Friday, December 31, 2010

2011 Top Prospect List: #17 Danny Dorn, 1b/of

Danny Dorn
Height 6-2, Weight 190, B/T: L/L, DOB: 7/20/1984
2010 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #17

Unfortunately, this will mark Danny Dorn's fourth time on this list, which, like the minor league career homerun mark, is an achievement that no player is going to want. Regardless, I still think Dorn is deserving of a spot on the list and an opportunity at the Major League level.

Dorn has long since established his player profile. Both his positives (pure hitter) and negatives (lack of athleticism, lack of positional value, struggles against southpaws) are well known. At this point in his development, there's very little projection left to his game, so what you see is what you get. And, so far, what the Reds and other MLB organizations have seen hasn't been enough to propel Dorn to the Majors. The Reds have yet to deem him worthy of a MLB roster spot and he has been passed over in two consecutive Rule 5 drafts. So, it's not just the Reds who aren't sold on Dorn as an MLB player.

Forty-man roster spots are very difficult to come by and it remains to be seen whether Dorn will ever reach the majors in any appreciable capacity. Last year's write-up discussed how timing and inertia were actively working against his quest to reach the majors. To get to "The Show", he'll have to continue to prove that his offensive contributions are sufficient for a bottom of the defensive spectrum type player. If Dorn played an up-the-middle position, then he'd undoubtedly be a top prospect. The reality is that he's relegated to a corner spot, a fact which acts as a significant drag on his overall value.

2010 Season

After a disappointing 2009 season in which he struggled in his first taste of triple-A competition, Dorn bounced back very well in 2010. In his second time around the International League, Dorn made the necessary adjustments and posted a stellar .302/.398/.545/.944 slash line in 319 Plate Appearances for the Louisville Bats. He cranked 24 doubles, 2 triples, and 13 home runs to go along with an 81/38 K/BB ratio. On the season, he hit line drives at an eye-popping 29% clip. Dorn made a clear statement in 2010 that he has the tools to succeed against triple-A competition.

On the defensive side, Dorn split time between first base (30 games), leftfield (10 games), and rightfield (23 games). It could have happened out of necessity, but it was also likely an effort to increase his value through increased flexibility on defense. The more things he can do for the team, the more likely he'll win a spot on the bench at the MLB level.

Over the course of his minor league career, Dorn has been 10 runs above average in 225 games in leftfield under the Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average (Rtz) metric. While there remains a degree of imprecision in fielding metrics, it seems likely that Dorn will at the very least avoid being a significant defensive liability and could ultimately be around league average. He may never be an asset with the glove, but he should be able to avoid offsetting his offensive production with shoddy glove work.

Swing Mechanics

Dorn stands tall with a slightly wider than shoulder width stance. He has a very quiet pre-pitch approach and waits calmly for the pitch with slow bat waggle and a high back elbow. In fact, his whole hitting approach is calm, which gives the impression that he is very comfortable waiting for the pitch to come to him. When the pitcher is ready to deliver the ball, Dorn takes a small stride, but one that effectively cocks his hips to create potential rotational energy. His front hip rotates inward to allow him to load up for the swing.

When Dorn does fire his swing, his lower and upper body work well together and remain in sync. In addition, the tempo of his swing is very smooth. When a hitter has both good balance and the upper and lower body work in tandem, then the overall swing is likely to be both effective and fundamentally sound. Dorn's swing really doesn't contain any wasted motion, as it's the baseball embodiment of "economy of movement."

In the photos below, you can see Dorn's position as the bat first enters and then leaves what Mike Schmidt called the "hitting box". From this sequence, you can see that he 1) keeps his head down and on the ball, 2) utilizes strong hip rotation, 3) maintains a strong hitting foundation and lower body position, and 4) maintains good balance in the swing.

Having a short and compact swing makes Dorn very quick to the ball. As a result, he has no problem handling even the best fastballs. In addition, his short path to the ball enables him to let the ball travel deeper and take a split second longer to read the pitch, which allows him to effectively control the strikezone. He can effectively turn on inside pitches, but he has also become adept at taking the pitch to the opposite field.

As for the follow-through, I like that he typically keeps both hands on the bat. By and large, what you do after the bat passes through the hitting zone makes little difference, unless of course your top hand comes off so quickly that it prematurely decelerates the bat. Even so, I do prefer a two-handed follow-through, as it ensures that the swing will remain compact and controlled throughout.

Here's a look at Dorn taking batting practice (starting at the 24 second mark) courtesy of He's clearly just getting loose, but he still puts a couple of pretty nice swings on the ball.

At times, I must admit to wondering what distinguishes Juan Francisco and Danny Dorn in terms of prospect value. The similarities are obvious, as both are lefthanded hitting, offense-first type players who are somewhat questionable with the glove. Additionally, neither provides any positional value or poses much of a threat on the bases. To generate value they rely heavily on their respective "hit tools". To that end, Dorn has a career minor league line of .293/.379/.515/.894, while Francisco sits at .282/.313/.494/.807.

In light of the fact that every component of the slash line tips in Dorn's favor, why has Francisco zipped up the ladder, while Dorn has stalled out in triple-A? It's a question that I ponder each and every year when I do these write-ups.

And, as much as I'd love to leave that as a rhetorical question, I suppose I should answer it by at least pointing out the more obvious reasons.

First, Francisco is roughly three years younger, so he deservedly gets a significant boost for "age vs. level". Second, Francisco has a plus tool (namely power), while Dorn does not. Plus tools are easier to dream on and as a result move the needle much more than a well-rounded game lacking a plus tool. However, I don't think it's debatable that Dorn is the more well-rounded hitter (Batting Average, On Base Skill, and Power) and I'd argue that whatever Dorn gives away to Francisco in power projection he earns back with substantially better on-base ability. I do wonder how much Dorn's power production would benefit from an offseason focused on adding more muscle mass, but maybe those days of significant improvement ended with the steroid era. Third, I suppose I need to include the notion that Francisco can actually play third base, as the organization is clinging to that idea like grim death. Just like anyone with a pulse, Francisco can nominally "play" third base in the sense that the manager can write the number "5" next to his name on the lineup card, but in the truer sense of the word it's clear that Francisco cannot "play" third.

