Sunday, June 22, 2008

Top 25 Prospects: Midseason Update Part 1

Well, we are almost halfway through the season, so it's as good a time as any to check in on the sprouts down on the farm to see who on our Top 25 Prospect List is thriving and who is withering on the vine. Here is how I had them ranked this offseason and how they are doing this season:

1. Jay Bruce - Well, I'm not sure much needs to be said on this one, as Jay lit up triple-A pitching to the tune of .364/.393/.630/1.023, which brought him a well earned promotion to the majors. Bruce wasn't phased much by the big leagues, as he got off to a white hot start and sits now at a more than respectable .300/.386/.470/.856. Pitchers have slowed him down lately, but Bruce will simply need to adjust to their plan of attack. He has too much offensive skill to be held down for long. Get ready for a fun next decade or two, Reds fans.

2. Homer Bailey - Well, while Jay Bruce's path to the majors has been as straight as a string, Homer Bailey's has had more twists and turns than Lombard Street in San Francisco. Homer's triple-A performance really didn't earn him a call-up to the majors, but he got one anyway. At triple-A Louisville, Homer currently sports a 4.07 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, and a 62/31 K/BB ratio. During his most recent stint in the majors, Homer made 3 starts posting an 8.76 ERA, a 2.11 WHIP, and a putrid 3/10 K/BB ratio. He's still young, so he has time to right the ship, but at the MLB level his fastball velocity is down and he seems to lack both command of his pitches and also an out-pitch. Also, his attitude has repeatable been called into question, which is never a good sign for a young ballplayer. The Reds tinkered with Homer's mechanics (including having him bring his hands only to the chest, rather than over the head), but have yet to see positive results. The best thing the organization can do is leave him in triple-A for the rest of the year and force him to actually EARN his next promotion.

3. Johnny Cueto - Johnny's rookie season has been overshadowed by the dominance of fellow rotation member Edinson Volquez. However, unlike the prospect directly above him on the list, Cueto has demonstrated the skills necessary to be a very effective MLB starting pitcher. Three of the main elements of a successful pitcher are walk rate, strikeout rate, and groundball rate. Well, interestingly enough, Cueto is very strong in walk rate and strikeout rate, while Edinson is very strong in strikeout rate and groundball rate. However, Great American Ballpark is more ideally suited to a strong strikeout/groundball pitcher like Edinson, than it is to a low walk/strong strikeout pitcher like Cueto. Over time, Cueto should learn to limit his susceptibility to the long ball, but for now Edinson's game is better tailored to Great American Ballpark. Even so, Cueto should have a long, successful career in Cincinnati.

4. Joey Votto - The Canadian kid has performed about as well as expected, however his production is a bit different than I expected. So far in his big league career, Votto has displayed good power, but only average on base skills. Given his career minor league line of .289/.385/.476/.861, I expected the opposite. Regardless, his career is in its infancy and he should continue to provide professional At Bats in Cincinnati for years to come.

5. Drew Stubbs - Stubbs is still plying his trade at high-A Sarasota, where he started off as hot as a supernova. While he has cooled off as of late, his line is still solid at .267/.381/.405/.786 with 22 steals in 29 attempts. Stubbs came out of the University of Texas with a reputation for tremendous defense, good speed, and light-tower power. He is one of the few Longhorns to ever hit the ball over the scoreboard at Texas. However, his current skill set would seem to have him on track to be a leadoff hitter, as his on-base skills and speed are both above average. Stubbs is what we need to see from more of the Reds prospects: great defensively, strong on-base skills, and a high baseball IQ. If he continues to stay on track, he could be the Reds starting centerfielder and leadoff hitter for good starting opening day of 2010.

6. Todd Frazier - Previously, I wrote: "Todd Frazier is a baseball player. That sentence may not seem like it says much, but in reality it says it all." That statement continues to be true, as Frazier's polished skill-set is enabling him to climb the ranks of the Reds system. He started out back at low-A Dayton, where he pounded pitchers to a tune of .321/.402/.598/1.000 before getting promoted to high-A Sarasota. At Sarasota, Frazier is currently at .288/.347/.485/.832, which doesn't strike the eye as very impressive, but Sarasota is notoriously tough on hitters. Overall, Frazier is one of the brightest lights in the Reds system and his innate understanding of the game allows all of his solid tools to play up a notch. If he continues to perform as he has, Frazier will continue to climb the levels of the farm system and up even higher on this prospect list.

7. Juan Francisco - Juan is another bright light in the farm system and another example of the importance of international scouting in the modern game. Juan is also working at high-A Sarasota, where he has posted a respectable line of .283/.301/.476/.777 in a pitcher friendly park. Francisco has substantial power and is a very good athlete, but he is less polished than Todd Frazier and still has an alarming K/BB ratio of 69/8. It's difficult to envision a hitter have much MLB success without improving on his approach at the plate, so it's a very large red flag. Still, he's a young player and has significant upside, so he's definitely one to keep an eye on.

8. Devin Mesoraco - Mesoraco was held back in extended spring training to start the year, which led to talk that he was destined to head back to the rookie level Pioner League. But, the Reds eventually sent him to low-A Dayton, where Mesoraco begin to make good on his promise and justify his high draft slot. He is currently hitting .276/.331/.397/.727 after following up a slow start with a nice hot streak. As a catcher, Mesoraco has a long way to go in his development, as he has much to learn on both sides of the dish. Still, after an injury plagued season last year and a bit of a poor start in 2008, it's comforting to see Mesoraco play so capably. Mesoraco has a long way to go, but he's demonstrating a great deal of promise.

