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February 3, 2014

Prospects Will Break Your Heart

Cincinnati Reds Top 10 Prospects

by Jason Parks

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Prospect rankings primer
Last year's Reds list

The Top Ten

  1. RHP Robert Stephenson
  2. CF Billy Hamilton
  3. OF Phillip Ervin
  4. RF Yorman Rodriguez
  5. LF Jesse Winker
  6. RHP Jon Moscot
  7. RHP Ben Lively
  8. RHP Michael Lorenzen
  9. LHP Ismael Guillon
  10. C Jose Ortiz

1. Robert Stephenson
Position: RHP
DOB: 02/24/1993
Height/Weight: 6’2” 190 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2011 draft, Alhambra HS (Martinez, CA)
Previous Ranking: #2 (Org), #78 (Top 101)
2013 Stats: 4.86 ERA (16.2 IP, 17 H, 18 K, 13 BB) at Double-A Pensacola, 3.05 ERA (20.2 IP, 19 H, 22 K, 2 BB) at High-A Bakersfield, 2.57 ERA (77 IP, 56 H, 96 K, 20 BB) at Low-A Dayton
The Tools: 7+ FB; 7 potential CB; 6 potential CH

What Happened in 2013: The 20-year-old pitched across three professional levels, finishing the year in Double-A, missing more than a bat an inning and holding hitters near the Mendoza line.

Strengths: Easy plus athlete; fluid delivery; creates sharp angle to the plate and excellent extension; fastball is plus-plus offering; routinely works in the mid-90s; touches upper 90s in most outings; curveball flashes well above-average potential; thrown with velocity and hard vertical snap; true wipeout offering; shows feel for a changeup; good control for power arm; ultra-competitive.

Weaknesses: Can lose plane because of the delivery; pitches can flatten out; tendency to work up in the zone; changeup is fringe at present; flashes plus but overthrows the pitch; too firm in the upper 80s with a more deliberate release; more control than command at present.

Overall Future Potential: 7; no. 2 starter

Realistic Role: 6; no. 3 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; limited Double-A experience.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s no doubt that the fantasy upside is huge for this fireballer. Stephenson has the raw stuff to strike out a batter per inning and log a lot of them—the question is where his ratios will fall. His realistic ceiling, especially pitching at Great American Ball Park, is that he’s around a 3.40 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, which gives him top-20 starter potential.

The Year Ahead: Stephenson is one of the most electric arms in the minors, a true frontline type with two 70 (or better) pitches and the makings of a quality changeup. He’s still turning his control into command, but for a power arm, he shows advanced pitchability and feel for sequencing and location. This could be a special arm, one that reaches heights above his paper projection, especially if the changeup matures into a plus pitch and the fastball command refines. Stephenson will continue to miss bats at the Double-A level in 2014, and could reach the majors over the summer if he continues to take steps forward.

Major league ETA: 2014

2. Billy Hamilton
Position: CF
DOB: 09/09/1990
Height/Weight: 6’0” 160 lbs
Bats/Throws: B/R
Drafted/Acquired: 2nd round, 2009 draft, Taylorsville HS (Taylorsville, MS)
Previous Ranking: #1 (Org), #14 (Top 101)
2013 Stats: .368/.429/.474 at major league level (13 games), .256/.308/.343 at Triple-A Louisville (123 games)
The Tools: 8 run; 5 arm; 6+ potential glove; 5+ potential hit

What Happened in 2013: Hamilton continued to ride to glory on the back of his legendary game speed, but the bat played soft in a lengthy Triple-A look.

Strengths: Fast-twitch athlete; elite speed; elite stolen base potential; catalytic wheels help hit tool play up; can put bat to ball; has more strength than assumed; can drive the ball; showed easy plus potential after transition to center; arm plays well; range is well above average.

