Billy Hamilton: Fastest. Player. Ever.
The Cincinnati Reds’ top 10 prospects headed into the 2013 season actually looks similar to how it did one year ago. However, that's also a testament to the progress made by numerous players this past season.
After stealing 103 bases in 2011, the organization’s top prospect, Billy Hamilton, exploded for a record-setting 155 steals in 132 games while making substantial strides in his plate discipline and on-base skills.
Beyond Hamilton, the organization had two other top-10 prospects, left-hander Tony Cingrani and shortstop DiDi Gregorius, reach the major leagues as September call-ups. Furthermore, right-hander Robert Stephenson—the Reds’ first-round draft-pick in 2011—was exceptional in his professional debut in the Pioneer League, and even finished the season at Low-A Daytona.
The organization also landed three of its current top-10 prospects in the first two rounds of the 2012 draft: right-hander Nick Travieso, outfielder Jesse Winker and shortstop Tanner Rahier.
Although they have a solid crop of young players both on the mound and at premium positions, the Reds' system lacks overall depth. But at the same time, with only a few holes to fill at the major league level, it’s not overly concerning at the moment.
Here’s a look at the Cincinnati Reds’ top prospects headed into the 2012 season.
DOB: 11/21/1988 (Age: 24)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 205
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2010 (Michigan)
Scouting Notes: Batted .263/.356/.353 with 30 extra-base hits and 30 stolen bases last season in 133 games for Double-A Pensacola; once again struggled to make consistent contact as he tallied a career-high 119 strikeouts; at the same time, he also notched a new personal best with 60 walks in his first full season at Double-A; bats right-handed, throws left-handed a la Ricky Henderson, Ryan Ludwick and Cody Ross.
LaMarre has solid gap power, and his above-average speed makes him a consistent extra-base threat; advanced approach and patience at the plate has led to consistently high on-base percentages; mediocre hit tool lacks top-of-the-order potential; has battled hamstring injuries in the past but remains an above-average base stealer who is capable of swiping at least 25 bags over a full season; he’s physically strong with raw power, but has never applied it during games.
Now behind Drew Stubbs and Billy Hamilton on the organizational depth chart, LaMarre suffices in center field, though his defensive skill set is a cleaner fit at a corner spot; however, given his speed and ability to reach base, it’s easy to see him spending some time as a fourth outfielder in the major leagues.
2013 Opening Day Level: Triple-A Louisville
DOB: 8/15/1992 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 185
Drafted/Signed: Aug. 2008 (Venezuela)
Scouting Notes: Rodriguez, a 6’2”, 185-pound outfielder, has all the tools and athleticism to be an impact player; twenty-year-old is still a raw work-in-progress; has developed a reputation as a head case after multiple scuffles with his teammates, and he’s been criticized for rarely giving an all-out effort on the field; opened the 2012 season at High-A Bakersfield, but was demoted back to Low-A Dayton after batting .156/.181/.200 in 23 games; bat was more explosive following the move (as it should have been), as the right-handed hitter batted .271/.307/.430 over 65 games.
Possesses both the speed and range to remain in center field, but he chooses not to attack catchable balls and demonstrates poor on-field body language; may only see time at a corner outfield position until he matures; has plenty of raw power, though he struggles to tap into it in games; plate discipline is lacking, as he struggles to pick up spin out of the pitcher’s hand; strikeout rate isn’t terrible, but he needs to work deeper counts with more consistency and coax more walks; doesn’t utilize speed on the basepaths and needs to understand when to pick his spots to steal.
Rodriguez’s tools and natural ability give him a high ceiling, though I’m skeptical whether he’ll ever mature enough to reach it.
2013 Opening Day Level: High-A Bakersfield
DOB: 10/12/1993 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 205
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2012
Scouting Notes: At 6’2”, 205 pounds, Rahier possesses present physical strength with the ability to add more as he develops; all his tools are only average at the moment, though they tend to play up due to his aggressive, hard-nosed style; everything he does on the field seemingly involves effort, which can makes it difficult to gauge his true ceiling at times; his struggles in the Arizona League were surprising, as he batted .192/.266/.311 with 14 extra-base hits and 43/21 K/BB in 51 games; despite the poor average and strikeout rate, Rahier did manage to drive in 30 runs in 193 at-bats.
A shortstop as an amateur, the 19-year-old will have to work to remain at the position; has an above-average glove and plus arm strength ideal for left side of the infield; his defense actions aren’t clean, and he typically relies on his instincts to complete the play; his speed is merely average which, in turn, impedes his range; some believe he’ll offer more value as a third baseman, but I’d rather see the Reds develop him at second base.
