Aroldis Chapman seems an apt exclamation point for the Reds dedication to player development, particularly on the international side. Whether it’s Chapman’s contract or his fastball, the Cuban southpaw is the symbol that Cincinnati’s future lies in the hits and misses of their scouting department. Chapman excluded, the Reds have given only seven two million dollar bonuses in franchise history, and four of them happened in the last two seasons. As Will Leitch says, ‘”The Reds always seems to have one or two studs on the farm … who never end up becoming what dreams had held, but these days they seem likely to break that spell by sheer volume.”
Many of these important pieces could be breaking the spell this season. In fact, you might say Joey Votto bucked the bust trend last year with his 4.5 WAR, but that still wasn’t a full season of work. And it certainly wasn’t paired well with the players more hyped than he: Jay Bruce (1.5 WAR), Johnny Cueto (1.6) and Homer Bailey (1.4). For the Reds to truly succeed in the next four seasons (what’s left of Votto and Cueto’s team control), all four will need to begin big-time full season production in 2010. Without re-hashing why each is still a good bet to succeed, be sure that they are.
One of the reasons the Reds farm system would rank as one of the highest is because just how close to the Majors their top prospects are. Dusty Baker can’t help himself with young players, and it’s been true this spring, where it appears Chapman might break camp with the team, and Baker has called for Mike Leake to not be far behind. With their development this season, the exits of Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo, and the return of Edinson Volquez, the Reds 2011 rotation might be the Majors most exciting (if volatile).
On the position player side, you just hope that Dusty Baker doesn’t interfere too much with what could be. Drew Stubbs is deserving of a chance to play in the Major Leagues, and while Baker won’t like the strikeout numbers that result, his defensive performance should mask any offensive issues: a league-average season with the bat should still net 3 wins above replacement. I’m not sure who ultimately wins the Chris Dickerson, Wladimir Balentien, Chris Heisey battle in left field, but if it’s any of them, the outfield defense should be excellent. If it’s Yonder Alonso, or even Todd Frazier, both of whom will struggle to find a role other than left field in this organization, I think Stubbs will have to shade over pretty far. With five players for one spot, it’s certainly hard to predict the best offensive plus defensive talent of the bunch.
Since Wayne Krivsky brought Chris Buckley in to manage the scouting department in 2006, the Reds have also stepped up their international scouting. Now, not only are they drafting well, but the team is gambling on talents like Yorman Rodriguez and Juan Duran. Neither was good last year, but this is a situation when the results can’t effect the process. Given the impossibility of competing with the Cubs and Cardinals on a salary level, these swing for the fence approaches are necessary. They did so with Chapman, and he like he’ll offer some quick return on investment in his first stateside season. Sheer volume stands in the Reds favor, and should leave Cincinnati with a few superstars to get behind soon.