So, how much more valuable is Juan Francisco than Danny Dorn?

In the end, Francisco's age is his main advantage and, at this point, it's not an insignificant one. In fact, an almost 3 year age difference is nearly a lifetime in prospect development and is the main reason why I have typically ranked Francisco higher than Dorn. Dorn is on the verge of being too old to be a legitimate prospect, as each additional minor league AB he collects moves him closer to the dreaded "organizational player" label.

So, Francisco certainly has time on his side, which gives him additional development time to figure things out, but that advantage doesn't seem sufficient to explain the disparate treatment of Francisco and Dorn, who still seem to be more similar than they are different. That probably speaks more to the Reds overvaluing Francisco than undervaluing Dorn, but both could probably contribute if utilized properly. Dorn may not ever be an impact player or even a full-time starter, but that doesn't mean that he's without value. He's a polished, well-rounded hitter who should be a serviceable defensive player at a position at the bottom of the defensive spectrum.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, Dorn's 2009 struggles are likely to haunt him forever, as they may have derailed his chances at an MLB career. In 2008, he ripped double-A pitching to the tune of .277/.367/.539. If, in 2009, he had performed at triple-A like he did in either 2008 or 2010, then he would likely have received a Major League call-up. At that point, he was really starting to build up his reputation as a legitimate prospect, so his slide backwards in 2009 was a significant setback. He got right back in track in 2010, but it may simply be too little, too late.

At this point, Dorn's best hope is to have a white-hot spring training and earn the lefthanded half of a leftfield platoon with Jonny Gomes. It's clear that Gomes was exposed in full-time duty last year, so pairing him with a lefty is a logical strategy, especially since Gomes gives back a substantial portion of his offensive production with shoddy glove work. And, with Laynce Nix taking his game on down the road, it's possible that Dorn could emerge as a legitimate option for that role. It may be a long-shot, but it could represent Dorn's last, best hope for carving out an MLB career of any significance.

For now, Dorn's hitting ability and his strong 2010 season keep him anchored at #17 on the list, but age is rapidly gaining on him. I still think, if utilized properly, he could do some damage at the MLB level, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Missed Opportunity Thy Name Be "Greinke"

Oh, boy, did the Reds miss an opportunity, let me count the ways:

1. The Reds have two holes in the lineup (leftfield and shortstop) and one area where a legitimate upgrade is warranted (starting rotation) and a farm system rather well stocked with blocked prospects (J.Francisco, T.Frazier, Y.Alonso, D.Sappelt, etc.).

When you put it all together, don't you have to come to the conclusion that we should be looking to trade from our surplus of blocked prospects to fill the holes in our lineup or address those areas to be improved?

Now, there are reports that the Royals had specific requests for a Greinke deal. Namely, up the middle talent that was nearly ready for the Majors. The Royals are wisely trying to sync-up the arrival date of all of their talent to make a serious push for the postseason. Of course, that's exactly what we should be doing, but we still line up in trade because our window is now, while the Royals are a couple of years away.

We may have lacked a shortstop the caliber of Escobar (though, Cozart is probably closer than some might think), but we certainly could have offered up a similar package and included more value to tip the scales in favor of our offer.

2. The Reds pitching staff is long on depth, short on elite talent. As a result, they are well built for the regular season, but poorly constructed for the postseason. Adding an elite pitcher at the top of the rotation would have been a significant boost to the team in the regular season, while increasing our competitiveness for the postseason.

During his 2009 Cy Young winning season, Zack Greinke had a Win Above Replacement (WAR) mark of 9.4 and in 2010 he had a WAR of 5.2. In 2010, only 2 Reds pitchers on the starting staff even had WARs of greater than 2.0 (Cueto 2.8, Wood 2.2). So, even during his down 2010 season, Greinke represented a 3+ win improvement over everyone on the staff with the exception of Cueto. In addition, Greinke did it against the tougher league, so some improvement in the NL in front of a better defense is a reasonable expectation. Now, admittedly, the WARs of some of the Reds pitchers are depressed by their lack of innings, but it's clear that Greinke represents a significant upgrade in talent over all (or at least, most) of the staff.

3. Here is the biggest factor in my mind. How many Cy Young award winning pitchers actively reject large market teams? How many elite players actively WANT to pitch in the middle of the country?

Greinke has struggled with social anxiety disorder, but that attribute made him rare among elite players. High revenue clubs are that way because they operate in larger markets. The more consumers, the more revenue. And, as odd as it sounds, larger markets are exactly what Greinke wanted to avoid. To a certain extent, he likes to avoid people and social interaction, so for once larger market teams were at a distinct disadvantage. That which typically constitutes the biggest strength of large market organizations was turned against them to be an insurmountable weakness.

Greinke utilized his no trade clause to eliminate the big boys from the competition, which pared the market down to (in essence) the second tier revenue organizations. How many times does a lower or middle revenue organization get to compete in a marketplace that excludes the big spenders? It was a remarkable situation that I can scarcely recall happening in the recent past or expect to see again in the future. Unfortunately, the Reds failed to capitalize on the opportunity.

4. And, of course, if the Reds had acquired Greinke, then they would have prevented their divisional foe from getting him. The Reds could have improved themselves, while weakening an opponent by blocking their effort at improvement. Oddly enough, it feels a bit like the cold war of the AL East, where a BoSox gain represents a corresponding loss for the Yanks (or, vice versa). So, it's a double-impact, as it becomes something of a zero-sum game, as one team's win is the other team's loss.

5. Overall, Greinke is a special talent who possesses an exceptionally rare blend of stuff, command, and feel for pitching, which is why he is one of my very favorite pitchers. To justify the lack of action by the Reds, some may point to the payroll restrictions under which the front office was laboring, but in reality either or both of the ownership group (boosting payroll) or the front office (freeing up money) could have made it work. When a unique opportunity like this comes along, you simply have to jump on it.

