The youth movement is in full swing for the Cincinnati Reds. Even with veteran-loving Dusty Baker running the show, Cincinnati has received some of its strongest performances from youngsters under the age of 25.
Jay Bruce tore up Triple-A, posting the highest OPS (1.023) in the International League before making his highly anticipated major league debut. Bruce then caught the nation’s eye with his first week in the bigs, providing enough walk-off hits to make David Ortiz jealous in a sensational debut. Bruce mania swiftly followed, as the 20-year-old Texan received a full feature in Sports Illustrated and even took some thunder away from Ken Griffey Jr., whose pursuit of 600 home runs came to an end back in June. While he has fallen back down to earth a bit—.264/.319/.410, seven homers overall—he is currently one of the most exciting young outfielders to watch in the league, showing why he was the number one prospect in the minors in several pre-season Top 100 lists. He will undoubtedly serve as a mainstay in an outfield that is expected to lose Adam Dunn and Griffey Jr. in the near future, most likely in right field.
Edinson Volquez has been spectacular as well, going 12-4 with a 2.77 ERA with a 134-to-61 K/W ratio in 21 starts to earn an invitation to the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. Volquez, who came to Cincinnati in exchange for Josh Hamilton this winter, has even drawn comparisons to Pedro Martinez with his electric performance thus far. He is likely to anchor the Reds’ starting rotation well into the next decade, easing the pain among Cincinnati fans with the loss of Hamilton, who is flourishing with the Texas Rangers.
Johnny Cueto has had his ups and downs, but has also flashed glimpses of brilliance, posting a 116-to-47 K/W ratio and a park-inflated 5.02 ERA. Cueto, 22, is also a major reason why the future looks bright for the franchise, though he has been lost in translation pitching alongside his All-Star teammate.
Then there is rookie Joey Votto, the Reds’ premier position player prospect outside of Bruce entering the season. Votto quickly supplanted veteran Scott Hatteberg as the full-time first baseman after a strong start to emerge as one of the most productive offensive rookies in the majors. The 25-year-old left-handed hitter is batting .270/.339/.440. While he has not shown even average on-base skills, drawing only 36 walks in over 350 plate appearances, he has flashed tremendous power and is among rookie leaders with 13 home runs.
Cincinnati, 12.5 games back in the NL Central, is clearly out of it for this year, and should look to make some deals at the deadline with an eye on adding a supporting cast for the aforementioned core. With a plethora of soon-to-be free agents on the roster expected to come off the books come September, general manager Walt Jocketty truly has a nice opportunity to turn his team into a force on the Senior Circuit for years to come.
However, the Reds have drawn scant interest from other clubs about Bronson Arroyo—who has $25 million remaining on his contact and was reportedly taken off the market—and Adam Dunn. Dunn, who has the ninth-highest OPS total in the league and is tied for the majors’ lead with 30 home runs, would certainly upgrade the offensive attack for a contending club with his high-level offensive production. He is a polarizing slugger, however, who has scared away several potential suitors with his poor defense and high strikeout totals. His days are likely coming to an end in Cincy, regardless, but he is serious undervalued within the industry and it will be tough to replicate his production.
With a number of prospects flourishing in the majors, there are still several high-quality prospects still developing.
Homer Bailey—yeah, the phenom right-hander from Texas who was lit up this weekend—has still yet to establish himself in the majors. Considering the hype that has surrounded Bailey since he was drafted in the first round back in 2004, this is a major disappointment. He has been ineffective in nearly all of his six major league starts this time around, going 0-4 with a 6.52 ERA and 11-to-13 K/W ratio in 29.0 innings pitched. The 22-year-old, still yet to develop a capable second offering, has been hit hard as well, giving up eight gopher balls and nearly two hits per inning during his up-and-down stay with the parent club. He was absolutely awful in his latest outing, on Saturday, allowing 15 hits and four earned runs in a loss to the Colorado Rockies. He turned in two quality outings—in which he allowed three runs or less in 5.2 innings plus against the San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers— before the weekend debacle at Great American, but is likely to be shipped back down to the minors.
Bailey has hardly been dominant in Triple-A, either, as he is 4-7 with a 4.42 ERA, 82-to-38 K/W ratio and 1.42 WHIP in 16 starts with the Louisville Bats. While many have questioned his attitude, his velocity is down and his performance has left a lot to be desired, he is still young enough, at 22, to turn things around. Still, his star has dimmed.
There are a few talented bats in the wings as well, several of whom are still miles away from contributing to the big league club. The group includes Juan Francisco, Todd Frazier and Drew Stubbs and is likely to receive a boost with the addition of first-round pick Yonder Alonso, who is a Scott Boras client and has yet to sign.
Francisco has tremendous power potential, currently sitting with 15 home runs for the Sarasota Reds. He has drawn only 13 walks while striking out 93 times, however, and needs to improve his approach at the plate. One could even say that he is Dunn without all of the runs scored and walks. Still, the corner infielder is only 20 years old playing against older competition, is a switch hitter and has compiled 46 extra-base hits and a line of .284/.307/.479 in 405 at-bats. If he can figure things out plate discipline-wise and bring his on-base skills to an acceptable level, then he could turn into a prospect to keep a close eye on.
Frazier, the Reds’ supplemental first-round pick back in ’07 out of Rutgers University, had a fine professional debut season, posting a line of .319/.405/.538 in 47 games in lower-level ball. The former Little League World Series hero began this year at Dayton, where he posted a 1.000 OPS and hit seven home runs in 30 games. He then received a promotion to the Florida State League, remaining at shortstop—he will most likely be forced to switch positions—while receiving the label as a “gamer” from many scouts along the way. At a tough hitters’ park down in Sarasota, he has been solid yet unspectacular, hitting .292/.367/.468 with nine home runs and 40 RBIs.
Frazier is an excellent infield prospect, though, and will likely end the season at Double-A.
Stubbs recently made the jump to the Southern League, where he has performed well (.341/.431/.386) in a brief sample size with the Chattanooga Lookouts. How he performs the remainder of the season in Double-A will be a play a huge factor in the development of the 2006 First-Round pick, who had a tremendous collegiate career at the University of Texas.
A solid defensive outfielder with great speed, Stubbs has shown the ability to get on base since signing. While he has not hit for the power that many expected yet—he hit numerous towering shots during his days with the Longhorns—he has been a consistent offensive player who continues to improve. Before his promotion, he batted .261/.366/.406 with five home runs, 38 RBIs and 27 stolen bases in 35 tries down in Sarasota.
Alonso and the Reds are expected to reach an agreement on a signing bonus before the August 15 deadline, which will add a high-impact player who is ready to make a quick jump to the majors to the Reds’ minor league system. The University of Miami star, who reportedly had dinner this weekend with stars Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez, posted a ridiculous 1.311 OPS and finished sixth in the nation with 24 home runs during his final college campaign. He has great on-base skills and an advanced approach to hitting, which should allow him to make a quick rise through the organization.
The Reds have plenty of interesting prospects, though there is a drop off in pitching depth after Bailey, who will lose his prospect label one of these days. Still, the organization—regardless of what happens before Thursday or not—has a bright future ahead of itself.
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