Top 15 Prospects: Cincinnati Reds

I was prepared to write all sorts of glowing comments about the state of Cincinnati’s minor league system… but then a funny thing happened. The organization acquired one of the top arms in the National League at the cost of three key young prospects. Even with the trade dust now settled, though, the farm system still boasts some high ceiling prospects, as well as a plethora of interesting sleeper prospects.

1. Devin Mesoraco, C
BORN: June 19, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 1st round, Pennsylvania HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd

Mesoraco was a late-blooming prep star who stepped up his game at the right time and was selected in the first round of the 2007 draft. He had a slow start to his pro career, which began to extinguish his prospect flame but he threw some lighter fluid on the fire in ’10 and hasn’t stopped hitting since that time. The Pennsylvania native offers plus power and he may also hit for a decent batting average. Mesoraco isn’t just an offensive-minded catcher. He has a well-rounded game which includes solid throwing and excellent leadership. His receiving skills still need a little polishing. With his development the Reds’ front office was able to send fellow catching prospect Yasmani Grandal to the Padres in the Mat Latos deal, which nabbed the organization an outstanding young arm. Mesoraco should catch Latos in 2012 as he becomes the big league club’s starting catcher with Ryan Hanigan backing him up.

2. Billy Hamilton, SS
BORN: Sept. 9, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 2nd round, Mississippi HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 3rd

Speed demon is an apt term for Hamilton, who stole 103 bases in 123 tries in low-A ball in 2011. He’s hit into fewer double plays (seven) in three pro seasons than his ’11 total for triples (nine). If he keeps hitting, Hamilton could eventually become a real weapon at the top of the Reds lineup. He’ll need to make more contact, though, after posting a strikeout rate of 21.8 K%, up almost five percent over his ’10 season. Hamilton also does not currently possess much power (.082 isolated power rate) and does not project to add much pop. In the field the shortstop shows outstanding range thanks to his speed but he lacks premium arm strength and doesn’t have smooth actions. He could eventually be ticketed for center field, or possibly second base. Hamilton will move up to high-A ball to begin 2012.

3. Daniel Corcino, RHP
BORN: Aug. 26, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

When rumors began surfacing, true or not, that the Toronto Blue Jays were sniffing around first baseman Joey Votto – a Canadian native – Corcino’s name also surfaced as someone the Jays’ scouts were hot-and-heavy for. It’s easy to see why the largest scouting contingent in baseball would be interested in the right-hander. Corcino has developed out of the blue and is now the best pitcher in the minor league system, with apologies to Robert Stephenson. Corcino’s repertoire includes a low-90s fastball (which can touch the mid 90s), as well as a good slider and a changeup. His modest size keeps him from getting on top of the ball, limiting his ability to induce ground balls and his secondary stuff needs work for him to succeed in the Majors, but he’s still a few steps away from The Show and will open 2012 in high-A ball. Some scouts see Corcino as a future reliever because of his size and delivery but I spoke to a scout that expects him to surprise a lot of people. Signed in 2008 out of Venezuela, Corcino has out-performed big ticket signees Juan Duran and Yorman Rodriguez showing just how unpredictable teenage international prospects can be.

4. Robert Stephenson, RHP
BORN: Feb. 24, 1993
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round (27th overall), California HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

The club’s first pick of the 2011 draft, Stephenson did not sign in time to make his pro debut. He’ll likely open his career in extended spring training before heading to Rookie ball in June. The right-hander is currently a one-pitch pitcher with a strong fastball that ranges from 91-96 mph and shows good life. Scouts like his body and see more velocity in his frame as he fills out. He’s working on developing both his curveball and changeup, which is why he likely needs some more seasoning in a non-competitive environment before moving up to low-A ball. Stephenson has the makings of a No. 2 or 3 starter if he continues to develop as projected.

5. Zack Cozart, SS
BORN: Aug. 12, 1985
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 2nd round, University of Mississippi
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 8th

The Reds big league club will open the year with rookie Cozart at shortstop, surrounded by all-stars Scott Rolen, Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto. His biggest threats for playing time would be Paul Janish (wRC+ of 38) and Wilson Valdez (wRC+ of 67) so it’s clear that the job is his to lose. Cozart is what you might describe as “steady.” He doesn’t do any one thing really well but he has few holes in his game. He offers a solid defensive game although his arm strength is average for shortstop. At the plate he has some gap power and can also steal a few bases. Cozart’s biggest organizational threat is coming up quickly behind him in the form of Didi Gregoriuis.

6. Todd Frazier, IF/OF
BORN: Feb. 12, 1986
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 supplemental 1st round, Rutgers University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Frazier had a storied amateur career and two of his brothers also played pro ball so he has strong pedigree. Selected in the supplemental first round of the 2007 draft, the prospect has played all over the field and his best position may be third base, although he can also play left field and first base, as well as second and shortstop in a pinch. He’s not particularly strong at any position but has good arm strength. Frazier hasn’t developed quite as quickly at the plate as expected. He may not hit for a great average because he struggles to make contact and has struck out more than 20% of the time in his career. The Rutgers alum has plus power and could develop into a right-hand hitting utility player in the mold of Eric Hinske.

7. Didi Gregorius, SS
BORN: Feb. 18, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Zack Cozart is a more steady fielder but Gregorius ultimately has a higher ceiling. He’s a step or two behind Cozart on the depth chart but could eventually push the Reds’ 2012 starting shortstop to second base or a utility role if his bat fails to perk up. Gregorius has a very strong arm and good range at shortstop but he makes sloppy errors at times. At the plate he should offer line-drive pop but will probably never be a home run threat. He has good bat speed and a decent idea at the plate so Gregorius could offer a solid batting average as he continues to mature as a hitter. He has the foot speed necessary to nab 20+ bags in a full season.