In short, I think this was a huge missed opportunity for the Reds and one that is likely to haunt in the very near future. I'm a huge Greinke fan and expect him to be very, very good in 2011 and beyond. Unfortunately, it just won't be for the Reds.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2011 Top Prospect List: #18 Juan Duran, of

Juan Duran
Height 6-5, Weight 190, B/T: R/R, DOB: 9/2/1991
2010 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: N/A

When the Big Red Machine was really rolling, it was driven in no small part by players acquired out of Latin America. The Machine had a real international flavor. The Reds signed Tony Perez and Dave Concepcion as international free agents, while Pedro Borbon and Cesar Geronimo were originally international free agents acquired by the Reds from other teams. Fortunately, the Reds have rededicated themselves to international free agents and the organization is all the better for it.

The Reds made a noteworthy splash in the international market three times in the past few years, marking the organization as one of the biggest players in the market. The biggest splash was clearly Aroldis Chapman, but before Chapman there was Yorman Rodriguez and Juan Duran. Yorman was more polished and has earned more hype, but Duran took a step forward in 2010 to reclaim his prospect status and earn the distinction of "one to watch."

Signing and International Free Agency

When the Reds brought him into the organization, Juan Duran was a 16-year old outfielder from the Dominican Republic. He had the blend of youth, size, and athletic skills that scouts dream on. The Reds found a loophole in the rules that allowed them to sign Duran earlier than was commonly believed by the competition. The Reds signed him for $2M and immediately assigned him to the Billings Mustangs of the Pioneer League, though that was merely a paper transaction, as they had no intention of having him play there that year.

At the time of the signing, reports on Duran were really positive:

One AL international scouting director called him "one of those guys who don't come around very often."

"He's got all the tools," he said. "He's a pretty good player, very advanced for his age. I think it was a good investment. He's a good athlete, he has above-average power right now and he has a chance for 80 power (on the 20-80 scouting scale). He demonstrated every ability that you like to see in a kid. He's a very outgoing kid, good swing. There's no doubt about his approach, bat speed and power . . . he has all the common denominators you like to see, good balance, rhythm and a pretty good idea of what to do at the plate."

The Duran signing was a shrewd one by the Reds and demonstrated the type of organizational intelligence that was lacking in previous years. If Duran can continue to develop and approach his ceiling, then the Reds will have been justifiably rewarded for outperforming the competition. In 2010, Duran took a step towards doing just that.

2010 Season

A cursory look at Duran's 2010 numbers won't blow your mind. He hit .244/.309/.393/.702 with 17 extra base hits (10 2bs, 1 3b, 6 HRs) and a 71/19 K/BB ratio in 201 ABs for the Billings Mustangs of the rookie Pioneer League. While he only hit 6 homers, a few of them were prodigious enough to open up some eyes around the league. In addition, digging a bit deeper and adding a dash of context makes things appear just a bit rosier.

Here is Duran's performance by month:

June: .108/.195/.216/.411 with 1 homer and a 15/4 K/BB ratio in 37 ABs
July: .294/.362/.435/.797 with 2 homers and a 27/9 K/BB ratio in 85 ABs
August: .263/.309/.447/.756 with 3 homers and a 26/5 K/BB ratio in 76 ABs

If you throw out a miserable June, then his production is pretty solid across the board, especially in light of the fact that he was only 18-years old during the 2010 season. He has a late season birthday of September 2nd, so his performance warrants a bump in value for age-vs.-level. Despite his youth and continuing adjustment to the American culture, he held his own against more advanced competition.

In June, he struck out in 41% and walked in 11% of his ABs. In July, those numbers improved to 32% strikeout rate and 11% walk rate. In August, 34% strikeout rate and a 7% walk rate. Generally speaking, if you are striking out more than once out of every 3 ABs, then you'll struggle to be productive, as there just aren't enough balls in play to bring about positive outcomes. Obviously, Duran still has a bit of work to do in that regard, but he took a step forward after an abysmal June.

Taller hitters are more prone to strikeouts for two distinct reasons. First, as a taller hitter, they have larger strike zones, so there is a much greater area to protect at the plate. Second, they have longer limbs, which makes for longer levers in their swing. Longer levers take a bit longer to get moving and can make them susceptible to being tied up on pitches on the inner half, as it's simply more difficult for taller hitters to pull their arms in and stay inside the ball.

A larger sample size will reveal a great deal about Duran. His 2010 performance was rife with unusual splits, but the sample size was just too small to draw definitive conclusions. His OPS was .476 against lefties and .745 against righties. His OPS during the day was .923 and .672 at night. Clearly, we need statistics from a full season league before we'll have any useful splits, but it's probably not a stretch to think that Duran is struggling against lefthanders and under the lights. He's still a raw prospect, so he may be adjusting to various elements of American professional baseball.

Despite some highs and lows and some unusual splits, it's hard not to see a bit of progression out of Duran in 2010. In addition to his production, the manner in which he produced it is also worthy of mention.

Swing Mechanics

As a hitter, Duran will continue to be defined by his height. Not only will he have more strike zone to protect, but he'll also have to work harder to keep all the moving parts in sync. Tall hitters like Richie Sexson, Adam Dunn, Dave Kingman, and Frank Howard have all had their struggles with their contact rate and strikeouts. However, Duran has the makings of a solid swing on which to begin building his offensive game.

Duran's pre-pitch position is strong and fundamentally sound. He stands with a significantly wider than shoulder-width stance and uses a high back elbow. His stance is also slightly open, which may be designed to ensure that he doesn't get tied up by pitches in on his hands. Taller hitters have longer arms, which can make them susceptible to pitches on the inner half. By opening up his stance, Duran makes the inner half easier to protect, but may also limit his ability to cover the outer half. Obviously, he'll need to be able to cover both sides of the plate at the MLB level.

One potential problem with the wider stance is that it may impair lower body action in the swing. Generally speaking, the hips are what generate the power in the baseball swing. And, to properly generate power, a hitter must cock the hips. This is done through the stride, which shifts the weight to the back foot long enough for the hitter to rotate his hips inward ever so slightly. This movement creates tension and builds up potential energy. By cocking the hips, the hitter loads up before firing the hips to generate power in the swing.

When you have a hitter who utilizes a wide-spread stance like Duran, it may become more difficult to cock the hips. Obviously, some of the best hitters in history (i.e. Joe DiMaggio, Albert Pujols, etc) have utilized such an approach with little difficulty. And, fortunately, Duran has shown little difficulty generating power to this point. In fact, power remains one of his calling cards as a prospect, as he can crush the ball when he gets a hold of it.

To cock his hips, Duran draws his stride foot back before moving forward beyond it's original position. Additionally, his stride doesn't operate to close his stance up, but rather stays on the original line of the stance. Once his stride foot plants, Duran fires the hips and starts the swing. He gets good extension on his swing, which follows an uppercut swing path. Due to his longer arms, Duran's swing has a tendency to get long, which may be exploited by more advanced opposing pitchers. As he climbs the ladder, he may be forced to shorten up his swing to improve his contact rate.

Once the bat leaves the hitting zone, Duran finishes with an unusual abbreviated follow-through. He typically finishes with one-hand on the bat, but that hand stays up around helmet height. Oddly enough, when he lofts the ball, he sometimes finishes with both hands above shoulder level. In essence, he doesn't rotate his left arm to let the bat finish down around the ground in Will Clark fashion, rather he keeps it up high like Fred McGriff.

There is one additional aspect of Duran's swing that bears watching as a potential red flag. Perhaps due to his height and his lack of comfort therewith, Duran has a tendency to finish his swing with his body leaning significantly in one direction or the other. That speaks to a swing that's occasionally out of balance, as ideally a hitter shouldn't be falling in one direction or another on the swing. If you have to reach for a pitch, then you may be in such a position out of necessity, but Duran seems to find this position too often.

It may simply be the result of a lack of experience and poor pitch recognition. He simply may not have seen enough pitches to avoid being fooled and put off balance. Hopefully, additional experience will help him improve the balance in his swing. Below is a comparison of Duran with two of the best right handed hitters in Major League history, who not surprisingly demonstrate better balance in their swings:

Overall, I like Duran's swing mechanics, but he's still raw and needs to refine the rough edges on his game. He'll have to learn how to effectively counteract the drawbacks of his size, namely to protect the zone and be quick to the ball when necessary. Still, he's on the right track and his power potential remains prodigious.

While Duran will have to deal with the drawbacks of height, he does possess solid speed and moves well for a taller player. The Reds used him primarily in right field last year, but he also spent a few games in left. He is a solid defensive outfielder with solid range. When Duran runs, he utilizes a long, loping stride that doesn't make it look like he's moving all that fast, but he actually chews up the ground pretty well. Obviously, at his size, he'll never be a big threat on the bases like Yorman Rodriguez, but he is equally unlikely to be a significant liability.

Final Thoughts

Almost by definition, Duran is a high risk/high reward prospect. When you are signed to a professional contract almost before you can legally drive a car, then chances are there is significant projection involved. And, the farther you have to project out into the future, the greater the downside risk. However, Duran's raw athleticism and impressive tools are enough to land him at #18 on the list.

Despite the overflowing toolbox, Duran remains raw and unpolished. Time is definitely on his side, which should enable him to develop the skills necessary to utilize his tools. He has a long way to go, but his ceiling is substantial. If he can reach it, then he could be an impact player at the Major League level.

Friday, December 17, 2010

2011 Top Prospect List: #19 Drew Cisco, rhp

Drew Cisco
Height 6-2, Weight 195, B/T: R/R, DOB: 7/29/1991
2010 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: N/A

Under Major League Baseball's financial structure, few teams can afford to build their roster primarily through free agency. As a result, drafting and developing your own players is the only realistic way for the small- and mid-market teams to compete. To build from within, a franchise must be successful on draft day. Due to the inherent risk in prospects and player development, all teams are going to have a fairly high fail rate in their draft class.

However, there are two main ways to improve your success rate in the draft:

1) churn talent to gain extra compensatory draft picks when your players leave via free agency, or

2) target those players who slide in the draft due to signability concerns and be willing to pay over slot to sign them.

The original intention (though long since perverted) of option 1 was to compensate smaller revenue teams when their stars players left for greener ($$$$) pastures. The second option has primarily been utilized by the larger revenue organizations to gain a competitive advantage in the form of a more well stocked farm system. However, in the 2010 draft the Reds stole a page out of the over-slot playbook to improve the quality and depth of their farm system.

All of which brings us to Drew Cisco.

Draft Position and Amateur Career

The Reds selected Cisco with the 187th overall pick in the 6th round of the 2010 draft out of Wando High School in South Carolina.

During his high school career, Cisco was the staff ace in all four years and earned All-Lowcountry honors four times. As a senior, Cisco tossed 77 innings and posted a 10-2 W/L record, a 0.91 ERA, a 100/13 K/BB ratio, and 56 hits allowed in 77 innings pitched. Cisco also performed admirably at the World Wood Bat Association Championship.

His high school coach, Jeff Blankenship, had the following to say about Cisco:

"He's one of the most focused players we've coached, on the mound and at the plate," Blankenship said. "He bats third in our lineup, which is a very important spot in the order. He's walked 12 times in 44 plate appearances. That's a sign of his patience, his poise. It's something he was born with. When he's out there on the mound, there are no distractions. He's that focused. Sometimes, when he walks off the field, you want to shake him to get him out of that mode so you can talk about the finer points of pitching."

It's not surprising that Cisco has polish and poise beyond his years, as it's in the blood. Whether it's nature or nurture, there is no doubting the positive impact on Drew of his baseball playing family. Drew's grandfather, Galen Cisco, played in the majors for parts of 7-seasons and served as an MLB pitching coach, his father, Jeff, played minor league baseball, and his brother, Mike, is now pitching in the Phillies organization.

