1. Jay Bruce, CF
2. Homer Bailey, RHP
3. Joey Votto, 1B/OF
4. Johnny Cueto, RHP
5. Todd Frazier, INF
6. Devin Mesoraco, C
7. Drew Stubbs, CF
8. Matt Maloney, LHP
9. Kyle Lotzkar, RHP
10. Juan Francisco, 3B
11. Neftali Soto, SS
1. Jay Bruce, CF
Drafted: 1st round, 2005, Westbrook HS (TX)
2007 Stats: .325/.379/.586 at High A (67 G); .333/.405/.652 at Double-A (16 G); .305/.358/.567 at Triple-A (50 G)
Year In Review: After outshining prospects like Cameron Maybin and Justin Upton to win Midwest League MVP honors in 2006, Bruce went from High-A to the cusp of the majors in the blink of an eye, mashing at every level along the way.
The Good: Bruce is loaded with both tools and skills. He’s a fantastic hitter who is seemingly incapable of light contact, projecting as a .300+ hitter who approaches 100 extra-base hits annually. He has average to slightly-above speed and has proven to be surprisingly capable in center field, while also showcasing a strong arm. He supplements his natural abilities with strong makeup and an outstanding work ethic.
The Bad: Anything here is just nitpicking. He’s anything but a hacker, but he does often swing at pitches he’d be better served by letting go by. While he’ll likely begin his career in center, most believe he’ll move to a corner once he fills out.
Fun Fact: In the first three innings of Triple-A games, Bruce went 5-for-55 (.091) without a home run. Afterwards, he hit .394 with 11 home runs in 132 at-bats.
Perfect World Projection: A perennial All-Star and MVP candidate. A true superstar in the mold of a healthy Larry Walker.
Timetable: The Reds dealt Josh Hamilton to the Rangers in order to open up a spot for Bruce in the big-league lineup. The future of the Reds franchise begins now.
2. Homer Bailey, RHP
Drafted: 1st round, 2004, LaGrange HS (TX)
2007 Stats: 10.13 ERA at High-A (8-15-5-7); 3.07 ERA at Triple-A (67.1-49-32-59); 5.76 ERA at MLB (45.1-43-28-28)
Year In Review: The chart-topping pitching prospect looked to be well on the way to establishing himself in the majors until the latter part of the season, when he was hampered by a nagging groin injury.
The Good: Bailey is one of the few pitchers around with two plus-plus pitches. His explosive fastball sits in the 93-96 mph range and can touch 98, and features a hard, boring action. Just as effective is his power curve, which features heavy break and Bailey has shown a knack for both breaking it into the zone or burying it as a chase pitch. His changeup is an average offering with good arm-speed deception, and his mechanics are loose, free, and easy.
The Bad: Bailey’s altered his delivery due to the groin issues, which cost him in both stuff and command. Even when healthy, his control is average and could use more consistency. He has a tendency to overthrow at times, when he should simply trust his overpowering stuff.
Fun Fact: Bailey’s given name is David DeWitt Bailey, and the Homer nickname comes in homage to his great-grandfather.
Perfect World Projection: A true No. 1 starter.
Timetable: The Reds see Bailey’s 2007 struggles as more of a bump in the road than any sort of long-term concern. His minor league career is likely over, and he’ll begin 2008 in the big-league rotation.
3. Joey Votto, 1B/OF
Drafted: 2nd round, 2002, Richview Collegiate Institute (ON)
2007 Stats: .294/.381/.478 at Triple-A (133 G); .321/.360/.548 at MLB (24 G)
Year In Review: An up-and-down player in previous seasons, Votto finally delivered consecutive outstanding years, then shined in his big-league debut.
The Good: Votto has enough offensive firepower to project as an above-average offensive first baseman or left fielder. He has a patient approach, the bat speed and hand-eye coordination to hit for average, and the raw strength to hit for power as well. He spent some time in the outfield for the first time in 2007 and quickly became average there.
The Bad: Votto is not a great athlete, and he’s a below-average runner. There’s not a ton of loft in his swing, with most of his home runs coming off hard contact as opposed to getting lift and backspin on a ball.
Fun Fact: Richview’s most well-known alumnus is Cowboy Junkies lead singer Margo Timmins.
Perfect World Projection: A good to very good first baseman who has a long career and a handful of All-Star appearances.
Timetable: The Reds surprised many by picking up incumbent first baseman Scott Hatteberg‘s option for 2008, but it was a cheap pickup to give them an insurance policy in case Votto isn’t ready, or should new manager Dusty Baker‘s penchant for avoiding young talent continues. All will be figured out in spring training.
4. Johnny Cueto, RHP
Acquired: NDFA, 2004, Dominican Republic
2007 Stats: 3.33 ERA at High-A (78.1-72-21-72); 3.10 ERA at Double-A (61-52-11-77); 2.05 ERA at Triple-A (22-22-2-21)
Year In Review: The talented Dominican righty followed the Jay Bruce path by moving from High A to the cusp of the majors during the 2007 season.
