHP
6. Travis Wood, LHP
7. Sean Watson, LHP
Average Prospects
8. Milton Loo, SS/3B
9. Chris Valaika, SS
10. Paul Janish, SS

1. Homer Bailey, RHP
DOB: 5/3/86
Height/Weight: 6-4/205
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 1st round, 2004, Texas HS
What he did in 2006: 3.31 ERA, 70.2-49-22-79 at High A; 1.59, 68-50-28-77 at Double-A
The Good: The total package: a classic Texas power pitcher whose heat sits in the mid-90s, touches 98 mph, and he backs it up with a 12-to-6 curveball that is an absolute sledgehammer. His changeup is solid, and he's aggressive to the point of arrogance--he's damn good and he knows it.
The Bad: Still learning, at times the hard way, that he can't blow away every batter. He needs to mix up his pitches more and rely less on the fastball, which shouldn't be a problem because of secondary offerings; occasionally shows up and just doesn't 'have it', leading to bad outings.
The Irrelevant: If you think Bailey's 1.59 ERA at Double-A is impressive, consider the fact that he was at 1.06 before giving up four runs without retiring a batter in his final start of the year.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A true power starter with No. 1 ace potential.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average, for where he is. The Reds struggled with the decision to not bring Bailey up for the stretch run last year, and the new administration is developing a track record for being conservative with prospects. He'll likely begin the year at Triple-A, but if he continues to pitch well, he won't be there for long.

2. Jay Bruce, RF/CF
DOB: 4/3/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Draft: 1st round, 2005, Texas HS
What he did in 2006: .291/.355/.516 at Low A
The Good: Advanced hitter with strong, quick wrists and plenty of in-game power; held his own in center but projects as a plus right fielder with nice range and a very good arm; good athlete with surprising quickness who stole 19 bases.
The Bad: Lefthanders can tie him up inside. Bruce also has a tendency to ramp up his swing, when his natural power is more than adequate. He shows good pitch recognition, but needs to improve his patience at the plate.
The Irrelevant: The most famous baseball alumni from Bruce's Beaumont High is Jason Tyner, who Bruce clearly did not model his game after.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: Larry Walker, but healthy.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average to High. Bruce's full-season debut was a major step forward, yet while he's already translating his tools into performance quicker than teenagers, there's still work to be done, beginning next year at High A.

3. Joey Votto, 1B
DOB: 9/10/83
Height/Weight: 6-3/220
Bats/Throws: L/R
Draft: 2nd round, 2002, Canada HS
What he did in 2006: .319/.408/.547 at Double-A
The Good: Athletic first baseman combines solid hitting skills with plus power and patience. A rapidly improving defender after being drafted as a catcher and being tinkered with at third base.
The Bad: Up-and-down minor league career leaves some wary of his breakout campaign, his power drops off against lefties, and he has a tendency to press at times.
The Irrelevant: After stealing four bases in 2005 and 27 total in his four-year career entering 2006, Votto suddenly swiped 24 bags last year in 31 attempts.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: An above-average first baseman, but not upper echelon.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Votto's line at Double-A has no obvious weaknesses, but people still want to see if that's the real Votto, or if the one who hit .256/.330/.425 in 2005 is the real Votto; the truth lies somewhere in between. He'll start the year in Triple-A, but will hit the big leagues at some point next year.

4. Drew Stubbs, CF
DOB: 10/4/84
Height/Weight: 6-4/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 1st round, 2006, University of Texas
What he did in 2006: 252/368/400 at Rookie-level
The Good: Among the best athletes in the game, with size, speed, and tons of raw power potential. A patient approach leads to a healthy walk rate. He's a fantastic defender who one scout calls, "one of the top 10 centerfielders in the game right now, at any level."
The Bad: His pure hitting skills are questionable, as his long, looping swing has led to high strikeout totals, even as an amateur.
The Irrelevant: Stubbs has two dogs, named Smokey and Fluffy. That's right, Fluffy.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A Gold Glove center fielder with 30/30 possibilities.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. Drew's pro debut did little to erase any doubts about his ability to hit more-advanced pitching. While few doubt his potential, most agree that he's not the type of player who will move through the system quickly unless everything just suddenly clicks.

5. Johnny Cueto, RHP
DOB: 2/15/86
Height/Weight: 5-11/174
Bats/Throws: R/R
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004
What he did in 2006: 2.59 ERA, 76.1-52-15-82 at Low A; 3.50, 61.2-48-23-61 at High A
The Good: Thrived after moving to the rotation, with his velocity suddenly sitting at 93-95 mph and touching 97, complementing a slider with sharp break; has impressive command for his age and power arsenal.
The Bad: Small and skinny. His stature and his rudimentary changeup have many projecting a bullpen role in the end.
The Irrelevant: Walked 12 in his first three Florida State League starts, then just 11 in his last nine.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A very good set-up man with an outside possibility of closing.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. Youth is on Cueto's size, so the Reds will be patient as they try to get a better feel for where his future lies as he returns to the Florida State League.

6. Travis Wood, LHP
DOB: 2/6/87
Height/Weight: 6-0/165
Bats/Throws: R/L
Draft: 2nd round, 2005, Arkansas HS
What he did in 2006: 3.66 ERA, 140-108-56-133 at Low A
The Good: Lefty with impressive arsenal: 88-91 mph fastball, decent curve and plus-plus changeup that is his primary out pitch.
The Bad: Despite good ratios, his stuff was disappointing, as he lost 2-5 mph on his fastball from the previous season. The curve showed a troublesome tendency to flatten out; control is average at best, and when he misses, he misses up.
The Irrelevant: Wood allowed two hits and three walks in each of his last three starts, allowing one run to score over a total of 20 innings.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A middle-of-the-rotation lefthander.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. The biggest knock on Wood isn't his performance, which was pretty good, but his the decline in his stuff. The Reds hope he gets back on track in Sarasota this coming season.

