A lot of attention has been given this offseason to the Reds' more developed minor league talent. Yonder Alonso, Juan Francisco, Todd Frazier, Devin Mesoraco, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Cozart, Chris Valaika, Kris Negron, Dave Sappelt, and Donnie Joseph could all contribute something to the Reds in 2011. The downside to all of this near-MLB ready talent is that very few of these guys have the upside to be stars, and many not even the upside to be starters.
That's not really a problem for 2011, when the Reds main need is bench help and depth in case of injuries. (well, and a viable left fielder and maybe shortstop. But that's another discussion, one that I think has maybe already taken place a few times on this blog....) But where does that leave the team years down the road, when they will need a new influx of cheap talent to replace guys who have become too old or too expensive? Do we really want a lineup consisting primarily of the guys mentioned above?
Luckily, there is help on the horizon. If you cast your eyes past the relative talent wastelands of Zebulon and Lynchburg, way out to the far-off lands of Dayton, Billings, and Goodyear, you will find a promised land. A land flowing with milk and upside. A land spoken of by our forefathers but heretofore unrealized. This is the Land of the High-Ceiling Teenage Prospect, and I invite you to journey there with me, that we might taste of the future bounty that awaits us....
Every organization has a significant number of teenage players in its system, but you'd be hard-pressed to find another with the depth and upside of teenage talent that the Reds boast. Here are 12 players, all of whom were 19 years old or younger in 2010, and all of whom possess the talent and upside to potentially, eventually, be every day players in the bigs.
Billy Hamilton, SS/2B
We start with my personal favorite. Hamilton was drafted in the second round in 2009, and could possibly be the best athlete in the entire organization. He boasts blazing speed, a strong arm, and the ability to make highlight-reel plays in the middle infield. He spent 2009 learning to switch hit in order to best utilize his speed, and in 2010 started to see some results. He should start the year in Dayton, which will be his first taste of full-season ball. Expect big things.
Yorman Rodriguez, OF
Our-man can also make an argument for best athlete. Rodriguez was signed just after his 16th birthday out of Venezuela, and he's been incredibly impressive so far. This year he was, by far, the youngest player in the Pioneer League and hit .339/.361/.456 in 43 games. He also stole 12 bases in 14 attempts. He does have an issue with taking walks, but what 17 year old wants to walk? It's entirely possible he could start the year in Dayton, and at age 18 would, again, be one of the youngest players in the league.
Ronald Torreyes, INF
Another impressive 17 year old. Actually, he's 18 now, but he spent the entire 2010 season underage and kicking ass. For some reason the organization promoted him really aggressively (honestly, I can't figure them out. Some players are stuck on a level forever, others move 3 levels in a year) and he responded, hitting .370/.434/.564. Remember when I asked what 17 year old wants to walk? This one, apparently. Actually, it's not so much the walks (24 in 91 games) as the lack of strikeouts. Ronald struck out an incredible 19 times in 399 PAs last season, a K/PA rate of just 4.7%. That's insane.
Junior Arias, SS
Signed out of the Dominican as a 16 year old, Arias has a shed full of tools. Long, graceful swing, speed, a strong arm, and very good power for a middle infielder. He hit .286/.337/.482 as an 18 year old in the Arizona League. He's prone to errors and is a total hacker at this point, but is yet another exciting young up-the-middle defender.
Juan Duran, OF
We all know the deal with him. Tons of power, strong arm, about a bajillion strikeouts. He has really struggled so far, but there is also still tons of potential.
Kyle Waldrop, OF
Maybe my favorite 2010 draftee. The Reds got him in the 12th round and paid him $500,000, the highest bonus awarded to a player outside of the top 10 rounds, to forgo college and enter the Reds system. He's a lefty hitter with good speed, a good hit tool, a strong arm, and the potential for plus power. He was a standout football player as well in high school. In other words, another really good athlete.
Juan Silva, OF
An 8th round pick in 2009, Silva's stock dropped a bit after a rough 2010 season. Oddly, his power disappeared after moving from pitcher's league GCL to hitter's league AZL, but he still has good tools. Silva is good enough to play CF and walks a lot. He also strikes out a lot. If the power comes back (which is entirely possible. He's only 19) he could be a very good CFer.
Tucker Barnhart, C
Barnhart is a bit different from the rest of these guys in that he is more of a high floor, limited ceiling type player. Well, as high-floor as a high school catcher can be. He already shows an advanced feel for hitting, putting up a .306/.412/.387 line in Billings last season. He is also, by most accounts, a solid, if still developing, defender behind the plate. He threw out an impressive 51% of attempted stealers in 2010. What's missing from his game is power. Right now, he has none, but if it develops, he could be a really good catcher. Even if it doesn't, he could very well be another Ryan Hanigan, and I think we'd all take that.
Jonathan Correa, RHP
Correa is another young, exciting Dominican player. In fact, he has been compared to one of his countrymen, Johnny Cueto. The comparisons don't stop with their initials and nationality. Correa has a solid fastball and plus slider, and he shows a very advanced feel for pitching. In 61 IP this year he struck out a crazy 83 batters and only walked 19. Like Cueto, he's not huge (listed at 6'1", 183, but probably smaller), but the upside here is tremendous.
Ismael Guillon, LHP
Guillon has a fascinating history. Signed the same summer as Duran and Rodriguez, at the age of 16, he was given a $625,000 signing bonus. Some teams saw him as a 1B or corner OF, but the Reds liked him as a pitcher. Unfortunately, after they signed him a physical revealed he'd need TJ surgery. The Reds voided the contract and signed him at a much lower bonus. He finally hit the mount in 2010 and was impressive. His FB hits 90-93 and he has an advanced changeup. He struck out 73 in 57 IP this summer, and should start 2011 in Billings.
Drew Cisco, RHP
Considered a HS version of Mike Leake, Cisco's stuff isn't outstanding, but he has an advanced feel for pitching that should cause him to move fast. His FB sits around 88-91 and he has a good CB and CH. He can throw all 3 pitches for strikes and in any count. I'm very curious to see where he starts the year.
Daniel Corcino, RHP
Yet another Latin American player signed in 2008 (seriously, I think eventually we will look back at that year's signings as instrumental to the team's fortunes) Corcino is small (5'11") and his FB isn't blazing, but he also has a potential plus breaking ball and a solid changeup. He might end up in the 'pen, but his stuff would definitely play up there.
That is a scary amount of talent all under the age of 20. If you add guys who just missed the adolescent cut, like Kyle Lotzkar and David Vidal, the Reds have a boatload of young players with significant upside. Will all of them pan out? Of course not. In fact, it is unlikely that even half of these guys reach the majors. Still, with so much talent to choose from, the odds of one or two of these guys becoming impact players is pretty high.
It's interesting that 7 of the 12 players were international signings. 5 of those 7 were signed in 2008. I just can't get over how productive of a year that was for international signings.
4 of the other 5 were drafted in the 5th round or later. I really like the Reds apparent strategy of taking high-floor players in the first round or two of the draft (Alonso, Leake, Grandal, Boxberger, LaMarre) and then combining over slot bonuses in later rounds with international signings to find "boom-or-bust" type younger players. It seems like a really sound strategy for finding both stars and role players, and hopefully it will keep the Reds with plentiful young, cheap talent for years to come.