Thursday, June 25, 2009

Around the Horn in the Minors

Well, an interesting week down on the farm, as the short season leagues are starting up and we can get a look at the youngest prospects and the recent draftees.

Uber-prospects Juan Duran and Yorman Rodriguez made their professionals debuts in the Gulf Coast League. Joining them there was 2009 2nd round draft pick Billy Hamilton. For the Pioneer League Billings Mustangs, Alexis Oliveras is off to a solid start.

Alexis Oliveras -- After two seasons in the Gulf Coast League, Oliveras was promoted to the Pioneer League Billings Mustangs for the 2009 season. For the Mustangs, Oliveras is off to a solid start. In four games games, Oliveras has a .333/.400/.444/.844 OPS with 3 stolen bases and a 3/2 K/BB ratio.

It'll be interesting to see if Oliveras is ready to make some noise this season.

Juan Duran -- Duran is struggling, which isn't unexpected. Duran is still getting accustomed to his 6-5 and 190 lbs frame. After his first 10 professional ABs, Duran is still searching for his first hit. He has a 3/2 K/BB ratio and is spending time in rightfield.

Even for the Gulf Coast League, Duran is young for the league. Given that he's also very raw, early career struggles should be expected.

Billy Hamilton -- One of the best athletes in the 2009 draft class, Hamilton is off to a white hot start at the plate. In his first 13 at bats, Hamilton is hitting .462/.462/.462/.924 with 3 stolen bases in 3 attempts. Unfortunately, his defense isn't working out all that well, as he already has 3 errors in 3 games.

It'll be interesting to see how Hamilton develops. He seems unlikely to stick at shortstop and great athleticism doesn't always translate into baseball skill. Even so, he has significant upside and is off to a good start as a professional.

Yorman Rodriguez -- Yorman is one of the youngest players in the league, but he had quite a game today. In today's game, he went 3-5 with 2 stolen bases. In centerfield, he threw out Twins prospect Oswaldo Arcia twice at third base. Yorman is more polished than Juan Duran, so he should experiences fewer struggle early in his career.

Today was certainly a good start.

Josh Ravin -- Ravin may be starting to figure it all out. On the season, Ravin has a 3.67 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 66/40 K/BB ratio, and a 0.96 GB/FB ratio in 81.0 innings. In his 15 starts, he has only given up 4 homeruns.

With Ravin, it always comes back to control. His 2009 performance is a big improvement over his 2008 struggles, but a tick better control would really help him take it to the next level. Also, he could stand to improve his defense, as he seems to make a few too many costly errors on the hill.

So far his 2009 season has been a success for Ravin. Let's hope he keeps it up, as he's still young enough to reclaim his prospect status.

Devin Mesoraco -- Once again, Mesoraco is failing to impress at the plate. He's playing in a tough environment for hitters, but his .205/.305/.337/.641 is more than a bit disappointing. Still, I'm taking a very patient approach with Mesoraco, as even in the best of circumstances he would face a long development curve.

Mesoraco was drafted out of a cold weather high school and missed time due to Tommy John surgery, so he's piled up less experience than other young prospects. In addition, as a catcher, he has to learn a great deal on both sides of the ball.

It would be encouraging to see a stronger offensive performance from Mesoraco in the second half of the season, but I'm willing to be patient.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Baseball America on Travis Wood and Zach Stewart

Here's an interesting and encouraging read from Baseball America on two Reds' pitching prospects who have really emerged in 2009.

I was optimistic on Wood's chances heading into the season, but his performance is beyond anyone's expectations. His success is due in part to scrapping his curveball in favor of a cutter, which has emerged as a nice weapon against righthanded hitters. Hopefully it has enough movement to offset the loss of a true breaking ball. For now, he is using his three pitch mix to great effect and should be looking at a promotion to triple-A in the near future.

As for Stewart, he's always had a big fastball and the ability to overpower hitters, but he seemed destined to be fast tracked to the majors as a reliever. Now, the Reds would be ill advised to try to develop him as anything other than a starting pitcher. If he struggles as a starter, then relief is a nice fall back plan for him, but now is the time to just sit back and enjoy the ride. While the cutter has been the key to Wood's success, the development of the changeup has been huge for Stewart.

Both have taken big steps forward in 2009 and hopeful it continues into the future. Anyway, here's the article.

Monday Dish: Stewart, Wood Give Mudcats A Pair Of Aces

If you’re looking for the minors’ best one-two punch of starting pitchers this year, you’d probably be surprised to find them in Zebulon, N.C. In Travis Wood and Zach Stewart, the Carolina Mudcats have two starters in the top 10 in ERA in the minors. Wood leads all minor leaguers with a 1.36 ERA.

It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely devastating duo. A year ago, Wood had the worst ERA (7.09) of any pitcher in the Southern League with 75 or more innings. Stewart was closing out games in high Class A Sarasota, seemingly on a fast track to a spot in the Reds’ bullpen. Together, they’ve been the best one-two combo in the Southern League—if not all the minors.

Wood saw a 22 scoreless inning streak snapped in his start last Thursday, but he’s still continued to roll. He’s holding hitters to a .194 average with 75 strikeouts and 32 walks in 86 innings. More impressively, he’s fixed some early season command problems and has walked only three batters in his last 27 innings after walking 29 in his first 59 innings.

He’s a skinny 5-foot-11, 22-year-old lefthander whose 87-88 mph fastball is complemented by one of the minors’ best changeups. He can touch 92 with his fastball at times, but his calling card is his outstanding changeup that combines excellent deception with late sink. But those two pitches have been there all along. He’s shelved a fringy curveball and replaced it with an 82-84 cutter, which already is significantly better than the curveball ever was.

"He has the cutter that comes into righties and makes that changeup all the more effective," pitching coach Rigo Beltran said. "It’s a pitch he can throw with a high percentage of strikes that looks like a fastball that he can throw in fastball counts. He’s able to get in that kitchen and keep the ball off the barrel of the bat."