7. Sean Watson, RHP
DOB: 7/24/85
Height/Weight: 6-1/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 2nd round, 2006, University of Tennessee
What he did in 2006: 1.52 ERA, 23.2-16-5-19 at Rookie; 8.59, 14.2-22-5-16 at Low A
The Good: A former college reliever who lacks closer stuff but gets hitters out with a low-90s fastball that touches 95 and a hard-breaking curveball that is thrown with significant velocity. Aggressive demeanor; commands his pitches well despite questionable mechanics.
The Bad: Big-bodied, and his conditioning could become an issue. His arm action and violent landing are long-term concerns.
The Irrelevant: Two players in University of Tennessee history have put up single-season double-digit save totals--Watson, and Rockies first baseman Todd Helton.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A very effective late-inning reliever who can fill in at closer when the need arises.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. While the Reds have toyed with the idea of grooming Watson as a starter, his future lies in the pen, and he could move up quickly if he stays there. The Reds hope to have more luck with him than they did with Ryan Wagner.

8. Milton Loo, SS/3B
DOB: 4/2/86
Height/Weight: 6-1, 185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 9th round, 2005, Arizona JUCO (Draft-and-Follow)
What he did in 2006: .372/.413/.581 at Rookie-level
The Good: Quick hands and excellent plate coverage leads to line drives sprayed from pole-to-pole. A plus runner who is aggressive, almost to a fault, on the basepaths.
The Bad: His power is below-average now, and projects as no more than average; sloppy defender who might need to move to the left or right sooner than later despite plus athleticism; impatient approach due to ability to make contact with so many pitches.
The Irrelevant: A native of Hawaii, Loo is an accomplished ukulele player.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A starting big league infielder whose best attribute is his ability to hit .300.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: High. With just 14 pro games under his belt, Loo will be an interesting sleeper on what could be a compelling Dayton team in the Low-A Midwest League.

9. Chris Valaika, SS
DOB: 8/14/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 3rd round, 2006, UC Santa Barbara
What he did in 2006: .324/.387/.520 at Rookie-Level
The Good: Ultra-quick bat with gap power generated a Pioneer League-record 32-game hitting streak. Possesses xcellent instincts and fundamentals both offensively and defensively. Plays with infectious energy, earning raves for makeup.
The Bad: His walk rate is a little too low and his strikeout rate a little too high; although he can play three infield positions, he lacks the quickness to be a full-time shortstop.
The Irrelevant: While he hit .335 at UCSB this year, his longest hitting streak was just ten games.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A solid starting second baseman, or a super-utilityman.
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Average. While he's a polished college product, the list of college players who had big Pioneer League debuts only to fall by the wayside could fill a phonebook. We'll know more after his full-season debut.

10. Paul Janish, SS
DOB: 10/12/82
Height/Weight: 6-2/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Draft: 5th round, 2004, Rice
What he did in 2006: .398/.435/.621 at Low A (108 PA); .278/.355/.421 at High A (393 PA); .267/.313/.333 at Double-A (16 PA)
The Good: A decent hitter who makes plenty of contact and flashes occasional ability to sting balls into the gap; Janish works the count well and waits for his pitch. An outstanding defender with plus range, instincts, hands, and arm.
The Bad: Already 24, and has just four games above A-ball under his belt; will never develop power or hit well enough to hit towards to top of any lineup.
The Irrelevant: Despite being an infielder and not a pitcher, Janish played his college ball at Rice, so even he needed a Tommy John surgery, done in 2005.
In A Perfect World, He Becomes: A plus defensive shortstop who holds his own offensively...Royce Clayton-esque?
Gap Between What He Is Now, And What He Can Be: Low. Despite barely reaching Double-A so far, Janish has little projection and his skills are well established. The rest of his minor league career will be far more challenging to his bat than his glove.

The Sleeper: Signed in 2003 as a 39th-round draft-and-follow, right-handed reliever Calvin Medlock gets little attention but continues to get batters out at every level, putting up a 2.97 ERA this year at Double-A Chattanooga with 70 strikeouts in 63.2 innings. Despite being listed at 5-foot-10 and looking smaller than that, Medlock deals in the low-90s, touches 95-96 mph, and features a very good changeup.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies 25 Years Old Or Younger (As Of Opening Day 2007)

1. Homer Bailey, RHP
2. Jay Bruce, RF
3. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
4. Joey Votto, 1B
5. Drew Stubbs, CF
6. Brandon Phillips, 2B
7. Bill Bray, LHP
8. Johnny Cueto, RHP
9. Travis Wood, LHP
10. Sean Watson, LHP

While Encarnacion is one of the most interesting young talents around, Bailey and Bruce are both elite prospects with impact potential, giving the Reds arguably the top single-pitching/single-hitting prospect combination in the game. After years of stagnation, Phillips finally came to life thanks to a change of scenery, while Bray's combination of power stuff and left-handedness should pay dividends in the future, despite the uninspiring results so far.

The beginning of this decade was marked by bad drafts, bad player development, and some just plain ol' bad luck, leaving the Reds system as one of the worst in baseball. While the Bailey/Bruce combination completely changes the equation, the relative lack of talent at Double- and Triple-A means the organization will still be paying the price for the previous administration's foibles for another couple of years.

Next Wednesday: The Colorado Rockies.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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