Most minor league sites will do top-10s, top-15s, top-20s, or some other ranking. Last year, to be a bit different, the FanSided team prospect lists (which were done at Call to the Pen, since S2S didn’t exist), instead listed a team’s top prospect at each position (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 3 OFs, 5 SPs, and 2 RPs). This year, we’re keeping that format, but also adding a “Best of the Rest” section that lists the top ten players beyond the positional rankings. That’s 25 players per system, if you’re counting.
Even after trading away five of their Top-20 prospects this offseason (Yasmani Grandal, Yonder Alonso, Brad Boxberger, Ronald Torreyes and Dave Sappelt) the Reds system remains strong and fairly well balanced. The only area of the minors that lacks some semblance of quality and depth is in the OF.
The standard barer for the Reds minor leagues is without question Devin Mesoraco. He was unanimously ranked as the team’s top prospect – even before the recent trades with the Padres and Cubs – on all the sources I referenced in the course of my research. Beyond Devin, picking the best player at each of the positions was relatively easy but at most spots there were a few intriguing players that could really improve their stock in 2012. In fact I had a very hard time finalizing my 10-player Best of the Rest list and could have easily expanded it another 5 or so slots with prospects I believe will have some good value long term.
Cincinnati further bolstered its system with a robust and intelligent draft this past June. In a number of cases I left the 2011 draftees off the list due to limited data but I have little doubt that many of them will have strong 2012 seasons and vault themselves to the front of our collective prospect consciousness.
Position Player Upside: B+
Position Player Depth: B
Pitching Upside: C
Pitching Depth: C
System Grade: B
Catcher – Devin Mesoraco (23): Barring some strange turn of events, Mesoraco is going to be the Reds Opening Day Catcher and with good reason. As I mentioned above he is the team’s consensus top-prospect and I regard him as the best catching prospect out there right now. Nathaniel, who ranked Devin 12th in his recently completed Top-100, agrees with me on that. In Mesoraco, I see a guy who will make his share of all-star teams during the course of his career. I believe he will hit for a good average and his share of power. He’s solid defensively and intelligent in all aspects of the game. The fact that he looked into the “prospect bust abyss” and bounced back to become one of the best prospects in baseball makes me believe he’s going to be better than most people project and that’s saying something. When a guy’s floor is that of a solid major league regular, you know you have something special on your hands and Devin Mesoraco fits that description.
First base – Neftali Soto (22): Yonder Alonso’s departure opens up the door for Soto to become the guy who’s blocked by Joey Votto. The Reds 3rd round pick in 2007, it took Soto 4 seasons to make the jump to Double-A but he proved he was up to the task by hitting 0.272/.329/.575 with 30 HR in 414 PA for the Carolina Mudcats. Cincinnati also gave him a taste of Triple-A at the end of the year and he responded by hitting 0.412/.444/.588 in his 4 games of action there. Like most prospects who land at 1B, it’s Soto’s bat that will determine how far he goes in his career and he has the power potential to be an asset at the position. He struck out 98 times in 106 games in 2011 while drawing just 26 walks showing that his approach and plate discipline still need work as they did in his 2 seasons in High-A where he had a 200-55 SO-to-BB ratio in 265 games. Despite these issues he’s a good player capable of hitting in the 0.270-.280 range to complement his plus-plus raw power. He’s not the best athlete and is subpar defensively but the latter should improve as he continues to adapt to the position (he primarily played 3B up until 2010).
Second base – Henry Rodriguez (21): One thing is very clear, Henry Rodriguez can hit and he provided further evidence of that in 2011 when he hit 0.320/.372/.469 with 31 2B and 13 HR between Bakersfield (A+) and Carolina (AA). He also stole 30 bases and continued to show improved plate discipline despite facing more advanced competition. There are reports out there that he is prone to “mental-lapses” on defense but he has all the skills to be at least average there. At worst Rodriguez should turn into an offensive-minded 2B regular but could become more than that if he cleans up some things with the glove.
Third base – David Vidal (22): The Reds 8th round pick in the 2010 draft he immediately displayed the pop in his bat by hitting 14 2B, 2 3B and 6 HR in 3 stops and 48 games in his first professional season. He followed that up by hitting 0.280/.350/.498 with 37 2B and 20 HR in 514 PA with Dayton (A). Beyond the bat, he’s solid defensively and should have no problems staying there long term. Vidal is one of the more underrated and unappreciated prospects in the organization but he’s someone worth keeping an eye on.
