1. Aroldis Chapman, LHP
2. Mike Leake, RHP
3. Todd Frazier, INF
4. Yonder Alonso, 1B
5. Travis Wood, LHP
6. Chris Heisey, OF
7. Brad Boxberger, RHP
8. Juan Francisco, 3B
9. Yorman Rodriguez, OF
10. Billy Hamilton, SS
11. Miguel Rojas, SS
12. Matt Maloney, LHP: A pure finesse lefty, Maloney is exceptionally good at his craft, but his ceiling is a fifth starter.
13. Zach Cozart, SS: Cozart is a plus defender at shortstop with surprising pop, but his pure hitting skills are lacking.
14. Mariekson Gregorius, SS: This Dutch import has solid tools across the board, and he impressed scouts in the Pioneer League.
15. Juan Duran, OF: He has crazy tools, but to call him raw doesn’t really do the concept justice.
Year in Review: The story of the year on the international signing front, Chapman was attached to all the big-name teams throughout the winter before pulling a rabbit out of his hat and signing a back-loaded deal that could be worth over $30 million dollars.
The Good: Chapman became the best left-handed prospect in the game the second he signed, as few pitchers, regardless of handedness, can match him on a pure stuff level. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s, touches 98 mph, and scouts have even seen him get to triple digits at times. His low-80s slider features two-plane break, and it’s an easy plus offering when he controls it well. He’s a long, loose athlete with a smooth delivery. He has maintained his velocity deep into games in limited looks.
The Bad: Despite some reports to the contrary, Chapman is not big-league ready. His command and control are highly inconsistent, and he has a tendency to overthrow. Scouts have rarely seen an off-speed pitch to even put a grade on one.
Ephemera: Chapman was born in Holguin, a province on the east side of the island that is believed to have been visited by Christopher Columbus in 1492.
Perfect World Projection: If he throws more strikes and develops even just a usable changeup, he’s an ace in the making.
Path to the Big Leagues: It’s difficult to determine. As a Cuban defector, even a high-profile one, the adjustment to playing professional baseball in America could be difficult. There is a long track record of Cubans struggling with the off-the-field adjustments in their first year stateside.
Timetable: It’s anticipated that Chapman will begin 2010 at Double-A Carolina, or that he’ll arrive there quickly after a handful of warm-up starts with High-A Lynchburg in the Carolina League. His performance will dictate his timetable from there.
Year in Review: The eighth overall pick in the 2009 draft, Leake was arguably better than Stephen Strasburg on a statistical level, as his 1.71 ERA and 162-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 142 innings was put up in a hitter’s park against significantly tougher competition.
The Good: Leake is a highly advanced arm who shouldn’t need much time in the minors. He fills the strike zone with a fastball that features average to a tick above-average velocity, but it plays up due to top-notch control and his ability to add movement to the pitch. His changeup is a plus offering with good late break, and both his curveball and slider rate as average. He’s an excellent athlete who hit .299/.402/.485 during his career as a Sun Devil, and he fields his position well.
The Bad: An undersized righty without a plus-plus offering, scouts have trouble seeing star potential in Leake. He can be guilty of throwing too many strikes at times, and he needs to get more comfortable throwing outside of the zone when ahead in the count.
Ephemera: Leake and Angels scouting director Eddie Bane are the only pitchers in Arizona State history with three straight seasons of double-digit wins. Leake finished his college career with a 40-6 record.
Perfect World Projection: Leake’s a third starter, but there’s a 10-percent chance that he turns into the next Tim Hudson.
Path to the Big Leagues: It shouldn’t take long, but the Reds‘ rotational depth chart is suddenly surprisingly deep.
Timetable: Depending on his spring showing and the numbers game, Leake will begin 2010 at either Lynchburg or Carolina.
3. Todd Frazier, INF
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Rutgers University
2009 Stats: .290/.350/.481 at Double-A (119 G); .302/.362/.476 at Triple-A (16 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: 2
Year in Review: The Reds’ top pick from 2007 continued to hit at both Double- and Triple-A, and may have finally found a defensive home at second base.
The Good: Frazier just hits. He’s proven himself at every level with good hand-eye coordination, a solid approach, and average-to-plus power. He cut his strikeout rate significantly in 2009 without any loss in power, leaving many scouts even more optimistic about his big-league potential. He’s played every infield position and left field as a pro, but a move to second base in 2009 had some projecting him as a Jeff Kent-esque force there. He’s a big makeup guy who sets an example for other players with his effort.