By the time the draft rolled around, Cisco was rated as the 74th best prospect by Baseball America. He had a commitment to the University of Georgia, but the Reds bought him out of it with a substantially over-slot bonus of $975,000. Obviously, it took a decent chunk of money to get it done, but Cisco was a very good value in round 6.

Pitching Mechanics

Cisco is listed at 6'2", but may be an inch or two shorter. It's not at all unusual for righthanded pitchers to "shrink" an inch or two immediately upon being drafted, as the stigma of the "short righthander" can negatively impact draft status. Unfortunately, his height limits his physical projection, so he may be close to what he will always be. However, he only tips the scales at 195 lbs, so he has some room to fill out and add muscle.

On the mound, Cisco possesses clean and efficient mechanics. He begins his windup with his hands under his chin as he looks in for the sign. He then steps back towards first base with his glove side ("GS") leg, which un-weights his pitching arm side ("PAS") leg allowing him to rotate his foot down onto the rubber. Once repositioned on the rubber, Cisco begins his leg kick to build up energy. His leg kicks reaches its apex when his knee reaches the letters on his jersey. He also incorporates a bit of coil, as he somewhat wraps his leg around his body to create additional torque (see photo). Up until the apex of his leg kick, Cisco's hand position remains largely unchanged, as he holds them in a consistent position just below the chin. At apex, Cisco maintains good balance over his plant leg and gathers his momentum for the drive to the plate.

Once Cisco reaches the apex of his leg kick, he is done building up energy and is ready to impart it on the baseball. To do so, he unpacks his delivery and drives to the plate. He begins by breaking his hands and starting his arm swing. Upon breaking his hands, he drops his pitching hand down by and past his right hip, swinging it slightly towards first base and then up into throwing position to complete the half-circle.

Cisco gets a solid push of the mound, but doesn't generate great leg drive towards the plate. He also utilizes a shorter stride than is to be expected, which is common in polished pitchers who are somewhat short on stuff. Tim Lincecum and Aroldis Chapman practically jump off the rubber in their strides to the plate, while Sam LeCure and Drew Cisco use much shorter strides. Lincecum and Chapman are power pitchers, while LeCure and Cisco profile more as finesse/polish pitchers.

As a result of Cisco's leg drive and shorter stride, some of the potential energy generated by the windup is not imparted on the ball. In addition, Cisco's plant foot lands a bit more towards the third base side than is ideal (see photo). Due to this slightly closed off body position, he throws across his body to a small degree.

The tempo and timing of his delivery are strong, in part because of his good body control. Cisco maintains a smooth, fluid, balanced motion and effectively keeps all the moving parts in-sync throughout the delivery. His arm is consistently in proper throwing position when his stride foot lands and his elbow maintains good position relative to the shoulder. Overall, Cisco utilizes a clean, free-and-easy arm action.

As he comes to the plate, Cisco stands up fairly tall in his delivery, which is due in part to a shorter stride. As a shorter pitcher, standing up tall may help him work on a downward plane, but could also operate to limit the power he can generate.

In addition to his height, Cisco's arm slot may also limit his ability to work on a downward plane, as he throws with a three-quarter arm slot, rather than a pure over the top arm slot. When coupled with his closed off throwing position, his arm slot ensures that Cisco's will fall off to the first base side in his delivery. His three-quarter arm slot and his throwing position require him to slightly throw across his body, which forces his momentum to work around his body towards first base, rather than directly towards home plate. His closed off body position, though far from extreme, operates to slightly block his momentum to the plate. As a result, he finishes falling towards the first base side and in less than ideal fielding position.

Ultimately, Cisco's mechanics are notable more for their efficiency and balance, than the power they generate. However, the efficiency and balance are undoubtedly part of the reason for his plus command, as he has simple, repeatable mechanics. Additionally, his arm slot and ability to succeed at less than maximum effort should reduce his injury risk. It's possible that he could add velocity if he tweaked his mechanics, but that could conceivably bring about inconsistency and heightened injury risk that would likely negate any gains.

Pitching Repertoire

Cisco primarily features a four-pitch mix. He uses a four-seam fastball that sits in the 88-92 range, a two-seam fastball that sits 87-89 mph with good movement, a big curveball that clocks in between 76-78, and a sinking change-up. All of his pitches grade out as at least average, while the curveball may already be above average. His curveball isn't a true 12-to-6 type due largely to his three-quarter arm slot, but he does spin it well and it has good bite. The change-up has arm-side run to it and good potential, but he has had little need for it in the high school ranks, where he breezed through games relying primarily on his fastball and curveball. In another sign of his good feel for pitching, he is comfortable throwing all his pitches in just about any situation.

Cisco's fastball velocity isn't plus, but he effectively commands both the two and four seamer to both sides of the plate. As for the two-seamer, he can make it cut or sink, which (at least against less advanced competition) helps offset the lower velocity level and can induce ground balls. Additionally, the fact that Major League Baseball is moving away from the age of steroid infused gorilla ball should only help those whose game is not defined by power. Given Cisco's build, there isn't significant physical projection left to his game, but his velocity might improve a tick or two as he continues to mature physically and settles into the throwing regimen of professional baseball.

While Cisco lacks overpowering stuff or a true knockout pitch, he has very good command and a very strong feel for pitching, both of which enable his offerings to play up a tick. In fact, Cisco was widely considered to have the best command of any high school pitcher in the draft. Simply put, he's a very polished pitcher, which is rather rare for a high school pitcher.

"It's not fair to compare him to other high school pitchers," Baseball America's John Manuel said of Cisco. "He's atypical. Most high school pitchers have stuff and aren't polished. He's polished, so polished and mature."