Shortstop – Billy Hamilton (21): Now we move from Vidal, a prospect that I view as vastly underrated, to Hamilton who I view as wildly overrated. Yes he has elite speed and stole 103 bases in 135 games for Dayton and it’s a notable accomplishment but he also publicly set out to achieve that milestone which bothers me more than just a little. He is one of the fastest players in the minor leagues but there are a lot of questions about the rest of his game. He offers next to nothing in terms of power and has contact problems as evidenced by 236 SO in 1106 minor league PA. He has not shown any discernible improvement in that area in 3 seasons and things aren’t going to get any easier as he faces more advanced pitching. This lessens the value of his speed as he doesn’t have the on-base skills to make him the no doubt lead-off hitter that some consider him to be. While he has excellent range, he is otherwise below average defensively thanks to his hands and arm. He performed much better at 2B in 2010 than he did at SS in 2011 but to fully maximize his speed a move to CF might be the best solution. Personally I’m not buying Hamilton as a legitimate major league option down the road until I see him do more with the bat and the glove. Guys with his speed-only profile – many of which were better hitters – generally don’t fare well in the major leagues, especially when the defensive skills are lacking. The good news is that he’s just 21-years old and has plenty of time to prove me wrong.
Outfielder #1 – Yorman Rodriguez (19): Yorman Rodriguez has serious tools and potential, but it’s anyone’s guess what he winds up being. He hit 0.339/.361/.456 as a 17-year old in the Pioneer League in 2010 which got everyone excited. Then he fell to 0.254/.318/.393 this past season in the Midwest League. Further muddying the waters, he’s been limited by injuries in each of the last two seasons and has been very young relative to the league he has played in in each of his 3 seasons as a pro. His plate discipline and approach are lacking but I can’t say for certain if that is who he is or if it’s a product of his youth and injury history. He’s got potential to be a 20/20, 20/40, or maybe even a 30/30 guy down the road. As it stands now the Reds need to take their foot off the gas and keep him in the Midwest League for the entirety of the 2012 season. If you grade on potential and upside he’s at the top or near the top of Cincinnati’s system but he’s far from a solid bet to even come close to his ceiling.
Outfielder #2 – Ryan LaMarre (23): LaMarre has excellent speed that was regarded as plus-plus entering the 2010 draft. He’s also an excellent athlete capable of sticking in CF and could develop into a above average hitter with decent power. The Reds used their 2nd round pick in the 2010 draft and gave him a $587,700 signing bonus. So far as a professional he’s shown off his speed (including 55 SB in 2011) but the other results have been just okay. He’s a 0.277/.354/.380 hitter with a 157-68 SO-to-BB in 190 minor league games so far. He got a brief 5-games taste of AA last year and should start out there in 2012. He’s capable of a breakout season and is worth watching. I can see him developing into a MLB regular in the right situation but he’s probably better suited to a 4th OF role long term.
Outfielder #3 – Denis Phipps (26): Including 2011, Phipps has hit 0.267/.324/.404 in 697 minor league games over 6 pro seasons. He’s in this spot primarily in deference and honor of the 0.346/.397/.527 he turned in while playing for Carolina (82 G) and Louisville (40 G). His 2011 season came out of nowhere and he’s not much of a prospect, but the Reds did add him to their 40-roster. Can he do it again in 2012? I’m dubious but if he does he’s going to need to cut down on the SO (124 in 122 games last year).
Starting Pitcher #1 – RHP Daniel Corcino (21): If you read anything about Corcino, chances are you’re going to come across a Johnny Cueto comparison. There’s some value to that comp but Corcino doesn’t have quite the stuff or the level of statistical success that Cueto did in the minors. It’d be more prudent to think of him as Cueto-lite. Corcino works off his 92-94 mph fastball but also has solid secondary offerings with his slider and mid-80s changeup and throws all of them for strikes. 2011 was his best season as a pro as he finished with a 3.42 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and a 156-34 SO-to-BB rate in 139.1 innings for Dayton. He doesn’t have the overall upside of Stephenson or the statistical dominance of Cingrani, but he ranks as the top of the Reds pitching prospect because he profiles as a #3 starter – maybe a #2 – and he’s the best bet of all the options to actually reach his ceiling. The only concerns are his frame and the fact that his delivery has a little more effort to it than you’d like to see, especially out of someone 5′ 11″ and 165 pounds.
