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November 13, 2008

Future Shock

Reds Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Five-Star Prospects
1. Yonder Alonso, 1B
Four-Star Prospects
2. Todd Frazier, INF
3. Drew Stubbs, CF
Three-Star Prospects
4. Chris Valaika, SS
5. Neftali Soto, 3B
6. Yorman Rodriguez, CF
7. Juan Duran, OF
8. Juan Francisco, 3B
9. Kyle Lotzker, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
10. Daryl Thompson, RHP
11. Devin Mesoraco, C

Just Missed: Zach Cozart, SS; Josh Roenicke, RHP; Zach Stewart, RHP

Ranking Challenges: Yonder is a clear number one for me, and Frazier/Stubbs are just as obviously the second-tier prospects. It's always difficult to figure out what to do with toolsy 16-year-old Latin American Yorman Rodriguez and 17-year-old Juan Duran. You'd like to maybe leave them off the list and wait for more information, but $4.5 million for the pair says a lot on its own, as do the scouting reports. They were impossible not to include, as the system bottoms out pretty quickly.

1. Yonder Alonso, 1B
DOB: 4/8/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/215
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, University of Miami
2008 Stats: .316/.440/.386, .253 EqA at High-A (6 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: One of the top college sluggers this spring worked his way up to seventh overall pick status with a .370/.534/.777 campaign for the Hurricanes.
The Good: Alonso profiles as a classic first baseman who hits third for a championship-level team. He has tremendous plate discipline, and when he gets a pitch to hit he makes hard contact with plus-plus power to all fields. He's a solid defensive first baseman with good hands who consistently saves the other infielders from errors on poor throws. He grew up around the game, has high baseball intelligence, and clearly has fun playing.
The Bad: Alonso's bat is his ticket to the big leagues, as he's a below-average runner who will be limited to playing first base. There is some concern about his ability to hit left-handers, which affected him even in college.
Fun Fact: Alonso's father, Luis, played for the always powerful Havana Industriales team in Cuba before defecting to America with his family via a small plane in 1995.
Perfect World Projection: He should become a .300/.400/.550 first baseman.
Glass Half Empty: Hitting just .176 against lefties in the Hawaiian Winter League isn't doing much to lessen fears about his inability to deal with southpaws.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Reds already have a talented young first baseman in Joey Votto, so for now Alonso is blocked.
Timetable: Alonso made his brief pro debut with High-A Sarasota in the Florida State League, and will likely return there at the beginning of 2009.

2. Todd Frazier, INF
DOB: 2/12/86
Height/Weight: 6-3/215
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Rutgers University
2008 Stats: .321/.402/.598, .261 EqA at Low-A (30 G); .281/.357/.451, .248 EqA at High-A (100 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 5

Year in Review: Last year's first-round pick spent a month beating up the Midwest League before more than holding his own in the Florida State League.
The Good: Frazier's best tool is his bat; he works the count well and projects to hit for both average and power. He's a baseball rat with great instincts in the field and on the basepaths, and his effort level is always top-notch. He's a fundamentally sound shortstop who also looked good during the year both at third base and in the outfield, where he also showcased a plus arm.
The Bad: Frazier lacks the range to play shortstop every day in the majors, and is at best an average runner. While it clearly works for him, Frazier's swing has a lot of moving parts and borders on awkward, leaving some to worry about its effectiveness at the upper levels. He's merely good against righties while absolutely mashing left-handers.
Fun Fact: In extra innings of games in 2008, Frazier went 4-for-5 with a double and two home runs.
Perfect World Projection: Frazier has enough bat to be an above-average third baseman or an adequate everyday right fielder.
Glass Half Empty: If the organization's other third basemen in the minors and the relatively young one in the majors force a move to the outfield for Frazier, he's merely average.
Path To The Big Leagues: That all depends on where he ends up defensively, but the outfield makes more sense for him with this organization, though it does limit his value to other teams.
Timetable: Frazier will continue to play all over the diamond with the Reds' new Double-A affiliate at Carolina.