Without a third pitch, Wood, a second-round pick from Bryant (Ark.) High in ’05, was forced too often to throw his fastball when hitters were looking for it. Now he can keep hitters—especially righthanders—off balance. He added the cutter last year, but this year he’s learned how to command it and throw it for strikes.

But that’s not the only change. Last year, and even early this year, Wood was struggling at times with his fastball command. But he’s gained a much better feel as the season has gone along.

Stewart (1.70 ERA this year overall) has matched Wood pitch-for-pitch since he was promoted to Carolina on May 22. He’s allowed only four earned runs in 32 innings since his promotion. Stewart was supposed to be the Reds closer of the future. Drafted in the third round last year out of Texas Tech, Stewart started the year as the Red Raiders’ closer but moved to the rotation late in the college season. After the Reds drafted him, they moved him back to the pen, where he went 1-4, 1.09 in 33 innings. But this year he went back into the rotation, partly to give him more innings and partly to help him work on his secondary stuff.

But the move to the rotation hasn’t just given him steady innings, it’s also allowed him to develop his changeup, something he used only rarely out of the pen. Now it’s developed into a solid third pitch.

"He definitely trusts (the changeup)," Beltran said. "He throws it in counts that I didn’t think he would because he believes in it. He’s worked on it since he’s been here. He had a little cut to it, not he’s getting more sink to it, which is what we want."

The development of the changeup gives Stewart, 22, a third option to go with an average slider and a plus fastball. Stewart’s calling card is his 93-94 mph fastball that combines velocity with plenty of sink. It’s not a strikeout pitch, but it does an excellent job of inducing groundballs.

"That sinker inside is devastating when you’re throwing 90-94 with that kind of movement," Beltran said. "I really haven’t seen anyone turn on it. Even when he misses, he misses off the plate."

Since becoming a pro, Stewart has gone 5-5, 1.51 in 107 innings. He’s had success both as a starter and a reliever. Because of that his big league options are wide open. According to farm director Terry Reynolds, the Reds aren’t going to pigeonhole Stewart, as they like the fact that he has the versatility to fill either role.

Monday, June 22, 2009

2009 Draft: Mike Leake

An interesting thing happened after the Reds drafted Mike Leake. He shrank an inch and a half.

He wasn't shrinking from the pressure of being a first round draft pick or reacting to the horror of having to pitch in Great American Ball Park, but rather he simply no longer had to overcome the irrational scouting bias against short right-handed pitchers.

Now that he's only 5-10 and 1/2 inches tall, Leake may provide more skill-per-inch than any other prospect in the draft. It's actually much easier to discuss what Leake lacks than what he does well. Essentially, the only thing Leake lacks is plus velocity, but he possesses every other skill that you'd want in a pitcher.


Leake throws everything but the kitchen sink. He works with an assortment of different pitches: a two and a four seam fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup. And, I'm sure that even as you read this he's tinkering with a new pitch or a new grip to bring about different movement and give him the advantage over professional hitters.

In his first College World Series start against the University of Texas, Leake didn't have his best stuff, but he demonstrated the polished approach that defines his game. It was revealed later that Leake is possibly battling some tendinitis in his pitching arm, which could go a long way towards explaining his struggles. Leake tried to mix his pitches and speeds to attack the hitters, but he just couldn't execute. Simply put, he just didn't have his good command. He wasn't able to hit his spots, which is very uncharacteristic of him.

Leake was willing to throw any pitch in any count. In the first inning, he showed a good tailing fastball and a sharping biting curveball. But, his fastball command was spotty. Even so, he managed to get a strike out and wriggled out of trouble by inducing a double play ball.

In the second inning, Leake demonstrated his comfort with his secondary pitches, as he threw a breaking ball in both a 2-1 count and 0-0 count. He seems very comfortable throwing any pitch in any situation, but he still works off of the fastball. Even Jamie Moyer pitches off of the fastball, because it's what you have to do to set up all the other pitches.

I've had a running discussion about Leake's fastball velocity with a fellow Reds fan since he was drafted. He keeps talking about Leake's fastball reaching 94, while I keep saying he's an 88-92 type pitcher. I suppose he's right in the sense that Leake CAN touch 94, but what's more impressive than a couple extra miles per hour on the fastball is that Leake already realizes that he can succeed while working at less than max effort. He understands what pitching is all about and knows that success involves more than just lighting up the radar gun. It's about adding and subtracting velocity, changing the eye level of the hitter, and hitting your spots. As the great Warren Spahn said, "hitting is timing and pitching is upsetting that timing."

Leake's understanding of pitching is very advanced and belies his experience, as he already resembles a major league veteran on the mound.


Leake has a smooth, fluid delivery and utilizes a free-and-easy arm action. His very good athleticism helps him maintain his body control throughout his delivery. He starts his windup by stepping towards first base and bringing his hands down below the waist. He then brings his hands up to his right ear and utilizes a very high leg kick that brings his knee up to his chest. As he brings his leg up he also gets good hip rotation to store energy that he can unleash as he uncoils and comes to the plate. He does a good job driving off the rubber, which helps him "throw with his body" and reduce stress on his arm. His ability to be successful while working at less than max effort should also cut down on his injury risk.

Here is Leake in action:

As you can see, Leake works from a high three-quarter arm slot which gives his fastball a lot of tailing action to the arm side. He also gets very good sink on his pitches, which induces a lot of groundballs and should play well in Great American Ball Park.

He also finishes up in good fielding position, which when paired with his athleticism should enable him to field his position very well and ultimately could net him a Gold Glove or two.


