The Cincinnati Reds organization features some high-ceiling talent at the top of the Top 15 list but the depth in the organization is lacking. There are some impact arms at the top but the up-the-middle offensive players are somewhat lacking, other than Billy Hamilton.
Hamilton is probably one of the most hyped prospects in recent memory because of his plus-plus speed and 100+ stolen base totals that he’s racked up in each of the past two minor league seasons. Some patience is required with the prospect, though, as he’s not a finished product. One thing that excites the Reds, though, is that he could develop into an impact lead-off hitter. A contact stated, “It’s hard to find guys with the mentality and desire to be a good lead-off hitter… It’s not always a glamorous spot.”
Hamilton, 22, was shifted from shortstop, his natural position, to center field late in 2012 so the coming season will be key in his defensive development. He has all the skills necessary to develop into a plus fielder — above-average range, good arm and developing reads. The contact I spoke with said the defensive move had nothing to do with the organization’s feeling that Hamilton could not handle shortstop. “It’s more about what he can do, rather than what he can’t, with this move… He’s going to be one of the best [in center field].”
Hamilton split 2012 between high-A and double-A before finishing the year off in the Arizona Fall League. The contact I spoke with said Hamilton got off to a low start in double-A when he moved up and that might have been one of the best things for his development. It might be shocking to hear, but the talent evaluator said the struggles were “good to see,” adding that it often doesn’t help prospects when their first tastes of adversity come at the big league level. “It can really crush a guy,” he added. Hamilton should open 2013 in triple-A and his defensive development will dictate when he’s ready to contribute at the big league level.
Stephenson, who will turn 20 in February, has appeared in just 15 games to this point his pro career despite being drafted in 2011. The right-hander has been handled cautiously and it’s easy to understand why, given the promising arm that he has. Stephenson works in the low-to-mid 90s with his fastball and can touch the upper 90s. He also has a plus curveball, good changeup and a splitter that he threw very well in high school but it was taken away from him — perhaps temporarily — when he turned pro. I’m told the organization wanted him to work on developing his changeup.
A contact I spoke with told me that Stephenson “throws very easily and has good stuff. His delivery is good, he’s a good athlete, and he’s a very intelligent kid.” With that said, he added that the California native needs to use his secondary weapons more often now that he’s facing professional hitters, as opposed to prep opponents. “With an arm that good you can pretty much throw [the fastball] past any high school hitter.” Stephenson, who has an impressive pitching frame, should return to low-A ball and could see high-A ball by the second half of the season.
Cingrani, 23, has a plus fastball for a southpaw that ranges from 89-94 mph. He also flashes an above-average-to-plus changeup. Unfortunately his breaking ball is below average. A talent evaluator I spoke with, though, is not concerned with the prospect sticking in the starting rotation. “He’s been working on his secondary pitches… and things were coming on quite quickly at the end of the year… He’s figured out what he needs to do to pitch in the big leagues.”
Signed as a college senior out of Rice University, Cingrani has been a huge steal. He reached the majors in his first full season in pro ball. Thanks to the rotation depth at the big league level, Cingrani will likely open 2013 in triple-A but he should receive a promotion before Daniel Corcino, who arguably has the higher ceiling. The southpaw has an outside shot at breaking camp in the big league bullpen as a versatile arm capable of acting as a spot starter.
Corcino is a sturdy but under-sized right-hander that invokes comparisons to current Reds starter Johnny Cueto, as well as former Angels hurler Ramon Ortiz. The 22-year-old prospect spent 2012 in double-A and pitched well. His repertoire includes a 90-94 mph fastball with good movement, as well as two very promising secondary pitches: a slider and changeup. A contact I spoke with said that Corcino — at this point — is further ahead in the development of his secondary stuff than Tony Cingrani. Corcino throws across his body and has some effort to his delivery.
The Dominican Republic native has averaged more than 140 innings over the past two seasons and I was told by a talent evaluator that Corcino could pitch in a big league bullpen now. There has been some talk that his permanent role could be in a big league bullpen but the contact stated that the Reds will continue to develop him as a starter. “He has shown that he can pitch as a starter and there is no reason to look at him as anything else,” he said. Corcino should open 2013 in triple-A and is probably currently a step behind Cingrani on the organizational ladder.
A contact I spoke with referred to Travieso as a potential top-of-the-order arm that you can dream on. “We saw him as high as 98 mph… He’s a big guy, a strong guy. And we think he’ll be a durable guy.” Taken 14th overall in the 2012 amateur draft, the right-hander also has a promising slider and a changeup that needs a fair bit of work.