3. Drew Stubbs, CF
DOB: 10/4/84
Height/Weight: 6-4/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2006, University of Texas
2008 Stats: .261/.366/.406, .238 EqA at High-A (86 G); .315/.400/.402, .247 EqA at Double-A (26 G); .293/.354/.480, .268 EqA at Triple-A (19 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 7

Year in Review: This first-round pick from two years ago bounced back from a disappointing full-season debut with moderate production in the Florida State League before really shining at the upper levels of the system.
The Good: Stubbs is a fantastic athlete who possesses the baseball presence not always associated with players of his type. He's a 70-plus runner with a good feel for swiping bases, and is one of the best defensive center fielders around, supplementing his burning speed with great jumps, flawless routes, and a very good arm. He has plus raw power, but it's been reduced to average due to a shortened swing in order to temper his contact issues.
The Bad: While his swing is shorter than it once was, it's still too long and often leaves him behind on good fastballs. Despite a healthy walk total, he's prone to chasing pitches when behind in the count.
Fun Fact: Stubbs was a third-round pick by the Astros in 2003 out of Atlanta High School in Texas, the same school that graduated talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a power/speed combination in center field with Gold Glove defense and a ton of strikeouts... a la Mike Cameron?
Glass Half Empty: With far too many strikeouts his power is hampered, taking away one of his most valuable tools.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Reds do not have a center fielder right now, and no, Corey Patterson doesn't count.
Timetable: Stubbs will likely begin the year at Triple-A Louisville, but he should see the majors at some point during the season, and may have a firm grasp on the everyday center-field job by the following year.

4. Chris Valaika, SS
DOB: 8/14/85
Height/Weight: 6-1/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2006, University of California at Santa Barbara
2008 Stats: .363/.393/.585, .293 EqA at High-A (32 G); .301/.352/.443, .244 EqA at Double-A (97 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: The polished college product repeated last year's pattern with a great start to the season, but this year changed things when he continued to produce at the upper levels while also showing growth in his power.
The Good: Hitting seems to come easy for Valaika. He's a bit of a free swinger, but he makes solid contact to all fields and showed surprising power that scouts now believe in, projecting him for 15-20 home runs a year while playing an infield position. He's a solid but unspectacular shortstop with a good arm who carries himself like a big leaguer and wants to be at the plate and making the plays with the game on the line.
The Bad: Scouts are mixed on Valaika's ability to stay on the left side of the infield. He's no more than an average runner, and his range and arm are a bit short there. He needs to refine his approach some, as more advanced pitchers at Double-A were able to get ahead of him by making him chase early in the count.
Fun Fact: Valaika was an all-state performer at Hart High School in California, the school that also graduated big leaguers James Shields, Bob Walk, and Todd Zeile.
Perfect World Projection: He might turn out best as an offense-oriented second baseman.
Glass Half Empty: His inability to work the count catches up to him, and he ends up as a utility player.
Path To The Big Leagues: For now, Valaika will stay at shortstop, where the organization has a much greater need.
Timetable: He'll likely join Stubbs at Triple-A to begin the 2009 season.

5. Neftali Soto, 3B
DOB: 2/28/89
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 3rd round, 2007, Colegio Marista HS (PR)
2008 Stats: .388/.423/.746 at Rookie-level (15 G); .326/.343/.500, .235 EqA at Low-A (52 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 11

