Cincinnati Reds: A Report from the Minor League System
Billy Hamilton with Hall of Famer Barry Larkin
A good deal of my articles have dealt with prospects in the Reds' minor league system. Those prospects are about five to six games into the season, and some are tearing it up early.
As promised in my last prospects article, here's the first of a series of reports to be published this year to keep you updated on how future Reds are doing down on the farm.
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Jeff Francis and Andrew Brackman are leading the pitching staff in Louisville.
Many believed that Jeff Francis could have made the rotation out of spring training. Although I'm not a fan of that idea, Francis continues to make a good case for it in Louisville.
There's no question that Francis' best years are behind him, but he could make a useful long relief guy, or even spot starter, later in the year.
Andrew Brackman's an intriguing player. At just 26 years old, the Reds picked the Cincinnati native off the scrap heap. Brackman's got the perfect pitcher's build 6'10" 230 pounds.
He may never turn out to be the top tier starter the Yankees thought he could be, but he could fill a useful role in the Reds bullpen.
Kristopher Negron and Paul Janish are absolutely tearing it up through the first few games in Louisville.
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Janish has always been a decent Major League backup and at one point, figured to be the future for the Reds at shortstop. With the arrival of Zack Cozart and the trade for Wilson Valdez, Janish was left without a roster spot.
In the event of an injury to a middle infielder or possibly Scott Rolen, it will be Janish who gets the call to the show.
Negron's 26 years old now and has been in the minors since he was drafted by the Red Sox in '06. Negron's speed is his primary asset, and he's always had decent pop for a guy who figures to be a backup middle infielder.
He's never broken through, but this could be the year. If he can keep his batting average around .280 he'll get a call-up when the rosters expand in September.
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JC Sulbaran, Donnie Joseph and Pedro Villareal are the three pitchers worth noting through the first six games in Pensacola.
Sulbaran, Villareal and Joseph all fit the typical pitchers build. At 6'2", 6'1" and 6'3" respectively, they possess big, durable frames.
None of these three will see time in the majors this year, but Joseph could find his way into the Reds' bullpen by 2013 should the team follow through with its plan to start Aroldis Chapman.
At the very last, these three should find their way to Louisville sometime this year.
In Pensacola, the two big names through the first six games are Henry Rodriguez and Cody Puckett.
Henry Rodriguez is an intriguing prospect. At just 22 years old, he's got one of the more complete offensive games of anybody in the minor league system. In his first five seasons Rodriguez has failed to hit over .300 just one time.
Last year Rodriguez was brilliant in A+ and AA ball; he went .320/.372/.469 with 13 HR, 81 RBI and 76 runs. Rodriguez is being tested at third base this year, but it seems like it's just a matter of time before he challenges the major league roster.
Puckett is 25 and has yet to make a jump past AA. This will be Puckett's third straight year with time spent in AA, but he could make it to Louisville this year.
He's shown good power and speed reaching double digits in both categories each of the last three years. Puckett has played most of his games in the minors at second base, but this season he looks to be an outfielder.
Advanced A Bakersfield
There are three pitchers in high A-Bakersfield worth looking at thus far.
Daniel Renken might be the most overlooked pitcher in the Reds' system. Last season Renken made 26 starts going 8-8 with a 3.52 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 165 strikeouts in 143.1 innings.
This year Renken has picked up right where he left off. Renken should see time at AA-Pensacola sometime this season.
Cingrani pitched in the Pioneer League last year and was outstanding. He made 13 starts, went 3-2 with a 1.75 ERA, .80 WHIP and 80 strikeouts in 51.1 innings. His ratios were even more impressive. Cingrani had a 13.3 SO/BB ratio and a K/9 ratio of 14.11.
Those numbers were good enough for him to completely bypass low A Dayton. The 22-year-old is proving well worth the 2011 third-round selection spent on him, and he will be in AA by season's end.
Kyle Lotzkar, another 22-year-old, had a rough year in Dayton last year. However, it wasn't rough enough to keep him from getting promoted to Bakersfield. Lotzkar has shown the ability to keep guys off base, strike batters out at a high rate and keep his team in ball games.
Providing a return to the success he saw in the 2010 season, Lotzkar will join Renken and Cingrani in AA by the end of the 2012 season.
Tucker Barnhart and David Vial are worth a look in Bakersfield. In addition, I'll include super-prospect Billy Hamilton since everyone always wants to know what's going on with him.
Hamilton's average is down to start the year, but it won't stay there long. He's quickly gotten off to a hot start in every other area logging five stolen bases, three doubles, six RBI, a home run and three doubles in the team's first six games.
Switch hitters in the middle infield are incredibly valuable, but I'm a firm believer that Hamilton will become an outfielder before he reaches the bigs.
He's still going to spend a few years in the minors, but at 21, that shouldn't be an issue.
Barnhart, another 21-year-old switch hitter, fits a similar mold to former prospect Yasmani Grandal (with less pop). Barnhart will hit for a good average, call a good game behind the plate and provide solid defense. However, he will never provide the power that Devin Mesoraco does.
Barnhart, if he reaches the majors with the Reds, will likely play a role similar to the one Ryan Hanigan does.
David Vidal is likely the reason the Reds were so quick to give up Juan Francisco (outside of the fact that Francisco was fat, lazy and out of shape). Vidal is a better fielder than Francisco and his offensive game is progressing well. Last year Vidal hit .280/.350/.498 with 20 HR, 85 RBI and 85 runs.
If he continues at that level, he'll shoot through the organization quick this year and could challenge Todd Frazier for the right to replace Scott Rolen in 2013 or 2014.
What About Dayton?
To be totally honest, there isn't a lot to report on in low-A Dayton, so I'll spare you from further reading.
Be sure to check back around the end of the month for a follow-up report.
In the mean time, check out my earlier prospect articles: