Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2010 Top Prospect List: #23 Logan Ondrusek, rhp

Logan Ondrusek
Height 6-7, Weight 205, B/T: R/R, DOB: 2/13/1985
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked



Logan Ondrusek fits a somewhat unexpected pitching profile, as in spite of his imposing height he's not a true power pitcher. Ondrusek is more of a high contact, heavy groundball pitcher. Generally speaking, there are three aspects of pitching within a pitcher's control: Walks, Strikeouts, and Groundballs. In order to maintain a consistently high level of performance at the major league level, pitchers generally need to perform at least two out of the three components of pitching rather well. Ondrusek has heavy groundball tendencies, which when coupled with marginal skill in the other two components could be enough to enable him to pitch a season or two in the majors. However, for him to be a true impact talent, he'll have to improve either or both of his strikeout or walk rate.


Draft Position and Stature

The Reds selected Ondrusek with the 392nd overall pick in the 13th round of the 2005 draft. He was drafted out of McLennan Community College, which has produced such big league luminaries as Pat Listach and Jay Buhner. Ondrusek is one of the taller pitchers in the professional game, but he's also very thin. He has a lanky body type that could allow for additional velocity if he were to add more muscle as he continues to fill out. The possibility for additional strength and velocity means that he has additional physical projection, which gives him a higher prospect ceiling.


Professional Career

Despite his massive height, Ondrusek somehow managed to fly under the radar throughout his professional career, but that all changed in 2009, as he forced his way into the collective baseball consciousness with his stellar performance.

Ondrusek started out the 2009 season in high-A Sarasota. In his 18.2 innings, he posted a 0.96 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 3.4 BB/9, and 5.8 K/9. His ERA was impressive, but was aided somewhat by a very low BABIP of .147. His FIP was much higher than his ERA, but still respectable at 3.36. Overall, his K/BB ratio was 1.71, which is solid, but nothing to really write home about. Still, his ground ball rate was robust, racking up 3.3 ground outs for every fly out, which helped earn him a promotion to double-A.

Upon his arrival, Ondrusek quickly picked up right where he left off. For Chattanooga, he posted a 1.65 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 3.3 BB/9, and 6.6 K/9. Once again, the to his success was keeping the ball on the ground, posting a 1.50 GB/FB ratio. He also benefited from some hit luck, as evidenced by his .236 BABIP, but his FIP was still very impressive at 2.83. In addition, he improved his K/BB ratio on up to 2.00. Even though it was only 32.2 innings, the Reds had seen enough to promote him on up to his third stop of 2009.

For triple-A Louisville, Ondrusek continued right on rolling. He worked in 20.2 innings, and again breaking the 2.00 ERA barrier with a mark of 1.74. His WHIP was a stellar 0.87, which was aided by a miniscule walk rate of 0.9 BB/9. His K/9 wasn't impressive at 4.8, but his K/BB ratio of 5.50 certainly was. Once again, he forced the opposition to pound the ball into the ground, as reflected in his 1.78 GB/FB ratio.

Perhaps the Reds hadn't seen quite enough of Ondrusek in 2009, so they sent him to the Arizona Fall League where he suffered through his worst performance of the year. If the Reds were pushing him until he struggled, then they certainly succeeded. Ondrusek performed poorly in the AFL, posting a 13.50 ERA in 10.0 innings with a 1.44 GB/FB mark and an 8/2 K/BB ratio. Overall, not bad numbers, but he was hit hard to the tune of 22 hits and a .415 batting average against. The AFL is typically a hitters league and Ondrusek had already spent time at three levels in 2009, so his struggles certainly aren't unexpected.

As a general rule, pitchers need to strike out at least 5.0 hitters per nine innings in order to maintain a consistent level of success at the MLB level. A few heavy groundballers like Carlos Silva, Joel Piniero, and even Kirk Saarloos have managed to find a season or two of success before the high contact rate caught up with them. In 2009, Piniero struck out 4.4 hitters per 9 innings and got groundballs at a 1.60 GB/FB rate, which enabled him to post a 3.49 ERA. He's a free agent now, but he strikes me as a very unwise long-term investment, as he likely will not be able to sustain his success going forward.

Obviously, this could have implications for Ondrusek, as his strikeout rate is around 5.5, but could fall even further against more advanced major league hitting. It something that bears watching as he continues to develop, but at the very least he could be aided by the Reds renewed emphasis on infield defense. If Ondrusek arrives at the MLB level soon, Scott Rolen and Paul Janish may prove to be his new best friends.


Pitching Mechanics and Repertoire

Ondrusek's pitching is defined by his height, as it enables him to throw on a downward plane and rack up significant groundballs. For taller pitchers, maintaining consistent mechanics can be problematic, as they have longer levers. It can take longer to get those levers started and be more difficult to keep them all in sync.

Ondrusek features a four-seam fastball that sits around 91-92 mph and touches 94. He also utilizes an 81-82 mph changeup with a bit of sink. In addition, Ondrusek throws a slider and a cutter, though the differential in velocity between the two pitches isn't significant (both are in the 87-91 range) and it may simply be slightly different variations on the same pitch. After all, the grip and the wrist action of the two pitches are very similar, so it could be a matter of mere degrees.

Here is a very good look at Ondrusek in action during the Arizona Fall League courtesy of David Pratt, who has provided a tremendous amount of quality video on AFL prospects over on Vimeo.com:


Logan Ondrusek - Arizona Fall League - 2009 from David Pratt on Vimeo.



As you can see, Ondrusek starts his delivery with a step towards first base with his left foot, then rotating his right foot down on to the rubber. He brings his left knee up a bit past parallel with the ground, but doesn't incorporate much hip rotation and coil to create and store energy. In addition, whatever energy Ondrusek could generate from his leg kick seems to be lost by his limited lower body action. After breaking his hands, Ondrusek moves into a slight crouch and seems to fall off the rubber rather than really drive off with a good push. In some respects, his lower body action resembles that of Sam LeCure. As a result of his limited lower body drive towards the plate, Ondrusek seems to simply "unpack" his leg kick without generating any energy for his delivery. He utilizes a long stride towards the plate, but it's more the result of his height than an over-stride.

As a result of his limited leg drive, Ondrusek must generate most of his velocity with his arm, which can lead to increased stress and injury risk. Incorporating the lower body in the throwing motion is the best way to limit stress on the arm. Fortunately for Ondrusek, his height and longer arms may enable him to generate velocity easier than a shorter pitcher.











Ondrusek takes maximum advantage of his height by using essentially an over the top arm slot, which enables him to throw on a downward plane. Ondrusek also has another advantage over shorter pitchers, as his longer arms enables him to release the pitch closer to homeplate than shorter pitchers. The closer you can release the ball towards homeplate, the shorter the distance the ball has to travel.











After he releases the ball, Ondrusek finishes low and out over his lower body. He has a slight tendency to fall off to the first base side, but it's not significant and shouldn't be a hindrance to his ability to field his position.

Ondrusek doesn't have classic pitching mechanics, but his height may help offset any problems potentially generated by his delivery. He may not get significant push off the rubber, but his height could enable him to create additional momentum simply from falling off the mound. As a taller pitcher, he has a bit farther to fall, which should work to his advantage.


Conclusion

Ondrusek is an intriguing pitching prospect, but, at this point, one that may struggle to maintain the level of performance that landed him on the baseball radar. He had a breakout year in 2009, but real questions remain as to whether his performance was a sustainable level of performance for Ondrusek, especially in light of his high contact rate and less than inspiring walk rate. The ability to miss bats gives pitchers a more controllable level of performance and more consistency in production. Allowing hitters to consistently put the ball in play reduces a pitcher's control over the outcome. Ondrusek would benefit from improving his ability to avoid contact, which could come about as he continues to fill out his frame.