Year in Review: The top prospect from Puerto Rico in 2007 bashed his way out of the Pioneer League and continued to hit in a full-season league during the second half of the year.
The Good: Soto has plenty of raw power (including to the opposite field), and already displays it in game situations, with one scout noting, "the ball just comes off his bat differently." His quick, easy swing should also make for a consistently high batting average, as it produces natural loft and backspin without the need for an uppercut or over-swing. He has good hands at third base and a cannon for an arm.
The Bad: Soto has far less athleticism than one would expect considering his youth and frame. He's a slow, almost ugly runner who flails around the basepaths. He needs to improve his footwork and his range to his left in order to stay at third base, and some scouts have noted his awkward throwing mechanics, which include him cocking his wrist behind his head and releasing from his ear.
Fun Fact: During his brief stint in the Pioneer League, Soto torched lefties by going 10-for-18 with four doubles and three home runs.
Perfect World Projection: He becomes a good-average, high-power third baseman with enough defense to stay there.
Glass Half Empty: Soto probably develops into an outfielder with a good arm, lots of power, and bad plate discipline. Hey, isn't that Jose Guillen?
Path To The Big Leagues: For now, Soto stays at third, where he has plenty of competition in the minors, as well as 26-year-old Edwin Encarnacion in the big leagues, who seems to be finally tapping into his potential.
Timetable: Just 20 years old entering the season, Soto may be allowed to dominate a bit in the Midwest League before being moved up to High-A.

6. Yorman Rodriguez, CF
DOB: 8/15/92
Height/Weight: 6-3/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2008
2008 Stats: N/A
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: The most athletic player in this year's international signing period broke the record for Venezuelans with a $2.5 million bonus.
The Good: Rodriguez is a human tool shed, with plus-plus raw power and game-changing speed. Throw in a plus-arm and you have a potential five-tool monster. He's a fluid athlete who projects as a plus center fielder. "Potentially, there's nothing he can't do," said one scout.
The Bad: There are concerns; the one skill that scouts question the most is his ability to put bat on ball consistently. He has a long swing with many moving parts that will require significant changes at the pro level and will be the Reds' first and primary focus. Other than that, it's just the standard rawness that one normally, and fairly associate with 16-year-olds.
Fun Fact: Yorman Bazardo become the first Yorman to play in the big leagues in 2005, while the Blue Jays have a righty in their system named Yorman Mayora.
Perfect World Projection: "Dream on, dream on, dream it till your dreams come true."
Glass Half Empty: Though a classic athlete with unreal tools, perhaps Rodriguez simply can't hit. Baseball history is littered with those guys.
Path To The Big Leagues: Born in 1992, he has no path-he's barely out of the doorway.
Timetable: He might be the youngest player in the GCL next summer after spending the first months of the season refining his swing.

7. Juan Duran, OF
DOB: 9/2/91
Height/Weight: 6-5/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2008
2008 Stats: .215/.340/.319 at Rookie-level (41 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Cincinnati outworked the other teams on Duran, signing him to a $2 million bonus before most organizations realized he was even eligible to sign.
The Good: On a pure tools level, Duran gives the Reds plenty to hope for. He's built like a right-handed Darryl Strawberry, with the similar lanky athletic frame and long arms. He has a good feel for the strike zone at his age, with a whip-like swing and good leverage that generates tremendous raw power. He's a fine athlete who runs well and has enough arm to play in right field.
The Bad: Duran is incredibly raw. He sells out for power on nearly every swing, and still needs to make significant adjustments to be more effective against breaking pitches. He also needs to work on all the little things, such as his jumps, his routes, and his baserunning.
Fun Fact: Duran went just 4-for-25 with 15 strikeouts against lefties in the Dominican Summer League.
Perfect World Projection: He's a massive power threat in right field.
Glass Half Empty: The body fills out a bit too much, leaving him too big to be more than a one-dimensional slugger.
Path To The Big Leagues: Let's not worry about that yet.
Timetable: Duran will spend his first year in the States in Florida, beginning with the team's extended program before playing in the Gulf Coast League.