9. Travis Wood - Wood slid down many prospects list due to an injury plagued 2007, but he has had a strong bounce back year thus far. He posted a very impressive 2.70 ERA and 41/21 K/BB ratio in 46.2 innings at high-A Sarasota. That earned him a promotion to double-A Chattanooga, where he has strong 24/12 K/BB ratio in 23.0 innings pitched. He also has a poor ERA of 6.65, due in large part to back to back games in which he allowed 6 and then 7 earned runs. Still, Wood seems healthy, which should go a long way towards reestablishing him as a quality pitching prospect in the eyes of the national baseball media.

10. Chris Valaika - Valaika is another who slipped down most prospect lists, but he is having a very strong 2008 season. Chris posting a stellar line of .363/.393/.585/.978 at Sarasota and now has a line of .281/.345/.425/.770 at double-A Chattanooga. After some questions emerged about his bat in 2007, Valaika has done his best to answer them in 2008. The jump from A-ball to double-A ball is considered the toughest in the minors, so it'll be interesting to see if Valaika can build on his solid start. In addition, he has improved his defensive play at shortstop to the point that some are wondering whether he might be a legitimate option at shortstop at the big league level, which would only increase his value. Overall, it's been a nice year for Valaika, but he needs to continue to prove that he profiles as more than just a utility infielder at the big league level.

11. Neftali Soto - No one has gotten off to a better start in 2008 than Soto. The Reds assigned him to the rookie league Billings Mustangs, who just got their season underway. In the team's first 5 games, Soto has cranked 4 homeruns and posted a line of .435/.480/1.087/1.567. Soto is a right handed hitter with a beautiful swing. It has a similar fluid grace to Joe DiMaggio's swing. If Soto can be half the MLB player that the Yankee Clipper was, then the Reds will be quite pleased. Personally, I still don't think Soto will be able to stick at shortstop, as he already lacks good first step quickness and will likely only lose range when he inevitably adds weight to his 6'2 frame. Still, Soto is an intriguing prospect and could shoot way up this list if he continues his stellar play.

12. Danny Dorn - Dorn is one of my favorite prospects, but he's had a bit of a strange year. He suffered a knee injury early in the season, which has made it difficult for him to get into a rhythm. Still, Dorn has posted a solid line of .272/.368/.474/.842, which is well down from his amazing performance at double-A last year (1.089 OPS). Even so, the on-base skills are strong and given his lack of top flight power, that is what will drive his career. Another strange aspect to Dorn's season is that the Lookouts are using him at several different positions. So far this season, he's played leftfield, rightfield, quite a bit of firstbase, and spent a lot of time at designated hitter. I'm not sure if the Reds are moving him around because they don't view him as a potential starter, so they are attempting to increase his versatility or if they are taking it easy on his injured knee. Regardless, he'd be better off starting every game in leftfield and I hope to see that happen in the near future.

13. Matt Maloney - It's been a tale of two seasons for Maloney, as he started out 2008 with very poor results. However, he's been much better as of late, which has earned him an ERA of 4.93, a whip of 1.37, and a stellar K/BB ratio of 78/28 in 84.0 innings pitched. His peripherals have been solid all year, so a large part of his struggles seem to be poor luck. His BABIP for the season is .331 and his Fielding Independent Pitching has been 3.98, which is much more impressive than his 4.93 ERA. Overall, Maloney has had a deceptively solid season and as the sample size increases his ERA and WHIP should regress to the mean. He should make his debut in Cincinnati later this summer.

14. Josh Ravin - Turning to one of my other favorite prospects, the Reds kept Ravin in extended spring training, but eventually sent him to low-A Dayton. At Dayton, Ravin has shown flashes of brilliance, but also struggled with his command. Ravin fell off of most prospect lists because of his terrible control in 2007. However, I've always loved his mechanics, which should help his command come around, and his pure stuff, so I still rate him highly. At Dayton, Ravin has posted the following: 5.00 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, and a K/BB ratio of 24/16 in 27.0 innings. Clearly, the stuff is there, as he's striking out almost a batter an inning, but it's hard not to be disappointed in the control. However, he's young and I still wouldn't change his ranking on this list, as I'm a true believer. For me, he's definitely someone to watch. Now, if he could only find a consistent arm slot, the sky would be the limit.

15. Adam Rosales - Rosales had a very impressive spring training and he turned all of the right heads in the Reds organization. In addition, he has no longer been relegated to 1b, which is where he spent most of last season due to an elbow injury. So, with the elbow injury no longer of concern, Rosales has been able to climb back up the defensive spectrum, which has really helped him regain some of the value he lost at first base. Still, despite all these positives, Rosales has really struggled at the plate with triple-A Louisville, where he is hitting a paltry .215/.279/.318/.597. Unfortunately, he seems to have given back some of the gains he made in Spring Training. At this point, he seems to be a real long shot to be anything more than a utility infielder at the MLB level.

Well, that's how the first 15 stack up, so the next installment will feature #16-25 and the Other Notables. I'm sure you won't want to miss that!!!

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