Ondrusek's height potentially gives him advantages over shorter pitchers, but can also create additional problems. In 2009, he seems to have tapped into the former and mastered the latter. Even so, to be able to maintain consistent success against advanced competition, Ondrusek will likely have to increase his strikeout rate. Even if he manages to do so, his massive groundball tendencies will continue to be his defining characteristic, which when combined with the additional projection created by his physical frame is enough to land him at #23 on the list.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

2010 Top Prospect List: #19 Donnie Joseph, lhp

Donnie Joseph
Height 6-3, Weight 185, B/T: L/L, DOB: 11/1/1987
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked

The Reds addressed an area of need when they brought Donnie Joseph into the organization. Quality lefthanded pitching is in short supply, as Matt Maloney and Travis Wood are the only other quality southpaws in the system. Joseph stands 6-3, which gives him some room for additional physical projection and potentially an increase in velocity.

Previously, the Reds had good success with a college closer out of the state of Texas and certainly hope to have struck gold again. Joseph hasn't been in the system long, but he immediately becomes one of the more interesting pitching prospects in the system.


High School, Collegiate Career, and Draft Position

Joseph is a good athlete, as evidenced by his time at Hays High School. He was a 4-year letterman in baseball and a 3-year letterman in both basketball and football, earning All-District honorable mention as a wide receiver and finishing as the schools second all-time leading receiver. He was also a member of the National Honor Society and the Chamber Choir. After high school, he decided to attend the University of Houston.

For the Houston Cougars, Joseph improved in each of his three successive seasons. As a freshman, he worked 54.2 innings and posted a 6.42 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, and 3.8 K/9. He pitched in 18 games, including 10 starts, which occurred as the mid-week starter for the Cougars.

As a sophomore, he logged 56.2 innings and posted a 5.72 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, 5.2 BB/9, and 6.4 K/9. Once again, he split time between the rotation and the bullpen, working in 25 games, including 11 starts.

During his junior season, Joseph really broke through to a new performance level. He worked 50.0 innings, posting a 2.16 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9, and 13.5 K/9. Part of his success was that he worked almost exclusively out of the bullpen, working in 31 games, including just 1 start. As the team's closer, he was also excelling in high leverage innings.

After two lackluster seasons, Joseph's performance as a junior earned him All-Conference USA closer and vaulted him all the way up to 18th on Baseball America's list of 2009 draft eligible southpaws. The Reds selected Joseph in the third round of the 2009 draft with the 88th overall pick. Joseph was a draft eligible junior coming out of the University of Houston where he most recently served as the team's closer.


Professional Career


The Reds signed Joseph for $398,000 and sent him to the Billings Mustangs of the rookie level Pioneer League. He quickly proved that the Pioneer League hitters were no match for him. For Billings, Joseph posted a 0.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9, and 8.5 K/9 in 11.2 innings. He was a bit lucky, as evidenced by his BABIP of .215 and FIP of 2.34. Even so, a stellar performance and one that rightfully earned him a promotion to low-A Dayton.

For Dayton, Joseph worked in 16 games and 20.2 innings. In that time, he posted a 4.35 ERA, his WHIP was 1.11, his BB/9 was 4.4, and his K/9 was 13.5. The walk rate is higher than it was in Billings, but his K/BB is also more impressive with a 3.10 mark. The ERA obviously leaves something to be desired, but it's not reflective of how well he pitched. Looking at his component ratios, it's not surprising that his FIP is significantly lower at 1.80, which is more reflective of how well he actually threw the ball.

Again, the numbers need context, as a college prospects SHOULD perform well in the rookie league and low-A ball. Even so, he did what he was supposed to do, which is certainly deserving of credit. All too often it seems that we fall into the trap of completely discrediting a polished prospect's performance in the lower levels because of the age of the competition. While that's certainly an important consideration, meeting expectations isn't always the easiest thing to do and Joseph did that and more in 2009.


Pitching Mechanics and Repertoire

At this point, Joseph is primarily a two pitch pitcher. He features a low 90s fastball with good movement and a slider that's inconsistent, but filthy. If he can refine his command, then he could potentially have two plus pitches in his repertoire. His slider has the hard bite to it that will make it a true out pitch if he can improve his command of it. If so, he could be in line to work high leverage innings, as he'll have a true swing-and-miss pitch to get the big strikeout when he needs it.


Joseph works from a high three-quarter arm slot. To begin his delivery, Joseph starts with a step towards third base with his right foot. He then shifts his left foot down on to the rubber and brings his right leg up into a leg kick. His leg kick comes up slightly higher than parallel with the ground and he uses some hip rotation to build up rotational energy to impart on the ball (photo on left). When his plant foot lands, Joseph drives forward, but also has a lean towards third base that is revealed in all aspects of his body position during the delivery. When he releases the ball, his weight is on the outside of his plant foot, the knee of his plant leg is outside of the plant foot, and the position of the upper body is also somewhat towards third base (photo on right). His mechanics and delivery are somewhat unorthodox and may lead to continued problems with consistency, as he simply does not drive his momentum directly towards homeplate.

Here is a look at Joseph in action, courtesy of RedsMinorLeagues on Youtube.





The lean in his delivery gives his arm action the appearance of pulling his pitching arm down and across his body. His delivery also seems to involve pulling his head towards third, though to a far lesser extent than the poster child for extreme head action, Hideki Okajima. Given Joseph's arm action, it's easy to see how he gets good movement on his fastball, as it should impart some arm-side run on the ball. The lean also causes his left leg to whip across his body on his follow-through, as it has no choice but to follow the rest of his body. Unfortunately, it leaves him in less than ideal fielding position.

In addition, watching the video clip, one of the first things that really jumps out at me is the good deception in Joseph's delivery. The video is from right behind homeplate, so you can really get a good look at the deception in the pitching motion. After breaking his hands, he uses an arm swing that conceals the ball behind his hip. This deception really prevents the hitter from picking up the ball until Joseph brings the ball up into throwing position and helps his velocity play up a tick. The later the hitter picks the ball up, the quicker it seems to get on the hitter and the less time he has to react to it.

Also, the Billings Gazette has a nice video of Joseph in action and an interview about his adjustment to the professional game. You can see that here.


Conclusion

Joseph needs to continue refining his command and control in order to unlock his true potential. Given his pitching style and repertoire, he may be better suited to the bullpen, but the Reds may give him the Zach Stewart treatment. He would need to find a quality third pitch in order to find success in the rotation, but the Reds may give him the chance. One of the more effective development philosophies for pitching prospects is to slot your best arms into the rotation, as that gives them consistent innings and, perhaps most importantly, allows them to get regular practice in side sessions between outings. So, that may well be the development path the Reds lay out for Joseph.

Joseph has good size, good movement on the fastball, and the potential for a plus breaking ball. He certainly has some things to work on, but those qualities alone are enough to earn him the 19th slot on the list.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2010 Top Prospect List: #21 Daniel Tuttle, rhp

Daniel Tuttle
Height 6-2, Weight 175, B/T: R/R, DOB: 8/21/1990
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked


Daniel Tuttle is an intriguing high school arm that the Reds nabbed in the 2009 draft. The early returns on the Reds 2009 draft class are positive and the organization seems to have made significant strides in the draft, improving their track record with first round picks and their ability to find value later in the draft. Daniel Tuttle falls into the latter category, as his live arm and power stuff gives him true impact potential to go along with significant upside.


Draft Position and Repertoire

The Reds drafted Daniel Tuttle with the 149th overall pick in the 5th round of the 2009 draft out of Randleman High School in North Carolina. He was committed to North Carolina State, but the Reds were able to sign him away. Tuttle is a tall, lanky righthander with a live arm, whose size gives him additional physical projection. He was one of the better high school arms in the draft and has significant upside.

