Thursday, April 23, 2009

2009 Top Prospect List: "Other Notables"


Leading off the list of "other notables" is J.C. Sulbaran. He's the obvious choice, because he's hands down the most intriguing. The Reds selected Sulbaran in the 30th round of the 2008 draft. He was drafted out of American Heritage High School in Plantation Florida, which is the same school that produced top Royal prospect Eric Hosmer.

Sulbaran was set to attend the University of Florida, but the Reds were able to get him signed to a professional contract. Sulbaran works with three pitches: a 90-94 mph fastball, a very good biting curveball, and a changeup. At 6-2, he has good height for a pitcher.

Even before throwing a professional pitch, there was already a bit of buzz surrounding Sulbaran. He managed to open some eyes with impressive performances on the international stage for the Dutch national team. Sulbaran put together two solid performances against the Cuban national team. As a young fresh out of high school pitcher, his performance was rather impressive. However, there just wasn't an established baseline of performance on which to base his evaluation, so he landed in the "Other Notables" category. However, if his subsequent performance in the World Baseball Classic is any indication, Sulbaran could climb into the top 10 on the 2010 list.

In case you missed it, here is how Sulbaran dealt with Ivan Rodriguez during the WBC. Good morning, good afternoon, and good night, Pudge!


I'm still higher on Janish than most. As I mentioned in the Chris Dickerson write up, I think the Reds should give extra weight to prospects who provide plus defense and plus strike zone control from premier defensive positions.

Janish got a lengthy look at the MLB level in 2008 and looked a bit overmatched. He posted a meager slash line of .188/.270/.250/.520 in 89 plate appearances. He struck out in 22.5% of his at bats, but did fairly well when he put the ball in play, as he posted a 23.3% line drive rate and a rather unlucky .230 BABIP.

Janish has a short, quick, compact swing and a good eye at the plate. The Reds want Janish to work to improve the strength in his forearms and wrists, which can only help him reduce his strikeouts and allow him to do more with the balls he puts into play.

He'll never be a star, but I still believe he has the potential to be a sneaky good value at the shortstop position.


Smith is an intriguing pitcher. The Reds selected him in the 6th round of the 2006 draft out of Community College of Southern Nevada. His pitching profile is good control, high contact, heavy ground ball pitcher. He's not a big strikeout pitcher, but he throws a heavy sinking fastball. In addition, he features a good slider and a mediocre changeup.

In 2008, his stellar performance at high-A Sarasota earned him a promotion to double-A Chattanooga. Unfortunately, his stint at double-A didn't go quite as smoothly. His performance level wasn't very high, but later in the season it was revealed that Smith had been trying to pitch through torn cartilage in his knee. It'll be interesting to see just how big of a role the knee problem played in his 5.40 ERA.

Obviously, ground ball pitchers are desirable in Great American Ballpark, but I'm not sure his ceiling is high enough to project him as a starter. It was a bit surprising to see Baseball America rate him as the 13th best prospect in the system. Ultimately, he may be better suited to the bullpen.


Heisey is a well rounded prospect and a good example of how hard a prospect has to work to shed an early label. He has never been given respect by the scouting community, so he is constantly working to prove them wrong. He went to Messiah College in Pennsylvania and was selected by the Reds in the 17th round of the 2006 draft.

Heisey has a career slash line of .291/.365/.433/.799. He doesn't have any tools that really stand out, but his drive to succeed and his baseball IQ cause them to play up a tick. His baseball IQ certainly helps him on the bases, as he swipes bases at a good clip. Ultimately, Heisey's best attribute is his plus defense. He has the ability to play all three spots in the outfield. However, on the offensive side Heisey still projects best as a 4th outfielder. Unfortunately, he has a heavy platoon split, which as a right-handed hitter leaves him on the short side of the platoon. In his minor league career, he has a .913 OPS against lefthanded pitchers and a .779 OPS against righthanded pitchers. In addition, Heisey's line drive rate leaves something to be desired.

As you can see from the following video-clip, Heisey utilizes a simple, compact swing that has served him well. However, he'll only go as far as it will take him. At this point, it remains to be seen if he has enough offensive upside to be more than a utility outfielder at the MLB level.


Hanigan is a solid professional. Surprisingly enough, he was signed by the Reds as an undrafted free agent. He doesn't have many true weaknesses, but he also doesn't have any major strengths. Perhaps his most valuable attribute is his ability to control the strike zone. Not only does he post a strong walk rate, but his high contact rate allows him to post good batting averages. Hanigan also possesses a solid defensive skill set, which should ensure that he'll have an MLB career of some kind. Catchers with good defensive skills don't have to provide much offense to justify an MLB roster slot.

Unfortunately, he's already 28 years old, so there isn't much upside left. At this point, what you see is what you get with Hanigan. And, obviously, the Reds aren't convinced that he can shoulder a big role. After trading for Ramon Hernandez to be the number one catcher, the Reds seem to have penciled Hanigan in as the backup catcher for the next few years.