Starting Pitcher #2 – LHP Tony Cingrani (22): It went largely unnoticed by the general baseball fanbase but there is an argument to be made that Cingrani had the best 2011 season of any starting pitcher in the minors. After being selected in the 3rd round this past June he signed almost immediately for $210,000. The Reds sent him to Billings where he made 13 starts and finished with a 1.75 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 6.1 H/9. Over the course of his 51.1 innings pitched he struck out 80 while walking just 6. That’s not a typo he really did walk just six hitters in his first professional season. He worked almost exclusively off his fastball – which sits around 93 and can hit 97 – at Rice where they moved him from the rotation to the bullpen to effectively save his career. The Reds have converted him back to a starter and he made strides with both his slider and changeup as a pro. He needs to build his arm back up, and Cincinnati was smart to limit him to 3-4 innings per start at the beginning, but was throwing 5-6 innings with similarly excellent results by the end of the year. He’s already dealt with and recovered from major struggles in college making him more capable of dealing with any adversity he encounters in the minors. At 6’4″ and 200 pounds he has the build to hold up in the rotation and he’s left-handed making him all the more valuable. Cingrani is a fairly polarizing prospect but I see a guy destined to be a #3 starter
Starting Pitcher #3 – RHP Robert Stephenson (18): He went 27th overall in the 2011 draft but in a different draft class he likely would have been a Top-10 to Top-15 pick. The Reds signed him to a $2 million bonus at the deadline so we will have to wait and see how he transitions to professional baseball. He is a bit of a project, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get off to a rough start but he has the highest ceiling of any pitching prospect in the organization right now. Stephenson throws an “easy’ mid-90s fastball as well as a curveball and changeup. There is some disagreement on the present state and value of his curve but it has plus potential. His changeup remains a question mark but he does show a good feel for pitching overall and has a projectable frame. If things break right he should settle in as at least a #2 starter, but it’s not out of the question that he could evolve into a legitimate #1 as he fills out and develops.
Starting Pitcher #4 – RHP J.C. Sulbaran (22): Sulbaran has what is considered the best curveball in the system and complements that with a low-90s fastball and a changeup. The fact that he has 3 pitches on board that all profile to be average or above-average major league offerings, he ranks ahead of Crabbe and is a much better bet to stay in the rotation. Spending all of 2011 in the Cal League masked the progress that he made. If he stays on track I predict a nice breakout season for him in Double-A. Sulbaran, the team’s 30th round selection in 2008, is more evidence of how well the Reds have done in the later rounds. It’s staggering really and worthy of its own article down the road.
Starting Pitcher #5 – RHP Tim Crabbe (23): He had fairly middling results (and I’m being kind of nice here) in 2009 and 2010, but stated to really pull things together this past season. As is often the case when pitching prospects take a step forward, we can trace the main reason for his improvement back to his BB/9. In 2009 he walked 4.9 per 9 innings in the Pioneer League and 6.0 per 9 in 2010 while pitching in the Midwest League. In 2011 he dropped his walk rate to 3.5 between 24.2 innings in the MWL and another 111.0 with Bakersfield in the California. He also posted career bests in his H/9 and SO/9. His slider is regarded as the best in the Reds system and he complements that with a low-90s fastball that he can ramp up to 95-96. He’s been working with a curveball and changeup and I’ve also seen mention that a splitter may also be an option to round out his arsenal. If one of those options becomes a serviceable 3rd pitch he has a chance to stick in the rotation and be a reliable innings eater.