Tuttle features a two-seam fastball that sits in the 90-92 mph range and tops out at 94. His fastball not only has good velocity, but it also has substantial sink and late arm-side run, which would make it ideal for Great American Ballpark. As for offspeed pitches, Tuttle has used both a slider and curveball, but as of late has relied more heavily on the former. His slider sits around 82 mph and has sharp bite. His curveball is a big breaking ball that sits around 74 mph, but lacks the tight, sharp break of his slider. He is also working on a change-up, but it needs quite a bit of work to be an effective pitch.

Tuttle needs to keep refining his offerings, but he already has the makings of two plus pitches in his slider and fastball.


Professional Career


The Reds sent Tuttle to the rookie level Gulf Coast League for his first taste of professional baseball. He had little trouble adjusting to the professional game.

In 32.1 innings, Tuttle posted a 1.67 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and a 30/10 K/BB ratio. He worked in 9 games, starting 7 times and coming out of the bullpen to throw 3.0 innings in 2 other games. He gave up one home run and racked up the ground balls at an impressive rate, posting a stellar 1.90 GB/FB ratio. Overall his ratios were strong, posting a 2.8 BB/9, 8.4 K/9, and a .260 batting average against. In addition, he was actually a bit unlucky, posting a BABIP of .336 and a LOB% of 70.4%. So, he allowed a few more hits than was expected and allowed more runners to score than was expected.

Obviously, it's something of a small sample size and the Gulf Coast League can allow a pitcher to succeed while relying heavily on a good fastball, but Tuttle certainly acquitted himself well in his first taste of pro ball and looks to build on it in 2010.


Pitching Mechanics

Tuttle's mechanics have both positive and negative aspects, which you can see in his MLB scouting video. The defining feature of his delivery is undoubtedly his arm slot, as he works from a low three-quarter arm slot. His arm slot explains the good movement and the arm-side run on his fastball. It also helps explains his free and easy arm action, as the lower arm slot is the more natural and comfortable throwing motion. Unfortunately, his lower arm slot prevents him from taking full advantage of his height and throwing on a downward plane.

Tuttle starts his windup with a step towards first base with his left leg, then rotating his right foot down onto the rubber. He then brings his hands up to his chest and utilizes a very high leg kick, bringing his knee all the way up to his chest. He has a lean body type and longer legs, so when he brings his knee all the way up to his chest with good hip rotation, he creates and stores up significant energy to impart on the ball. He gets a good push off the rubber as he drives towards the plate and unleashes the energy stored in his lower body.

Tuttle has a fairly standard length stride, though it occasionally seems a bit on the short side. He stays very tall throughout the delivery and at times during the follow through he seems to almost stand up even taller. Tuttle has a loose and whippy arm action, seeming to sling the ball a bit. Perhaps not surprisingly, Tuttle struggles with consistency. He's a taller pitcher with longer limbs, which can frequently make it more difficult to keep the moving parts in-sync. Also, it can be difficult for taller pitchers to maintain a consistent arm slot. He's not a giant, but he does struggle with consistency and command. His follow through finishes with his right leg crossing over his plant foot, which leads to a tendency to fall off to the first base side a bit.

His low three-quarter delivery should take some stress off the arm, but could also leave him susceptible to lefthanded hitters. It's easier for lefthanded hitters to track the ball off of a righthander with a lower arm slot, so Tuttle will need to work to ensure he doesn't suffer from an overly extreme platoon split. It wasn't a problem in the Gulf Coast League, but it's something to keep an eye on against more advanced hitters. Overall, his mechanics seem pretty clean and smooth, which when added to his lower arm slot and easy arm action should limit his injury risk.


Conclusion

Tuttle is an interesting prospect whose live arm gives him more upside than might be expected from a 5th round pick. His two potential plus pitches gives him a fairly high ceiling and his clean mechanics should work to reduce his injury risk. Still, he'll need to work to improve his command and find more consistency in both his arm slot and release point.

He's certainly got some work to do, but for now, Tuttle's live arm and high ceiling earns him the #21 spot on the list.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

2010 Top Prospect List: #18 Juan Silva, of

Juan Silva
Height 6-0, Weight 190, B/T: L/L, DOB: 1/8/1991
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked


Juan Silva is another intriguing prospect that the Reds nabbed in the 2009 draft. It's obviously too early to make any kind of real determination, but the Reds 2009 draft is shaping up nicely. They selected a nice mix of pitchers and potential impact position players, one of which was Juan Silva.

The Reds selected Silva with the 239th overall pick in the 8th round of the 2009 draft out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, which is the same school that produced fellow Reds prospect Alexis Oliveras. The Reds have focused heavily on Puerto Rico as of late, which also netted them Neftali Soto.

Silva has a strong build and good athleticism, which gives him a nice set of tools. In addition, he seems to already be figuring out how to translate those tools into baseball specific skills, which gives him a leg up on other prospects his age.


Professional Career

Upon signing his first professional contract, the Reds sent Silva to the rookie Gulf Coast League, where, as an 18-year old, he made quick work of the competition.

For the Gulf Coast Reds, Silva posted a solid line of .280/.372/.462/.833 in 166 plate appearances. He collected 40 hits, including 17 extra base hits (9 2b, 7 3bs, 1 HR) and a 45/21 K/BB ratio. His walk rate was fairly impressive, 13% of plate appearances, especially in light of his age and relative lack of experience. He also swiped 7 bases in 11 attempts.

Overall, not bad numbers for an 18-year old getting his first taste of the professional game. He demonstrated a nice, well-rounded offensive game. He drew his fair share of walks, flashed some power, and showed some speed. In addition, digging a little deeper may reveal Silva's performance to be even a bit stronger than it was at first glance.

Taking a look at Silva's platoon splits reveals that he suffered the usual problems against southpaws, hitting only .200/.263/.286/.549 with a 12/3 K/BB ratio in 35 ABs. However, that means that his performance against righties was even stronger, as evidenced by his line of .306/.405/.519/.923 with a 33/18 K/BB ratio in 108 ABs. His line drive rate against righties was 19.1%, while against lefties it was only 8.7%. It's pretty typical for young lefties to struggle against southpaws, as there simply aren't many top notch southpaws in the amateurs ranks. The struggles against lefties aren't entirely unexpected and the performance against righties was pretty strong.

In sum, it was a pretty impressive professional debut for Silva.


Swing Mechanics

Here is a look at Juan Silva in action (unfortunately, there are a number of ads preceding this video, but you can bypass them by skipping ahead to the 45 second mark):



Silva utilizes a fairly well-balanced, controlled swing and gets good extension on his swing. He starts with a hand position at shoulder height and draws them back slightly into hitting position when the pitcher delivers the ball. His stance is slightly wider than shoulder width and he starts with his back elbow up. He has a slight uppercut to his swing and possesses good bat speed. He doesn't have any wasted motion in his swing and his swing path seems pretty quick to the ball. His swing is fluid and flowing, but doesn't seem to suffer from the excessive length that plagues the swings of many sweet swinging lefties.

One potential area of concern is Silva's stride and it's potential impact on his hip rotation. Silva's stride consists of drawing his foot back slightly and towards the plate for a toe-tap before moving it forward for a normal length stride. However, when his stride foot lands his toe is frequently pointed towards third base or even the shortstop. This open foot position results in a lower degree of hip rotation, as it requires opening up sooner than normal. Firing the hips generates power in the swing, so a reduction in hip rotation could result in a loss of power. By pointing his stride foot towards 3b/ss Silva's swing may be bleeding a bit of power. In addition, at times the combination of his open toed stride and hip rotation results in Silva being off-balance on his follow-through and falling towards the plate with his back leg. Fortunately, that is something of a minor flaw and one that would not be too difficult to correct. Simply closing up his plant foot could help him stay square to the ball longer, ensure that he doesn't spin off the ball too soon, and, as a result, improve his balance on his follow-through as well.