Weaknesses: Aggressive approach at the plate; struggles against quality spin; struggles to put together quality at-bats; can get power hungry and try to lift balls he shouldn’t lift; game contact can play soft; would put a below-average future on hit tool without his speed; reads/routes need refinement; power will play well below-average.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: 5; major league regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Low risk; achieved major-league level

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The minor-league season wasn’t full of success for Hamilton, but his time in the majors in September (with 13 steals in 13 games) hints at his future value. Hamilton has the potential for more impact in steals than any other player in baseball at any other category—prospect or otherwise. Still a top-10 fantasy prospect in baseball, he projects as around a .270 hitter with 80-100 steals, if he just takes that last step forward in the hit tool.

The Year Ahead: Hamilton is the fastest player I’ve ever seen on a baseball field, but his baseball skills can still play raw, especially at the plate; he shows bat speed and some pop, but takes himself out of counts early and doesn’t drive the ball with consistency. If Hamilton can refine his approach, his speed would make him a destructive force at the front of lineup, an 80-100 stolen base threat and premium defender in center because of his pole-to-pole range. But Hamilton’s bat is likely a better fit for down-the-lineup, and despite the elite run, the 23-year-old might fail to live up to the lofty ceiling created by his lofty speed. Regardless, Hamilton should be considered a favorite for the NL Rookie of the Year because of his prowess on the bases, despite a bat that might underachieve.

Major league ETA: Debuted in 2013

3. Phillip Ervin
Position: OF
DOB: 07/17/1992
Height/Weight: 5’11” 190 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2013 draft, Samford University (Birmingham, AL)
Previous Ranking: NA
2013 Stats: .349/.451/.465 at Low-A Dayton (12 games), .326/.416/.597 at rookie level Billings (34 games)
The Tools: 6+ run; 6 potential hit; 6 potential power; 5 potential glove; 6+ arm

What Happened in 2013: Selected 27th overall in the 2013 draft, Ervin exploded at the plate in his professional debut, hitting 21 extra-base hits in 46 games while walking 25 times.

Strengths: Easy plus athlete; good present strength; hands work very well on both sides of the ball; generates above-average bat speed; short/easy path to the ball; feel for hard contact; both hit and power could play above-average; puts together good at-bats; when healthy, can show well above-average straight-line speed; can play center field at present; five-tool talent; loud impact potential.

Weaknesses: Has struggled with assorted injury; lacks much size or physical remaining projection; stocky body could push him to right field; can get fastball aggressive and look to pull everything; reads/routes need work up the middle.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: 5; major-league regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; limited professional experience/yet to play in upper minors; assorted injuries on resume.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s a lot to really like about Ervin’s overall package from a fantasy standpoint. For his debut, he was one of the top performers in the Pioneer League—and while it’s an offensive league, the stat line looked eerily similar to David Dahl’s from 2012. And while he doesn’t have Dahl’s upside for fantasy, the potential is there for a 20/15 player, who could be even more valuable in OBP leagues.

The Year Ahead: Even with the impressive statistical debut, people are still underrating Ervin, a legit five-tool player with a lot of impact potential with the bat. He tracks the ball well and puts himself in good hitting conditions, and when he tees it up, his short-to-the-ball stroke and above-average strength allow him to make hard contact. It’s not a stretch to see a .275+ hitter with 25 bombs, a first-division type even if he can’t stay in center field. Minor injuries have derailed his rise since his amateur days, and could limit his upside if he can’t stay on the field and get his repetitions at the plate and on defense. But assuming health, Ervin is going to continue to hit the baseball, and should be in the discussion for the mid-season top 50 this summer.

Major league ETA: 2016

4. Yorman Rodriguez
Position: RF
DOB: 08/15/1992
Height/Weight: 6’3” 197 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2008, Venezuela
Previous Ranking: NR
2013 Stats: .267/.329/.385 at Double-A Pensacola (66 games), .251/.319/.470 at High-A Bakersfield (63 games)
The Tools: 7 arm; 6 run; 6+ power potential; 5+ glove

What Happened in 2013: Rodriguez has the highest tool-based ceiling of any player in the system, and after a shaky 2012 campaign, the 21-year-old hit his way to Double-A and showed off his loud tools in the prospect-heavy Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Excellent size and athleticism; still room for physical growth/strength; arm is plus-plus; strong and accurate; plus run; glove is solid-average or better in right field; power potential is plus; better hitter than stats have shown.