The right-handed hitter employs a hyper-aggressive approach, and he certainly takes his hacks; his pitch recognition is advanced relative to his age, though it doesn’t always prevent him from expanding his strike zone; will need to develop a more consistent approach at the plate rather than attempting to drive anything around the plate; bat-to-ball ability enables loud contact to all fields, though a majority of his present power comes to the pull side; hit tool will likely out-grade his power by the time he reaches the major leagues.
2013 Opening Day Level: Rookie-level Billings (Pioneer League)
DOB: 8/17/1993 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’3”, 195
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2012 (Olympia HS, Fla.)
Scouting Notes: A common name on the amateur showcase circuit for seemingly forever, I certainly didn’t expect Winker to go off in his professional debut as he did last season; batted .338/.443/.500 with 77 hits, 24 extra-base hits (five home runs) and 50/40 K/BB in 62 games with rookie-level Billings; ranked towards the top of the league in most offensive categories; lacks a true plus tool, but is at least average across the board.
A left-handed hitter, Winker’s hit tool is definitely his loudest; understands his limitations and demonstrates a feel for the strike zone well beyond his years; direct line-drive bat path that features plenty of extension after contact; there’s already some leverage to his swing, but he’d likely benefit in the power department with a bit more; tracks the ball deep into the zone and is comfortable driving the ball from line to line.
Winker isn’t particularly fast and doesn’t project to be a threat on the basepaths; however, he does have slightly above-average range in the outfield once he hits full stride; not enough speed for center field and not enough arm strength for right field projects him to be a big-league left fielder; his reads and first step were both shaky in his pro debut, though both should improve with experience; given his advanced bat and plate discipline, Winker should be ready for a full-season assignment to open the 2013 season.
2013 Opening Day Level: Low-A Dayton
DOB: 1/31/1994 (Age: 18)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 215
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2012 (Archbishop McCarthy HS, Fla.)
Scouting Notes: 6’2” right-hander came from an elite high school program where he was used sparingly on the mound; doesn’t require much physical projection given his thick build; have never been a fan of mechanics, more specifically, his arm action and release point; incredibly raw prospect who has good stuff, but it may take him several years to truly gain a feel for it.
Travieso was a mid-90s guy during the high school season, though that can be attributed to his use; sat in the low-90s this past summer in his professional debut in the rookie-level Arizona League; more of a thrower than pitcher at the moment and will need to incorporate more lower-body explosiveness and leg drive moving forward; curveball is a nascent pitch, but is thrown with velocity and sharp break; his release point may prevent him from ever throwing the pitch with consistency; changeup is presently an average offering, though it should be more effective with improved command of his fastball; refined overall command of his three-pitch mix and the development of breaking ball will seemingly dictate whether he sticks as a starter.
Personally, I see the young right-hander as more of a late-inning force out of the Reds’ bullpen.
2013 Opening Day Level: Rookie-level Reds (Arizona League)
DOB: 2/18/1990 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 185
Drafted/Signed: Aug. 2007 (Netherlands)
Scouting Notes: Regarded as a glove-first shortstop, Gregorius made impressive strides with the bat last season, as he drove the gaps with more consistency and showcased a more refined plate discipline; batted .278/.344/.373 in 81 games at Double-A Pensacola before a promotion to Triple-A Louisville; demonstrated considerably more power at the new level with 19 extra-base hits (including a career-high six home runs) in 48 games; collected six hits in 20 at-bats (.300) with the Reds as a September call-up.
A left-handed hitter, Gregorius has a compact swing with a direct bat path that results in line drives to all fields; could showcase more power against premium velocity at higher levels; doesn’t strike out a lot, but could also stand to draw more walks; excellent bat-to-ball skill set leads to hard contact, though it also results in too many weak outs; if on-base skills improve, he could potential serve as a No. 2 hitter.
Defense continues to be Gregorius’s calling card; easy plus defender at shortstop with quiet athleticism and great instincts; tons of range in all directions allows him to get to nearly everything, while his exceptional hand-eye coordination lends to his overall slick glove; arm strength is slightly above-average and more than enough to remain at the position.
I know Reds fans may not want to hear me say this, but I foresee Gregorius taking over for Zack Cozart at some point this season; even if he’s not starting, the 22-year-old would still be an asset on the big league bench.