8. Juan Francisco, 3B
DOB: 6/24/87
Height/Weight: 6-2/180
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004
2008 Stats: .277/.303/.496, .238 EqA at High-A (127 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 10

Year in Review: The big third baseman participated in the Futures Game and finished in the Florida State League's top five in hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage.
The Good: Francisco's main calling card is power, and he has a ton of it, with multiple scouts talking about multiple moon-shots that they've seen coming off of his bat. He also has surprisingly good plate coverage for a power hitter, and an outstanding arm at third base.
The Bad: Francisco will swing at any pitch thrown to him, showing almost nothing in the way of an approach or strike-zone control. He's well over his listed weight of 180, and his body borders on soft, making him a below-average runner with sub-par range.
Fun Fact: From May 30 through July 6 of 2008, Francisco went 32 straight games without drawing an unintentional walk.
Perfect World Projection: He becomes a mashing third baseman with 35-40 home runs, and no one cares that he doesn't walk.
Glass Half Empty: More advanced pitchers are going to carve him up, which, combined with conditioning issues, slot him as a Quadruple-A player at best.
Path To The Big Leagues: It's not fun to be a third baseman in the Reds system, but as with Soto, he might have to move to the outfield anyway.
Timetable: Francisco has been one of the stories of the Dominican Winter League, slugging six home runs in 75 at-bats and even drawing the occasional walk. The Reds believe that he could be ready for a breakout season at Double-A.

9. Kyle Lotzkar, RHP
DOB: 10/24/89
Height/Weight: 6-4/200
Bats/Throws: L/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, South Delta SS (BC)
2008 Stats: 3.58 ERA at Low-A (37.2-29-24-50), 8.24 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 9

Year in Review: Held back in extended spring, this raw Canadian struck out nearly 12 per nine innings in the Midwest League before going down with a small fracture in his elbow.
The Good: Lotzkar easily has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the system, thanks to his existing repertoire and a frame that offers plenty of projection. He has a quick arm and consistently touched 94 mph with his fastball while sitting in the low 90s, and he also has a power curveball that flashes plus. He already has decent feel for a changeup and shows no fear on the mound. He's fully healed from the injury and was 100 percent in instructional league.
The Bad: Lotzkar remains a bit crude. The Reds tinkered with his mechanics during the year, and his delivery became robotic at times. His control is well below average, and he needs to continue to refine his secondary pitches.
Fun Fact: Of the 45 batters that Lotzkar faced in the third inning in 2008, nearly 60 percent (26) struck out (15), walked (9), or were hit by a pitch.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a power starting pitcher, at least a number three, without any shot at more.
Glass Half Empty: He's already an injury risk, doesn't throw enough strikes, and is a bullpen arm at best.
Path To The Big Leagues: It's too early to worry about.
Timetable: Lotzkar will only be 19 years old during the 2009 season, so he'll likely try to improve on his performance while hoping to stay healthy back at Dayton.

10. Daryl Thompson, RHP
DOB: 11/2/85
Height/Weight: 6-0/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 8th round, 2003, Laplata HS (MD), drafted by Expos
2008 Stats: 1.76 ERA at Double-A (61.1-44-14-56), 3.26 DERA; 0.00 ERA at Rookie-level (4-2-0-3); 6.89 ERA at High-A (15.2-20-7-7), 9.88 DERA; 2.76 ERA at Triple-A (45.2-39-9-33), 3.98 DERA; 6.91 ERA at MLB level (14.1-20-7-6), 6.16 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: Just Missing

Year in Review: Thompson is turning out to be the best player acquired in the Austin Kearns/Felipe Lopez deal, as he rocketed from Double-A to the majors before dealing with shoulder soreness during the second half of the year.
The Good: He's a strike-throwing machine who fills the zone with three pitches, including an 88-92 mph fastball, a solid curveball, and a decent change. He mixes his pitches well and can throw any of them for strikes at any point in the count. He's a good athlete who fields his position and holds his own at the plate.
The Bad: Thompson is rather small, and combined with a history of shoulder problems that includes labrum surgery, many wonder if his ultimate role could be in middle relief. He doesn't really have a big-league out pitch, depending far more on location than on being able to overwhelm anyone.
Fun Fact: Thompson is the only player ever drafted out of La Plata High School in Maryland, although the school did produce former Brewers third baseman Don Money.
Perfect World Projection: He projects as a solid back-of-the-rotation arm.
Glass Half Empty: There are too many red flags here (no pun intended), and he's no more than a reliever.
Path To The Big Leagues: If he's healthy, Thompson is a nearly finished product.
Timetable: Depending on what moves the Reds make in the offseason, Thompson should compete for some kind of big-league role in the spring.