The Good: Cueto’s got pure power stuff, living primarily off his 92-94 mph fastball that can reach 97 when he really rears back for it, and his hard slider gives him a second plus pitch. His changeup varies from start to start, but it often flashes as above-average with late sink. He has a compact, simple delivery that he repeats well, and his command and control are both above average.
The Bad: The biggest issue for Cueto is that he’s downright small for a starter, and while he held up fine for 160-plus innings last year, many wonder if he could handle a 200-inning workload.
Fun Fact: Cueto is hardly the next Micah Owings, as he’s a career 1-for-14 hitter with nine strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: Cueto should be a solid No.3 starter, and maybe a bit more if he can handle the workload.
Timetable: Cueto had an excellent winter pitching for Aguilas in the Dominican Winter League, and he’ll go into spring training with a shot at earning a job, but he might be the odd man out with the recent acquisition
of Edinson Volquez. The Reds won’t rule out beginning his career as a reliever
to get his arm on the big-league squad.
Year In Review: The top hitter in Rutgers history set single-season school records for home runs, runs, walks, doubles, and total bases, then followed that up with an impressive offensive show in his pro debut.
The Good: Frazier has true middle-of-the-order potential offensively, as he combines plus power with an above-average contact rate. He comes from a baseball family (both of his brothers had minor league careers), and he has a strong competitive drive and outstanding makeup. He’s a solid athlete and good runner once he gets going.
The Bad: Nobody has any realistic expectations of Frazier being able to stay at shortstop long-term, as his range is well shy of what is needed to play there at the big league level. While many project a slide over to third base, that’s still not a slam dunk, as his defense anywhere on the infield is a bit awkward. Offensively, his set-up and swing are a little funky, but nobody wants to change anything given the results so far.
Fun Fact: Frazier was the top player on the 1998 Little League World Series champions from Toms River, New Jersey.
Perfect World Projection: A classic No. 5 hitter at either third base or an outfield corner.
Timetable: Frazier’s talent, and a number of strong players in the lower levels will likely have Frazier skipping a level to High-A to begin 2007, but his defense might dictate his timetable more than his bat.
Year In Review: Entering the year as no more than a solid prospect, Mesoraco had an outstanding senior year and blew away the team in private workouts to become the top high school catcher in the draft.
The Good: Mesoraco combines impressive tools with solid athleticism for a backstop. He has a quick bat to go with average power, and his approach is surprisingly advanced for a player from a cold-weather state. Defensively, he’s a gem with well above-average receiving skills, plus arm strength, and strong leadership abilities.
The Bad: While Mesoraco has few weaknesses, he also lacks that one knockout skill to project as an impact player. He struggled significantly in his pro debut, and might need more time than most to adjust to more advanced competition.
Fun Fact: Mesoraco hit .324 when leading off an inning for the GCL Reds, but just .184 otherwise.
Perfect World Projection: An above-average big-league catcher.
Timetable: The Reds attribute some of Mesoraco’s pro struggles to a thumb injury, as well as the usual adjustment to the pro lifestyle. They’re optimistic about what he can achieve in his full-season debut at Low-A.
Year In Review: Remarkable athlete did little to alleviate concerns about inability to make contact by striking out 142 times in his full-season debut, but showed some signs of life in a late-season surge as he hit .303/.394/.517 after July 1.
The Good: On athleticism alone, nobody in the system, including Jay Bruce, can compare with Stubbs. He’s tall, strong, and exceptionally fast, and he could become a devastating power/speed combination if he ends up putting it all together. Defensively, he’s already among the top outfielders in all of the minor leagues, with outstanding instincts, flawless routes, incredible range, and a good arm.
The Bad: Stubbs’ long and loopy swing has plenty of holes, holes large enough that even the much younger arms of the Midwest League were able to consistently exploit them. Some feel he’d be better off by focusing more on contact and getting home runs off strength and arm extension as opposed to trying to muscle up on balls.
Fun Fact: In the three games where Stubbs started as a designated hitter, he want 2-for-13 with nine whiffs.
Perfect World Projection: Stubbs has star potential, but he’s also far from reaching it. The middle of the road projection might be most similar to Mike Cameron.
Timetable: Not the kind of prospect who moves quickly, Stubbs will take one step forward in 2008 to the High-A Florida State League.
Drafted: 3rd round, 2005, University of Mississippi
2007 Stats: 3.94 ERA at Double-A (Phillies) (125.2-117-45-115); 2.57 ERA at Double-A (Reds) (28-17-3-39); 3.18 ERA at Triple-A (17-10-6-23)
Year In Review: Acquired from the Phillies near the trade deadline for Kyle Lohse, the fringy left-hander put up big numbers at Double- and Triple-A following the trade.
The Good: Maloney is a classic command/control southpaw who succeeds more on moxie and location than pure stuff. His fastball generally sits in the upper 80s, but he locates it very well and can add and subtract from it to keep hitters off balance. His pure changeup is his best pitch, and he mixes it in effectively to get swings and misses, while also using a solid breaking ball. He’s tall, athletic and durable, and should be able to eat up plenty of innings in a starting role.