  1. pretty good list lark

    i love the depth of our farm system as there are still several players you could put in this other notables section. its looking like we have a good future

    one question though, why do you consider oliveras a better prospect than heisey? I always thought heisey had much better tools and hasn't struggled as much but that's just my opinion, great list as always keep it going

  2. Smitty,

    Thanks for the comment.

    I agree with you on the depth of the system. The organization has really improved the farm system, both in depth and top tier talent. We graduated a lot of top notch talent last year, but we've done a nice job filling the void with Yonder, Duran, and Yorman. And, we've improved our depth through better drafting.

    I actually thought the farm system would have a bigger drop off than we did after Cueto, Bruce, and Votto arrived in the show. It seems that we have done a much better job finding value in the later rounds of the draft, as evidenced by Danny Dorn, Alex Buchholz, Zach Cozart, Josh Roenicke, and Chris Heisey.

    Speaking of Heisey, I actually do like him. I think he's a nice, well-rounded player. He doesn't really have any weaknesses, but he doesn't have any massive strengths, either. Well, his defensive skill is definitely a strength, which is a big plus in my book. Even so, I have a hard time envisioning him as more than a 4th outfielder.

    When you are coming up with a prospect list like this, you have to determine how you want to balance upside vs. polish. Do you give the nod to Josh Ravin, because you love his upside? Or, do you give the spot to Carlos Fisher, because he's polished and almost big league ready? There is far less risk in Carlos Fisher, but there is far more upside in Josh Ravin.

    By and large, in creating this list, I chose upside over polish. When I look at Heisey, I see a Chris Denorfia type. Nothing wrong with that at all, but I just don't see a ton of value in 4th outfielders. Now, if he keeps crushing the ball in the minors like he has early on in 2009, then I'll have to reevaluate his chances as a starting outfielder. He's been very impressive thus far.

    As for Oliveras, he's intrigued me just enough to keep an eye on during his career. He's young and is more projection than production at this point. Still, if everything breaks right and he reaches his ceiling, I think he could be more than a 4th outfielder. That said, he's a longshot. Heisey is much more likely to have an MLB career, than Oliveras, but I went with the guy who might have a chance to be more than a 4th outfielder if all goes well.

    Now, if I had it to do all over again, I might have gone with Heisey or one of the other guys who just missed instead of Oliveras. Obviously,. the two guys who you won't find on any other top 25 lists are Ravin and Oliveras. Both are gut feel guys, but I'm higher on Ravin than Oliveras.

    Even so, there really isn't TOO much difference between #25 and #30 on these lists, so I went with my gut and wrote about the lesser known Oliveras. Oliveras took a step forward in 2008, but he needs to take another big one in 2009 to avoid slipping off the list.

    If I had it to do all over again, I might have gone with Heisey. On Oliveras, I probably placed too much emphasis on upside and not enough on polish. There may be too much risk there to justify a #25 ranking, but sometimes you just have to listen to your gut. :)


  3. lark, do you think im crazy for thinking that we should bring up stubbs? I mean, if we are going with speed and defense he fits perfect and even though he is struggling at the plate, it cant be much worse than what we are getting from dickerson/hairston right now. plus the trio of taveras, stubbs, and bruce would just be an amazing defensive outfield

    idk maybe we should wait for him to start hitting a little more first what do you think?

    and how about Rosales, the dude is on fire. i never really liked him but if he keeps hitting like this how can you ignore him? i know its small sample size but if he is still hitting half-way through may and EE isn't,then trade EE and have rosales fill in untill frazier is ready

  4. Smitty,

    At this point, I doubt Stubbs is the guy the Reds would call up. As you mention, he has been scuffling at triple-A, though he did go 3-5 today, so maybe he's coming out of it. Even so, I'd image that if the Reds are going to make a change that Jonny Gomes would get the first crack. You could make a case for hot hitting Chris Heisey, but I doubt they'd promoted him to the majors from double-A and have him leapfrog Drew Stubbs.

    If it was up to me, I'd give Dickerson every chance to get it rolling. That said, given that he was headbutted by Tejada last night, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Reds take the opportunity to put Dickerson on the DL and send him on a rehab assignment to get him some regular ABs. I'd imagine if there were ANY lingering concussion like effects, then that's what they'll do.

    As for Rosales, you got your wish. The Reds just placed Edwin on the DL with a chip fracture in his wrist and recalled Adam Rosales. I think it's a good idea, as I long ago soured on Edwin. I doubt Rosales is the longterm answer, but he's white hot right now and can only be an improvement over Edwin. As for Frazier, the Reds moved him to the outfield, so I don't think he'll get a look at 3b any time soon.

    It'll be very interesting to see how Rosales performs. I think the time was right to make a move.

    Thanks for the thoughts!