Weaknesses: Still raw around the edges; glove better for right field; plus runner but long strider that is more underway speed than quickness; will expand and chase spin on the outer half; hit tool likely to play average or lower; lots of swing-and-miss; over-the-fence power yet to really emerge; still carries boom/bust label.

Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player

Realistic Role: High 4; below-average regular/bench outfielder

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; achieved Double-A level as 21-year-old; hit tool questions; needs refinement

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: If it seems like Rodriguez has been around forever, that’s because he has. The power and speed tools are great and exciting, but counting on him to develop anything beyond a below-average hit tool at this point is a fool’s errand. Even with that said, if he’s a .240 hitter with 20+ homers and 15-20 steals, that’s still a plenty valuable player. Unfortunately, his floor is well below that.

The Year Ahead: Rodriguez has been on the prospect landscape since 2008, and with each year, he adds a little more refinement to the profile and brings more baseball skills to the field. But despite all the professional experience (over 1,500 at-bats, not counting fall/winter leagues), the 21-year-old Venezuelan is still a prospect enigma, a high reward talent that maintains his high risk even with Double-A and AFL on his resume. His hit tool isn’t great, and he’s unlikely to hit for much batting average against upper-minors arms, which could end up limiting the full potential of his raw power. More than one source compared Yorman to Alex Rios, a lengthy and athletic power/speed outfielder who isn’t afraid to swing the bat. That’s quite the lofty outcome, but entirely possible if Rodriguez can continue to refine on all sides of the ball, especially at the plate, where his big power just needs a little help from his approach and his hit tool to find its way into game action.

Major league ETA: 2015

5. Jesse Winker
Position: LF
DOB: 08/17/1993
Height/Weight: 6’2” 210 lbs
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2012 draft, Olympia HS (Olympia, FL)
Previous Ranking: #7 (Org)
2013 Stats: .281/.379/.463 at Low-A Dayton (112 games)
The Tools: 5+ glove; 5+ potential hit; 5+ potential power

What Happened in 2013: The former supplemental first-round pick became a prospect darling in his full-season debut, showing a mature bat and a mature approach for his age/level.

Strengths: Good present strength; plus hittability; easy stroke; quick to the ball and good extension; projects for above-average hit and power; advanced approach at the plate; puts himself in good hitting conditions; good feel for the game.

Weaknesses: Average at best athlete; limited defensively; arm is fringe; run is below average; left field profile; offensive tools have to play to potential for impact; bat speed isn’t crazy.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average regular

Realistic Role: 5; major-league regular

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; Low-A resume; lacks high-impact tools; good present skills

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: From a fantasy perspective, Winker is essentially what Phillip Ervin could look like in a year with less speed—a little more advanced, a little less projection. The ballpark will help Winker’s average power play up, but .270 with 20 homers is probably where he’ll max out, unless he takes an unexpected step forward.

The Year Ahead: Winker gets a lot of national love, and for some, his ability to get on-base [read: walk] elevates his status beyond the realities of the scouting report. The 20-year-old is a legit prospect with baseball skills that translate to the field, but he lacks huge upside because the offensive tools are simply good but not great, and the limitations on defense put all the pressure on his bat to carry the value. He has natural bat-to-ball ability and a precocious approach, so he’s likely to find success at the plate at the minor league level, but several sources doubt the future impact of the tools at the highest level, seeing more of an average regular at his peak than a first-division talent.

