A once-moribund Reds‘ player development system is now bringing a stream of big-league talent to the Queen City, and the primary architect is Terry Reynolds. Cincinnati’s farm director since 2004, Reynolds has overseen the development of Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, and Drew Stubbs in recent years, and a further influx is on its way. The talent pool falls short of elite status, but with players such as Todd Frazier and Chris Heisey on the doorstep, and Yonder Alonso and Mike Leake coming fast, Reynolds has every right to be proud of his accomplishments.
David Laurila: How would you rate the overall quality of the Reds’ farm system?
Terry Reynolds: I’m pleased with it. It’s been a situation, especially last year, where we’ve had to promote guys in a hurry, probably quicker than we would have liked for development purposes. The good news is that they have all been able to take the steps necessary and perform pretty well, whether it be guys coming to the big-league club or guys starting in Sarasota and ending in Louisville. In most cases, guys have taken the challenge and run with it, so from that standpoint, things are good. I think that we have a good number of prospects in the organization, and things are, at least since I’ve been here — the things I’ve seen have been positive, so it has been a fun time to be involved with player development and scouting with the Reds.
DL: Need-based promotions aside, are the Reds more aggressive, or more conservative, when it comes to advancing players throughout the system?
TR: I would say that we’re probably moderate. That would be the answer, but we’ve had to be a bit liberal with it due to circumstance. When guys get hurt, you have to replace them. Fortunately, because of the depth, we’ve been able to do that for the most part, and I think we’re going to be in a good spot to be able to do it again with the club it looks like we’re going to have at Triple-A. Philosophically, we’d like to give them the time that they need, and be moderate, and when they’re ready, and when there is an opportunity, get them there, but sometimes circumstances prevent that.
DL: Drew Stubbs was arguably ready before he was called up. Was he?
TR: You never know for sure until you get there, but he came up and performed, and did well, and so I’d have to say that the answer to that is yes. Ideally, would you like to have given him that full season in Triple-A? Probably. I mean, from a more moderate side of the coin, I think that more seasoning, rather than less, is always good. But he came up and performed, and that basically answers the question. Had he not, then the answer would probably be no.
DL: It has been said that Stubbs might have been the best defensive outfielder in the minor leagues. Was that an accurate assessment?
TR: Well, having not seen all of the outfielders, it’s tough for me to say that, but I know that he’s awfully good. I can tell you that from the time he was an amateur — I was writing reports on him then, up to now — and he’s got everything you look for in a center fielder. He can cover the gaps, he can eat up ground, and he’s a very, very good defensive center fielder. Whether he was the best in the minor leagues, I don’t know, but they’d have to be really good to be better.
DL: Stubbs showed somewhat less power in Louisville last year, reportedly because of adjustments he made in order to improve upon his contact rate. Can you address that?
TR: You know what, that’s an ongoing process and that’s kind of how it’s been since he was at [the University of] Texas. It’s kind of how he’s been. He strikes out some, and the surprise I’ve had is that he hadn’t shown more power in his minor-league years, because he’s got it. If you go back and look, and check the record in Texas, I mean, this guy hit long home runs there and he did it quite often. And he showed more of that when he got to the big leagues than he did when he was in Louisville, so hopefully that’s a trend that will continue, that the contact and the power will both be there. But if you have to pick one, I’m going to pick the contact and let the home runs come. It’s there. He’s got all the tools, to do all of the things that you look for, to be a good center fielder at the major-league level.
DL: How much is plate discipline and strike-zone judgment stressed in your organization?
TR: It’s something that is addressed from the day that they’re signed, but there’s only so much that you can do. You can preach it, you can teach it, but ultimately, when the players get in the batters’ box, it’s their responsibility. It’s their at-bat and they have to do what they think is right. Some guys, over time, get it and change, and some guys don’t. And sometimes you don’t want to take away aggressiveness. You want guys going up there swinging and feeling like they’re in control of their at-bats. So there’s a fine line there, but it’s certainly addressed, and taught, and preached, throughout the course of their minor-league career.
