After surprisingly making the playoffs in 2010, the Reds slipped in 2011, primarily due to a starting staff that declined rapidly, and it didn’t help that top prospect Aroldis Chapman had a really rough start to the season. Other than Chapman, few other Reds prospects spent major time in the majors, though several of them made an appearance in the majors. That’s not too bad though, considering that they’ve promoted several players over the past few years and have several good prospects near the majors.
The top prospect is clearly Devin Mesoraco, but the Reds have several other really good ones as well. Mesoraco is the heir apparent behind the plate, but just behind him, Yasmani Grandal will force a trade of one or the other if Mesoraco proves capable of holding down the starting gig. Yonder Alonso may also force a trade as he needs a spot, but he doesn’t have one due to the presence of Joey Votto. There is certainly no shortage of talent at the upper levels of this system.
After that, the Reds system is full of intriguing tools players that scouts like but have some reservations about. Billy Hamilton sure has the speed, but does he have anything else? Is Robert Stephenson more than just another high school flame-out? Can Yorman Rodriguez put it all together? What about Henry Rodriguez and/or Ronald Torreyes? While the system certainly has some talent at the top, they also have some at the lower levels.
Although the Reds certainly took a step back this season, their situation isn’t too bad. The pitching was bad, but with a few bounce backs that are certainly possible, they’ll be a contender again. The farm system, then, looks to add new reinforcements, especially with Mesoraco adding All-Star potential behind the plate. The only weakness in the system is the pitching, as they’ve added several guys in recent years such as Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, and Chapman, but they haven’t added much to the system, with new addition Stephenson the only one on this list.
Devin Mesoraco C
Age/Level (as of 4/2012): 23/MLB
Projection: 4+ WAR
Mesoraco’s first three seasons in the minors were pretty bad compared to the expectations given to the 15th pick of the draft, but after recommitting himself to getting in shape, Mesoraco turned things around in a drastic fashion in 2010. Mesoraco followed with a stellar 2011, and he’s now one of the best, if not the best, catching prospects in baseball. He does this by being such a good offensive asset with above-average hit and power tools as well as an advanced approach. Defensively, he won’t win any Gold Gloves, but he’s a solid backstop with a strong arm and decent receiving skills that improved over the past year. It looks like Mesoraco will be the starting catcher next season, and he’ll have Ryan Hanigan around to make sure he doesn’t get abused too much.
Yonder Alonso 1B/LF
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Alonso may not remain part of the Reds organization through the winter, but it’s not his fault. Alonso is a pretty classic first base prospect. He can hit, take his walks, and hit for above-average power, and he’s done it all the way through the minors. The big question with him is where he’ll play. His best position is first, at which he’s maybe average, but Joey Votto is there. What the Reds would like to do is move him to a corner, but he’s Adam Dunn-bad out there with his well below-average speed and range. Alonso is an excellent prospect, but he doesn’t seem to have a place in Cincinnati, which makes a trade likely.
Yasmani Grandal C
Projection: 3-5 WAR
Everything I just said about Mesoraco with a slight deduction in tools and adding that he’s a switch hitter describes Grandal. He has an average hit tool with above-average power, and he does have an advanced approach. Behind the plate, he’s not quite as good as Mesoraco, mainly because he shockingly drops some balls. I saw him once, and he dropped two pitches that I could have caught. That being said, it may just be one of those things because he’s pretty good everywhere else. The thing is that Mesoraco seems the better bet, and like Alonso, Grandal may find himself to be part of a trade this winter.
Billy Hamilton 2B/SS
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Well, we know he can run. One cannot steal 103 bases in one season without blinding speed, and Hamilton’s blinding speed rates as an 80 on the grading scale. The question, however, becomes what else he has. He has below-average power, and there are questions about the hit tool, though he can turn plenty of routine grounders into hits. As for his defense, he has plenty of range, but he doesn’t have a strong arm and makes quite a few errors, which may necessitate moving to second base. If Hamilton can stick at short, he’s potential star as he could still fill out a bit and has plenty of time to improve, but even if he moves to second, he still looks like a solid regular.
Robert Stephenson SP
If I told you Stephenson was your stereotypical first-round high school pitcher, you’d have a pretty good image of Stephenson. His fastball sits in the low-90s, but he can go a bit higher at times. In addition to his fastball, he has a solid curve that has room for improvement, and his change is still in its infancy. Stephenson’s mechanics are pretty smooth and simple, but he lands stiffly on his front leg, cutting off part of his delivery and making improving his control more difficult. See? Typical high school righty. He’s got plenty of time and plenty of possible scenarios.
Yorman Rodriguez OF
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Rodriguez didn’t have the year people were hoping for, but that could have simply been because he was still getting over an injury he suffered late last season. Rodriguez remains loaded with tools from above-average power, arm strength, and speed, and while he lost some development time this season, he was still 18 in Low-A and has plenty of time left. Rodriguez is still plenty raw and needs improvement, but when you look at prospects, age and tools mean a lot. Rodriguez has both on his side.
Henry Rodriguez 2B
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Rodriguez certainly isn’t a big guy, but he continues to prove that he can play. Once a shortstop, Rodriguez’s lack of arm strength has moved him to second base, and while he’s not great shakes there, his calling card will be his bat. Rodriguez has always hit for average and a bit of power, but he made strides this season in pitch selection and patience, all while moving up to AA. Because of his size, he’ll always have his doubters, and he can do a little more to prove them wrong by doing to AAA what he did to everyone else so far.
Todd Frazier 3B/LF/RF
Projection: 1-3 WAR
It must be hard to be Todd Frazier. He’s pretty good at quite a few things, but he’s not exactly good enough at anything. For instance, Frazier can play all the corner spots, but he doesn’t play any of them particularly well. Offensively, he can hit, take a walk or two, and hit for a bit of power, but he can’t do any of them well enough to play one of those corner spots. So that makes him a bench player, but the feeling is that he’ll be a valuable bench player who sticks around for a while. That’s not that bad.
Dave Sappelt OF
Age/Level: 25/AAA or MLB
Projection: 1-3 WAR
Sappelt is quite like our friend Todd Frazier. He can hit, take a walk or two, and hits for some power, but he probably doesn’t do any of them well enough to start. Defensively, he only plays the outfield, and he has enough speed to play center, though Drew Stubbs is an obvious obstacle. But again, he just doesn’t do anything well enough to seriously consider him as a starter long-term. The life of a bench player isn’t a glamorous one, but having him and Frazier will help the Reds quite a bit.
(Author’s Note: Boxberger’s report initially got cut off when I transferred it from Word, but it’s here now.)
Brad Boxberger RP
Projection: Middle Reliever
I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest Boxberger fan, but there are enough people who think otherwise to make me put him on the list. He starts off with a fastball at 93-95, but it’s pretty straight. His secondary pitches include a slider/curve and a change-up, but both are fringe-average, though there are days where the slider is much better. On his worst days, Boxberger is a hard-thrower with little control, but there are days where he’s near unhittable. I saw him a few times in Louisville and never saw the latter.
Big Question – Too Much of a Good Thing?
Well, of course, there never is too much of a good thing, especially when that is depth. That depth, however, is going to make this organization make some difficult decisions. If Mesoraco takes the catching job, do you trade Grandal now, or do you wait to see if Mesoraco pans out, which could end with the Reds missing out on a needed trade? In regard to Alonso, do you move him in a trade, or do you really try to move him to the outfield? Or do you move Votto, hoping for a massive return? And what about Rodriguez and Torreyes and Brandon Phillips? These aren’t necessarily the worst questions to have in the world, but they are questions that could have serious ramifications on the future of the organization.