The Bad: Nothing about Frazier’s game is pretty. His swing is awkward and mechanical, but it works so well for him that few want to see him change. His defense also lacks smoothness, as while he can hold his own at first, second, third, and left field, his average speed and arm strength will likely prevent him from ever being a plus defender.
Ephemera: Frazier hit .600 in the 1998 Little League World Series while recording the final strikeout of Toms River’s 12-9 win over Japan in the championship game.
Perfect World Projection: Frazier has the ability to be a good, offense-oriented second baseman.
Path to the Big Leagues: Frazier’s most logical positions, second and third base, are blocked by Brandon Phillips and Scott Rolen, two of the bigger contractual commitments in the organization.
Timetable: Frazier will head back to Triple-A Louisville to begin 2010, and he could get some time in the outfield in order to get his bat in the big leagues as soon as possible.
4. Yonder Alonso
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2008, University of Miami
2009 Stats: .133/.278/.133 at Rookie-level (6 G); .303/.383/.497 at High-A (49 G); .295/.372/.457 at Double-A (29 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: 1
Year in Review: The Reds’ top 2008 pick, Alonso showed plenty of promise in his full-season debut, but he also dealt with a hamate injury and had many scouts questioning his upside.
The Good: Alonso has the best on-base skills in the system. He makes more consistent contact than most slugging first baseman, and his big-league ready approach should lead to plenty of walks throughout his career.
The Bad: Scouts are split as to how much of Alonso’s drop in power was attributable to the hand injury and how much was a lack of true plus-plus pop. A concern about his ability to hit lefties hounded him throughout his amateur career, and he did little to address it in 2009 by batting .242 against them without a home run. He’s a well below-average runner, and no more than an average defender.
Ephemera: Alonso was born in Cuba. His family escaped to the United States when he was nine years old.
Perfect World Projection: Alonso’s an everyday first baseman, but he’s not a huge star, and he’ll possibly be in need of a platoon partner.
Path to the Big Leagues: The presence of Joey Votto made the selection of Alonso a bit confusing, and nothing has changed since then.
Timetable: Alonso will return to Double-A in 2010, and a healthy version will tell us much more about his upside.
5. Travis Wood, LHP
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2005, Bryant HS (AR)
2009 Stats: 1.21 ERA (119.0-78-37-103) at Double-A (19 G); 3.14 ERA (48.2-43-16-32) at Triple-A (8 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not ranked
Year in Review: All but written off after years of struggles, Wood, once a highly-regarded lefty, returned to form by dominating the Double-A Southern League, and then he more than held his own in eight late-season Triple-A starts.
The Good: Wood’s changeup is the best in the organization. It features nearly perfect arm action with considerable velocity separation, and heavy break late. He sets the pitch up well with an 88-92 mph fastball with cutting action, and he showed much better control in 2009 with a simplified delivery.
The Bad: Wood’s curveball is a 40-45 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he’ll need to find more consistency with it to succeed in the big leagues. He’s undersized, and some wonder if he can handle a 32-start workload.
Ephemera: In Wood’s last three Double-A starts against Jacksonville (Marlins), he fired 22 scoreless innings, allowing 10 hits and striking out 23.
Perfect World Projection: He has the tools to be a good fourth starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: Wood is close, but the number of young arms in the Reds’ rotation picture could initially move him to the bullpen.
Timetable: Wood will get a long look this spring, with an outside shot of breaking camp in the big leagues.
6. Chris Heisey, OF
Drafted/Signed: 17th round, 2006, Messiah College (PA)
2009 Stats: .347/.426/.572 at Double-A (71 G); .278/.323/.465 at Triple-A (63 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: Not ranked
Year in Review: A scout’s favorite, Heisey had a dominating first half at Double-A, slowly hit his stride following a promotion to Louisville, and found himself on the brink of the big leagues.
The Good: Heisey combines solid tools with a grinder mentality, with one scout saying, “If everyone played as hard as he does, they’d all get to the big leagues.” He makes consistent hard contact to all fields with solid average power and a good approach at the plate. He’s a very good defensive outfielder who can even play center in a pinch, and his arm and speed are both at least big-league average.
The Bad: While Heisey has no glaring weaknesses in his game, he also lacks star-level tools. He expanded his strike zone following his promotion to Triple-A, and he will need to continue to make adjustments and get out of some habits on where he sits looking for fastballs.