Overall, Silva has a smooth, fundamentally sound swing that should serve him well as he progresses up the ranks.


Defense and Positional Value

For the Gulf Coast League Reds, Silva played 35 games in centerfield, but also shifted over to rightfield for 8 games. The sample size is too small to draw any definitive conclusions on Silva's defense, but he moves well in the field and his overall athleticism will serve him well whether he plays center or slides over to a corner spot. He also possesses good arm strength, having been clocked at 88 mph on the radar gun, which will serve him well in either center or right. Obviously, he'll have more positional value if he can play center and the Reds will continue to run him out there unless he proves incapable of handling it.


Conclusion

Silva is most definitely one to watch. He not only has a nice set of tools, but his approach at the plate allows him to translate those tools into offensive production. If things break right for Silva, then he could have a well-rounded offensive game to go along with solid defense and good positional value. He's still young and has a long way to travel on the development curve, but his professional debut illustrates that he brings a bit more polish and significantly more on-base skills to the table than most prospects his age. His swing mechanics are fundamentally sound and illustrate the reason for his early professional success in the rookie league.

Silva's approach should allow him to get the most out of his diverse set of tools, which for now is good enough to land him at #18 on the list.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Reds in on Noah Lowry??

Well, the hot stove is starting to heat up and it looks like the Reds are actually considering doing something I'd like to see them do, which is a real rarity. Mark Sheldon, mlb.com Reds beat writer, reports that the Reds are interested in southpaw Noah Lowry.

Here's the blurb:

With only a one day break on Sunday after two days of Redsfest, the Winter Meetings will be up and running at full speed on Monday in Indianapolis. Reds GM Walt Jocketty was hopeful that his team would be involved in some activity.

"I'd say I'm hopeful that something will happen. It makes the week a lot more fun," Jocketty said on Saturday.

Jocketty confirmed recent reports that the Reds were interested in free agent infielder Jamey Carroll and left-handed starter Noah Lowry.

"We haven't discussed him at length," Jocketty said of Carroll. "He's gutty and a tough player, a gamer-type of guy that's hard-nosed."

Carroll would be a possible choice for shortstop where Paul Janish currently plays. But that doesn't mean the Reds are souring on Janish, although they've made their interest in adding someone there known.

"If there was somebody that stands out as a good defensive player and a better offensive player, we'd have to be interested," Jocketty said. "But both Dusty and I would be happy with Janish as our shortstop because defense is so key."

Carroll spent the last two seasons with the Indians but did not play shortstop there. He did play second base, third base and both corner outfield spots.

As for Lowry, who has been with the Giants for all of his five big league seasons, he could be someone for the vacant fifth spot in the Reds rotation.

"If he's healthy, yeah," Jocketty said.

Lowry hasn't pitched since 2007 because of a myriad of injuries. He had forarm surgery two years ago and in 2009, had a rib removed to relieve soreness in his shoulder and neck brought on by a condition called thoracic outlet syndrome.


Suffice it to say, I think a healthy Lowry could potentially be a very good addition to the organization. Nice to see the Reds, at the very least, kick the tires on Noah.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

2010 Top Prospect List: #22 Miguel Rojas, ss

Miguel Rojas
Height 5-9, Weight 175, B/T: R/R, DOB: 2/24/1989
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked

The Reds signed Miguel Rojas as an international free agent out of Los Teques, Venezuela. It's good to see the Reds recognize the importance of signing international free agents. In the modern game, it's almost impossible for any organization to succeed without a productive minor league system. And, it's impossible to have a truly productive farm system without a strong international scouting effort. Being aggressive in the international market helps defer the risk inherent in the amateur draft and also increases the total number of quality prospects in the system.

Rojas hopes to follow in the footsteps of a long line of Venezuelan shortstops, including such luminaries as Dave Concepcion, Omar Vizquel, and Chico Carrasquel.

PROFESSIONAL CAREER

Rojas got his first taste of pro ball as a 17-year old in 2006 in the Venezuelan league. He hit a paltry .178/.317/.197/.515 with 25 singles, 3 doubles, 0 triples, and 0 homers to go with a 28/24 K/BB ratio.

In 2007, Rojas played in both the Venezuelan and Dominican Leagues as an 18-year old, posting a combined line of .231/.341/.333/.674 with 19 singles, 6 doubles, 0 triples, and 2 homers to go with a 11/17 K/BB ratio.

In 2008, Rojas started his career in the American professional leagues as a 19-year old, hitting .183/.248/.245/.493 in 228 plate appearances. He posted a 35/14 K/BB ratio and was clearly overwhelmed by the more advanced pitching.

In 2009, Rojas took a significant step forward, hitting .273/.326/.339/.665 with a solid 44/35 K/BB ratio. He swiped 14 bases in 22 attempts and collected 128 hits, including 22 extra base hits.

The Reds were excited about Rojas' "breakthrough" in 2009, but his peripherals don't indicate that it was really all that much of a step forward. In 2008, Rojas hit line drives at a 13% clip, groundballs at a 58% clip, walked at a 6.2% clip, and posted a .216 BABIP. In 2009, Rojas posted similar rates, line drives at a 13% rate, groundballs at a 53% rate, walks at a 6.6% rate, and a BABIP of .296.

Obviously, the BABIP stablized, but that was only part of the reason for his boost in batting average. He also put more balls in play, as his K% dropped from 14.7% in 2008 down to 8.3% in 2009. The increase in contact rate indicates that Rojas is less overwhelmed and overmatched than in seasons past. Still, it is questionable whether the batting average spike is sustainable. Rojas' difficulty in getting any loft on the ball is problematic, as he still isn't driving the ball with authority and the type of balls in play are a driving factor in hit rate.

The increased contact rate is a positive sign, but he still isn't doing much when he DOES make contact. Hopefully, that's the next step in his development.

SWING AND TOOLS

Rojas is never going to be an impact offensive talent. In fact, he will likely always struggle to even be an average hitter. For one thing, Rojas' physical size will always work against him and hinder his power output. Fortunately, he has the defensive skills and positional value to offset all but the most egregious offensive deficiencies. If he can be even a half beat above replacement level on offense, then he could be a fairly valuable player.

Rojas uses a slightly unorthodox swing.

Unlike most hitters, Rojas eschews the traditional high pre-pitch hand position for a low one. So, to bring his hands into hitting position, Rojas brings his hands up and back rather than down and back.

Rojas also utilizes a wider than shoulder width stance. His stride is a two step process. He draws his stride foot back towards his back foot in an almost toe tap motion before striding even farther forward than his original front foot position. So, he starts wide and gets even wider with his stride.

Generally speaking, the stride serves two main purposes, facilitating the weight transfer and cocking the hips to generate power. However, at this point, Rojas is primarily an upper body hitter. His wide stance and long stride results in Rojas being very spread out during his swing, which limits his hip rotation and lower body action. Some hitters can utilize such an approach and still incorporate their lower body to generate significant power, Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio among them. However, the approach seems to rob Rojas of any power that might be generated by his lower body. Given his smaller physical stature, the impact of the wasted power potential is magnified.

In fact, Rojas' lower body action seems almost entirely disconnected from his upper body and, as a result, adds very little to his swing. Rojas might be better served by narrowing his stance and shortening his stride, as that would possibly enable him to cock his hips and improve the load in his swing. That may enable him to drive the ball with greater authority and every little bit would be of benefit to a smaller guy like Rojas.