  5. How about a guy like Bankston? What's his story?

    He seems to be hitting the ball both for power and average but probably another guy without a defined position. Not seeing much defensively.

  6. Rocflight,

    Thanks for the comment!

    Bankston is an interesting player. I'm not sure you can realistically call him a prospect at this point, but he was a good one a while back. In the Rays organization, he was shaping up to be a quality 1b prospect. Unfortunately, he never quite got over the hump.

    Part of the reason may be that the Rays tried to switch him to third and it just didn't take. In addition, he suffered a few injuries which slowed his progress. At that point, the Rays designated him for assignment and the Royals nabbed him off waivers. After that, he spent time with the A's and now the Reds. Interestingly, his acquisition always seems to generate a bit of excitement in his new organization, but he never puts it together.

    You pretty hit the nail on the head with Bankston, who has a decent skill set at the plate. At one time, he had the ability to hit for average, control the strike zone, and hit for above average power. Now, he seems to have decent batting average and solid power.

    At this point, he strikes me as an organizational player more than a legitimate option at the MLB level. He always seems to do just enough to create a little excitement and get himself noticed, but he just can't take it to the next level. I wouldn't consider him to be a legitimate option at the MLB level. He might be able to hold down the 25th spot on the roster for a couple weeks, but much more than that isn't overly realistic.


  7. Thanks for your great insights, Lark!

    Question on Drew Sutton. Some had him ranked in the top ten this year in the Astros farm, though they have arguably the worst group of prospects in the majors. A lot of people also question his age (26) and the fact he had to repeat AA.

    Would he make your top 25 or has time really run out? Was the motivation behind this trade mostly for the cash returns?

  8. Hey rocflight,

    I think you think hit all the big issues on Drew Sutton. The Astros are probably the weakest farm system in baseball, so you have to take his high ranking there with a grain of salt. That said, he was quite strong last year.

    I'm actually working on a write up of Sutton and should have it posted by this weekend. When I'm done with that, I should have a good idea of where I think he ranks in our system. I need to do a bit more research on him first.

    As for the trade, I think the Reds were tired of Keppinger's struggles and saw more viable options coming up through the farm system. Guys like Paul Janish and Adam Rosales can provide as much value as Keppinger at a lower cost. So, I'm sure that money had something to do with it, but also the fact that our bench was getting crowded. Also, I think Keppinger needed a change of scenery, so hopefully it works out well for everyone.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment!! I'll have more on Sutton later this week.


  9. Oh, forgot to mention, Sutton made his Reds organization debut tonight. He went 1-4 with a walk for Louisville and played 2b. It'll be fun to see what he can do.

  10. Are you planeing on postong anything new soon? Maybe some draft stuff would be really cool.

  11. Hey Anon,

    I have about 3 things have written, so I should have some new stuff up by this weekend. I usually try to post more regularly, but things have been hectic as of late. Thanks!


  12. Hey lark can I make one observation and that is that Willy Taveras is only 6 months older than Dickerson and is a solid veteran as he only had one down year in colorado where he hit .251 but swiped 68 bags. He has seen the postseason and has performed nicely in the world series. His defense, speed and plate discipline are to be desired. As much as I like Dickerson if I was running this ball a club a future outfield of Stubbs, Taveras and Bruce would prove to be the best in baseball. I would hope you would agree.

  13. Anon,

    It's a funny thing about Willy T and I think it's explainable by lowered expectations. As it stands right now, everyone is down on Chris Dickerson, but loves Willy T.


    Currently, Willy T has a slash line of .274/.335/.348/.683 and everyone loves him. Chris Dickerson has a slash line of .228/.374/.354/.728 and everyone is down on him. C-Dick has a higher OBP, SLG, and, of course, OPS than Willy T. So, what makes Willy T so great?

    Willy T's defense has been solid in center, but Chris Dickerson has always been neck and neck with Drew Stubbs for the title of best defensive outfielder in the system. Given a complete season, I'm not at all convinced that Willy would be the more valuable defensive player.

    From where I sit, Willy T's big advantage is in base stealing. That's about it. So, why is everyone so high on Willy T? Is it because expectations were so high for Dickerson? Or, is it because people like early count slap hitters who run fast?

    I guess my big problem with Willy T starting while Dickerson rides the pine is that there really isn't much upside left to Willy T. I mean, he is what is currently doing. Best case, he hits .300+ while doing it, while the worst case is that he hits .260 while doing it. Still, this is pretty much it.

    As for Dickerson, a case could be made that he is as valuable as Willy T right now AND I don't think it's a stretch to say that he still has untapped potential. He hasn't found his power stroke yet, but it's in there. And, if he taps into it again, then he's much more valuable than Taveras. And, it's not even all that close.

    At this point, I just don't quite understand the massive discrepancy in playing time and fan appreciation between Dickerson and Taveras.

    Anyway, that's my stance on it.

    Thanks for the comment!