8. Tony Cingrani, LHP
BORN: July 5, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 3rd round, Rice University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

A hard-throwing southpaw, Cingrani gets his heater into the 90-95 mph range and he’s improved his secondary pitches. His strikeout rate during his pro debut (13 starts in advanced Rookie ball) was an eye-popping 14.03 K/9. A reliever in college, the lefty had early success as a starter in pro ball but he’ll face a stiff challenge to repeat his success as he moves through the system. With an excellent pitcher’s frame, though, he should be able to hold up over a full season of work as a starter and provide more than 200 innings. Drafted as a senior out of college, Cingrani is a little older than your typical draftee but he could move quickly if he continues to improve his secondary pitches. Also beware, though, of the sordid injury history of Rice University pitchers.

9. J.C. Sulbaran, RHP
BORN: Nov. 9. 1989
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2008 30th round, Florida HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Sulbaran, a Curacao native, made a name for himself with some strong performances in the 2009 World Baseball Classic while pitching for the Dutch team. He was drafted out of a Florida high school by the Reds a year earlier and turned down a scholarship offer to play ball at the University of Florida. The right-hander had a rough introduction to pro ball and disappeared from the prospect radar for a bit. He’s improved each season, though, and his FIP has dropped from 5.88 to 4.25 to 3.29. Sulbaran’s control improved dramatically in ’11 at high-A ball when it dropped from 5.56 in ’10 to 3.28 BB/9. He’s filled out well and has a solid pitcher’s frame at 6’2” 200 lbs. His repertoire features a low-90s fastball, curveball and changeup.

10. Henry Rodriguez, 2B
BORN: Feb. 9, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Second base was a true organizational strength before the club flipped Ronald Torreyes to Chicago as part of the loot for reliever Sean Marshall. Torreyes was the best prospect at the position but it remains an area of strength with the presence of Rodriguez and Ryan Wright. Rodriguez lacks Torreyes’ defensive skills but he’s improved as a hitter and could hit for a solid average as a big leaguer. He’s a career .300 hitter in the minors and hit .340 in high-A ball in 2011 before moving up to double-A where he posted a wRC+ of 124. The infielder also shows surprising pop (He’s averaged 13 home runs over the past two years) and he’s stolen 30+ bases in each of the past two seasons thanks to slightly-above-average speed. He may have showed enough in 69 double-A games to earn a spot in triple-A for 2012 – especially with an impressive spring.

The Next Five

11. Ryan Wright, 2B: A hitting machine in college, Wright picked up right where he left off when he said goodbye to school to pursue his pro career. The second baseman hit more than .300 in 183 at-bats in Rookie ball. He also surprisingly popped eight home runs, although he was hitting in a good league for power numbers and wasn’t exactly young for the competition. Wright will definitely want to be a little less aggressive as he moves up the ladder, after walking just 4.9% of the time. An offensive-minded second baseman, he’s not a great fielder at second and he played multiple positions in college, leading some to project him as a utility player at the big league level.

12. Sean Buckley, 3B: The son of scouting director Chris Buckley, the young Buckley has developed into a very good prospect. He has a power hitter’s frame and his isolated power rate of .262 in 2011 speaks to that fact. As a college-drafted player, though, he was a tad old for the Rookie league. He doesn’t project to hit for average because he struggles to make consistent contact and struck out 28 percent of the time in his debut. In the dirt, he has a strong throwing arm and moves OK for his size but some see him eventually moving to right field or first base, but his arm would be wasted there.

13. Neftali Soto, 1B: One of my favorite B-level prospects, Soto began his career as a shortstop before moving all around the diamond and finally settling at first base. The 23-year-old has hit 52 home runs over the past two seasons and he’ll have to continue to mash as history is not kind to right-handed hitting first basemen. His isolated power rate of .303 from 2011 helps illustrated his power and he’s been fairly successful as maintaining a decent batting average throughout his career. His defense needs work but that’s not surprising given his travels around the diamond.

14. Kyle Lotzkar, RHP: Injuries have derailed the career of this former supplemental first round pick. The organization know that the Canadian hurler would be a long-term project when he was selected in the 2007 draft but his time on the DL has kept him from pitching above the low-A level and he’s never pitched more than 66.2 innings in a season. The right-hander has a strong pitcher’s frame but his throwing elbow has betrayed him more than once (stressed fracture, Tommy John surgery). If healthy, he’ll move up to high-A ball and now may be the time to shift him permanently to the bullpen.

15. Yorman Rodriguez, OF: Signed for more than $2 million in ’08, Rodriguez continues to flash impressive tools but he’s been painfully slow to develop. The outfielder struggles with his pitch selection and has yet to tap into his raw power. He has good speed but has a frame that suggests he’ll slow down as he matures physically. Rodriguez has a strong arm and should play right field in the Majors but could also see time in center field. Youth is still on his side as he did not turn 19 until near the end of the 2011 season. He will probably move up to high-A ball in 2012 but some more seasoning in low-A may be in the cards.

SLEEPER ALERT Gabriel Rosa, 3B: A second round pick out of Puerto Rico in 2011, Rosa was widely considered the best hitting prospect in the archipelago. He flashes an intriguing mix and power and speed. He’ll be just 18 for much of 2012 so he could return to Rookie ball after posting modest numbers at the same level in his debut. Rosa played the shortstop prior to the draft but Cincinnati shifted him to the hot corner where he’s understandably raw but showcases a strong arm.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
12 years ago

Your sleeper was the best hitting prospect in the US a year ago? Sounds like he should be ranked a tad higher. (Or maybe you forgot of which country Puerto Rico is a part.)

12 years ago
Reply to  byron

Oh snarf! Aren’t you the witty one!