2013 Opening Day Level: MLB
DOB: 7/5/1989 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 6’4”, 200
Drafted/Signed: Third round, 2011 (Rice)
Scouting Notes: A closer at Rice, the Reds opted to develop Cingrani as a starter upon selecting him in the third round of the 2011 draft; 6’4” left-hander breezed through the minor leagues in his full-season debut, opening the year with High-A Bakersfield and finishing in the Reds’ big-league bullpen; led all minor-league pitchers with a 1.73 ERA in 146 innings, while his 172 strikeouts were the second-highest total; appeared in three games out of the Reds’ bullpen in September and fanned nine batters in five innings.
Cingrani’s best pitch is his above-average low-90s fastball that plays up a grade to his deceptive arm action and release point; pitch seemingly jumps out of his hand with late, explosive action to his arm side; complements heater with an average changeup that looks nearly identical to his fastball upon release and has a similar fading action away from right-handed hitters; slider is a solid-average offering and more of a show-me pitch at the moment, though it was improved relative to his 2011 season; if it can evolve into a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch, then Cingrani should have no problem remaining a starter; if he remains a two-pitch guy, then he should still enjoy plenty of success in a bullpen role.
2013 Opening Day Level: Triple-A Louisville
DOB: 8/26/1990 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 5’11”, 205
Drafted/Signed: Jan. 2008 (Dominican Republic)
Scouting Notes: Corcino made the jump directly from Low-A Dayton in 2011 to Double-A Pensacola in 2012; an undersized right-hander at 5’11”, 205 pounds, he registered a 3.01 ERA and .216 BAA in 143.1 innings; his strikeout rate dipped while walk rate shot up, but it’s not concerning considering that he skipped High-A.
What I really like about Corcino is that nothing he throws is straight, as each of his offerings just seem difficult for the hitter to barrel; whip-like arm action and cross-body delivery makes it hard to pick up the ball out of his hand; fastball typically works in the low-90s with late action to the arm side, and he’s adept to manipulating the pitch for additional movement; his slider projects to be an above-average offering with nice tilt and break, while his changeup flashes late fade and average potential; he should be able to stick as a Nos. 3 or 4 starter in the major leagues, though it may take some for the Reds to make room for him.
2013 Opening Day Level: Triple-A Louisville
DOB: 2/24/1993 (Age: 19)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 190
Drafted/Signed: First round, 2011 (Alhambra HS, Calif.)
Scouting Notes: Stephenson enjoyed an excellent professional debut in the Pioneer League, as he registered a 2.05 ERA, 10.86 K/9 and 2.35 BB/9 over seven starts; was later promoted to Low-A Dayton, where he posted a 4.19 ERA over eight starts; 6’2” right-hander is advanced for his age with a distinct feel for both his arsenal and strike zone.
His fastball is a plus pitch with effortless 94-96 mph velocity, sometimes even more; commands it well to both sides of the plate and isn’t afraid to aggressively attack opposing hitters; has an advanced feel for fading changeup and sells it with a similar arm speed; his breaking ball will need to be cleaned up, but its present pace and shape suggests it’ll be at least an above-average pitch; with more experience and ongoing development of his secondary pitches, Stephenson should have no problem reaching his ceiling as a frontline starter.
2013 Opening Day Level: Low-A Dayton
DOB: 9/9/1990 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6’1”, 160
Drafted/Signed: Second round, 2009 (Taylorsville HS, Miss.)
Scouting Notes: Hamilton blossomed as a prospect in 2012, as he significantly closed the gap between his ridiculous athleticism and baseball skills; shattered the professional stolen base record with 155 in 132 games; without a doubt the fastest player I’ve ever seen on a baseball field; profiles as a legitimate top-of-the-order hitter with his legendary, game-changing speed and vastly improved on-base skills; was moved from shortstop to center field for the 2012 Arizona Fall League and should have no problem sticking at the position.
Hamilton’s always been insanely fast, but his prospect stock shot up this past season thanks to a vastly improved contact rate and approach from both sides of the plate; did a much better job putting the ball in play and putting added pressure on opposing defense; feet never stop moving on the baseball field, especially on the basepaths; more of a slap hitter from natural right side; as a left-handed hitter, Hamilton has more defined extra-base power and a more leveraged swing.
Was developed as a shortstop up until this fall when the Reds moved him to center field in the Arizona Fall League; showed speed and range to handle shortstop, but arm strength was always lacking with an awkward stroke; arm strength actually plays well in center field given his length on the backside; his speed should allow him to compensate for poor reads; has all of the tools to be a top-of-the-line defensive center fielder, and he’ll get to even more balls as his jumps and instincts improve.
2013 Opening Day Level: Triple-A Louisville (MLB, maybe)
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