Final Thoughts

Cisco has yet to throw a pitch in anger as a professional, but the future is bright. As of now, like Tucker Barnhart, he is something of a high floor, lower ceiling type player. However, if he can find an additional tick or two of velocity or polish his secondary offerings, then he could effectively push his own ceiling up. He already has a great feel for pitching and great command, so he should be able to wring every last ounce of production out of his abilities. The question is whether a professional throwing program, strength and conditioning work, and the Reds player development staff can help Cisco improve his stuff. If so, then the Reds could have a special talent. If not, then Cisco could still emerge as a solid starting pitcher.

For now, Cisco has enough polish and feel to check in at #19 on the list, but I love pitchers with high baseball IQs and could see him having enough success to ascend quickly up on the list.

Friday, December 10, 2010

2011 Top Prospect List: #20 Tucker Barnhart, c

Tucker Barnhart
Height 5-8, Weight 175, B/T: S/R, DOB: 1/7/1991
2010 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: N/A

After years of inconsequence behind the dish, the Reds are suddenly flush with good catching prospects. Tucker Barnhart is clearly the third best in the system, but that says as much about those ahead of him as it does about his abilities. And, while Barnhart may rate third in the pecking order in total value terms, he's hands down the best defensive catcher of the bunch.

Draft Position and Amateur Career

The Reds landed Barnhart with the 299th overall pick in the 10th round of the 2009 draft. He attended Brownsburg High School in Indiana where he earned Louisville Slugger All-America honors and was named the 2009 Mr. Baseball in Indiana.

As a high school sophomore, Barnhart his .417 with 9 doubles, 10 homers, and 39 RBI. As a junior, Barnhart earned a reputation by hitting .500 with 11 homeruns, 10 doubles, and 39 RBI. As a senior, his newly acquired reputation earned him much more respect from pitchers, who worked him carefully when they bothered pitching to him at all. He hit .369 with 8 doubles, 6 homers, and 25 RBI. Barnhart handled getting fewer pitches to hit rather well and demonstrated a maturity beyond his years:

“In my first seven games, I was walked 15 times,” Barnhart said. “But one of my goals this year was to maintain a mature approach at the plate, control what I am able to control, maximize the pitches that are strikes and drive those pitches.”

Brownsburg coach Patrick O’Neil says that Barnhart’s philosophical approach to hitting has been a big part of his standout catcher’s success.

“He takes every swing in practice with a purpose,” O’Neill said. “He helps teammates with comments, demonstrations and he assists during drills. Tucker just possesses and aura of leadership, caring and commitment. The community, the fans and the players just love to be around him.”

When the draft finally rolled around, Barnhart was rated as a 5th round talent and the 16th best catcher available by Baseball America. He ultimately slipped in the draft due to signability concerns stemming from his strong commitment to Georgia Tech, which the Reds ultimately overcame by offering 4th round bonus money, much to the chagrin of GT head coach Danny Hall who obviously thought very highly of Barnhart:

"Tucker Barnhart, to me, is one of the best position players in the country. His primary position is catcher, but he can also play third and second base. A good tribute to him would be when a guy named Dave Alexander, who used to be the baseball coach at Purdue, told me this summer that he thought Tucker was probably a better infielder than he was a catcher, and we think that he is one of the best catchers in the country. He is just a very, very good baseball player and we are excited to have him."

Barnhart is a cerebral player, as even in high school he was charting pitches and doing advanced scouting on the competition during his days off. He seems to have the maturity necessary to bypass college and step right into the professional ranks.

2010 Season

Barnhart spent the 2010 season strapping on the tools of ignorance for the Billings Mustangs of the rookie Pioneer League. On the season, he posted a solid slash line of .306/.412/.387/.800 with a rock solid 25/18 K/BB ratio in 131 plate appearances. Of his 34 hits, only 9, all doubles, went for extra bases. He also successfully swiped 4 bases in 5 attempts. He also handled both lefties and righties, hitting .278 against southpaws and .312 against northpaws. Overall, his season was strong enough to earn him Honorable Mention on the Pioneer League All Star Team.

Barnhart's type of performance speaks to an offensive game that is heavier on skills than tools, which may ultimately result in a high-floor/low-ceiling type offensive profile. A higher floor means lower risk of flaming out, but a lower ceiling means that he will need his defensive skills to help drive his value. His profile makes him something of a rarity, as most high school prospects are short on polish and long on upside. Barnhart is the opposite. However, if Barnhart can improve his tools, then he already has the skills necessary to turn them into production.

Skills and Tools

Barnhart is a legitimate switch-hitter who knows how to control the strike zone. From the right side, he has a quiet stance that is slightly wider than shoulder-width. He uses a high back elbow and a small bat waggle. He uses a small stride to transfer his weight forward to meet the pitch. He has a smooth, fluid swing, and gets good extension out through the pitch. He also uses his hands effectively, which enables him to make consistent contact and square up the ball. While his swing lacks power, it generates line drives at a good clip. When coupled with his patience at the plate, his ability to make consistently hard contact gives him good control over the strike zone.

Currently, Barnhart has the ability to hit for average and get on-base, but it's questionable how much power he'll ever be able to generate. Given his build, there simply isn't significant physical projection to his game, which is potentially problematic in light of his current lackluster level of power. He did hit for solid power in high school, but the problem with evaluating high school prospects is that the level of competition tends to fluctuate wildly. He'll never have plus power, but the Reds can hope for average power. At the very least, he'll need to develop enough power to keep opposing pitchers honest. If he can't, then his on-base skill will largely be nullified by pitchers who aren't afraid to pound the strike zone. While his shorter stature may limit his power production, it also gives him a smaller strike zone to protect.

As a catcher with questionable power, Barnhart will have to lean heavily on his defense to carry him up the ladder. Fortunately, that's a reality with which he is well acquainted:

"My biggest strength as a player is my catching ability. I’m not the biggest guy and I really have to rely on my defensive ability to carry me places,” Barnhart said. “I try to maintain a ‘get after it’ mentality and not let anyone ever tell me that I can’t do something.”