I'm on the record as preferring Shelby Miller and I'm standing by that one, but the more I think about the Mike Leake pick, the more I like it. It makes a lot of sense for where the Reds are as an organization. They already have two high upside young starting pitchers at the MLB level in Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez, so going with the polished, low risk pitching prospect makes sense, especially in light of the struggles of some of the high upside arms already in the system. Leake should be able to move quickly and be in Cincinnati sooner rather than later. While he probably won't be a number one starter at the MLB level, he could be a solid MLB pitcher and it could happen in a hurry.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Homer and the (Career Saving?) Splitter

Here's an interesting article from Rick Bozich of the Courier Journal about Homer Bailey's recent stretch of dominance. Maybe Homer has finally found the swing-and-miss pitch he so desperately needs. Or maybe it's just a small sample size hot streak that the media has jumped on as the next silver lining to the Homer Bailey cloud.

You'll have to decide for yourself.

June 17, 2009

Bailey's split decision has foes dazzled

When Branch Rickey described baseball as a game of inches, odds are he was talking about balls that barely clear the fence or squirt beyond an infielder's grasp.

Homer Bailey is adding another anecdote to Rickey's signature phrase. By sliding his middle finger an inch or so wider in his grip, Bailey has added a split-fingered fastball that is transforming him from just another hyped Louisville Bats prospect to the most unhittable pitcher in the International League.

Ask the Norfolk Tides.

At Louisville Slugger Field on Wednesday, the Tides became the fourth consecutive team to look utterly confused and overmatched by Bailey. He still can make the radar gun flash consistently with his magical 96mph fastball, but now he's also throwing an 88mph split-finger fastball that tumbles into the dirt as it arrives at home plate.

"The first time he threw one, my only comment was, 'Holy smokes!'" Bats manager Rick Sweet said.

Using those two pitches, plus his curveball and slider, Bailey limited the Tides to seven harmless singles in eight shutout innings in a 6-2 Louisville victory.

He started throwing the split-finger June2 at Pawtucket. He has now taunted hitters with it in four starts.

These are his statistics for those games: He has allowed one run and 24 hits (no home runs) in 311/3 innings. He has struck out 30 hitters and walked five. Opponents are batting .211 against him.

"I've had Homer three years and never seen him anywhere near as dominating, game after game after game," Sweet said. "He's controlling the best hitters in this league, absolutely controlling them with his stuff."

Credit the split-finger. Credit Bailey. But most of all, credit Bats pitcher Justin Lehr.

After four seasons of fooling nobody with his changeup, Bailey said he was charting pitches for Lehr one night. Bailey is 23, a former No.1 draft pick, a proud Texan and a guy the Cincinnati Reds expect to anchor their starting rotation. Lehr is 31, a veteran who pitched in South Korea part of last season and survives on guile.

Bailey watched Lehr confuse hitters with his split-finger pitch and asked him to show him the grip. Lehr agreed. They huddled in late May in the outfield in Scranton, Pa. When Bailey throws his fastball, he grips the ball where the seams come together. Lehr taught him to keep his index finger on the seam but move his middle finger outside the seam. That's the splitter.

Same pitching motion. Different grip. Devastating results.

"I threw one or two and (Lehr) said, 'You already have it. There's nothing to teach,'" Bailey said.

Not exactly. The folks running the Reds' farm system had to approve. Bailey said he wanted to learn it several years ago but was told that throwing the splitter could injure his shoulder or elbow. Approval denied.

Velocity has given him multiple opportunities in the big leagues, starting in 2007, but velocity was not keeping him in Cincinnati. Bailey understood he needed to deceive hitters. The splitter would be his deception.

Bats pitching coach Ted Power had to ask his supervisors for approval. Bailey said he already had made his decision.

"I said, 'Teddy, you can ask them, but I really don't care,'" Bailey said. "I'm throwing it. If they tell me, 'No,' I'm just going to throw it anyway. You can call it a changeup if you like."

We'll never know how that dispute would have been resolved. The Reds gave their OK. And now Bailey is giving hitters something to think about other than his fastball. He's also giving the Reds something to think about for their pitching rotation.

--Rick Bozich

Monday, June 15, 2009

2009 Surprises: Pleasant and Otherwise

We are over a third of the way through the season, so it's time to take a look at some surprises at each level in the organization. Some good. Some not so good.


Good: The Reds bullpen has been extraordinary. As a group, they rank 6th in all of baseball with a 3.42 ERA and 9th in WHIP with a 1.35 mark. From an individual standpoint, the only regular relievers with an ERA over 3.00 are Jared Burton (5.27) and Mike Lincoln (8.22). The rest are in the 1s or 2s.

Bad: It's tough to look past the performance of Willy Taveras. I wasn't a fan of the signing, but I'm hoping that his level of performance will be closer to his early season production than his recent production. Given that his game is centered around his legs, it's possible that his injury problem is still hindering his play. Regardless, there is little excuse for Willy T to be starting over Chris Dickerson, especially in light of his 0-for-32 slump and 8 game stretch where he failed to reach base even one time, which was the longest stretch in 56 years for the Reds!!!


Good: Josh Roenicke. Roenicke has been utterly dominant for Louisville and only the unbelievable performance of almost the MLB relief corps has kept him down on the farm. On the season, Roenicke has a 3.00 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 1.56 GB/FB, and a stellar 26/3 K/BB ratio. In addition, he has yet to give up a single homerun in his 24.0 innings. As good as his numbers have been, his WHIP and ERA really aren't indicative of his dominance. His component stats are so good that they should be lower. When you give up 3 walks, no homeruns, and strike out more than a batter per inning, then you have been unlucky when you have given up more hits than innings pitched. His WHIP and ERA are artificially high because of poor hit luck, shabby defense, or both. Roenicke should be pitching high leverage innings at the MLB level in the near future.

Bad: Danny Dorn. Dorn is seemingly a perpetual slow starter, so I'm not worried, especially in light of his substantial success at double-A. The jump to triple-A typically isn't that challenging, so, barring an undisclosed injury, I fully expect Dorn to get back on the ball in the near future.