Major league ETA: 2016

6. Jon Moscot
Position: RHP
DOB: 08/15/1991
Height/Weight: 6’4” 205 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R

Drafted/Acquired: 4th round, 2012 draft, Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA)
Previous Ranking: NR
2013 Stats: 3.19 ERA (31 IP, 34 H, 28 K, 12 BB) at Double-A Pensacola, 4.59 ERA (115.2 IP, 109 H, 112 K, 36 BB) at High-A Bakersfield
The Tools: 6 FB; 6 potential CH; 5+ potential SL

What Happened in 2013: Moscot was hit and hit hard in Bakersfield, giving up 17 bombs in 22 starts, and finished the level with a 2-14 record, an unfortunate statistical tattoo that soured some of the promising arm.

Strengths: Excellent size; sharp angles; pounds lower zone with low-90s fastball; aggressive; shows quality changeup; solid-average with a chance for a little more; good arm speed and some sink; slider plays average; project to solid-average; shows pitchability and workhorse potential.

Weaknesses: More control than command; tendency for arm to fall behind and struggle to finish his pitches; will elevate and find barrels; fastball shows plus velocity but can play pedestrian; lacks a knockout breaking ball; modest ceiling.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; no. 4 starter

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; limited exposure to Double-A; breaking ball needs grade improvement.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The concern with right-handed starting pitchers who need to hit their projections to have an average breaking ball is that even if they get to the rotation, the strikeout numbers are likely to be on the low side. Moscot is no exception, and a realistic outcome for him might be right around Mike Leake’s 2013 season.

The Year Ahead: Moscot took his lumps in his first full season, but has the combination of size and pitchability to find success in a major league rotation. He’s aggressive with the fastball, and when he can work down in the zone it’s a very effective offering because of the low-90s velocity and plane. The changeup has a chance to play above average, but the command is fringe and the slider can play a little soft, so the ultimate upside will require refinement on those fronts. Moscot should return to Double-A in 2014, and if he takes any step forward, he could find himself fighting for a rotation spot in 2015. Nothing fancy, but a mid-rotation arm is entirely possible, especially if he can tease the stuff up a bit without sacrificing the strike-throwing ability.

Major league ETA: 2015

7. Ben Lively
Position: RHP
DOB: 03/05/1992
Height/Weight: 6’4” 190 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 4th round, 2013 draft, University of Central Florida (Orlando, FL)
Previous Ranking: NA
2013 Stats: 2.25 ERA (4 IP, 2 H, 7 K, 1 BB) at Low-A Dayton, 0.73 ERA (37 IP, 21 H,
49 K, 12 BB) at rookie level Billings
The Tools: 6 FB; 6 potential SL; 5+ potential; CH; 5 CB

What Happened in 2013: A fourth round pick in 2013, Lively looked sharp in his debut, making 13 starts across two levels and missing 56 bats in 41 innings.

Strengths: Excellent size; above-average arm strength; aggressive with fastball; works in plus velocity range; touches mid-90s in bursts; slider can play sharp, with velocity and some tile; has pitchability and can show playable curveball and change.

Weaknesses: Concerns about command profile/projection because of delivery; effort and length of action; secondary arsenal is inconsistent; slider flashes but can get slurvy; changeup overthrown and too firm.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; no. 3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; limited professional record; potential to move fast.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Lively has the slider that projects to miss bats, and that will go a long way toward helping him achieve fantasy-relevant strikeout levels in the majors. The rest of the arsenal will determine whether he ends up being ownable in shallow leagues. He could be a nice deep-league add now, someone to deal if he puts up strong full-season numbers, and someone to consider at the end of dynasty drafts.

The Year Ahead: Sources seemed mixed on Lively, with some seeing a future mid-rotation starter with at least two above-average offerings and the pitchability to pound the zone, while others aren’t fans of the delivery or the arm action and see more of a max effort two-pitch type in the back of a bullpen. Lively has a live arm and excellent size, so he should be given all opportunities to start, and if the delivery concerns prove false, he could really move up the lists next season with a strong showing in full-season ball.