DL: Where is Yonder Alonso developmentally right now?
TR: Well, Yonder has obviously been kind of on the fast track. Last year was his first professional year and he ended it in Triple-A. He went to the [Arizona] Fall League and did well, and is playing in Puerto Rico now, this winter. He will come to spring training and be seen by the big-league staff, but right now I have him penciled in at Triple-A to begin the season. He’s beyond his years when it comes to the thing you just asked about, which is pitch recognition and plate discipline. He’s really a good-looking young hitter. So we’ll see. We’ve got a real good one at first base in the big leagues, so a lot of it, as I mentioned before, has to do with opportunity.
DL: Where is Alonso defensively, and would moving him to the outfield be an option?
TR: First question first: Defensively, he’s fine. He’s a big, strong guy, but he’s also pretty agile and he works very hard at his defense. He’s caught in the past, and he’s played some third base, but I’ve never seen him in the outfield, so that’s a tough question to answer. But he’s certainly … my immediate response would be that he’s athletic enough that I don’t think that it would be a problem if you wanted to put him in left field and have him go do it. I don’t know why he couldn’t do it. I mean, geez, he’s got the reflexes and quickness to play first base and make all of the plays over there, so I don’t think it would be an issue, but at this point it has not been discussed.
DL: How close to ready is Todd Frazier?
TR: Well, I’d like to see him get a full season in Triple-A, but that’s not to say that he couldn’t come up and do the same thing that Stubbs did, at some point. He, for me, would be a general manager’s dream in that if you need a left fielder, or a third baseman, or a second baseman, or a shortstop, we know that he could come up and play any of those, and play them all pretty well. If he gets to the big leagues in 2010, I would not be surprised one bit. So he’s close, but ideally, I would say that a year at Triple-A would probably be best.
DL: Has the organization consciously groomed Frazier to play multiple positions, or is it more a matter of figuring out where it is that he fits best?
TR: It’s a matter of his versatility, really. We’ve got Joey Votto, and we’ve got Juan Francisco, and we’ve got Scott Rolen, and we’ve got Brandon Phillips. And what we have in Todd Frazier is a guy that, if something were to happen in any of those spots, we feel pretty comfortable that this guy can go play it. So I would say yes, we have tried to develop his versatility, but it’s certainly not at the expense of him being able to be an everyday regular at one position. What that position is going to be, I can’t tell you. But I can tell you this: whatever one it is, I think he’s going to do a good job at it.
DL: Frazier’s bat is obviously more valuable as a middle infielder than it would be at a corner, especially an outfield corner. How much does that weigh into the decision?
TR: I think that’s always the case. If you can get an offensive middle infielder, it’s a bonus, but I think that he has enough of a bat to play a corner, so he’s a rare bird. If he ends up in the middle of the diamond, you certainly have a plus with the bat, but if he ends up in a corner, I think he’s going to be able to handle that just fine.
DL: The reports I’ve seen on Juan Francisco point to outstanding power, but poor on-base skills and somewhat questionable defensive ability. Are those accurate?
TR: I would say that Juan has two well above-average major-league tools, and those are his raw power and his arm strength. His defense is fine. I mean, if you watch him every day, it is better than you think. I think that he can play third base in the big leagues. Is he going to have tremendous range? No, but this guy catches balls that are hit at him and he’s got decent quickness for a big man. That being said, he’s going to have to watch himself in the offseason and stay the size he is now. If he gets a whole lot bigger, then we’d have to revisit that situation. But as of right now, there’s no reason he can’t play third, first, or either one of the corner outfield positions in the big leagues. With regard to plate discipline, he’s what we were talking about before. He’s a free swinger that has got a chance to hit a lot of home runs, but unless he makes some adjustments as far as taking pitches and having more discipline, he’s going to strike out a lot. He hears it from us on a daily basis, so he knows it, he’s aware of it, but that’s kind of what he is at this point.
DL: How do Chris Dickerson and Chris Heisey compare?