Good: Chris Heisey. Heisey has been so good that I had to add another "Good" for double-A Carolina. Heisey has been unbelievable up to this point. On the season, he is hitting a Ruthian .362/.441/.621/1.062. Before the season, I had Heisey pegged as a career 4th outfielder type, but he is obviously taking it to another level. In addition, his plus defense allows him some slack on the offensive side, not that he needs right now. He's obviously due for a promotion and it'll be interesting to see if this is just an epic hot streak or actually breaking into a new level of production.

Good: Zach Stewart. Stewart has had a massive season at two different levels. He has taken a huge step forward and laid claim to a job as a starting pitcher. At this point, he's the best starting pitching prospect in the organization. His 56/15 K/BB ratio in 71.1 innings is strong, but it plays up a notch because of his ability to keep the balls he does allow into play on the ground, as evidenced by his stellar 2.34 GB/FB ratio. Hopefully, Stewart continues his dominant pitching, as the Reds need all the prospect pitching depth they can get.

Good: Travis Wood. Travis Wood has been so good that I had to add yet another "Good" for double-A Carolina. Wood has been white hot for Carolina, but his component stats probably don't quite support it. He currently has a 1.11 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP, but his K/BB (which has improved over the last month, including a 26/2 K/BB ratio over his last three starts) is only 69/31 and his GB/FB is 0.93. Wood's season has been an unqualified success, but a bit of regression is to be expected. Even so, his performance has been so good that any regression would still leave him at a very high level of performance. In the last prospect write up, I talked about this season being a big data point on his career trend line, as it would reveal whether his 2008 struggles at double-A were simply the result of a young pitcher getting his feet wet or rather indicative of a pitcher who lacked the tools to succeed against advanced competition. Fortunately, Wood has proven it to be the former, not the latter.


Good: Jeremy Horst. Horst is following up his stellar 2008 season with a very solid 2009. He has a 3.14 ERA, 1.29 GB/FB ratio, and a 53/22 K/BB ratio in 71.2 innings. If he continues his solid play, he'll help fill the southpaw void that exists in the organization.

Bad: Neftali Soto. Soto hasn't followed up his breakout 2008 season very well. In 2009, he has a line of .253/.286/.352. His poor walk rate is still of concern, but on the plus side he makes consistent contact which should limit his strikeouts and allow him to post strong batting averages. Soto's age is still on his side, but he hasn't been all that good this year.


Good: Matt Fairel. The southpaw selected in the 35th round out of Florida State University has made a tremendous professional debut. For Dayton, Fairel has pitched 66.0 innings and logged a 2.86 ERA and a 66/24 K/BB ratio. His performance has been impressive and eye opening, but he is a college leftysquaring off against younger competition. Even so, if he continues to pitch at such a high level, he'll emerge as a legitimate prospect.

2009 Shadow Draft

Just for posterity's sake, here's how I would have drafted the first 3 rounds:

Round 1 #8 -- Shelby Miller, rhp Brownwood HS

Supplemental Round 1 #43 -- Jason Kipnis, of ASU

Round 2 #57 -- David Holmberg, lhp Port Charlotte HS

Round 3 #88 -- Josh Spence, lhp ASU

The more I think about it, the more I like the Mike Leake pick. Still, I would have gone with Shelby Miller because of his upside, pure stuff, and clean mechanics. If everything breaks right for Miller, he should have more upside than Leake. Obviously, Miller also comes with significantly more risk than Leake, as he requires much more development time.

In the supplemental round, I would have rolled the dice on Jason Kipnis. I like his disciplined approach at the plate and his solid hitting skills. On the season, he is hitting a robust .382/.495/.724. There are questions on where he fits positionally, but I like the offensive game.

In the second and third rounds, I would have addressed the lack of southpaws in the system by grabbing two quality lefties. Holmberg is a smooth high school lefty with intriguing upside, while Spence is a polished, crafty lefty who excels without good velocity. Still, he manages to get the job done.

Anyway, that's the way I would gone, which speaks to why I'm not drafting for a professional baseball team.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

2009 Draft: Complete Reds Draft List

Here's a complete list of all players drafted by the Reds in the Rule IV amateur draft:

Round Overall Player Position School State
1 8 Mike Leake RHP Arizona State Ariz.
1s 43 Bradley Boxberger RHP Southern California Calif.
2 57 Billy Hamilton SS Taylorsville (Miss.) HS Miss.
3 88 Donnie Joseph LHP Houston Texas
4 119 Mark Fleury C North Carolina N.C.
5 149 Daniel Tuttle RHP Randleman (N.C.) HS N.C.
6 179 Mark Serrano RHP Oral Roberts Okla.
7 209 Josh Fellhauer OF Cal State Fullerton Calif.
8 239 Juan Silva OF Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, Gurabo, P.R.
9 269 Brian Pearl RHP Washington Wash.
10 299 Tucker Barnhart C Brownsburg (Ind.) HS Ind.
11 329 Harold Johnson RHP Trinity Christian Academy, Lake Worth, Fla. Fla.
12 359 Joshua Garton OF Volunteer State (Tenn.) CC Tenn.
13 389 Nick Christiani RHP Vanderbilt Tenn.
14 419 Timothy Crabbe RHP Westmont (Calif.) Calif.
15 449 James Wakzak RHP Mercyhurst (Pa.) Pa.
16 479 Chase Fowler C South Forsythe HS, Cumming, Ga. Ga.
17 509 Devon Marrero SS American Heritage HS, Plantation, Fla. Fla.
18 539 Steven Perez SS Gulliver Prep HS, Miami Fla.
19 569 Mitchell Clarke LHP Forest Heights Collegiate Institute, Kitchener, Ont.
20 599 Matt Valaika 2B UC Santa Barbara Calif.
21 629 Jonathan Reed RHP Memorial HS, Tulsa, Okla. Okla.
22 659 David Stewart 1B Grayson County (Texas) JC Mo.
23 689 Chris Richburg 1B Texas Tech Texas
24 719 Derrick Lowery 1B Young Harris (Ga.) JC Ga.
25 749 Michael Monster RHP Rutland SS, Kelowna, B.C.
26 779 Vernon Manz C South Florida Fla.
27 809 Stefan Del Pino LHP Dorman HS, Roebuck, S.C. S.C.
28 839 Derek Poppert SS San Francisco Calif.
29 869 Jason Brawn RHP Corban (Ore.) Ore.
30 899 Yovan Gonzalez C Wabash Valley (Ill.) JC Ill.
31 929 Adian Kummet RHP St. Scholastica (Minn.) Minn.
32 959 Shane Carlson SS UC Santa Barbara Calif.
33 989 William Stramp 3B Lubbock Christian (Texas) Texas
34 1019 Forest Cannon RHP UC Santa Barbara Calif.
35 1049 Oliver Santos 3B South Carolina-Salkehatchie JC S.C.
36 1079 Chris Burleson SS Southern Maine Maine
37 1109 Dayne Read OF Chipola (Fla.) JC Fla.
38 1139 Tommy Nurre 1B Miami (Ohio) Ohio
39 1169 Paul Barton RHP Kwalikum SS, Qualicum Beach, B.C.
40 1199 Mike Robertson OF Bellevue (Wash.) CC Wash.
41 1229 Jake Wiley RHP Marist N.Y.
42 1259 Blair Carson RHP Anderson (S.C.) S.C.
43 1289 Ricky Bowen RHP Mississippi State Miss.
44 1319 Jason Shepherd OF Navarro (Texas) JC Texas
45 1349 Brian Adams OF South Forysth HS, Cumming, Ga. Ga.
46 1379 Timothy Dunn RHP Trevecca Nazarene (Tenn.) Tenn.
47 1409 Jason Hampton RHP Rocklin (Calif.) HS Calif.
48 1439 Kenny Swab C Young Harris (Ga.) JC N.C.
49 1469 Darion Hamilton OF Taylorsville (Miss.) HS Miss.
50 1499 Chris Page 1B Genesee (N.Y.) CC N.Y.

One guy that jumps out at me is 17th round pick Devon Marrero, as he would have been drafted much higher if not for signability concerns. If the Reds can get him under contract, then he could be a real steal. His tools make him a very intriguing prospect, but he won't be an easy sign.

Another is Matt Valaika who is the brother of current prospect Chris and also plays middle infield. The Reds like what they have in Chris and are hoping to find something of value in his brother. I wonder if there are any other Valaika's coming through the baseball pipeline.

Billy Hamilton is a very athletic player, but I have questions about his "hit tool." He strikes me as being the type of player that will struggle to translate his raw athleticism into production. Baseball requires such a particularized set of skills that it rarely just bends to the will of the athletically gifted. Hopefully, Hamilton proves me wrong.

As for Mike Leake, the more I think about it, the more I like the pick. Granted, I would have gone with the high upside Shelby Miller, but as is often the case, high upside comes with high risk. The Reds decided to go with a pitcher whose ceiling is *arguably* lower than Miller, Matzek, or White, but whose risk is substantially less. Leake is a very polished and savvy pitcher who has had great success and anchored a rotation that is in the College World Series this year. Leake already has a tremendous understanding of how to pitch, which is what I like to see in my pitching prospects. By and large, I tend to favor "pitchers" over "throwers." Leake *may* not have #1 starter upside, but he is far more likely to have a solid MLB career than most of the other arms in the draft.

Typically, I favor going with the high upside in the top of the first round, because you don't often find elite upside later on, but it's hard to argue with what the Reds have done. Since the Reds already have Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez in the MLB rotation, they may not have the pressing need for another #1 starter and the risk that subsequently comes along with it. Add in the lack of pitching depth in the system resulting from an injured Kyle Lotzkar and an ineffective Homer Bailey and what the Reds really needed was certainty. They needed a polished pitching prospect who was very likely to contribute and soon. Leake was that pitcher.

Oddly enough, the general consensus has changed on Leake since he was drafted. Prior to the draft, the pundits were projecting him as a mid-first round pick, but when the Reds drafted him everyone seemed to applaud the pick. There was no talk of it being an overdraft, but rather a good decision on the part of the Reds. And, I happen to agree.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

2009 Draft: "With the 8th Pick the Reds (*should*) Select...

...Shelby Miller, righthanded pitcher, out of Brownwood High School."

It's just about time for the Nationals to kick off the draft by selecting Stephen Strasburg, so I thought I'd write about the prospect the Reds SHOULD pick in the 1st round.

Shelby Miller is a 6-4 and weighs 207 pounds, which gives him room to improve as he continues to mature and develop. To me, he is the best prospect in the draft behind Strasburg and Dustin Ackley. Miller's upside gives him the nod over the other pitchers in the draft, including lhp Tyler Matzek who is close on Miller's heels.

Miller features a big time fastball that sits in the 92-93 range, but he can crank it up and has touched 98 mph on the gun. His fastball isn't just high velocity, but it is also a heavy ball with good movement. He uses his height to work on a downward plane and uses such a free and easy motion that the ball is on the hitter before he knows it.