11. Devin Mesaraco, C
DOB: 6/19/88
Height/Weight: 6-1/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Punxsutawney HS (PA)
2008 Stats: .261/.311/.399, .196 EqA at High-A (83 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 6

Year in Review: Last year's first-round pick left many scout's scratching their heads during his full-season debut as he finished with disappointing numbers.
The Good: It's far too early to give up on Mesoraco, who still has a nice skill-set for a catcher. He has good hitting mechanics and some leverage in his swing as well, possibly projecting for average power down the road. His arm is his best defensive tool, and he moves well behind the plate.
The Bad: Mesoraco has put on a considerable amount of bad weight since his high school days, and it slowed nearly every part of his game. His swing didn't get into the zone as quickly as it once did, and on defense his slower release hampered his ability to control the running game.
Fun Fact: In the 33 games in which he batted sixth in the lineup, Mesoraco hit .307 with a .496 slugging percentage. When placed anywhere else, he hit just .229 and slugged .330.
Perfect World Projection: The tools are still there for Mesoraco to rebound into an everyday big-league catcher, despite the poor showing in 2008.
Glass Half Empty: He's dug himself a hole that will be hard to get out of.
Path To The Big Leagues: He's the only catcher of note in the system, and that might include the majors.
Timetable: The Reds remain supremely confident in Mesoraco and rave about his showing during the instructional leagues. They think that he'll get things back on track at High-A Sarasota.

The Sleeper: A 30th-round draft pick in June, righty Juan-Carlos Sulbaran earned a $500,000 bonus to avoid going home to the Netherlands to pitch professionally there. He's got a projectable body, and three pitches that rate average or above, including a fastball that can get up to 94 mph.

Top 10 Talents 25 and Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Jay Bruce, OF
2. Edinson Volquez, RHP
3. Joey Votto, 1B
4. Yonder Alonso, 1B
5. Johnny Cueto, RHP
6. Homer Bailey, RHP
7. Todd Frazier, INF
8. Drew Stubbs, CF
9. Chris Valaika, SS
10. Bill Bray, LHP

The Reds graduated an unbelievable amount of talent to the majors in 2008, and that group at the top should be the core of a far more competitive team down the road. Jay Bruce has superstar written all over him; expect a minimum of 30 home runs this year. Volquez is already a borderline ace, and there's no reason to think he can't remain an impact pitcher, as the stuff was certainly always there. Votto is basically Alonso with slightly better all-around hitting skills, but also slightly less power. Cueto is good but erratic, and he lives too often up in the zone, making him a poor match for the home park. What does one do with Homer Bailey at this point? He's been seriously downgraded, and for some reason I see a Gavin Floyd-esque career path: the team that drafted him finally becomes exasperated, and he finds a measure of success elsewhere. Finally healthy, Bray pitched well in 2008, and you have to like lefty power arms.

Summary: The Reds system isn't what it used to be, but after putting as much talent in the majors as they did in 2008, fans have nothing to complain about. There's still a nice collection of hitting prospects here, but when it comes to pitching, which remains a big need at the major league level, the system is paper-thin.

Up Next: The Colorado Rockies.


Today on BP Radio, Brad Wochomurka discusses the top prospects in the Reds' farm system with Terry Reynolds, Cincinnati's director of player development.

Click to download mp3

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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