Relief Pitcher #1 – RHP James Allen (22): One of 5 Kansas State players to be drafted in 2011, Allen had no problems adjusting to professional baseball after setting single season and career save records for the Wildcats. The Reds 7th round pick, he signed for $125,000 and then made his way to Billings (Rk) where he was nothing short of dominant. Allen finished with a 1.26 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 39-5 SO-to-BB ratio in 28.2 innings pitched. He throws his fastball in the low 90s and complements it with a developing slider, but his biggest asset is that he throws both for strikes showing control and command on both pitches. (If you want to read more about some recent K-State draft picks, head here)
Relief Pitcher #2 - LHP Christopher Manno (23): Orgininally drafted in the 26th round of the 2010 draft by the Nationals, Manno came to the Reds by way of a trade last summer. OF Bill Rhinehart joined Manno when Jonny Gomes was sent to Washington with cash on July 26th. At the time of the deal Manno was pitching for Hagerstown (A). In 43.1 IP he had a 1.04 ERA and 0.81 WHIP to go with an impressive 69-15 SO-to-BB ratio. Cincinnati sent him to Bakersfield (A+) part of the homer-happy California League. Amazingly, Manno was even better despite facing more advanced competition in a more offense bolstering environment. In 17.0 innings as a part of the Blaze bullpen he allowed just 1 earned run and 6 hits while averaging almost two strikeouts per inning. 31 SO to 6 BB was the final count. With the numbers you would expect Manno to have some power stuff but instead he relies on a upper-80s fastball, plus changeup and less than stellar slider to get the job done. The stuff may be a bit underwhelming, but he presents hitters with a “funky” look thanks to a “herky jerky” delivery which gives him a good deal of deception. As you would expect from someone who attended Duke University, he is also very intelligent with a strong work ethic. Some see him as a LOOGY in the majors, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes more than that.
Best of the Rest
- #1) SS – Zack Cozart (26): Hit 0.310/.357/.467, 26 2B, 7 HR, 9 SB, 23 BB and 51 SO in 350 PA for Louisville (AAA). Also hit 0.324/.324/.486, 2 HR, 0 BB and 6 SO in 38 PA for the Reds. While Cozart was in Triple-A doing everything he could to earn a promotion, Cincinnati continued to give Paul Janish and Edgar Renteria the SS at bats in the majors. This puzzling decision prompted me to write this on June 29th. Cozart made his overdue major league debut on July 7th and played in 10 of the teams next 11 games before his season ended early due to an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. If healthy he should be the Reds starting SS on Opening Day. While he won’t be a star, he is a legitimate everyday player that will give the team a reliable option while the rest of the team’s SS prospects continue to develop.
- #2) UTIL – Todd Frazier (25): Hit 0.260/.340/.467, 18 2B, 15 HR, 17 SB, 34 BB and 82 SO in 359 PA for Louisville. Also hit 0.232/.289/.438, 6 HR, 7 BB and 27 SO in 121 PA for the Reds. You could certainly argue that Frazier belongs in one of the 3 OF slots above but given his track record I thought listing him here as a utility guy made more sense. In 5 minor league seasons he’s put in significant time at 5 different positions; LF (177 games), SS (112), 3B (82), 1B (72) and 2B (39). In 2011 he played 35 games at 3B for the Bats and another 27 there with the Reds. Frazier should spend all of 2012 in Cincinnati as he has little left to prove on the farm and it’s time for him to sink or swim. Chances are he’s going to have a fairly long career just on the basis of the pop in his bat and his ability to play so many positions competently but his overly aggressive approach at the plate and related 22.9 K% prevent him from being a regular. While he’s destined for a super utility role, he fits best at 3B.
- #3) SS - Didi Gregorius (21): Hit 0.289/.324/.429, 18 2B, 7 HR, 11 SB, 19 BB and 50 SO in 363 PA split between Bakersfield (A+) and Carolina (AA). Didi doesn’t have much in the way of on-base skills which is a bit of a surprise after 4 minor league seasons since he gets good marks for his pitch recognition and makes decent contact at the plate. As a whole his bat is borderline serviceable but I’d like to see more from him than what he has shown thus far before I get too excited about his chances to stick in the majors. He has the arm, range and quickness – all of which are above average – to be a stellar defensive shortstop, but he still made 21 errors in just 80 games last season.
- #4) RHP – Kyle Lotzkar (22): 4.32 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 6.9 H/9, 3.4 BB/9 and 9.7 SO/9 in 66.2 IP (14 GS) for Dayton. A supplemental round pick of the 2007 draft, his career got off to a nice start before it was derailed by an injury in 2008 that required Tommy John surgery. Due to the injury he’s only thrown 177.2 pro innings since being drafted and one-third of those obviously came this past season. Lotzkar’s rate stats remain strong and he just turned 22, so despite the setback he isn’t all that far behind in his development. He can still be a part of the team’s future rotation plans but he needs to log more innings.