TR: Well, Dickerson is obviously a more established, older, veteran guy who you pretty much … outside of having some injury issues, you pretty much know what you have. Heisey is a guy that’s still in the development stage. He’s another one who got to Triple-A last year, and first of all, tore up Double-A and then did very well in Triple-A. So Heisey, for me, is still a prospect. Dickerson is more of a guy that is an established player at this point. Tool-wise, they’re pretty similar. Dickerson may be a little faster, but they both run well and are improved defenders. It’s just that Heisey is a little younger, but they’re both nice guys to have.
DL: Three of the more highly-regarded young shortstops in the organization are Zach Cozart, Paul Janish, and Chris Valaika. You probably aren’t willing to say which one it is, but does the organization view any one of the three as the most likely to become the Reds’ long-term shortstop?
TR: Um … I would say that the answer to that is yes. But it is a luxury to have all three, and the nice thing is that behind them we have Kris Negron, Miguel Rojas, [Billy] Hamilton and [Mariekson] Gregorius. We’ve got some depth at that position, and this is the first time since I’ve been here that I’ve been able to say that. So it’s a nice position to be in, and Paul Janish is a major-league shortstop. Until I hear different, he’s the guy. That’s the assumption I’m going under, and I would say that it’s his job to lose.
DL: What are your early impressions of Billy Hamilton?
TR: He’s very athletic. He’s very exciting to watch. And he’s crude. Here’s a guy who just needs to play. He needs innings, and he needs at bats, but he shows you flashes of athleticism at the shortstop position that you don’t see very often. He’s really going to be a fun guy to watch develop over the course of the next three or four years.
DL: Is Hamilton definitely a shortstop, or might his future be as a center fielder?
TR: You know what? I think he’s going to be one of those guys where, if you’ve got a guy who is an established shortstop, and you need a center fielder, then he could go do that, but we have not discussed anything except him playing shortstop at this point. And from everything I saw, which was obviously somewhat of a brief look in the Gulf Coast League and the Instructional League, there is no reason to think that this guy can’t stay at shortstop.
DL: Where is Devin Mesoraco developmentally right now?
TR: He’s taking a step at a time. Each year he has moved up a level. He got set back this year with a bit of a hand injury, which we think now is in the past. But everything has been good. He’s strong, he’s durable, he’s swung that bat well. His numbers are a little skewed because he’s had some arm soreness early in the season, and the numbers of guys that he’s thrown out aren’t very good in April and May, and then the rest of the year he was very good defensively, and throwing. I’m sure whether he will start next season in Lynchburg or Carolina-that’s to be determined-but at 21 years old he’s very young, and whichever level he plays at, I think he’s going to have a real good year.
DL: What are your early impressions of Mike Leake?
TR: Outstanding. I saw him in Instructional League and again in the Fall League, and he’s mature beyond his years, both the way he approaches his job and the way he does his job. He has outstanding command and control for a young guy. He competes well, loves to do it. I’m excited to see where he ends up after spring training.
TR: Obviously, Maloney is a bigger, stronger, more durable-looking guy. The flip side of that is that Wood is probably more athletic. Stuff– wise, they’re probably comparable. Travis is younger, so again, it’s more of knowing what Maloney is at this point, where as with Wood, he’s probably going to get somewhat stronger, and durable, as he matures. I would think that both of them would get a real good look in the spring to see if either, or both, have an opportunity to make the big-league club.
DL: To close, you came over to the Reds’ organization in 2004. How has the farm system changed since that time?
TR: The depth of the system is …t here is no comparison. When I first got here, we spent a lot of time, and effort, trying to find six-year guys to fill clubs. We still do that a little when we have a gap somewhere, but when you look at what our Triple-A club is going to set up like, it is at the stage where I would like to be able to have a Triple-A club every year. It’s young, it’s got prospects on it, and that’s a tribute to the scouts and the scouting department. They’ve gotten the players here, and the player development people have developed them. I like where we’re at. Would you like to have more guys, and more prospects? Certainly, but I think that the guys have done a real nice job to get us to where we are. I like our future.