The wide spread stance limits his lower body action to such a degree that he is left with largely an arm swing. He keeps both hands on the bat throughout the swing, but he still manages to have a bit of excess length to it. The length could create holes in his swing for pitchers to exploit. Overall, there doesn't seem to be a significant amount of projection left to his offensive game, but with additional development and a few adjustments he could become a serviceable hitter.

Here is a look at Rojas at the plate courtesy of RedsMinorLeagues on youtube:








DEFENSE AND POSITIONAL VALUE

Obviously, this is what gives Rojas the vast majority of his value. He plays a premier defensive position and plays it very well. Even if his bat does come around to respectability, Rojas will always fit the "defense first" player profile. Regardless, when you play defense as well as he does, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Rojas has been listed by Baseball America as the best defensive infielder in the Reds farm system. Scouts rave about his range and his soft hands and their opinion is also borne out by the defensive metrics.

The Total Zone rating on Rojas is pretty impressive. In 2008, Rojas played for the Billings Mustangs in the rookie Pioneer League at the age of 19. At Billings, Rojas rates as a +17, which is an outstanding fielder according to the system. In 2009, Rojas moved up to Dayton where he posted another stellar number. His +11 mark rates him as a very good fielder under the Total Zone system.

Overall, Rojas has the rare type of ability to be an impact defensive player.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Rojas is an intriguing player. He still has a long, long way to go on the offensive side, but his plus defensive skills give him a bit of upside. He has significant offensive deficiencies, but his stellar glove work will offset much of his likely lack of offensive production. Still, he needs to show SOME offensive ability at the plate to be a legitimate prospect.

If his size and swing mechanics result in advanced pitchers knocking the bat out of his hands, then it won't matter how well he can pick it in the field. As he continues to advance up the ladder, Rojas will need to refine his offensive game and focus on maximizing his contact rate and putting the ball in play. He does seem to have some ability to get on-base, but if he can't drive the ball with authority then he may struggle to utilize it. Prospects with limited power struggle to utilize their on-base skills, as advanced pitchers have no reason not to challenge the hitter by pounding the zone.

Overall, Rojas' defensive ability is what lands him at #22 on the list, but to move up the list he'll have to focus on putting the ball in play on a consistent basis to keep his batting average at a reasonable level. Rojas needs to make some serious improvements on the offensive side if he is going to continue to be considered a legitimate prospect as he climbs the ladder.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

2010 Top Prospect List: #24 Josh Fellhauer, of

Josh Fellhauer
Height 5-11, Weight 180, B/T: L/L, DOB: 3/24/1988
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked

After finding a sneaky good value from Cal State Fullerton in Danny Dorn, the Reds once again returned to the well in 2009 in hopes of finding another good value in Josh Fellhauer. The Reds selected Fellhauer with the 209th overall pick in the 7th round of the 2009 draft.

Fullerton is an elite college baseball program that produces polished, well-rounded players, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that players drafted in the mid-to-late rounds out of Fullerton more than hold their own in the professional ranks. These mid-to-later round CSF guys may not have the best tools or athleticism, but they certainly seem to know how to get the most out of their ability.


CAL STATE FULLERTON

Fellhauer played three years for the Titans. He started out his collegiate career as a platoon outfielder, but emerged as the starting leftfielder and one of the better hitters on the team as a freshman. He ended up the season with a slash line of .304/.379/.429/.808, which is a solid debut season for a freshman.

As a sophomore, Fellhauer was the everyday centerfielder and was selected to the All Big-West Conference Second Team. He took his offensive game to another level in 2008 by adding more power, as he posted a .335/.392/.517/.909. He posted a 10 game hitting streak and two 6 game hitting streaks. He finished 2nd in the Big West Conference with 62 runs scored, 3rd in hits with 90, 3rd in doubles with 20, 6th in triples with 4, 2nd in total bases with 139, and 9th in stolen bases with 17.

In 2009, as a junior Fellhauer posted his best ever collegiate season. He flashed an intriguing, well rounded offensive game against top collegiate competition. On the season, he hit .396/.480/.529 with 6 homers, 18 stolen bases, and a 26/26 K/BB ratio. Obviously, there are some significant positives, but a few red flags as well. His 18 stolen bases come with 13 caught stealings. And, as impressive as his isolated on base percentage is, it was achieved in part by 16 hit by pitches. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with using the hit by pitch as an offensive weapon (Craig Biggio used it to great effect), but it remains to be seen whether he will continue to use it as a weapon in the professional ranks. It's one thing to leave your elbow out over the plate against a collegiate curveball, but it's something else entirely to do it against a big league caliber fastball.

Overall, Fellhauer has continued to improve his game as he has gained more experience. He doesn't seem to have any true standout tools, but his offensive game is well-rounded and he can certainly hit. In addition, he has baseball in the bloodlines, as his grandfather, Richard, played for the St. Louis Browns and his father, Robert, was a 6th round draft pick of the Oakland A's as a shortstop.


TEAM USA

In 2008, Fellhauer was selected to play for Team USA in the FISU World Championship. The team went 24-0 to win the gold medal. He played all three outfield positions, hit .299 with two homers, 6 doubles, and stole two bases. He obviously built on that experience during his impressive junior campaign at Fullerton. It's always a good sign when a player has success at the international level, as well as in collegiate ranks.


PROFESSIONAL DEBUT

After agreeing to terms, the Reds sent Fellhauer to low-A Dayton to begin his professional career. At Dayton, Fellhauer posted a slash line of .280/.351/.453 with a 34/19 K/BB ratio, 7 homers, and 7 steals in 264 plate appearances and 57 games. Solid production, but nothing really eye popping. Interestingly enough, Fellhauer DID continue to utilize the hit-by-pitch in his offensive arsenal, as he was plunked 7 times in 2009. He also demonstrated a fairly substantial platoon split, posting a .720 OPS against lefties and an .826 OPS against righties. Of course, that is fairly common among lefthanded hitters, as they simply don't see all that many quality southpaws in the amateur ranks. It typically takes time and experience to adjust to the better lefthanded pitching at the professional level.

For Dayton, Fellhauer hit line drives at only a 16% clip, which certainly leaves something to be desired. However, he made contact at a good rate and continued putting the ball in play with great frequency (12.9% K rate). Unfortunately, he struggled to drive the ball with authority when he did put it into play. It was a small sample size and his first taste of pro-ball, but if his performance at Dayton was indicative of his true baseline of performance, then he will need to continue improving his overall game as he climbs the ladder.


SWING AND TOOLS

At the plate, Fellhauer uses a quiet approach. His stance is slightly open and a bit wider than shoulder width. He uses a very small stride to trigger the weight transfer and close up his stance. He maintains good balance and exhibits good body control throughout the swing. His hand position originates in front of his left shoulder and he brings them back into hitting position as the pitcher gets ready to deliver the ball. As his weight transfers, Fellhauer uses good hip rotation to clear them out of the way and generate bat speed. He keeps his head down on the ball and uses a compact, line drive swing that allows him to center the ball on the barrel of the bat. On his follow through, he keeps both hands on the bat, which arguably limits his extension and perhaps even saps his power, but increases his bat control and stability throughout the swing.

His swing caught the eye of Ken Griffey Sr., who is acting as an assistant to the minor league personnel director, who said “He reminds me a little of Chase — he has a swing like Utley’s. I watched Chase from AA until he got to the big leagues.” And, not surprisingly, Fellhauer didn't object to such an impressive comparison, stating with a laugh, “I’ll take that. (Utley) stays inside on the ball and sends it to all fields.” So, obviously I'm not the only one who is impressed with Fellhauer's swing.