Major league ETA: 2016

8. Michael Lorenzen
Position: RHP
DOB: 01/04/1992
Height/Weight: 6’3” 180 lbs
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 1st round, 2013 draft, California State University Fullerton (Fullerton, CA)
Previous Ranking: NA
2013 Stats: 4.50 ERA (6 IP, 6 H, 5 K, 6 BB) at Double-A Pensacola, 6.35 ERA (5.2 IP, 6 H, 6 K, 5 BB) at High-A Bakersfield, 0.00 ERA (8.1 IP, 7 H, 7 K, 2 BB) at Low-A Dayton, 0.00 ERA (1 IP, 1 H, 1 K, 0 BB) at complex level AZL
The Tools: 7 FB; 6 potential SL

What Happened in 2013: Strange year for a strange player, a dual-threat player in college that was popped in the first round and ended up pitching at four professional levels and the Arizona Fall League.

Strengths: Well above-average athlete; fast-twitch; long and lean; arm strength is huge; fastball can work mid-upper-90s at times; some arm-side life; shows long slider that can flash plus; developmental versatility.

Weaknesses: Has yet to focus on pitching; raw on the mound; fastball command is below average; slider is more of a slurve; changeup is well below average at present; not many sources think starting is a real outcome; more unknowns than knowns.

Overall Future Potential: 6; no. 2/3 starter

Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (setup)

Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate risk; limited focus on pitching

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A true flier, there’s so much risk with his transition to starter and if he ends up in the bullpen (as is most likely) he’s going to have to close to matter in fantasy leagues. He’s worth keeping an eye on, but not someone who should take up one of your roster spots right now.

The Year Ahead: In his amateur days, Michael Lorenzen received a lot of prospect love, both as a center fielder and as a late-innings arm, and one team told me they considered drafting him and putting him straight in the major-league bullpen because of the power of his fastball. The Reds intend to try Lorenzen as a starter, a developmental track that will likely fail because of his inexperience on the mound, but an angle worth exploring because of the high upside of the outcome. It will be interesting to see how the 22-year-old will respond to a full focus on pitching, which will make him one of the more interesting prospect projects in the minor leagues in 2014. The likely outcome is a major-league reliever, but the unknowns in his profile leave open the magic of a grand what-if, and that alone should intrigue all prospect hounds in the coming years. I have no idea how this will turn out.

Major league ETA: 2015

9. Ismael Guillon
Position: LHP
DOB: 02/13/1992
Height/Weight: 6’2’’/220 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Acquired: International free agent, 2008, Venezuela
Previous Ranking: #6 org
2013 Stats: 4.75 era (121. 1 IP, 95 H, 95 BB, 134 K) at Low-A Dayton
The Tools: 6 potential FB; 7 potential CH; 5+ potential CB

What Happened in 2013: In his return to the Midwest League, Guillon had a nightmare first half, walking more than a batter an inning before rebounding (relatively) in the second half.

Strengths: Strong, physical frame; big arm strength; fastball can show plus velocity; will work anywhere from 90-95; can touch higher; good arm-side movement; changeup is money pitch; deceptive with big, late action; could be a well above-average pitch; shows a curveball with some snap.

Weaknesses: Messy mechanics; loses delivery and release point; fastball is rarely consistent; will show pedestrian velo and then pop 97 on the next pitch; command is poor; curveball is inconsistent; below-average at present.

Overall Future Potential: High 6; no. 2 starter

Realistic Role: High 4; middle relief

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; well below-average command; Tommy John on resume.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Guillon has a lot of scary things from a fantasy perspective in his profile—serious control issues, an injury history, stalled developmental progress—but he also has more upside than any arm not named Robert Stephenson on this list. Expect nothing, but in a deep league, his ceiling makes him worth a flier.