Even though he has weapons, Travieso has some things to work on. “He has to learn how to change speeds… and keep his front side closed better… He needs to learn to slow himself down more,” the talent evaluator said, adding that command is also key. “No matter how hard a kid throws a baseball… eventually the hitters get them.” Travieso, 19, will likely open 2013 in extended spring training before moving up to short-season ball — or possibly low-A ball with a strong showing.
Langfield may end up being a steal as a third round pick from the 2012 draft. He had a dominating pro debut and has the stuff to back up the hype. The right-hander pitched 37 innings and struck out 54 batters. A contact I spoke to referred to the 22-year-old hurler as a “big, strong, aggressive guy” that needs to tone down the max-effort approach if he’s going to remain a starter. “He has to learn to pitch differently,” the contact said.
Langfield’s fastball works in the 90-94 mph range and can touch 96-97 mph. Unfortunately it can get too straight at times. He also has two breaking balls: a curveball and a slider. The University of Memphis alum should open 2013 for one of two A-ball teams. He needs to improve upon both his command and control but with some adjustments he could move quickly.
Hoover was acquired last April from the Atlanta Braves for third baseman Juan Francisco, who was out of options and did not make the opening day 25-man roster. The pitcher then split the year between triple-A and the majors. Hoover split 2011 between the starting rotation and the bullpen but was moved into the latter role full-time by the Reds. He took to it like a duck to water and gave up just 32 hits all year (in just under 70 innings). Hoover has very good control and solid command but he’s an extreme-fly-ball pitcher.
When I asked if the Reds would consider moving him back to the starting rotation, given his dominance in 2012, I was told that the door hasn’t been totally shut on the idea but “He’s been too good in the role that we have him in… He’s in a real important role.” I was also told that he could possibly see time in the ninth inning if the opportunity were to present itself. “The ninth inning is a different animal because of the mentality and makeup needed,” the talent evaluator said. “[Hoover] seems to be a guy that wouldn’t get phased by the ninth inning.”
A supplemental first round draft pick from back in 2007, Lotzkar’s development has been slowed by injuries, including Tommy John surgery that entirely wiped out his 2009 season. The lost time has hurt him immensely because, as a Canadian coming from a cold weather area, he had less amateur experience than those coming from areas such as California, Florida and Arizona that can play ball all year around. The 2012 season represented the first time that he has broken the 100-inning barrier in pro ball.
Lotzkar has solid stuff with a fastball that can hit the 92-94 mph range. He also has an above-average curveball but his changeup is still below average and could eventually force him to the bullpen. The right-hander is getting close to the majors but a fully healthy season in 2013 will be key in his development. As a contact said. “You can’t get anywhere if you don’t string together some health… These kids need some consistency to develop… It’s a hard enough game to learn, and when you pile that on it’s tough.”
The 49th overall pick of the 2012 amateur draft out of a Florida high school, Winker exploded onto the scene with a .338 batting average in the Pioneer League. The left-handed hitter “doesn’t have monster tools,” a contact admitted but added that Winker has an advanced bat for a prep pick. He can hit both left- and right-handed pitchers, uses the whole field and can center the ball on the barrel with ease. “He’s very advanced in his thought process,” the talent evaluator said.
Winker has “left-field-type tools” with average fielding ability and an average arm. Some reports have raised concerns that the prospect could fall into the “tweener category,” but the contact I spoke with wasn’t worried and said the prospect offers enough potential to be a big league starter thanks to his plus bat. A strong springer could launch Winker to full-season ball in the Midwest League.
Gelalich had a rough pro debut but the supplemental first rounder from 2012 has impressive potential. The corner outfielder has a solid approach at the plate and isn’t afraid to use the whole field. He should develop at least average power. The UCLA alum, like Jesse Winker, is an advanced player but I’m told he was “dinged up” when he entered pro ball, which hurt his overall numbers.
A talent evaluator told me that Gelalich has an average bat, solid-average power, a solid arm and he’s a good runner. Right field is said to be his best position thanks to his arm and range. “We think he can be a complete player… with very solid tools,” the contact said. Gelalich could open 2013 in high-A ball if he has a strong spring. More likely, though, he’ll start in low-A ball and could move quickly if he gets off to a fast start.
Rodriguez garnered a $2.5 million contact in 2008 when he signed out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old. He will be entering his fifth pro season in 2013 but is still just 20 years old. After spending all of 2011 in low-A ball, he moved up to high-A ball to begin ’12 but struck out 39 times (with just three walks) in 23 games. That earned him a return engagement to low-A ball where he righted the ship.
Rodriguez oozes tools, including plus raw power and a strong arm suited for right field. The organization feels he can play an above-average center field but he’s more comfortable in right. A contact I spoke with said the prospect’s struggles in his career can partially be linked to personal issues that he’s had to deal with during his young life, and they have divided his attention. “It’s been a struggle to where he can just enjoy the game,” he said, adding that Rodriguez finally had some of the burden eased late in 2012. “He now has a clear mind to use all his tools.”