Here is a look at his swing, courtesy of RedsMinorLeagues on YouTube:



Overall, Fellhauer has a nice, compact swing that enables him to be quick to the ball and make consistent contact. If you want to take a look at his throwing arm or see more of his swing in action, then definitely check out this scouting video from MLB.com.


DEFENSE AND POSITIONAL VALUE

On the defensive side, Fellhauer has a solid arm and runs fairly well. While playing for Fullerton and Team USA, Fellhauer spent time at all three outfield positions. Obviously, versatility is a good thing, but in this case it may be supportive of the premise that his range is stretched in center.

The Reds used him in centerfield 41 times in 2009 and in rightfield 12 times. Minorleaguesplits.com rates him as having below average range in center and average range in rightfield. Obviously, it's a very small sample size and fielding metrics are not absolute, but proving to be able to competently handle a premier defensive position would allow him to get away with a lower level of offensive performance. Given his lack of impact power, the Reds are likely to leave him in center unless he proves that he can't handle it.


FINAL THOUGHTS

Fellhauer is an interesting prospect and one that I want to like even more than I do. He has the smooth swing, intangibles, and polish that I like to see in prospects, but I am finding it somewhat difficult to set forth reasons for true optimism about his prospects for a significant MLB career. Fellhauer is a polished college prospect who does everything well, but nothing great. He's a "jack of all trades, but master of none" type. He simply doesn't have a stand out tool that would help him progress up the ladder. Given his current baseline performance, Fellhauer is going to have improve in one or several areas to have a legitimate chance at carving out an MLB career. Ideally, the improvement would come in his speed, power, or on-base skills. Unfortunately, I'm struggling to find an area that he will be able to improve upon to any significant degree.

Fellhauer lasted until round 7 because of his lack of plus tools. His tools all grade out pretty average across the board. In addition, his smaller frame simply doesn't allow for a great deal of physical projection, so it's not easy to predict a significant spike in power as he continues to develop. His speed also isn't something that he's going to be able to improve upon in any meaningful way. Finally, his on-base skills are solid, but are currently being aided by the hit-by-pitch, so I'm not sure his ability to control the strike zone is even as strong as it may look at first blush and anyway that's an area where significant improvement is typically difficult, if not impossible.

So, where does the needed improvement come from?

Fellhauer has a nice, well-rounded game and he certainly knows how to hit. In addition, he strikes me as the kind of player whose overall game is something greater than merely the sum of the individual parts. Those are the types of players for whom it is always easy to root. However, despite his compact, fundamentally sound swing, things would seemingly have to break just right in order for him emerge as an every day MLB player. What he does, he certainly does well, but I'm just not sure how much projection he actually has left. He needs to take his baseline level of performance up a notch, but he may already be bumping his head on the ceiling.

For now, Fellhauer checks in at #24 on the list. He'll need to find and unlock some additional potential in order to climb up higher in the future. Hopefully, he'll be able to make some adjustments to do just that as he enters his second season of professional ball. He certainly has the swing to do so, but he'll need to pair it with some secondary skills to really increase his production and value.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

2010 Top Prospect List: #20 Byron Wiley, of

Byron Wiley
Height 6-1, Weight 200, B/T: L/L, DOB: 12/12/1986
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: Not Ranked

Byron Wiley is beginning to emerge as a legitimate prospect. His ascension up the ladder has been driven largely by his offensive game, which is defined by his ability to control the strike zone. While he has admittedly been somewhat old for his level of competition, his performance level is still strong. Wiley has the rare and potentially valuable combination of tools and skills. He provides good athleticism, but also understands how to translate his athleticism into offensive production. Wiley has a true understanding of how to hit, which led Dayton manager Todd Benzinger to call him a "flat out pure hitter." Wiley controls the strike zone well and maximizes the number of times he forces a consequence to the At Bat on a hitter's pitch.

While he's still raw and needs to prove himself against more advanced competition, Wiley is certainly trending in the right direction early in his professional career. If he continues to progress and develop, then he will prove to be a steal for the Reds, who selected him out of Kansas State in the 2008 draft.


Collegiate Career

Byron Wiley played for three years at Kansas State University. He joined K-State out of Tomball High School where he was a four year letterman, was first team all-state, and ranked as the third best player in Texas in 2005 by Texas Baseball News.

In 2006 as a freshman, Wiley started 44 out of 48 games and posted a slash line of .297/.425/.483/.908 with 5 homers and a 31/30 K/BB ratio. He also swiped 7 bases in 10 attempts. A stellar collegiate debut. His best game that season was his 3-for-6 performance against South Dakota which included 2 homeruns and 4 RBI. He finished up that season with 10 multi-hit games and 5 multi-RBI games.

He turned in quite an encore performance during his sophomore year, posting a .366/.494/.526/1.020 slash line with 7 homers and a 46/43 K/BB ratio. He was better across the board, including on the bases where he swiped 14 bases in 15 attempts. He played in 55 games, starting 54 of them in centerfield for the Wildcats. He led the team in hits (71), batting average (.366), RBI (44), runs (42), home runs (7), walks (43), and on-base percentage (.494). He ranked fourth in the Big 12 and 27th in the nation in walks, while his OBP of .494 was tops in the league. During the season, he had an 8-game hitting streak, 22 multi-hit games, and 12 multiple-RBI games. It was a tour de force type offensive performance for Wiley.

Unfortunately for Wiley, but perhaps fortunately for the Reds, his junior year was a complete disappointment. His level of performance dropped to .227/.342/.297/.639 with 1 homerun and a 51/20 K/BB ratio. He swiped 5 bases in 6 attempts.

Wiley credits his time at K-State with "helping him mature as a player and as a person." He continues to identify strongly with the school, even going so far as to have Wildcat slogans written on the knobs of his bats during his 2009 season in Dayton. The slogans include "Wiley the Wildcat" and "E.M.A.W." (Every Man a Wildcat).


Draft Position

Perhaps a bit surprisingly, Wiley agreed to turn pro after the Reds selected him 659th overall in the 22nd round of the 2008 draft. Given his stellar first two collegiate seasons, it was realistic to expect him to return to K-State for his senior season in the hopes of rebuilding his draft value and improving his bargaining position.

Fortunately for the Reds, Wiley did decide to turn pro after his lackluster junior year. Upon doing so, he immediately set out to return to his previous level of performance and prove his worth to his new organization.


Professional Career


The Reds sent Wiley to the rookie Pioneer League after he agreed to terms in 2008. In what was remaining of the 2008 season, Wiley ripped the cover off the ball. He produced to a tune of .328/.427/.635/1.062 in 137 ABs. He swiped 3 bases in 4 attempts, put up 27 extra base hits (17 2b, 5 3b, and 5 HRs), and a 49/24 K/BB ratio. His BABIP was rather high at .476, but his line drive rate was a robust 22% so the luck component wasn't quite as significant a factor as it might appear at first blush. He was squaring the ball up well and driving it with authority.

For the 2009 season, the Reds moved Wiley up to low-A Dayton, where Wiley continued producing at a good clip. His power numbers decreased, but his .275/.395/.461 slash line once again demonstrated that he has some of the best on-base skills in the entire system. His BABIP (.363) and line drive (15%) rate both regressed, which resulted in the decrease in his batting average (.275).

Wiley's best game of the season took place in early July, when he cranked three home runs against West Michigan. He joined Wily Mo Pena and Juan Francisco in the record books as the only three Dayton Dragons to hit three homers in a single game. This type of big game performance from Wiley may speak to additional, untapped power potential.

Interestingly enough, Wiley scuffled a bit at home and performed very well on the road. For Dayton, he hit .233/353/.406, while on the road he hit .312/.430/.510. Dayton isn't known as a pitcher's park, so the disparity probably isn't indicative of anything truly noteworthy, but still warrants a mention.

