The Reds system took a bit of a hit for 2009 after the organization graduated a plethora of rookie talent in 2008, including pitcher Johnny Cueto, first baseman Joey Votto, and outfielder Jay Bruce. The pitching depth is especially thin, but the club has restocked the hitting department with some solid picks in the last few drafts. It’s still a nice system.
Toolsy outfielder Drew Stubbs has shown steady improvement in the past two seasons and he played at three levels in 2008. He spent most of the season at High-A ball, where he hit .261 – but he also maintained a .315 average in 26 Double-A games, and had a .293 average in 19 Triple-A games. Stubbs, 24, could taste the Majors by mid-season and has the potential to hit 15 homers and steal 30 bases. He strikes out a lot, and probably always will.
Infielder Chris Valaika has hit like a mad man since entering pro ball as a third-round draft pick out of college in 2006. He hit .301/.352/.443 in Double-A in 2008 and has a .306 career batting average. Valaika has the potential to hit 15 homers and steal 10 bases at the MLB level. Defensively, he is average at shortstop but is better suited to second base.
Juan Francisco is basically a younger, cheaper version of current Reds third baseman Edwin Encarnacion. The switch hitter has slugged 48 home runs in the past two seasons and also stole 12 bases in 2007. In Double-A in 2008, Francisco hit .277/.303/.496 and posted rates of 3.6 BB% and 23.8 K%. A more selective approach at the plate may help him hit for a higher average.
Right-hander Daryl Thompson was originally drafted in the eighth round out of high school by the Montreal Expos and his career ascent has been slowed by injuries. He made his MLB debut with the Reds in 2008 and was roughed up by allowing 20 hits and seven walks in 14.1 innings. Thompson also pitched 17 games at Double-A and Triple-A and allowed just 83 hits in 107 innings of work. If a Reds starter falters in 2009, Thompson could be in front of former top prospect Homer Bailey for the first shot at filling in.
Raw Canadian Kyle Lotzkar, 19, has succeeded quicker than just about everyone expected, after he was taken in the 2007 supplemental first round. He has a career 3.40 ERA and has allowed just 51 hits in 66.2 innings, but Lotzkar made just 10 starts in 2008 thanks to an elbow injury. Surgery was not performed, so there remains a risk of it in the near future.
Todd Frazier was another 2007 supplemental first round pick – but he’s more advanced than Lotzkar, having been taken out of college. Drafted as a shortstop, Frazier is likely to make his MLB debut as a third baseman – or possibly a left-fielder. He split 2008 between A-ball and High-A and hit .281/.357/.451 with an ISO of .169 at the senior level.
Catcher Devin Mesoraco was drafted 15th overall out of high school in 2007 but his bat has been slow to develop in pro ball. He hit just .216 in his pro debut and posted a 2008 line of .261/.311/.399 in 206 at-bats. He also posted rates of 6.1 BB% and 20.9 K%. Perhaps my favorite Reds sleeper prospect, Neftali Soto was selected in the third round of the 2007 draft out of Puerto Rico. In two seasons, the 19-year-old third baseman (originally a shortstop) has hit .327/.360/.522 in 437 at-bats and spent 52 games in A-ball last season after beginning the year in extended spring training. He could open 2009 in High-A ball.
First baseman Yonder Alonso was the club’s first-round pick in 2008 and he could move quickly, despite appearing in just six High-A ball games in 2008 after signing late (He hit .316). Alonso, 21, made up for lost time by playing in the Hawaii Winter Baseball league and he hit .308/.419/.510 with four home runs in 104 at-bats. He also walked 20 times in 29 games.
Outfielders Yorman Rodriguez, 16, (Venezuela) and Juan Duran, 17, (Dominican Republic) were both signed as amateur free agents. Duran spent 2008 in extended spring training and then appeared in rookie ball and hit just .216, but he displayed plus-power potential and good speed. Rodriguez came over to North America for instructional league after the regular season ended and has the best outfield arm in the system, but he is still learning how to hit breaking balls.
Up Next: Kansas City Royals
These lists do not include all the talented prospects in each system – just a snap shot. Some players have been left out because I have covered them recently and not much has changed (You can link to the older posts from each player’s FanGraphs page) or I am planning a separate post on them in the very near future.