Sophomores: The NL Central

Over the next few days, we’re looking at sophomore players in the Major Leagues. Today’s post is looking at the National League Central division. Of the six teams in the division, no club relied on young players in 2008 more than the Cincinnati Reds – both in the field and on the mound.

In the past few days, we have looked at the: AL Central, AL West, AL East.

Cincinnati Reds

In any other year, Joey Votto would have had a legitimate shot at the Rookie of the Year award in the National League. Last season, the first baseman hit .297/.368/.506 with 24 homers and 84 RBI in 526 at-bats. He also posted a walk rate of 10.1% and a strikeout rate of 19.4%. This season, Votto has dealt with some medical concerns, but he’s still hitting a robust .357/.464/.627 with eight homers and 33 RBI in 126 at-bats. His strikeout rate is virtually the same, but the 25-year-old Canadian has increased his walk rate by almost five percent.

It’s funny how baseball works. Outfielder Jay Bruce was the most highly-anticipated rookie of the year at the beginning of 2008, but his rookie season ended up being pretty average. Now 22, Bruce spent the first 48 games of the season in triple-A before his promotion. In the Majors, he hit .254/.314/.453 with 21 homers in 413 at-bats. He also had a walk rate of 7.4% and a strikeout rate of 26.6%. This season, he’s hitting just .217/.306/.469 with 16 homers in 226. On the positive side, his walk rate has increased by three percent and the strikeout rate is down four percent. After posting a .298 BABIP last season, Bruce’s BABIP is a ridiculously low .206. His line drive rate is down seven percent from the 21.1 LD% he had last season. Right now, he’s kind of looking like a cross between Austin Kearns and Adam Dunn, which isn’t really a good thing. At least he’s still very young.

The only bigger enigma in the Reds’ system is right-hander Homer Bailey. The 23-year-old pitcher has very good stuff, but consistency is not his strong suit. After a disappointing nine starts in 2007, Bailey returned to the Majors for part of 2008 and posted a 7.93 ERA with 59 hits in 36.1 innings. He posted a 4.21 BB/9 rate, as well as a strikeout rate of just 4.46 K/9. This season, Bailey has made just one (poor) MLB start while spending the majority of his time in triple-A. He has a 2.83 ERA with 81 hits allowed in 82.2 innings. He has a walk rate of 2.72 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 8.06 K/9.

Johnny Cueto was mostly an unknown prospect prior to the 2008 season but he made a name for himself pretty quickly. Overall, the right-hander was 9-14 with a 4.81 ERA and he was inconsistent all season. However, he still struck out more than 150 batters (8.17 K/9) while keeping the walks to a modest number (3.52 BB/9). This season, the 23-year-old has been even better with a 2.17 ERA and 68 hits allowed in 87 innings. He’s decreased his walk rate by almost one full walk per nine innings, but his strikeout rate has also dropped. Cueto’s ground-ball rate is also up, though, and he’s becoming more of a pitcher and less of a thrower.

Milwaukee Brewers

Milwaukee fans had been waiting for Manny Parra to “arrive” for quite a few seasons, but his MLB career was delayed by injuries in the minors. The left-hander’s rookie season in 2008 had promise, although he allowed far too many hits with 181 in just 166 innings of work. He also posted a walk rate of 4.07 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 7.97. This season, Parra completely fell apart before being demoted to triple-A. In the Majors, Parra posted a 7.52 ERA with 83 hits in 64.2 innings. His walk rate jumped to 5.71 BB/9.

St. Louis Cardinals

Kyle McClellan, 25, was a key part of the Cardinals bullpen in 2008 despite an uninspired minor league career. The right-hander posted a 4.04 ERA with 79 hits allowed in 75.2 innings of work. He posted rates of 3.09 BB/9 and 7.02 K/9. This season, the reliever has a 3.45 ERA and has allowed just 23 hits in 31.1 innings. He has struggled with his walk rate at 4.88 BB/8 and his strikeout rate is 6.61 K/9.

Houston Astros

J.R. Towles was one of the Astros’ better hitting prospects prior to the 2008 season but he struggled mightily in the Majors. The right-handed hitting catcher batted just .137/.250/.253 with a strikeout rate of 27.4 K%. He hit more than .300 after a demotion to triple-A. This season, Towles, 25, has appeared in just four MLB games and has a batting average of .182. He’s spent the Majority of the year in triple-A and has a triple-slash line of .281/.385/.461. With top prospect and catcher Jason Castro in double-A, Towles’ future is probably in another organization.

A Rule 5 pick-up from the Dodgers, Wesley Wright appeared in 71 games for the Astros in 2008. He posted an ERA of 5.01 and allowed 45 hits in 55.2 innings of work. He had a walk rate of 5.50 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 9.22 K/9. The southpaw held lefties to a .207 batting average and righties hit .220. This year, Wright struggled with a 7.24 ERA and allowed 23 hits in 13.2 innings. He was then demoted to triple-A.

Chicago Cubs

Kosuke Fukudome had a red-hot first few months in the Majors and then fell off the face of the earth for the remainder of 2008. Overall, the Japanese rookie hit .257/.359/.279 with 10 homers and 12 stolen bases in 501 at-bats. Last year, he hit .279 in the first half of the year and just .217 in the second half. This year, he got off to another good start but has cooled as of late to an overall line of .266/.394/.429 with five homers and four steals. The 32-year-old outfielder does not have youth on his side.

The reigning Rookie of the Year in the NL, Geovany Soto had a great offensive season for the Cubs. He hit .285/.364/.504 with 23 homers and 86 RBI in 494 at-bats. The catcher also posted a walk rate of 11.2 BB% and a strikeout rate of 24.5 K%. This year has been a disaster as he’s hit just .217/.324/.311 with three homers in 161 at-bats. His rates are pretty much the same but his power has dried up. The Cubs really need his bat to wake up.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates received some help from outfielders Brandon Moss and Nyjer Morgan in 2008. Moss was acquired from Boston in the Jason Bay deal, while Morgan is a homegrown talent. Moss had a modest rookie year and hit just .246/.304/.436 with eight homers and one steal in 236 at-bats. His strikeout rate was high at 29.7 K%. It’s dropped almost 10 percent this season but the outfielder is still not hitting well with a line of .243/.293/.343 with one homer and no steals. Morgan, on the other hand, is exceeding expectations. The speedy outfielder had just nine steals in 14 attempts last year but he hit .294/.345/.375 in 160 at-bats. This season he has 16 steals in 23 attempts and is hitting .261/.338/.340. Morgan, 28, looks like a useful fourth outfielder.




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


6 Responses to “Sophomores: The NL Central”

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  1. Andy S says:

    I think you’re forgetting Edinson Volquez in the Reds’ category. After all, at least three writers have told me he was a rookie last season!

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  2. Mark says:

    Parra is looking like a flopper. The K rate looked delicious initially, but he can’t keep guys off base.

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  3. philosofool says:

    It’s worth mentioning that while Bruce has been a below average hitter, he’s putting up very good defense in right field. His trouble as a defender last season was a lack of sure hands, and he’s not making errors like he was. He’s almost a 3 WAR player while posting a BABIP of .206. While the line drives are an issue, this does not seem like something that Cini fans should be too concerned about. He’s making more contact, selecting pitches better, and doing a better job working the count. And he hits the ball really hard. I don’t really understand the Adam Dunn + Austin Kearns comparison.

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  4. Ender says:

    You could probably technically list Gallardo since he missed his real sophomore year, would at least make the Brewer section more interesting~

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  5. MGL says:

    “Morgan, on the other hand, is exceeding expectations. The speedy outfielder had just nine steals in 14 attempts last year but he hit .294/.345/.375 in 160 at-bats. This season he has 16 steals in 23 attempts and is hitting .261/.338/.340.”

    “Exceeding expectations” is an interesting characterization of a player who has an OPS of .678 after .720 last year. What were the expectations? His projections were anywhere from .685 to .707 or so. And 16 of 23 steals is probably not even break even.

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  6. Pat says:

    Yes, Morgan would be an ideal 4th outfielder, a guy who can provide a spark at times, but he is in no way a starting corner outfielder. I wish Huntington would have realized what everyone else knew before he traded McLouth, because McCutcheon can be plugged into CF and do everything Morgan can do plus more.

    I’m not sure what’s wrong with Moss. He hasn’t played in a while, not sure if he’s hurt or in the doghouse. He’s not going to get better if he sits vs every tough pitcher. No power to speak of and everything else is below average. For a team that seems well stocked with toolsy outfielders, it seems they are in need of some more who can start and put up some good slugging numbers.

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