To go along with his plus fastball, Miller uses a hammer curveball that sits in the 75-78 mph range. It isn't always consistent, but it has definite plus potential when he throws it well. Occasionally, the pitch will roll on him and not get the sharp bite that he wants, but it is a very tough pitch when he throws it well. As is often the case with high school pitchers, Miller's top two pitches are so dominating that he rarely has use for a third pitch. Miller has a show-me changeup that he throws from time to time, but it's only average at best right now. He'll need to refine it when he joins the professional ranks, but there is no reason why he can't develop an effective third pitch to round out his repertoire.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Miller is just how easily he generates plus velocity. His pitching motion is smooth and fluid. His mechanics are very sound and his body control is good, which helps him maintain tempo and balance throughout the delivery. He has good overall athleticism as evidenced by his standout work as a wide receiver on the football team. Despite the radar gun readings, Miller doesn't seem to be a "max-effort" pitcher, which should help reduce his injury risk. His motion is so fluid and easy that it should reduce his injury risk, which is always important when looking at pitching prospects.

Another plus on Miller is that he has a strong work ethic and desire to improve. He spent the offseason in the weightroom improving his overall strength. He also is always trying to get better and isn't afraid of the hardwork that it takes to get there.

Of course, Miller isn't without issues, as he does lack a third pitch and his control hasn't been great. That said, when you have two potentially dominant pitches to go along with very strong mechanics, I think that's a great place to start.

Given the injury to Kyle Lotzar and the ineffectiveness of Josh Ravin and Homer Bailey, the Reds are in need of an infusion of quality pitching prospects, which is somewhat fortunate given that that is the strength of this draft. After taking a look at the top arms in the draft, Miller strikes me as being the ideal option. His combination of two potential plus pitches, scary good upside, and smooth mechanics that should reduce his injury risk vault him near the top of my draft board. Strasburg and Ackley will be gone, so I'd pull the trigger on Shelby Miller without thinking twice. He is currently projected to last until the Texas Rangers pick at #14, so he should be available to the Reds. He's impressive now, but he has the projection to be even better, which is a scary thought...unless he is in the Reds organization.

Monday, June 8, 2009

2009 Draft: Players I'd Like to See in Cincy

Brett Jackson -- cf

The more I see of Jackson, the more I like him. He's a strong, athletic outfielder for UC Berkeley. He's got a sweet lefthanded swing that drives the ball from foul pole to foul pole. His swing is compact, which allows him to be quick to the ball. There are some questions as to his power ceiling, but he is a pure hitter and his swing should translate well to the professional ranks.

On defense, Jackson uses his good speed to cover a lot of ground. As he continues to fill out, scouts fear he may have to shift to a corner outfield spot. Obviously, his value improves if teams can plug his bat into an up the middle defensive slot. In addition, Jackson has a strong, accurate arm that plays well in center and left, and would likely be at least adequate in right.

Jackson is the type of player I'd love to see the Reds grab in the supplemental round. He is currently projected as a late first round pick and most mock drafts seem to have him going to the Yankees. That said, I don't see the Yankees as a likely destination, as they will probably try to select any prospect who slides purely because of signability concerns. If things break right, Jackson could slip to the supplemental round, where the Reds would be wise to pounce on him and his well-rounded game.

Here is Jackson at the dish:

Josh Spence -- lhp

Spence is rapidly becoming a personal favorite. He's the kind of guy that is fun to root for and difficult not to like. Spence doesn't project as an early round prospect, but he might be an intriguing pick in the middle rounds.

Spence is an Australian who decided that he wanted to attend Arizona State University in part because of research he did on the internet. He pitched in junior college before joining ASU and helping to pitch them into the 2009 College World Series in Omaha.

Unfortunately, Spence lacks plus velocity. In fact, he lacks even average velocity. His fastball doesn't touch 90, but he has managed to have very good success with good command and a quality array of breaking balls.

Despite his lack of average velocity, his performance at ASU has been stellar.

In 2009, Spence has posted a 2.33 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and a stellar 109/25 K/BB ratio in 88.2 innings. In addition, Spence has given up only 3 homers in 2009. Scouts don't rate him highly because of his poor velocity, but Spence gets the most out of his gifts and could be the type of crafty lefty that defies expectations in the professional ranks. His lack of velocity will leave him with little margin for error in the professional game, but good control and a strong understanding of how to pitch can make up for a lot of sins.

Spence is a bit of a long shot, but he's a fun prospect and could be a sneaky good value.

Jason Kipnis -- of

Kipnis, an ASU teammate of Spence, is a very good hitter. In 2009, he has a slash line of .385/.496/.729 in 221 ABs. His on-base skills are elite and he has the ability to post an OBP that is .100+ higher than his batting average. He doesn't have much power, but could profile well as a table setter, especially in light of his ability to draw more walks more often than he strikes out.

Here is a look at Kipnis at the plate:

Unfortunately, the knock on Kipnis is that he may not be able to hold down centerfield in the professional ranks, which would leave him at an outfield corner where his lack of power doesn't play very well. Kipnis is an overachiever who performs at a higher level than his tools. He could ultimately be a player who doesn't fit into any well-defined role, but he's a professional hitter whose approach at the plate would be an asset in any organization.

Kipnis was selected in the 4th round of the 2008 draft by the Padres and should do better than that this time around. Kipnis is another player I'd love to see the Reds select.

2009 Draft: High School Arms

The 2009 draft is one that is heavy in high school arms, which are always high risk, high reward type prospects.

Here's a look at some of the best, starting with a couple of impressive southpaws.

Tyler Matzek -- lhp

Matzek is one of the absolute best arms in the draft. He pitches for Capistrano Valley High School in California. He stands 6-3 and tips the scales at 185 lbs.

Matzek have a live arm and brings a fastball that touches the mid-90s, a solid 75 mph curve, a slider/cut fastball, and a developing change-up. He controls his repertoire well and can dominate when he's on. He's a pitcher, not a thrower, as he has an advanced feel for a high school pitcher.

Matzek has very strong mechanics, which should reduce his injury risk and help his consistency. He has a free and easy delivery and doesn't have to throw at max effort to be successful. At times, Matzek has been susceptible to cruising

Matzek has just about everything you'd want in a pitching prospect and he'd have to be near the top of my list of prospect for the Reds in the first round.