From his first year to his second year, Wiley improved his BB% from 15.0% to 16.3% and cut his strike out rate down from 28.8% to 24.5% against a more advanced level of competition.

Wiley has performed well so far in his professional career, but the case could be made that a polished college hitter should be having success against rookie league and low-A ball pitching. And, that's certainly a valid point, but good production is still good production. At the very least, Wiley deserves a bit of credit for performing like he "should." The 2010 season should bring more advanced pitching and more of a challenge for Wiley, but so far he has more than held his own as a professional.


Swing Mechanics and Plate Approach

Wiley doesn't have a long and lean body type like so many young prospects, but rather he is solidly put together with a strong lower half. His body type could portend more power to come as he continues to mature physically and hone his swing, but it could also lead to reduced speed if he continues to add weight to his lower half.

At the plate, Wiley uses a quiet approach and slightly wider than shoulder width stance. His shoulders are level and his hand position is high. His hands start up by his left ear and he hits with a high back elbow. He uses a small bat waggle to keep loose while waiting for the pitch. When the pitch is delivered, Wiley utilizes a very small stride. He does more than just lift his front foot up and place it right back down, but he doesn't advance his lead foot forward very much. The stride is important for two reasons: 1) to "cock the hips" and 2) to transfer the weight forward to meet the pitch. The hips are a significant source of power in the baseball swing. Typically, they are cocked during the stride, as the front hip tends to rotate inwards to build up energy to unleash during the swing. In addition, the stride starts the weight transfer during the swing.

At times, a wide stance can limit a hitter's ability to cock his hips and generate power in his swing. However, it can certainly be done, as evidenced by two all time great hitters with very wide stances, namely Joe DiMaggio and Albert Pujols. At this point, it isn't looking like a concern for Wiley, but perhaps bears watching.

As Wiley makes his stride, his weight transfers forward and he draws his hands back into the hitting position. Once he front foot hits the ground, he begins to fire his hips, which both generates power and clears the way for his swing, allowing him to drop the head of the bat on the ball. Wiley has smooth, fluid swing that is fairly level, but has just a touch of uppercut. He generates good bat speed and gets good extension through the zone. He maintains good balance throughout the swing and hits off a solid foundation. He finishes his swing by letting his top hand come off the bat, utilizing a one-handed follow through. You can see that his swing has the potential to get too long at times, which could hinder his ability to make consistent contact. Overall, Wiley has a nice, advanced approach at the plate and a nice, smooth swing to go with it. This combination allows him to both work the pitcher for a pitch he likes and gives him the potential to actually do something with that pitch when he gets it.

Here is a look at Wiley in action for K-State:





One thing that Wiley will need to work on his two strike approach. As a late count hitter, Wiley will see far more 2-strike counts than those aggressive, early-count hitters like Juan Pierre or Willy Taveras. In a perfect world, Wiley will continue to work deep into the count, which will enable him to be selective and draw walks, but also improve his two strike approach to cut down on the strikeouts. If he can shorten up in two-strike situations, he might be able to get quicker to the ball and limit the times that he fails to put the ball in play.

Wiley isn't likely to develop into a true power hitter, so shortening up in 2-strike situations will likely provide more benefits (putting the ball in play to give himself a chance for a hit) than detriments (reducing his power and his chances for a homer). Wiley already reaps significant production benefits from his late count approach, but refining his 2-strike approach to cut down on strike outs would make him more effective at the plate and improve his chances for success against more advanced pitching.


Defense and Positional Value

At this point, Wiley's skills in the field lag behind his skills at the plate. The Reds have utilized Wiley primarily in the corner outfield spots. He spent a great deal of time in center at the collegiate level, but has played 93 games in right, 36 in left, and only 2 in center during his professional career. Given the number of quality centerfielders currently in the Reds system, Wiley's best chances are likely in a corner slot.

Despite his good over athleticism and speed, Wiley still hasn't managed to turn his defensive tools into above average defense. In 2009, minorleaguesplits.com rated him as 2 runs below average in left and 1 run above average in right. There is likely room for improvement, as Wiley's footspeed and athleticism give him the tools necessary to play a solid outfield. More experience should enable him to improve his positioning and reads on fly balls.


Conclusion

Overall, Wiley is an intriguing prospect. He's flashing the best on-base skills of anyone in the system outside of Yonder Alonso. When you pair his good athleticism with his plus on-base skills, you have the makings of a solid prospect. Questions still abound about Wiley, namely whether he can find success against more advanced pitching, increase his power output while maintaining a reasonable strikeout rate, and improve his defensive game. Even so, he possesses arguably the most important skill in baseball, the ability to get on base, and has the athletic skill to give him a relatively high development ceiling. Next year will be a big test for Wiley and will provide an important data point for his career trajectory, but for now he checks in at #20 on the list.

$3.5M

$3,500,000.00.

In a modern professional sports context, that's pretty much peanuts. Metaphorically speaking, MLB organizations have that much laying around between the cushions of their couch.

And, sadly, in this instance it represents a missed opportunity, as $3.5M is the difference between Ramon Hernandez's new $2M salary and the 2010 salary of Curtis Granderson ($5.5M). This meager difference in salary between the two is simply not reflective of the massive difference in ability and production.

Hernandez's new deal is listed at $3M for 2010 and a $3.25M vesting option for 2011. However, the $3M 2010 salary includes the $1M buyout of the $8.5M club option for 2010 from his last contract. So, $1M of it was a sunk cost and $2M is the actual salary for 2010.

The Reds have been crying poverty and doing everything they can to reduce fan expectations for this offseason. Even so, it's impossible to believe that the organization can't scrape together enough cash to make this move.

First, let's address the elephant in the room: the Scott Rolen trade. I am on record as being in favor of this deal. And, I still like it. In 2009, the Reds thirdbase troika of Edwin Encarnacion (2009 Wins Above Replacement: 0.0), Adam Rosales (2009 WAR: -0.1), and Jerry Hairston Jr. (2009 WAR: 1.0) provided essentially replacement level production.

This is just a rough and dirty look at their win impact, but it's a generally accurate view of their impact on the team's W/L total. I didn't break out the WAR figure to account for solely performance at the hot corner, so Hairston Jr.'s WAR is inflated by the time he spent at more valuable defensive positions. So, the Reds truly did receive replacement level production at third base.

So, the acquisition of Scott Rolen has the potential to have a significant impact on the Reds W/L record. In 2009, Rolen posted a 3.8 WAR for the Jays and Reds. If Rolen can stay healthy (yes, perhaps a big "IF"), then he could be in line to improve the Reds by 4+ wins. He should get the requisite bump from switching to Great American Ballpark, so the trade that everyone panned could improve the Reds significantly in 2010.

However, the latest news on the deal is that the Reds are on the hook for all of Rolen's 2010 salary. Of course, Rolen is set to make $11M in 2010, while Edwin is making $4.75M. So, without any money coming from the Great White North to cover the cost of Rolen's salary, the Reds increased their payroll by $6.25M with this deal. And, to be honest, it may well be worth it. Even so, if the Reds entered into that deal in the knowledge that they wouldn't be able to add salary to improve the team over the offseason, then it becomes a little less defensible. In a vacuum, it's a solid deal, but the Reds need to bite the bullet and make another move to improve the 2010 team.

Personally, I think it's a huge mistake not to aggressively pursue Curtis Granderson. The Tigers are widely reported to be looking to shave payroll, as Detroit is being hit hard by the recession. Obviously, in exchange for their veteran players the Tigers are looking for young, cost controlled players/prospects. And, what do the Reds have in surplus? Prospects!

