Top-5 Check In: Cincinnati Reds

Cingrani drew raves in his role as a starter in Cincy. Image: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we’re more than a month in to the 2013 minor league season, it’s a good time to check in on how the top prospects in each of the organizations are faring. It is way too early to get overly excited or overly depressed about anyone’s performance thus far, but it’s never too early to dig into the data and results that each prospect has added to their resume. For the purposes of these check-ins we will be using Baseball America’s rankings unless otherwise noted.

The Cincinnati Reds have built a successful mid-market franchise largely through the development of their own talent. They have used many of those guys (Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, etc) to create a winning big league roster, but have also used their system wisely by dealing away prospects to fill holes in adding guys like Shin-Soo Choo and Mat Latos in recent seasons.

There are a couple of eye-catching prospects at the top of an otherwise ordinary organization, but the Reds don’t have many pressing needs over the next couple years. While a couple of these guys may make an impact in the Queen City, others may be moved to help supplement the Reds’ roster.

1. CF- Billy Hamilton (22)

Louisville (AAA) .228/.286/.327 6 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 22 SB, 13 BB, 29 K in 175 plate appearances

Hamilton got off to a great start to the 2013 season, collecting eight hits in his first 16 at bats. Unfortunately, that was immediately followed by a prolonged slump which saw him rack up 21 strikeouts over his next 24 games while going just 13-for-105 in that stretch. Of course, Hamilton is far too talented to be that bad at the plate and he’s enjoyed a nice turnaround, hitting .314/.352/.451 over his last 11 games.

The Reds have stayed patient with Hamilton even though they have had to deal with injuries to both Ryan Ludwick and Chris Heisey at the big league level. Instead of rushing the converted shortstop, they’ve promoted guys like Donald Lutz and Derrick Robinson ahead of Hamilton. That patience will most certainly pay off as when Hamilton does arrive in Cincinnati, he’ll be ready to contribute to a contending ball club.

2. RHP- Robert Stephenson (20)

Dayton (A) 4.02 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 42 HA, 4 HRA, 13 BB, 60 K in 47 IP (9 starts)

A sturdy, projectable right hander with an overpowering fastball, Stephenson’s peripherals have far exceeded his results thus far in 2013 as he sports a 2.28 FIP compared to his ERA of 4.02. The 27th overall selection in 2011, Stephenson made his pro debut last season and wound up recording 72 strikeouts versus 23 walks across 65 innings of work at two levels. Getting the Class-A assignment to begin the season this year, Stephenson has picked up right where he left off.

He features a curveball that flashes above average and excellent command for a pitcher with his velocity and youth. His change up needs some work but shows promise. Stephenson is a ways away, obviously, but has the tools to become a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter or better at the major league level if he continues to develop as expected.

3. LHP- Tony Cingrani (23)

Louisville (AAA) 0.00 ERA, 0.35 WHIP, 3 HA. 2 BB. 26 K in 14.1 IP (3 starts)

Cincinnati (MLB) 3.27 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 25 HA, 7 HRA, 9 BB, 41 K in 33 IP (6 starts)

Cingrani was optioned back to Louisville over the weekend after a very successful run in the Reds’ rotation. Armed really with only two pitches, most assumed that the former reliever at Rice would fill the same role upon reaching the big leagues. Instead, Cingrani carried a tremendous start to the season at Triple-A over to a strong run with the Reds.

In his six starts in Cincinnati, Cingrani posted 11.81 striekouts per nine innings and kept his walk rate in check. He was victimized by the longball, however, which is a product not only of the dimensions of Great American Ballpark, but of a hurler taking on big league competition without an effective breaking pitch. The Reds have seen what he can do and are most certainly impressed. The mission as he returns to Louisville is to develop his slider so it becomes a serviceable offering. Without it, he may find himself slotted into a relief role in the future.

4. RHP- Daniel Corcino (22)

Louisville (AAA) 7.20 ERA, 1.91 WHIP, 49 HA, 5 HRA, 18 BB, 27 K in 35 IP (8 G, 7 GS)

There was plenty of buzz surrounding Corcino after a strong 2012 season at Double-A Pensacola, but his first foray into Triple-A competition has been rough. Corcino is a short but solid right hander with three above average pitches, and last season held opponents to a .213 batting average, which was in line with what he had done at the lower levels as well.

As promising as he looked in 2012 and prior, Corcino has looked that bad in 2013. His strikeout rate is down below seven per nine innings and he’s walking better than four-and-a-half at the same time. Meanwhile, he’s not fooling anyone when they do make contact, as the opposition is feasting at the plate to the tune of a .325 batting average against. Corcino got away with middling command in the low minors, but the higher level of competition is making him pay for missing his spots. As long as he makes the needed adjustments, this should just be speed bump on Corcino’s developmental path.

5. RHP- Nick Travieso (19)

Travieso made his professional debut with 21 innings of Rookie League action in 2012 after the Reds made him the 14th overall selection of last June’s draft out of a Florida high school. He features a mid-90s fastball that can reach 97 mph and a sharp slider and at just 19 years old, the Reds figure more velocity may come as his body matures. Cincinnati has elected to keep Travieso in Arizona on extended Spring Training to start the season, as they take a cautious approach with the talented right arm of this young hurler. Expect to see him in Class-A Dayton at some point this season. They will look to develop him as a starter and feel he has the potential to work in the front end of a rotation in the future.

Topics: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds, Daniel Corcino, Nick Travieso, Robert Stephenson, Tony Cingrani

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