Ephemera: Heisey is one of only two players ever drafted out of Messiah College, a Division III school in Pennsylvania that is a powerhouse in soccer and field hockey.
Perfect World Projection: He’ll be a second-division starter or a good fourth outfielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Reds don’t really have a left fielder going into camp.
Timetable: Heisey will be one of up to five players competing for some of that playing time in left field this spring.
Year in Review: The Trojans’ Friday starter maintained his status as a top-50 pick throughout the spring, but a negotiation that went down to the deadline prevented him from making his pro debut until the Arizona Fall League started.
The Good: Boxberger is a deep-arsenal righty with four solid offerings. His fastball sits in the low 90s while touching 94 mph, and his slider is his go-to secondary offering, showcasing impressive late bite. Both his loopy curveball and changeup project as solid average pitches. He has a classic frame and smooth arm action.
The Bad: Boxberger frustrates scouts, as he rarely has performed as well as his stuff might indicate. He has a tendency to get out of whack mechanically and lose the strike zone, forcing him to over rely on his fastball to avoid falling behind in the count.
Ephemera: Boxberger’s father, Rod, was the 11th pick in the 1978 draft by the Astros, also from the University of Southern California. He spent six years in the minors, topping out at Double-A, with a career record of 30-55 and a 4.67 ERA.
Perfect World Projection: There’s a chance he’s a fourth starter, but scouts who have seen him pitch in shorter stints wonder if his upside is higher out of the bullpen.
Path to the Big Leagues: He’ll remain a starter for now, but the Reds suddenly have a lot of arms in that role.
Timetable: Boxberger will begin his first full season at Lynchburg, but he should reach Double-A at some point in the season.
8. Juan Francisco, 3B
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2004
2009 Stats: .281/.317/.501 at Double-A (109 G); .359/.384/.598 at Triple-A (22 G); .429/.520/.619 at MLB (14 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: 8
Year in Review: A power-hitting third baseman, Francisco surged late in the year following a promotion to Triple-A, earning his first taste of big-league life in 14 games towards the end of the season.
The Good: Francisco’s raw power is the best in the system. He’s slugged 75 home runs over the last three years while consistently playing in pitcher’s parks, and he’s one of those rare players who doesn’t have to fully square up a ball to drive it out of the park. His arm is plus-plus at third base.
The Bad: In three full minor-league seasons, Francisco has struck out 399 times in 394 games while drawing only 50 walks, so to say his approach needs work is being kind, as he flails at nearly all secondary pitches, no matter the location. His big, soft body limits his range at third base, and he’s slow on the base paths, with many projecting a move across the diamond in the end. The Reds are also trying him in left field this spring after he played there a bit in the Dominican over the winter.
Ephemera: Francisco’s first big-league hit was a home run off Marlins reliever Leo Nunez.
Perfect World Projection: Francisco could consistently hit 30-plus home runs annually in the big leagues, but he needs to figure out a way to provide some other kind of value for it to matter.
Path to the Big Leagues: With Joey Votto and Scott Rolen manning the big-league corners, Francisco is trying to learn left field to avoid being road blocked.
Timetable: Francisco had a fantastic winter, batting .302/.352/.566 with 11 home runs in 46 games for Cibao in the Dominican Winter League, and if the Reds have enough confidence in his defense, he’ll compete for at least part of the left field job.
9. Yorman Rodriguez, OF
Drafted/Signed: Venezuela, 2008
2009 Stats: .274/.347/.321 at Rookie-level (Golden Coast League) (22 G); .219/.259/.344 at Rookie-level (Pioneer League) (46 G); .236/.288/.337 at Rookie-level (Both) (68 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: 6
Year in Review: A toolsy Venezuelan, Rodriguez tantalized scouts in his state-side debut, but he also showed considerable holes in his game.
The Good: No position player in the system can come close to approaching Rodriguez’ ceiling. He’s a true five-tool monster with above-average speed, good range in center field, a very good arm, and above-average power with potential for more once his skinny frame fills out. He has a good feel for the strike zone when he sees fastballs, and he earns high praise for his makeup.
The Bad: Rodriguez’s game is unrefined across the board. Breaking balls gave him absolute fits in the Pioneer League, with advanced pitchers making him look lost at the plate at times. He needs to improve his jumps and routes in the outfield, and his arm can get a bit wild. He’s so young, and he just needs consistent repetition to get better.
Ephemera: In the eight games that Rodriguez hit leadoff for Billings, he went just 3-for-35 (.086) with 11 strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: He could be an impact center fielder.
Path to the Big Leagues: Longer than [insert really long thing here].
Timetable: Rodriguez will still be just 17 for the majority of the 2010 season, so he’ll likely begin the year in extended spring training before returning to Billings.
10. Billy Hamilton, SS
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2009, Taylorsville HS (MS)
2009 Stats: .205/.253/.277 at Rookie-level (43 G)
Last Year’s Ranking: Did not qualify
Year in Review: One of the best athletes in the draft, Hamilton struggled in his pro debut, but he still showed the kind of tools that had some teams thinking he might slip into the end of the first round.
The Good: Hamilton’s tools leave little to complain about. He’s a true burner, with plus-plus speed, and showed a surprising ability to sting balls into the gap during his debut. His speed should provide plenty of range at either shortstop or center field, and his arm is another plus-plus weapon.
The Bad: Hamilton is far more of an athlete than a baseball player at this point, as he’s never focused on baseball full-time. His swing is slowed by a complicated trigger mechanism, and he has little feel for the strike zone. While he has all of the tools to be a good shortstop, he’s equally messy in the field, needing to improve his instincts, transfers, and work around the bag. Some feel he’d be better off with an immediate transition to center field. He’s small, and it’s unlikely that he’ll ever develop much in the way of power.
Ephemera: A three-sport star at Taylorsville High, Hamilton committed to Mississippi State as a wide receiver after catching 18 touchdown passes in the fall, and he also averaged nearly 35 points per game in basketball.
Perfect World Projection: He has the tools to be a dynamic shortstop who can steal 40-plus bases annually.
Path to the Big Leagues: Hamilton has a big ceiling, but he also has significant bust potential.
Timetable: Likely too raw for a full-season league this year, Hamilton could start 2010 working on the fundamentals in extended spring training before showing up in box scores when the Pioneer League starts up in June.
Year in Review: This Venezuelan shortstop continued to shine defensively, while he finally showed just enough bat to give scouts more confidence in his future.
The Good: Any discussion about Rojas begins with his glove. He’s a classic shortstop with range to both sides, smooth actions, a good arm, and remarkable fundamentals, as his .977 fielding percentage is a big-league number rarely seen in the Midwest League. He employs a slashing, contact-oriented approach and improved throughout the year, batting .311/.357/.361 after the All-Star break. He’s a tick above-average baserunner and a very good bunter who plays within his limitations.
The Bad: It’s unlikely that Rojas will ever develop enough offensive firepower to bat anywhere but the bottom of the lineup. He’s small and without power or projection for much, if any, down the road. He improved his plate discipline in 2009, but he will need to continue to work on his patience.
Ephemera: Rojas hit .365 (31-for-85) in the first two innings of Midwest League games in 2009, but just .253 thereafter.
Perfect World Projection: If he reaches his ceiling, Rojas will be an everyday shortstop and defensive whiz who bats eighth.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Reds don’t really have a big-league shortstop right now, not that Rojas is close.
Timetable: Rojas’ development will continue in 2010 at High-A Lynchburg.
The Sleeper: A 2009 third-rounder, Donnie Joseph is a power-armed lefty out of the pen who struck out 42 over 32.1 innings in his pro debut and could move quickly.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (Born 4/1/84 or later)
1. Aroldis Chapman, LHP
2. Homer Bailey, RHP
3. Jay Bruce, OF
4. Drew Stubbs, CF
5. Johnny Cueto, RHP
6. Mike Leake, RHP
7. Todd Frazier, INF
8. Yonder Alonso, 1B
9. Travis Wood, LHP
10. Wladimir Balentien, OF
Bailey had a 2.41 ERA in his last six starts last year while striking out nearly a batter per inning, and it’s hard not to believe in his stuff. The 2010 season could be a real coming-out party for him. Bruce also had a good final month of the year, and scouts still see true star potential there. Stubbs’ pro debut exceeded all expectations, yet little about it seemed like a fluke, with the nearly decade-long Mike Cameron comps seeming more apt than ever. Cueto has stagnated somewhat on a developmental standpoint, to the level that some wonder if he’d work better in relief. Balentien is running out of chances, and this spring could represent his best opportunity at establishing himself, as the left-field job is wide open.
Summary: Chapman alone brings up the organizational ranking considerablely. Without him, the Reds’ system is down, but for all the right reasons, as the youth is already at the big-league level, including an impressive cadre of young arms, which could return the team to contention.
Next up: the Colorado Rockies.