Time to take a quick spin around the system to see who took the biggest steps forward and backward during the 2009 season.
1. Travis Wood
No one in the system had more helium this year than Travis Wood. He already had the best change-up in the system, but when he scrapped his curveball in favor of a cut-fastball his performance went to the next level. Even the word "dominant" doesn't seem to do justice to Wood's double-A performance. In 119 innings he posted an epically low 1.21 ERA. At triple-A, his performance wasn't quite as strong, but he still acquitted himself nicely.
While there has been talk of Wood challenging for a rotation spot right out of spring training, he would likely benefit from the Reds conservative development philosophy. Sending him back to triple-A to gain more experience against advanced hitters and ensuring that he can repeat his success is what is in the best interests of the organization.
Wood stepped up at the right time and provided another potential impact pitcher in a system in need of them. His emergence also alleviates some of the pain generated by the departure of Zach Stewart.
2009 was a make or break year for Wood and he made the most of the opportunity. He is definitely the biggest mover up the prospect ranks.
2. Chris Heisey
Heisey was the second biggest mover in the system in 2009. He exploded at double-A Carolina, posting a slash line of .347/.426/.572/.998 and slugging over .500 for the first time in his career. Heisey also posted the best K/BB ratio of his career at double-A, walking as many times as he struck out (34/34).
Heisey didn't fare as well as Wood upon his promotion to triple-A, as his performance fell off the table. His K/BB ratio fell to 43/14 and his slash line to .278/.323/.465/.789.
Prior to the 2009 season, I had Heisey pegged as a likely fourth outfielder type. He struck me more as a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type player whose age worked against him.
At this point, I'm not entirely sure what to make of him. Was it a true breakout season? Or was there just something in the water at double-A Carolina this year?
Despite Heisey's breakthrough season, part of me still pegs him as a 4th outfielder type. However, it's difficult to overlook his defensive ability, which may be his ticket to a starting job at the MLB level. If his glove were to relegate him to a corner slot, then his offensive game might not be enough to earn him consideration for a starting job.
It remains to be seen whether Heisey has a future as a starter or even in the Reds organization, but he certainly has redefined his prospect status heading into 2010.
3. Alexis Oliveras/Josh Ravin
No one else leaps easily to mind, so I'll go with two personal favorites in this slot. While neither was an unqualified success in 2009, both took steps forward.
Oliveras was coming off of two consecutive seasons in the Gulf Coast League and needed to show that he could handle more advanced competition. He hit a respectable .270/.326/.352/.678 for the Billings Mustangs and was subsequently promoted. The promotion was part of the chain of events that resulted from the promotion of Yorman Rodriguez. When the move was announced, I had my doubts that Oliveras was ready or actually earned it. Still, he quickly proved up to the task, hitting .307/.317/.443/.760 for low-A Dayton. The obvious question on Oliveras is whether he'll hit for enough power or develop enough on-base ability to become an impact prospect. The jury is still out.
As for Ravin, he finally took a step forward in 2009. In 81.0 innings for low-A Dayton, Ravin posted a stellar 3.67 ERA to go along with a 7.3 K/9 and a much improved 4.4 BB/9 mark. He was really having a fine season and showing marked improvement with his command and control when he was derailed by elbow soreness. It was a much needed positive step for Ravin who reestablished his prospect status, but one that could have been significantly better if he had managed to avoid injury. Still, he could be in line for a breakout 2010 season.
1. Chris Valaika
It was a disastrous season for Valaika in all respects. He has always been an aggressive, early count hitter, but his K/BB ratio fell to 76/16 and his slash line down to .235/.271/.344. He rebounded a bit in August, but his prospect status undoubtedly took a hit in 2009.
There is now a cloud of uncertainty hanging over his offensive game, which when added to his positional uncertainty makes 2010 a huge season for Valaika.
2. Neftali Soto
Soto experienced his first taste of adversity at the professional level in 2009. After consecutive impressive seasons in 2007 and 2008, Soto simply didn't produce at high-A Sarasota, posting a pedestrian slash line of .248/.281/.362/.643. His walk rate actually improved over his performance at Dayton. In addition, his line drive rate was a stellar 23%, which likely means his BABIP of .286 was too low and rather unlucky.
Personally, I don't view his struggles in 2009 as indicative of future performance. I see it as a young player facing more advancing pitching in a very tough environment for hitters. Soto still has the sweet swing, the impressive hand-eye coordination enabling him to make consistent hard contact and square up the ball, and the substantial raw power to be a big time hitting prospect.
I expect better things in 2010, even if the Reds send him right back to Sarasota.
3. Daryl Thompson
Thompson may have completely sunk his prospect status in 2009. After a strong 2008 in which he managed to reach the majors, Thompson struggled with performance and injury issues in 2009. Given his unorthodox, very funky mechanics and max effort pitching style, his injury problems shouldn't be a surprise.
Still, if he can't demonstrate greater durability, then he'll likely never receive much of an opportunity at the MLB level. He's still young enough to carve out an MLB career, but he needs to get back on track in 2010.