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Top 10 Prospects: The Cincinnati Reds

The Cincinnati Reds
2010 MLB Record: 91-71 (first place, NL Central)
Minor League Power Ranking: 7th (out of 30)
Click for: Last Year’s Top 10 Prospect List

The Prospects

1. Aroldis Chapman, LHP
Acquired: 2010 non-drafted free agent (Cuba)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: AAA/MLB
Opening Day Age: 23
Estimated Peak WAR: 5.5 (as a starter)

Notes: The Reds organization swooped in seemingly out of nowhere to pull the rug out on a number of clubs, including the Toronto Blue Jays, and came away with the amateur free agent. Chapman made his pro debut at the AAA level and over-powered hitters with his 100+ mph fastball and strikeout slider. His strikeout rate sat at 11.60 K/9 but he showed his iffy control (4.94 BB/9). When he moved up to the Majors, Chapman showed improved control at the MLB level (3.38 BB/9) in a small sample size. Despite his inexperience, the lefty could supplant veteran Francisco Cordero as the club’s closer by the end of the season. Hopefully Chapman’s arm, elbow and shoulder holds up a little better than Joel Zumaya‘s (another hard-throwing reliever known for his DL stints). He does throw with a nice, compact delivery that he explodes out of with a low-three-quarter arm slot.

2. Devin Mesoraco, C
Acquired: 2007 1st round (Pennsylvania HS)
Pro Experience: 4 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: A+/AA/AAA
Opening Day Age: 22
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.5

Notes: Prior to the 2010 season, Mesoraco’s prospect value was as elusive as the mighty ground hog made famous by the prospect’s home town. A strong senior year of high school vaulted the Pennsylvania native into the first round, but he struggled offensively from 2007-09. Mesoraco opened 2010 in high-A and posted a .449 wOBA in 43 games and then followed that up with a .421 wOBA in 56 double-A games. He finished the season in triple-A but posted a strikeout rate of 26.9 K% in 14 games. Perhaps overtired, he also had a .297 wOBA in 18 Arizona Fall League games. On the plus side, he did show above-average power for the entire season (including a .299 ISO in AA). Although he strikes out his fair share, Mesoraco does offer a fair number of walks. Defensively, he’s not a great receiver but he has a strong arm. I’m fairly convinced that his late-season swoon was due to tiredness; he was holding his hands much lower (too much so) during the AFL compared to April.

3. Billy Hamilton, SS
Acquired: 2009 2nd round (Mississippi HS)
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: Rookie
Opening Day Age: 20
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0

Notes: Hamilton repeated Rookie ball in 2010 and hit a solid .318/.383/.456 in 283 at-bats. He was aided by a .388 BABIP and didn’t show a ton of power (.138 ISO). His stance gives him a solid, spread-out base, which should help him use the whole field but it’s definitely not designed for power. He does still get out on his front foot against off-speed stuff. It was Hamilton’s plus speed and success on the base paths that really upped his prospect value in ’10. In just 69 games, he nabbed 48 bags in 57 tries. He also appears to understand the value of patience and posted a walk rate of 8.9 BB%, which is impressive considering his experience level. Defensively, he has good range but his arm is a little short and he could move over to second as he loses a step or two with age.

4. Yasmani Grandal, C
Acquired: 2010 1st round (U of Miami)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: Rookie
Opening Day Age: 22
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0

Notes: Along with Devin Mesoraco, Grandal gives the organization another potential offensive-minded starting catcher. Despite the presence of the other top catcher, the Miami grad was too good to pass up when he fell to the organization with the 12th overall pick. Grandal doesn’t have as much power as Mesoraco but should be the better all-around hitter. Defensively, he’s a solid receiver but his throwing has been inconsistent. He had just 28 at-bats after signing but could open 2011 in high-A ball. I’m a big fan of his stance; it’s quiet, upright and gives him a good view of the pitcher. His swing is also solid but his bat speed is just average from what I’ve seen. It’s definitely more of a line-drive swing but should still put 15-20 homers over the fence with regular playing time.

5. Yonder Alonso, 1B/OF
Acquired: 2008 1st round (U of Miami)
Pro Experience: 3 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: AA/AAA/MLB
Opening Day Age: 24
Estimated Peak WAR: 5.0

Notes: One of six college first basemen taken in the first round of the 2008 draft, Alonso has been one of the slowest to reach the Majors (along with Toronto’s David Cooper, and San Diego’s Allan Dykstra, neither of whom have reached The Show). Alonso has just 29 at-bats under his big league belt but he produced a solid, albeit unspectacular, offensive season at triple-A in 2010. He hit .296/.355/.470 in 406 at-bats. His ISO rate sat at .175 and his lack of typical slugger-power has been one of the knocks on him dating back to his college days. Alonso does project to hit for a solid average and he shows a good eye at the plate while possessing a well-rounded approach- he could hit 20 homers. I’m not a huge fan of his weight transfer during his swing. He hits off his front foot far too often, which robs him of potential power. He’ll have a tough time displacing Joey Votto in Cincinnati if he cannot handle the outfield. At first base, he could develop into an average fielder.