The Year Ahead: I love this pitcher, even though the command profile would scare Max Schreck. If you want to focus on the positives in Gullon’s game, you can see a plus fastball and a plus-plus changeup backed up by a playable curveball, all from the left-side. The negatives are obvious and likely to limit the Venezuelan’s upside, but any step forward on the command front could allow the plus raw stuff to play and elevate his status as a result. I like to think of Guillon as the Venezuelan CJ Wilson, a pitcher that will always struggle with the free pass but has the stuff to overcome that obstacle. I might be too high on this arm, but its hard to turn away from a changeup that has this much potential. He’s a number two/three starter if everything clicks, but that seems like an unrealistic outcome given the delivery and pitchability profile. I’ll keep dreaming.

Major league ETA: 2016

10. Jose Ortiz
Position: C
DOB: 06/11/1994
Height/Weight: 5’11’’/205 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Acquired: 17th round, 2012 draft, Juano Colon High School (Comerio, PR)
Previous Ranking: N/R
2013 Stats: .262/.321/.494 at short-season Billings (48 games)
The Tools: 6+ arm, 5+ potential glove; 6 raw power

What Happened in 2013: Ortiz moved up a level to short-season Billings with solid results given his age and the developmental demands on his position, hitting 22 extra-base hits while taking steps forward behind the plate.

Strengths: Strong, sturdy build; looks the part of a backstop; arm is very strong; can pop sub 1.9; shows some feel for glovework; projects to be above average defensively; aggressive stroke at the plate; can drive the ball; shows power potential; has game intelligence.

Weaknesses: Still learning the finer points of catching; footwork needs refinement; approach at the plate needs work; needs to improve at-bats; generally raw on all sides of the ball; well below-average run; hit tool doesn’t project for much impact.

Overall Future Potential: High 5; above-average major leaguer

Realistic Role: High 4; backup catcher/below-average major leaguer

Risk Factor/Injury History: High risk; dual-threat development; raw at present.

Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: We've talked a lot about the bar of relevance for fantasy catchers a lot throughout the Top 10 lists. Ortiz may be a long way from the majors, but his power potential puts him above that line. With a chance to be a catcher who can hit more than 20 homers, he's a worthy deep league flierespecially if you play in a two-catcher format.

The Year Ahead: Ortiz shows potential at the plate and behind it, with an easy plus arm, a body built for backstop, and a clean, powerful stroke at the plate that is capable of driving the baseball. He needs to refine on all fronts, and it’s going to be a long developmental journey, but legit catchers with pop in the bat are extremely valuable commodities and players worth keeping close tabs on. This could be the year he takes a very big step forward, or it could be 2015, but regardless of the results, any developmental progress is a positive at this point in the process.

Major league ETA: 2017

Prospects on the Rise:
1. OF Reydel Medina:
Cuban outfielder with well above-average bat speed, Medina is ready to make his professional debut in 2014, and several sources think he could explode up prospect lists. The pitch recognition needs work, and it will be interesting to see how the bat plays against quality arms, as spin could give him fits. But the raw strength, bat speed, and power potential could make the 20-year-old a household name with a strong debut season.

2. RHP Nick Travieso: We ranked the former first round pick fifth in the system last season, but the arsenal showed up flatter than expected in 2013, and unfortunately, the body showed up rounder. The fastball/slider combo could once again push him up the list, but it will take a return to his amateur velocity and a more refined physical form before I jump back on the bandwagon. Too promising to completely ignore, though.

3. RHP Jackson Stephens: An 18th-round pick in the 2012 draft, Stephens took a step forward in his full-season debut, working mostly in a tandem situation, but showing off his easy plus fastball in the shorter stints. He has the body and the delivery to start, and should take another step forward in 2014, especially if the secondary stuff can play sharper without losing his feel for the zone.

Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2014)
1. LHP David Holmberg: A solid but far from spectacular arm, acquired from the DBacks in the three-way trade that sent Hanigan to the Rays. The 22-year-old southpaw has a solid- average arsenal that can play down because of command woes, which will limit his potential in a major league rotation without refinement. You can make a case that he belongs in the top 10 because of the safety of his floor, but I prefer ceiling to safety, so Holmberg just missed the cut.