I'd offer up Yonder Alonso and one of Juan Francisco/Chris Valaika/Chris Heisey. Is there any doubt that Granderson would provide more total value (offense + defense) than shifting Votto to left to accommodate Yonder at first?

Granderson is a plus defensive player who would be in the discussion for best defensive leftfielder in baseball. And, while he struggles with southpaws, Granderson has a great blend of power and speed. He also draws a significant number of walks and would immediately solve the Reds leadoff hitter dilemma. His addition would give the Reds three top notch lefties (Granderson, Votto, Bruce) to go with three top notch righties (Phillips, Rolen, Stubbs).

In Detroit he has produced WAR marks of 3.9, 7.4, 3.8, and 3.4 from 2006 to 2009. While he had a bit of down year last year, Granderson would get a boost from GABP. In addition, he's a "face of the franchise" type player who is a leader in the clubhouse and the community.

The Scott Rolen trade is solid in a vacuum, but it looks better if the Reds pair it with the acquisition of another 4-5 win player. If the Reds do that, then they could be looking at significant improvement. If the Reds were to get aggressive, then maybe a 78 win team in 2009 becomes an 85-88 win team in 2010.

The Reds need to have the foresight to position themselves to take advantage of the market. The nation wide recession has created significant bargains around the league, but only those teams who have positioned themselves to take advantage of them will benefit. If the Reds can afford to throw $2M at Ramon Hernandez, then they could have afforded to pay Curtis Granderson $3.5M more to play for the Reds. I don't think there is any question which player will provide more value and wins in 2010.

This is the type of move the Reds should be looking to make. Adding a young player who is under contract through 2013 and who can help the team win...now!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Free Agent Compensation

Baseball America provides a nice breakdown of how free agent compensation works and also a list of type A and B free agents for the 2010 season.



"Starting with the 1980-83 Collective Bargaining Agreement, MLB has determined which free agents require compensation by using Elias Sports Bureau calculations based on two years of performance. Players are sorted into position groups by league: catchers; designated hitters, first basemen and outfielders; second basemen, third basemen and shortstops; starting pitchers; and relief pitchers.

All hitters are graded on plate appearances, batting average, on-base percentage, home runs and RBIs. Fielding percentage and assists also are considered for catchers, and fielding percentage and total chances also matter for second basemen, third basemen and shortstops. The categories for pitchers are starts, innings, wins, winning percentage, ERA and strikeouts for starters; and relief appearances, innings, wins plus saves, ERA, hits per nine innings and strikeout/walk ratio for relievers.

Players who rate in the top 20 percent of their position group are designated as Type A free agents, and those in the 21-40 percent bracket are designated as Type B. To receive compensation for a Type A or B free agent, the player's former club must offer him arbitration.

Type A free agents yield the signing team's first-round choice and a supplemental first-rounder, while Type B free agents produce only the sandwich pick. Clubs that finished in the bottom half of the major league standings have their first-round selections protected from compensation, and consolation picks for failure to sign draftees from the previous year can't change hands either. If a team signs multiple Type A free agents, the club that lost the higher-ranking player gets the better pick.

Below are the potential Type A and B free agents by position, listed in order of Elias ranking. Not all of these players have filed for free agency yet, and some have 2010 options that may be picked up by their current teams."



Potential Type A Free Agents

Catchers: Bengie Molina (SF).
First Basemen: None.
Second Basemen: Orlando Hudson (LAD), Placido Polanco (Det).
Third Basemen: Chone Figgins (LAA).
Shortstops: Marco Scutaro (Tor), Miguel Tejada (Hou), Orlando Cabrera (Min).
Outfielders: Matt Holliday (StL), Jason Bay (Bos), Johnny Damon (NYY), Jermaine Dye (CWS).
Starting Pitchers: John Lackey (LAA), Randy Wolf (LAD).
Relief Pitchers: Jose Valverde (Hou), Mike Gonzalez (Atl), Rafael Soriano (Atl), Billy Wagner (Bos), LaTroy Hawkins (Hou), Rafael Betancourt (Col), Darren Oliver (LAA), Kevin Gregg (ChC), John Grabow (ChC), Octavio Dotel (CWS).

Potential Type B Free Agents

Catchers: Ramon Hernandez (Cin), Jason Varitek (Bos), Ivan Rodriguez (Tex), Jason Kendall (Mil), Rod Barajas (Tor), Yorvit Torrealba (Col), Miguel Olivo (KC), Gregg Zaun (TB).
First Basemen: Fernando Tatis (NYM), Carlos Delgado (NYM), Adam LaRoche (Atl), Nick Johnson (Fla).
Second Basemen: Felipe Lopez (Mil), Ronnie Belliard (LAD).
Third Basemen: Melvin Mora (Bal), Mark DeRosa (StL), Adrian Beltre (Sea), Troy Glaus (StL).
Shortstops: None.
Outfielders: Marlon Byrd (Tex), Vladimir Guerrero (LAA), Xavier Nady (NYY), Brian Giles (SD), Garret Anderson (Atl), Randy Winn (SF), Mike Cameron (Mil).
Starting Pitchers: Rich Harden (ChC), Andy Pettitte (NYY), Vicente Padilla (LAD), Erik Bedard (Sea), Joel Pineiro (StL), Braden Looper (Mil), Jon Garland (LAD), Doug Davis (Ari), Randy Johnson (SF), Jason Marquis (Col), Justin Duchscherer (Oak), Carl Pavano (Min).
Relief Pitchers: Scott Eyre (Phi), Brandon Lyon (Det), Kiko Calero (Fla), Guillermo Mota (LAD), Chan Ho Park (Phi), Bob Howry (SF), Joe Beimel (Col), Will Ohman (LAD), Doug Brocail (Hou), David Weathers (Mil), Russ Springer (TB), Fernando Rodney (Det), Brian Shouse (TB).

Saturday, November 14, 2009

2009 Top 25 Reds Prospects and Review

Time to clean up the blog to get ready for the 2010 prospect list.

Alonso didn't set the world on fire, but he did enough to justify the #1 slot. Soto struggled against more advanced competition in a tough park for hitters. Stubbs and Frazier continued their steady progression up the ladder, while injuries derailed Lotzkar, Thompson, and Buck.

Two personal favorites (Ravin and Oliveras) took the steps forward that I wanted to see, while two others (Dorn and Dickerson) didn't exactly live up to expectations. Chris Heisey enjoyed a breakout season, flashing a well-rounded game that could see emerge at the big league level as an every day player, rather than a mere 4th outfielder.

One of the uber-prospects signed during the international free agency period thrived, while the other struggled. And, in something of a make or break year, Travis Wood broke through in a big way.

Overall, it was a rather interesting year down on the farm, but there was a great deal of turnover resulting from trades, injuries, and promotions to the majors. So, the 2010 list will welcome a significant number of new prospects into the fold.

Anyway, here is one last look at the 2009 list before turning the page to 2010.

1. Yonder Alonso, 1b
2. Neftali Soto, inf
3. Todd Frazier, inf/of
4. Drew Stubbs, cf
5. Chris Valaika, inf
6. Chris Dickerson, cf
7. Devin Mesoraco, c
8. Danny Dorn, 1b/lf
9. Juan Francisco, 3b
10. Kyle Lotzkar, rhp

11. Daryl Thompson, rhp
12. Dallas Buck, rhp
13. Josh Roenicke, rhp
14. Matt Maloney, lhp
15. Zach Stewart, rhp
16. Alex Buchholz, inf
17. Yorman Rodriguez, of
18. Juan Duran, of
19. Travis Wood, lhp
20. Zach Cozart, ss

21. Pedro Viola, lhp
22. Carlos Fisher, rhp
23. Adam Rosales, inf
24. Josh Ravin, rhp
25. Alexis Oliveras, of

xx) Other Notables