Matthew Purke -- lhp

Purke is in the mix for the title of top lefty in the draft, as he features low 90s fastball that touches 95 mph, a slurve that sits in the 78-80 mph range and breaks late, and a plus change-up. He also has the frame that scouts love to see, as he stands 6-3 and weighs 180, which gives him room to fill out physically and makes him projectible.

Here's a look at him in action:

Purke may slide down the draft board because of signability concerns. Rumor has it that his bonus demands are exorbitant. In addition, I don't think his mechanics are as impressive as those of Matzek. He doesn't incorporate his body as well in his delivery as Matzek and seems to generate his velocity with his arm, which would increase the stress on his arm.

Overall, Purke is an impressive prospect, but his mechanics and signability concerns drop him behind other pitching prospects on my list.

Jacob Turner -- rhp

Turner is an intriguing arm, but one that doesn't quite stack up with a few of the other arms in the draft. That said, he has the kind of upside that could make him the best pitching prospect in the draft.

Turner has the frame and loose delivery that may allow him to maintain consistent velocity with his fastball. He can run it up into the upper 90s at times, but hasn't been able to sustain that type of velocity over any appreciable amount of time. His athleticism should allow him to refine his delivery and improve his control.

Here is a look at Turner:

Turner has good upside, but his bonus demands may result in him sliding a bit. Still, his upside may make him an early pick.

Zack Wheeler -- rhp

Reports are that Wheeler is coveted by the Atlanta Braves, so he probably won't be around when the Reds draft. Wheeler has a strong arm and can reach 95 mph with his fastball. He throws from a three-quarter arm slot which generates good movement on his pitches. He also has a plus curve and a show-me change-up that needs a lot of work. His command isn't great and he'll need to refine his mechanics to improve his consistency.

He has some looseness and inconsistency in his delivery, so he'll need to tighten his mechanics up as he climbs the ladder of the professional ranks.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

2009 Draft: College Arms

Well, the draft is rapidly approaching, so it's time to look at some of the college arms that are likely to be selected in the early rounds.

Aaron Crow -- rhp

Aaron Crow was drafted last year by the Washington Nationals and ultimately did not sign. He chose to hold out for more money and ended up pitching for the Fort Worth Cats of the Independent League.

For the most part, Crow features a three pitch repertoire: a fastball, change-up, and slider. His fastball sits in the low 90s and touches 95 on occasion, his slider is a nasty pitch with sharp bite, and his change-up is a solid change of pace offering.

Here is a look at Crow in action:

Crow's mechanics are fairly clean, but there are a few issues. He has an unusual arm swing after breaking his hands which gives him a bit of length in his arm action. During his arm swing, he wraps the ball behind his back, which leads to something of a whippy arm action and creates inconsistency in his delivery.

Ultimately, if he can avoid injury, Crow should develop into a solid, middle of the rotation pitcher. As a general rule, I'm not a fan of drafting players who would rather sit out an entire season for a bit more money than sign for a bit less, especially in regard to pitchers. It's difficult for pitchers to take an entire year off and maintain a high level of performance up until draft time.

Kyle Gibson -- rhp

University of Missouri right-hander Gibson is one of the most intriguing and debatable arms in the draft. Scouts question the velocity on his fastball, which sits in the 88-92 range, which is typically a red flag for a right-handed pitching prospect. However, others believe that it's a plus pitch due to the sinking action and his ability to hit his spots. Gibson also features a hard biting slider and a plus change-up.

In addition, Gibson has a good frame for a pitcher, standing 6-6, which allows him to throw on a downward plane. He currently only tips the scales at 208 lbs, so he could pick up velocity when he fills out a bit more. His size gives him some additional projection, which could answer any questions about the velocity on his fastball.

In the clip below, you can see that Gibson is a tall, lanky pitcher. Despite the height, Gibson has good body control and clean mechanics. Often, taller pitchers struggle with command because they cannot keep the different moving parts of their delivery in-sync throughout the delivery, but it's not a problem with Gibson.

Gibson's best attribute may be his pitchability. He understands how to pitch and knows how to get the most out of his stuff. He has the confidence and the ability to throw any pitch in any count. Unfortunately, Gibson may slide down draft boards because of emerging forearm soreness which has sapped his velocity over the past couple starts and is often the precursor of Tommy John surgery. As of Saturday, Gibson was diagnosed with a stress fracture of the forearm, which is potentially better than the speculated TJ surgery. Even so, stress fractures are not natural in the arms and are still a red flag when found in pitching prospects.

If the Reds are satisfied with the medical reports on Gibson, then his polished game and groundball tendencies could make him a very intriguing option. However, the injury concerns may make him too risky for the Reds to draft in the first round, especially given the similar difficulties they have had with prospect Kyle Lotzkar.

Tanner Scheppers -- rhp

Scheppers is another player who was drafted in the 2008 draft, but could not agree to terms. In his case, Scheppers decision not to sign had to due with an injured shoulder, which caused him to slide to the second round and made him too risky to sign in the eyes of the Pirates, who probably regret that decision right about now.

Scheppers is perhaps the ultimately high risk/high reward prospect in the 2009 draft. He has one of the best arms in the draft class...if healthy. He has a live arm that produces a fastball sitting around 95 and touching 98 at times. He also has a power curveball and a show-me change-up.

At this point, it will depend on which team gets positive reports on his shoulder. If he gets something approximating a clean bill of health from a team doctor, then he should be grabbed in the first round. However, if no one has confidence in the health of his shoulder, then he will likely slip to the second round once again. Still, Scheppers has an impressive arm and some team could end up with a steal...if he's healthy.