2. C Tucker Barnhart: A 10th round pick in 2009, Barnhart has slowly developed in a legit major-league-caliber player, a quality backstop who can swing the stick a little bit. While he’s likely a backup at the major-league level, his glove and catch/throw skills would be good enough to make him a full-time regular if the bat had more to offer.

3. RHP Chad Rogers: A starter since getting drafted in the 28th round in 2010, Rogers really took a step forward in the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League, showing a good low-90s fastball and sharp cutter. His future looks brighter out of the pen than in a rotation, as the diminutive Texan can push his arsenal up a notch in short bursts and eventually carve out a role in middle relief at the major league level.

Top 10 Talents 25 and Under (born 4/1/88 or later)

  1. Robert Stephenson
  2. Billy Hamilton
  3. Devin Mesoraco
  4. Tony Cingrani
  5. Phillip Ervin
  6. Yorman Rodriguez
  7. Jesse Winker
  8. Jon Moscot
  9. Ben Lively
  10. Michael Lorenzen

After failing to advance in the playoffs for the third time in the past four years, the Cincinnati Reds made a change at the helm by firing long-time manager Dusty Baker and replacing him with an in-house option in Bryan Price. Cincinnati's core remains filled with impact talent, even after losing outfielder Shin-Soo Choo via free agency. That should have the Reds contending for yet another playoff berth in 2014, with additional talent on the way in the near future.

However, the top three under-25 players on Cincinnati's list going into the 2013 season are no longer eligible, meaning a shakeup was in order. The names at the top half of the rankings are filled with familiar names to prospect hounds, both old and new, starting with the team's two top prospects.

Robert Stephenson's stock has been on the rise ever since entering pro ball. The right-hander possesses a fastball that will run in the upper 90s with a plus curveball that could be plus-plus once he adds more strength and can turn it into a hammer offering. The changeup is third in the pecking order, but there's enough of a feel for the pitch there that has me, and people in the industry, believing it could be a plus offering in due time. There's a good chance Stephenson is up at some point in 2014 to help the major-league club in some capacity, but 2015 should be the year he carves out a spot in the Cincinnati rotation.

Next on the list is Billy Hamilton, a name everyone is familiar with. Hamilton's off-the-chart speed hasn't been seen in years, or perhaps even lifetimes, making him one of the most intriguing players in baseball. Everybody in the stadium will be giving him undivided attention when he steps into the batter's box; his blazing speed is worth the price of admission. The ability to make contact will be the biggest question facing Hamilton, and could be the difference between an impact talent who breaks stolen bases records or merely the best specialized player in history.

Following the team's two top prospects are a pair of players who contributed to the major-league team in 2013. Mesoraco edges out Cingrani for the third spot, because I still believe he could hit 15 or more home runs as a full-time catcher. With Baker out of town and more responsibility put onto Mesoraco's plate, this could very well be his make-or-break year. The curious case of Cingrani is of a southpaw who greatly exceeded all expectations in terms of production as a one-pitch starter relying on deceptive delivery. As it always does, the league will adjust, and Cingrani will need to as well.

Moving into the middle of the top 10, and to the end of potential impact talent on this list, are a trio of outfield prospects, with Phillip Ervin leading the pack over Yorman Rodriguez and Jesse Winker. Ervin's tools are the loudest across the board, but he it’s not clear which spot in the outfield he will patrol. Winker may currently rank the lowest, but it wouldn't surprise some in the industry if he ends up with the longest career, due to his ability to adjust and spray the ball all over the field. —Ronit Shah

A Parting Thought: The Reds' system is better than people think, with a frontline arm in Stephenson, a likely Rookie of the Year candidate in Hamilton, and projectable depth at every level that could push this farm into top 10 territory by 2015.


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Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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