The Bad: Maloney doesn’t have the stuff or the projection to profile as anything more than a No. 4 or 5 starter. A more refined slider would make him more effective against right-handed batters.
Fun Fact: During his three-start stint for Louisville, Maloney limited left-handed betters to 1-for-11 with six strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: A solid back-end starter, nothing more.
Timetable: Maloney is nearly ready for the big leagues, but he’ll begin the year at Triple-A on the short list for a call-up should the need arise.
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, South Delta Secondary School (BC)
2007 Stats: 3.86 ERA at Rookie-level (21-21-7-24); 1.13 ERA at Short-season (8-1-3-12)
Year In Review: The raw but talented Canadian surprised even the Reds with the amount of polish he showed in his pro debut.
The Good: A big physical right-hander with a lightning-quick arm, Lotzkar already delivers low-90s fastballs with regularity, can touch 95, and projects for more down the road as he works on his craft. His mechanics are solid and his command is surprisingly good considering his relatively limited experience.
The Bad: Lotzkar’s secondary stuff remains unrefined. He’s found some success with a slurvy breaking ball, but many would like to see it scrapped in favor of a pure slider. His changeup is no more than rudimentary.
Fun Fact: During his two Pioneer League starts, right-handers went 0-for-17 against Lotzkar.
Perfect World Projection: Lotzkar’s potential remains very high because of his body and loose arm, but there is still much work to be done.
Timetable: Despite his impressive debut, the internal debate is over whether Lotzkar is ready for a full-season assignment, or not. His spring training performance will help the Reds decide, but Lotzkar is at least four years away from the majors.
Year In Review: The top Latin American hitter in the system led the Midwest League in home runs during his full-season debut, but aspects of his game give cause for concern.
The Good: At least 20 pounds (and probably more) than his listed weight, Francisco is a hulking slugger with as much raw power as anyone in the system, showing equal ability to pull pitches down the line or power them out the other way. He’s a fundamentally sound third baseman with good instincts and a solid arm.
The Bad: Francisco needs to work on his approach… or work on having any approach at all after racking up 161 strikeouts against just 23 walks last year. He’ll swing at anything, anytime and consistently finds himself behind in the count. His bulk leaves some wondering if he’ll retain the athleticism to stay at the hot corner as he moves up the ladder.
Fun Fact: Francisco was born in the central Dominican city of Bonao, where a sizable chunk of the economy comes from nickel mining.
Perfect World Projection: A slugging third baseman who makes up for a low on-base percentage with plenty of home runs.
Timetable: Francisco and Frazier will combine to form one of the more intriguing left sides of an infield in the minors at High-A, although it’s possible that neither will still be at their positions when they reach the majors.
Drafted: 3rd round, 2007, Colegio Marista HS (PR)
2007 Stats: .303/.355/.454 at Rookie-level (40 G)
Year In Review: The top hitter in Puerto Rico signed quickly as a third-round pick, and impressed scouts with his GCL showing.
The Good: Soto has good hitting skills with bat speed, a smooth swing plane, and a long, wiry frame that projects for good power. He also shows a solid approach. He’s got good defensive instincts with above-average arm strength.
The Bad: Like many Reds infielders in the minors, Soto does not project to stay at his position, as his athleticism limits his range, and it will become a liability as his body matures. That leaves his future projection in doubt, as some simply don’t feel he has the hands to play in the infield, or the speed for center, limiting him to a corner outfield slot, where his bat will really need to develop.
Fun Fact: In four games when he hit sixth in the GCL Reds lineup, Soto went 12-for-15.
Perfect World Projection: A valuable offensive contributor, but whether it will be enough for whatever position he ends up at is still an open question.
Timetable: Soto will likely make his full-season debut at Low-A Dayton.
The Sleeper: While he’s a little older than most due to a career that has been delayed by identification, birth certificate, and visa issues, left-hander Pedro Viola has a power arm, and he could develop into a valuable bullpen piece.
The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies Under 25 (As Of Opening Day 2008)
1. Jay Bruce, CF
2. Homer Bailey, RHP
3. Joey Votto, 1B/OF
4. Edinson Volquez, RHP
5. Johnny Cueto, RHP
6. Todd Frazier, SS
7. Devin Mesoraco, S
8. Drew Stubbs, CF
9. Bill Bray, LHP
10. Matt Maloney, LHP
Volquez had an impressive second-half turnaround last year after beginning the campaign at High-A to work on his command issues. He finished the year with a solid big-league run, and should fit in just fine at the back of the Reds’ rotation; his stuff still allows for some star potential. While Bray has yet to find consistency at the big-league level, he’s still a power arm from the left side, already dominates against lefties, and retains some set-up man potential.
The Reds system may be top-heavy, but man, what a top it is, and what comes after gives the club a decent shot at remaining a solid organization after this big front three lose their eligibility next year.
Next: The Colorado Rockies.