Added to the 40-man roster, the talent evaluator I spoke with said he’s excited to see how Rodriguez performs in big league camp this spring, because he feels the veterans will take the young outfielder under their wings and teach him a lot. “He’s a very good person, very smart. Everyone pulls for him.” The young hitter will likely receive another shot at the California League in 2013 but remains a few years away from realizing his full potential.
Potentially-plus defensive catchers capable of holding their own in the majors do not grow on trees and Barnhart has a chance to be one of those rare players. He’s a strong field leader, calls a good game and is a solid receiver. He also shuts down the running game and his caught-stealing rate of 38% last year was actually a career-low. Barnhart, 22, is a safe bet to reach the majors but his bat will dictate if he’s an up-and-down third-string catcher, big-league back-up, or potential starter.
Barnhart opened 2012 in high-A ball and provided decent offense. The Indiana native provides gap power and some patience at the plate. The switch-hitter is much better from the left side. He was promoted to double-A out of necessity when injuries struck the organization and he posted an OPS of .555 in 41 double-A games. A contact I spoke with said Barnhart gets dinged unfairly as a poor hitter because of his performance in double-A, adding that he should have never been at that level in 2012. “Tucker is a tough kid and we knew he could go up… and play over his head,” he said. “We think he’ll hit just fine.”
Guillon had a breakout season in 2012 despite appearing in just four games above short-season ball. The southpaw improved both his command and control but he remains a work-in-progress. He has an 87-92 mph fastball and occasionally touches 93-94 mph. His plus changeup is his best pitch but his breaking ball is below-average and needs a lot of work.
Guillon, who will turn 21 in February, had to be added to the 40-man roster early due to the voiding of his original pro contract with the Reds. The organization left him unprotected during the first two off-seasons of his career but was added after the 2012 season. As a talent evaluator stated, “People have seen him enough… now he’s on everyone’s radar.”
I’m told the Reds’ view of Guillon has not changed due to the fact they now have to worry about his option years running out. They will continue to develop him as a starter but the contact I spoke with admitted that that could change if/when he nears the end of his options and he hasn’t established himself in the big leagues. Guillon will return to low-A ball in 2013 and, with continued improvements, could see high-A ball by the end of the season.
The Reds have passed some interesting second base prospects through their system in recent years with the likes of Rodriguez, Ryan Wright, and Ronald Torreyes (traded to the Cubs). Rodriguez, soon to be 23, has done nothing but hit in his career to date, with 2012 representing the biggest speed bump (but he still hit .282 in the regular season). The offensive-minded second baseman is a switch-hitter with an above-average hit tool, but his other tools grade out as average.
He spent 2012 at double-A and triple-A before receiving his first taste of the majors with a 12-game cup of coffee. He’s spent the off-season playing regularly in the Venezuelan Winter League. Primarily a second baseman, a contact I spoke with said Rodriguez could also competently play shortstop and third base as a utility player. “I think he can play second base everyday in the big leagues… just not [for the Reds],” he said, mentioning incumbent big league second baseman Brandon Phillips as a significant roadblock. “Henry can be a good offensive player coming off the bench.”
The contact I spoke with said Rodriguez has an uncanny ability to barrel the ball thanks to outstanding hand-eye coordination. “Even at a young age… I think he’s going to figure things out quickly,” the talent evaluator said. “He’s definitely a big league hitter.” The Venezuela native will likely open 2013 in triple-A thanks to the presence of Jack Hannahan, Jason Donald and non-roster invitee Cesar Izturis.
I’ll admit it, Lutz was not originally on my Top 15 list until I started making phone calls. The powerful left-handed hitter could develop into a valuable platoon outfielder or strong bat off the bench. His best position may be first base but he’s no threat to unseat incumbent Joey Votto. Lutz, soon to be 24, spent four years in the low minors after being signed as a non-drafted player, but reached double-A in 2013. He’s hit more than 20 home runs in each of the past two seasons, which helps to illustrate his plus power. Lutz probably won’t ever hit for a huge average and he needs to be less aggressive in an effort to get better pitches and better counts to hit in. He finished the year in the Arizona Fall League and held his own in just 11 games.
Although he’s not a stolen base threat, Lutz is an excellent base runner and has deceptive speed for a 6’3” 235 lb player. “He runs very well despite being a big dude,” a contact said. “When he gets on base, he’s a threat… He’ll go first to third and score on a hit into the gap.” Predominantly a first baseman early in his career, Lutz will see even more time in the outfield in 2013, according to one of the contacts I spoke with recently. He needs to add a lot of polish to his defense, though. Lutz will work on the finer aspects of his game in double-A and could reach triple-A, if not the majors, by the end of the ’13 season.