6. Yorman Rodriguez, OF
Acquired: 2008 non-drafted free agent (Venezuela)
Pro Experience: 2 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: Rookie
Opening Day Age: 18
Estimated Peak WAR: 5.5

Notes: Rodriguez is a potential five-tool player and has an impressive hitter’s frame. His walk rate of 4.3 BB% leaves a lot to be desired but he’s still a teenager and has time to develop more patience. His pitch recognition also needs work but he struck out just 17.5 K% of the time. His power output was also low (.117 ISO rate) but he has impressive raw power and should develop above-average in-game power with experience. Rodriguez’ .339 average was eye-catching but his BABIP sat at .392. He stole 12 bases in 14 tries but is expected to top out with 15-20 steals in a season. Defensively, he’s played both center and right field, where his strong arm profiles well. When you watch him stand at the plate, he doesn’t really look like anything all that special. When he swings, though, you see quick hips, strong wrists, and a lightning-fast bat.

7. Kyle Lotzkar, RHP
Acquired: 2007 supplemental 1st round (B.C. Canada HS)
Pro Experience: 4 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: Rookie
Opening Day Age: 21
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0

Notes: I don’t know why, but Canadian players always seem to be more fragile than athletes from other regions and Lotzkar is no exception. He has battled through various elbow problems that culminated in Tommy John surgery in ’09. He missed much of ’09 and ’10 but posted solid results late last season, albeit in rookie ball. Lotzkar’s stuff was solid upon his return with a 90-94 mph fastball, a potentially plus curveball, a changeup, and a cutter. The British Columbia native has the potential to develop into a No. 2 starter – or a high-leverage reliever if he can’t avoid the DL. Shockingly, he pitched a career high 44.1 innings in 2010, so there is a lot to prove. I’d didn’t see Lotzkar pitch in 2010, so I can’t say too much about his delivery, but in years past it looked a little robotic with some effort. From all reports, his delivery looks better post-surgery.

8. Zack Cozart, SS
Acquired: 2007 2nd round (U of Mississippi)
Pro Experience: 4 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: AAA
Opening Day Age: 25
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: The shortstop position is pretty much wide open in Cincinnati for 2011 and Cozart has one of the best balanced approaches of the three other main candidates (Paul Janish, Edgar Renteria, and Chris Valaika). Cozart flashed a solid game in triple-A with a triple-slash line of .255/.310/.416 in 553 at-bats. He also posted an ISO rate of .161 and stole 30 bags in 34 tries. His speed is  just average but he’s a smart base runner. His power is more of the line-drive variety but he could hit 10-15 taters at the MLB level. One knock against Cozart is his low walk rate (6.6 BB% at AAA); he may also not hit for a great batting average. I like where he holds his hands and he seems to have a smooth weight transfer during his swing. Defensively, he’s a solid, steady shortstop with a good – but not great – arm. At worst, he should develop into a solid all-around utility player.

9. Juan Francisco, 3B
Acquired: 2004 non-drafted free agent (Dominican Republic)
Pro Experience: 5 seasons
2010 MiLB Level: AAA/MLB
Opening Day Age: 23
Estimated Peak WAR: 4.0

Notes: First the negatives: Francisco cannot hit left-handers consistently, he lacks patience and pitch recognition (His 4.9 BB% in ’10 was a career high in the minors), and he plays poor defense. He reminds me of former Reds third baseman Edwin Encarnacion. Now the positive for Francisco: He has massive raw power, he has a strong arm and he’s worked hard to make improvements. From 2007-09, he hit at least 20 homers and his ISO rate has surpassed .200 from ’08-’10. He produced a solid triple-slash line in ’10 at triple-A at .286/.325/.565 in 308 at-bats. He probably won’t hit for much of an average in the Majors unless he makes some changes. He holds his bat like a wet noodle, and flaps his hands all over the place; it’s a miracle that he can get good wood on any pitch with so much movement. To produce full value, Francisco is going to have to shore up his defense at the hot corner or find another position. He may end up being trade bait to an American League team in need of a designated hitter.

10. Drew Cisco, RHP
Acquired: 2010 6th round (South Carolina HS)
Pro Experience: None
2010 MiLB Level: None
Opening Day Age: 19
Estimated Peak WAR: 3.0

Notes: Cisco signed an over-slot deal in 2010 to forgo his college commitment. The right-hander doesn’t have a huge ceiling but he should develop into a No. 3 starter and could move quickly through the system – in part because the organization lacks pitching depth. Cisco has an 87-91 mph fastball, good curveball and solid changeup. He has a low-three-quarter arm slot and seems to have some deception. He comes from a baseball family with his brother Mike Cisco pitching in the Phillies organization. Their grandfather Galen Cisco was a big league pitcher but was better known for helping guide Blue Jays pitchers through its World Series years as the club’s pitching coach. The youngest Cisco should open 2011 in low-A ball despite his lack of experience.