Mike Leake -- rhp

Leake pitches for Arizona State University and is one of the top college arms around despite standing only 6-0. He is short for a righthanded pitcher, but he is a polished pitcher with a four pitch arsenal. He utilizes a fastball that ranges from 89-93 mph and has good movement, a downward biting slider, a show-me curveball, and a plus change-up.

Leake's calling card is his control, which is tremendous and is a plus tool. In addition, he has strong makeup and is a fierce competitor, which enables his stuff to play up a tick. Leake is very polished, but may not have the highest upside. Still, he is a good athlete and competitor who gets the most out of his ability. He's probably not an option for the Reds, but someone who is unafraid of his height may end up with a steal in the middle or late first round.

Alex White -- rhp

White is currently pitching for the University of North Carolina. He features a plus fastball that sits around 91-92 mph and tops out at 95 and power slider that sits in the 82-84 range. White also works in two below average offspeed pitches: a curve ball and a change-up.

On the season, White has 4.13 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 98.0 innings with a 109/41 K/BB ratio. It was a step down from his 2008 season when he posted a 2.83 ERA and 1.19 WHIP with a 113/42 K/BB ratio. Overall, White has a live arm and spotty command of two plus pitches.

Here's a clip of him against Boston College:

He doesn't have the cleanest mechanics and there is some effort in his delivery. To be successful at the MLB level, he'll need to refine his mechanics, as they are likely responsible for his inconsistent command. Pitchers with an arm like White's are rare and his two power pitches will ensure that he's drafted highly. However, his spotty command, lack of a third quality pitch, and mechanical flaws make him something of a risk. At this point, he's not near the top of my list for who the Reds should draft in the first round.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What's Up with Jay Bruce?

Thus far, Jay Bruce's season would have to be considered a disappointment. On the season, he's hitting .216/.294/.474/.768 with a 45/19 K/BB ratio and 14 home runs. Outside of the power production, his total production is unimpressive. Still, there are reasons for optimism as his component stats are actually improved over 2008.


Despite his lower level of production, there are a number of positives in his 2009 plate approach. His walk rate has improved by 1.7%, while his strikeout rate has fallen 2.9%. Overall, he's drawing more walks and taking fewer strikeouts. He's also seeing more pitches, as his #P/PA is up to 3.98 from 3.76.

His contact rate is up from 71.6% to 74.5%, in part because he is swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone. In 2008, the percentage of pitches he swung at that were outside the zone was 30.4%, while in 2009 he has cut that down to 28.7%.

Obviously, his approach is better in 2009, not worse. So, obviously the problem isn't in his approach at the plate or his contact rate.


The real problem is that Bruce is getting under the ball too much. His line drive rate has fallen from 21.1% in 2008 to 13.1% in 2009, while his fly ball rate has jumped from 34.2% in 2008 to 51.0% in 2009. Over half of the balls Bruce puts into play are fly balls. Given his line drive and fly ball rates, it's not surprising that his batting average on balls in play (.206) is hovering around the Mendoza line. Obviously, Bruce's swing is a bit out of whack right now.

Here is his ball in play chart:

The obvious difference is that he's hitting ground balls to the rightside 15% more often than he did in 2008. Extrapolating just from the numbers, it looks like Bruce is rolling over on outside corner offspeed pitches resulting in a lot of weak ground balls to the right side. He needs to get back to driving the ball the other way and going with the pitch. Also, judging by the rate at which he is hitting fly balls, I wouldn't be surprised to discover that he's dropping his back shoulder during his swing. That's the typical flaw when excessive fly balls are involved.

At this point, veteran pitchers are taking advantage of Bruce's lack of experience. Sophomore slumps are common because pitchers begin to "get a book" on young hitters as they make their way around the league for a second and third time. However, Bruce has so much talent, it's just a matter of time before he gets back on track.


Fortunately, on the defensive side of the game, Bruce has taken a step forward. He was reputed to be a good defensive player in the minors, but he wasn't all that impressive in 2008. However, he's covering more ground in 2009. According to UZR/150, which measures defensive runs above average per 150 games, Bruce is 8.8 runs above average in right field this year. According to John Dewan's +/- system, Bruce is a +1 and ranks 13th among MLB right fielders.

Most impressively, Bruce's arm ranks #1 among all MLB rightfielders. He currently has 6 kills and is allowing runners to advance only 47.7% of the time.


Bruce's biggest problem is his age. He's only 22 years old and he's still learning to handle MLB pitching. At this point, it seems likely that pitchers have made some adjustments to exploit perceived weaknesses. Bruce just needs to adjust back to those adjustments.

Overall, Bruce's game is improving and eventually his overall stats will come more in line with his component stats. Unfortunately, his swing isn't locked in right now, so he'll need to get back on track. I wouldn't be surprised if he's pressing trying to offset the loss of Joey Votto and any other semblance of offense on the roster.

Realistically, it's only a matter of time, as Bruce's skill level will win out in the end. The Reds may have to ride it out a bit longer, but a hot streak should be just around the corner.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Yonder Alonso Promoted to Double-A

The Reds promoted Yonder Alonso from high-A Sarasota to double-A Carolina. For Sarasota, Alonso had a line of .302/.378/.503/.881 with 7 homeruns and a 28/22 K/BB ratio. Sarasota is tough on hitters, so it's an impressive performance even discounting the fact that Alonso is a polished collegiate prospect.

It'll be interesting to see how Yonder fares outside of a pitcher's park like Sarasota. Carolina isn't a hitter's paradise, but it is more friendly to the lumber than Sarasota. The early returns are certainly good, as I write this Yonder is 3-4 with 2 doubles, 2 runs, and 2 RBI in his Carolina debut.

Despite the personal problems of Joey Votto, it's difficult to envision Yonder as being a solution in the immediate future. Still, if he proves up to the task of handling double-A pitching, it shouldn't be long before he forces his way to the MLB level. Whether that will be with the Reds or another organization is the question of the day.