- #5) 2B – Ryan Wright (22): Hit 0.301/.351/.536, 13 2B, 8 HR, 7 SB, 9 BB and 32 SO in 182 PA for Billings and 24 PA with the AZL Reds. Yet another 2011 draft pick (5th round) to make this list, Wright projects to be a solid all-around player who’s sum is greater than the individual parts thanks to his natural instincts. His bat is his best tool but he also has good speed and some potential to add power to a swing that generates a lot of line drives. He doesn’t wow anyone with his arm and range around second but he is very steady defensively and only made 2 errors while in rookie ball.
- #6) SS – Juan Perez (20): Hit 0.316/.393/.488, 11 2B, 7 3B, 4 HR, 15 SB, 25 BB and 38 SO in 247 PA for the AZL Reds and Billings Mustangs combined. The Reds seem to have a knack for finding guys in the later rounds and Perez, their 26th round selection in the 2011 draft is further evidence of this. In his first professional season he flashed a little power, good speed and solid plate discipline while showing solid defensive skills. He primarily played SS but also spent time at 1B, 2B and 3B. If he puts up a strong season in 2012, while likely playing A-ball, Perez will be shooting up prospect lists. Some – notably Baseball Instinct and MLB Dirt – already have him ranked 10th and 15th respectively.
- #7) RHP – Josh Smith (24): 2.97 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 7.7 H/9, 2.1 BB/9 and 10.5 SO/9 in 142.1 IP (26 GS) for the Dayton Dragons (A). It’s easy to overlook Smith as a prospect and write off his success as a fluke or the result of being older than his competition. He was Cincinnati’s 21st round pick in the 2010 draft and he signed for the minimum bonus of $1,000. To put it bluntly these aren’t usually the type of guys who impress. However there is a lot to like here. He throws a low-90s fastball that’s fairly average but it’s his devastating curveball that is his bread and butter. As he advances he may have to shift to the bullpen but he’s got the size, control and an grasp on the art of pitching that may allow him to land in the back of the rotation if he can add another pitch or two to his arsenal.
- #8) C – Tucker Barnhart (21): Hit 0.273/.344/.387, 24 2B, 37 BB and 59 SO in 372 PA for the Dayton Dragons (A). Barnhart is an athletic, switch-hitting catcher with a very strong defensive reputation. Those skills alone put him on the track to be a major league backup, but he also makes good contact and his swing is sound from both sides of the plate. Even though he’s not likely to hit a lot of home runs, I think there’s more potential in his bat than a lot of sources give him credit for. Given his profile and his work ethic, I wouldn’t rule out his chances of becoming a regular.
- #9) RHP – Daniel Renken (22): 3.52 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 8.5 H/9, 3.3 BB/9 and 10.4 SO/9 in 143.1 IP split between Dayton (20 GS) and Bakersfield (6 GS). On paper, Renken’s stuff doesn’t blow you away. His fastball has some natural sink but tops out at around 91. He also has a decent slider, but it’s his changeup that puts him on the prospect map and on this list. It’s a changeup that Baseball America ranked as the best among Reds prospects and can be a true equalizer. He needs to cut down on the HR allowed and needs to cut his walk rate further, but if he does he could hold down a spot at the back of a major league rotation.
- #10) LHP – Amir Garrett (19): The Reds drafted Garrett in the 22nd round of the June draft and signed him to a $1 million bonus right at the August 15th deadline. He hasn’t pitched for the Reds just yet but he will be busy this winter. Garrett, who also happens to be a standout basketball player, was cleared by the NCAA last month to play for St. John’s University. Seven games into his season he’s averaging 20.3 minutes, 3.9 points and 2.3 rebounds per game for the Red Storm. This spring he will trade the hardwood for the diamond and start working to convert his considerable potential into tangible results. Obviously he’s very athletic and very raw but already throws in the low-90s with a changeup and curve that both show potential.
The complete list of S2S 2012 Team Prospect Rankings can be found here.
For more on the Reds, check out Blog Red Machine.
Topics: Amir Garrett, Billy Hamilton, Christopher Manno, Cincinnati Reds, Daniel Corcino, Daniel Renken, David Vidal, Denis Phipps, Devin Mesoraco, Didi Gregorius, Henry Rodriguez, J.C. Sulbaran, James Allen, Josh Smith, Juan Perez, Kyle Lotzkar, Neftali Soto, Robert Stephenson, Ryan LaMarre, Ryan Wright, Tim Crabbe, Todd Frazier, Tony Cingrani, Tucker Barnhart, Yorman Rodriguez, Zack Cozart