Frequently, taller catchers have a difficult time both in getting low enough to be an effective receiver and in moving laterally. Fortunately, as Barnhart stands a mere 5'8" tall, he will certainly not face any such problems. In fact, he grades out highly across the board on defense and is very quick behind the dish.

Barnhart has very good catch-and-throw skills. His soft hands and feel for the position make him a very strong receiver. His agility and footwork are strong, so his lateral movement is quite good and allows him to effectively block pitches in the dirt. Footwork is very important to most defensive positions and that especially rings true for catchers. Barnhart utilizes his strong, quick footwork to help him get into proper throwing position very quickly, which enables him to control the opposition's running game. He has a very strong, accurate arm and a very quick release. He has "pop times" (basically, the time between the pitch hitting the catcher's glove until the catcher's throw hits the infielder's glove at 2nd base) of 1.8 seconds, which is very, very quick and helps explain how he threw out 45% of base stealers in 2009 and 51% in 2010.

Overall, Barnhart is very polished and highly skilled on defense. Additionally, he is quickly settling into a leadership role in the professional ranks, has good makeup, and a strong work ethic. All of these intangibles should ensure that he gets the most out of his abilities and help him ascend up the ladder.


Overall, Barnhart is an intriguing prospect with a nice blend of athleticism and polish. He provides plus on-base skill and plus defense at a premier defensive position, which alone could be enough to get him to the majors. It certainly worked for Ryan Hanigan, who possesses a similar skill-set. Despite the occasional Mike Piazza and Todd Hundley, catcher is, and always has been, a defense-first position. It's entirely possible that Barnhart adds additional power as he matures and fills out, but that could also rob him of agility and quickness. While his offensive upside is somewhat limited, his ability to switch hit gives his offensive game a bump in value due to the added versatility.

It'll be interesting to see how he develops, as there aren't many Major League catchers who stand only 5'8", but catchers with his defensive skills frequently find themselves in the majors in one capacity or another. It will be interesting to track his durability, as catcher is a physically taxing position and the grind may take more of a toll on a smaller player.

Overall, if Barnhart can continue to improve his offensive skills as he climbs the ladder, then he could end up as a legitimate catching option at the big league level. He's got a long way to go and he'll probably start off 2011 at low-A Dayton, but for now he checks in at #20 on the list.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Today is a Good Day

Well, simply put, today is a good day.

Jerry Crasnick of reports that the Reds have signed outfielder Jay Bruce to a six-year, $51 million contract extension.
The deal also contains a club option for a seventh year that would bring the total worth to $63 million. Bruce was up for salary arbitration for the first time this winter and could have started down a path of negotiating raises each year. Instead he opted to cash in now, committing Thursday to an extended stay in Cincinnati. These deals often go well for both sides.

The Reds have locked up Jay Bruce to a 6-year contract with an option for a 7th. Seven more years of Jay Bruce? I'm looking forward to each and every one. And, the deal comes at the exact right time, as I truly believe that Bruce is ready to break out. When all is said and done, this deal should work out very well for the Reds and set Jay Bruce up for life.

If Bruce avoids injury, then this deal should be a very good one for the Reds. Under the "Dollars" metric, Bruce's 2010 production was worth $21.1M. In short, a single season at his 2010 level of production would be worth almost 1/3 of the cost of his entire salary over the next 7-seasons. It's scary to think just how valuable Bruce can be if he continues to improve.

Actually, today is a VERY good day.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Spraying Bullets

A few quick, somewhat random thoughts on the offseason thus far:

  • The Reds should be in on Zack Greinke in a big way. The Reds have tremendous starting pitching depth, but lack a true #1 starter. And, as anyone who watched last year's playoffs knows, pitching talks loudest in October. Prospects are currency in Major League Baseball and the Reds have more than enough set aside for a rainy day. In fact, one could argue that they are failing to properly monetize their prospects by holding on to them too long. Juan Francisco and Todd Frazier are prime examples, as their respective trade values are in danger of falling completely off the table. By themselves, they won't land Greinke, but they could be nice complimentary players in a package deal.The Reds certainly have the pieces to get a deal done and landing a legitimate #1 starter is worth the price, especially one like Greinke who has the stuff and polish to rival any pitcher in baseball. Additionally, Greinke would like be right at home in Cincy, where his social anxiety issues would likely be less problematic than in a large market city. It's fine for the Reds to be less than proactive in free agency, but there's no reason for the Reds not to go after trade targets. The Reds had a nice season in 2010, but if you aren't improving, then you are standing still. And, if you are standing still, then the competition is gaining on you. If the Reds want to repeat, they may want to do more than bank on improvement from the young guys already on the roster.
  • I seem to be one of the few who doesn't have a problem with the Nationals contract for Jayson Werth. Of course, I've been a huge Werth fan since his days as a Dodger. I thought the Reds should have snapped him up after the Dodgers non-tendered him way back when. But, I digress, as everyone on Earth now knows, the Nats gave the soon to be 32-year old Werth a 7-year deal worth $126M. Obviously, that's a big investment, but Werth generates tremendous value with a rare combination of tools and skills. That combination should enable him to age well and continue to generate value even if his offense slips a bit. Under the "Dollars" metric created by Fangraphs, Werth's production over the last three seasons has been worth $22.9M, $22.0M, and $20.0M. That metric takes a player's actual production at the end of the season and then determines what it would cost a team to buy that exact production. It doesn't equate to market value because "Dollars" deals with exact production without factoring in risk of any kind (performance, injury, etc). "Dollars" deals with certainty in production, whereas market salary deals with uncertainty. "Dollars" looks backwards, while salary looks forward. In short, market rate salaries are lower than "Dollars" because teams factor in uncertainty, injury, and production risk. So, Werth's Dollar figure doesn't mean that his actual salary is supportable, but I really don't think it's that far off. The final year or two will probably be rough due to his age decline, but the Nats saw the guy they wanted and went hard after him. Salaries are going to escalate because of increasing revenue and inflation. It's the nature of the beast and has been for decades. And, among those wringing their hands and complaining are (I'm sure) the big market teams (Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, etc) and teams who have set the market in previous years (Royals with Meche, Giants with Zito, Astros with Carlos Lee, etc etc). It seems like it's only an "outrageous" deal when it's not a big money team. When the Yanks/Red Sox sign someone for big money, everyone complains about revenue disparity. When a smaller revenue team or a team that rarely makes a big splash throws around big bucks, everyone complains about the contract.
  • Reds fans everywhere are already getting worried about keeping Joey Votto around long-term. Votto has given some mixed signals about his willingness to sign a multi-year deal, so maybe there is cause for concern. He recently was quoted as saying he wouldn't accept a hometown discount out of respect for the players who came before him and those to come after him. I'm not sure how genuine that rationale actually is, but regardless I wouldn't expect him to give us a discount. I would, however, expect him to at least consider giving up a couple of free agent years in exchange for a guaranteed multi-year contract that would set him up for life. For me, the time to get an extension done with Votto is now....right now. People complained about the Werth contract because it set the market. It was the first big contract and may have provided a benchmark for other free agents. Personally, I'm concerned about what happens to the Reds chances to sign Votto to an extension after the Cardinals hand out an extension to Albert Pujols. Obviously, Votto isn't in the same position as Pujols due to service time differences, but how willing will Votto be to surrender a couple of free agency seasons after the Cardinals sign Pujols (the player Votto just beat out for the MVP award) to an extension worth $25-30M on an annual basis? I could easily be wrong, but waiting could cost the Reds in a big, big way. The Reds need to work out 5-6 year contract extensions with Jay Bruce and Joey Votto this offseason. I expect Bruce to explode next year and become much more expensive. And, I expect Votto to become much harder to retain after the Pujols deal establishes a new benchmark for MVP first basemen.
  • And, as I have alluded to before, I'm not a fan of the Arroyo extension. I don't like taking on unnecessary risk in an area of strength and I don't like Arroyo's chances of maintaining his level of success as he ages. Hopefully Arroyo continues to prove me wrong, but I continue to wonder if that's money that could be more effectively spent in other areas.
  • It's hard for me not to think that the Reds missed out on a nice opportunity to improve their outfield by not landing Cameron Maybin. The Maybin acquisition would have been a payroll neutral move, which would fit nicely into the Reds' financial limitations this offseason. As a result, Maybin may have been the best opportunity of the offseason. As of now, Maybin's career is nothing more than a cautionary tale about the perils of rushing prospects up to the majors. However, he still has a tremendous set of tools and the opportunity to refine those skills necessary to utilize them. He still has substantial potential and the time to unlock. Unfortunately, Maybin is out of options, so he can't develop in the minors any longer, but plugging him into leftfield in the righthanded hitters haven of Great American Ballpark could have been a big boost. Additionally, an outfield of Maybin/Stubbs/Bruce would be the best young outfield in baseball and a very strong defensive trio. Maybe Maybin continues to flame out, but I remain a big fan and think he could be a sneaky good value this year. Unfortunately, that value won't be created for the Reds.
  • All in all, it seems like the Reds are a tweak or two away from being a serious World Series contender and a perennial playoff team. It could be a real nice 5-year stretch for the Reds if they manage to consolidate the value of their organizational assets into the present 25-man roster. Of course, they won't get there simply by standing pat.

Friday, December 3, 2010

2010 Review: Starting Pitchers

On to the starting staff:

Bronson Arroyo -- Expectations: Medium, Grade: B-

Arroyo continues to grind out the 200+ inning seasons, topping the mark for an incredible 6th straight year in 2010. Arroyo is definitely not afraid of hard work and his tremendous durability continues to be his most valuable attribute. During his time in Cincy, almost without exception, Arroyo has taken the ball on his turn through the rotation.

However, the question remains whether he can continue to do so.

In 2010, Arroyo was almost exactly the same pitcher he was in 2009.

2009:__ 2.7___5.2____1.22____3.84
2010: __2.5___5.1____1.08____3.88

I suppose that type of consistency should be comforting, but the decline in his strikeout rate during his time in Cincy is a concern (at least to me), but so far it hasn't slowed him down. Starting in 2006, his first season with the Reds, Arroyo has posted K/9 marks of 6.9, 6.7, 7.3, 5.2, and 5.1. I have concerns about whether Arroyo can continue to post a sub-4 ERA with these peripherals.

However, over the last two seasons, Bronson has significantly outperformed his FIP. His 3.84 ERA in 2009 went along with a FIP of 4.78 and a BABIP of .270, while his 3.88 ERA in 2010 when along with a FIP of 4.61 and a BABIP of .246. At first blush, it looks like he was hit lucky, but he also managed to decrease his Line Drive rate to 18.5% in 2009 and 16.3% in 2010.

Another interesting aspect of his performance is the percentage of his strikeouts that were called and his contact rate.

Year: Called K%_Contact%





Arroyo is allowing more and more pitches to be put in play and getting fewer called strikeouts, both of which would seem to indicate a decline in stuff. He's fooling fewer hitters and relying on his defense to a greater extent. Can he continue to succeed by, in essence, controlling the contact and relying on the defense?

A moment I found to be somewhat reassuring about Arroyo's 2010 season was his performance in the playoffs. You won't find many offenses better than the Phillies or many situations that are more high leverage than a postseason start. Regardless, Arroyo rose to the occasion and managed to keep the Phillies off-balance for most of the night. Ultimately, his outing was cut short when the defense let him down with back-to-back errors by Phillips and Rolen.

As with the regular season, the performance was more smoke-and-mirrors than dominating, as he allowed too many baserunners and walked more than he struck out. It was the same high-contact pitching style that he utilized during the season, but this time the defense let him down. Even so, he battled and came away with a solid performance, but I'm still not confident that Arroyo is the pitcher I want on the hill in a must win Game 7 situation.

Arroyo continues to be something of a contradiction. His peripherals are arguably getting worse, but his overall performance has gotten better. From where I sit, something has to give. I'm just not convinced that Arroyo can maintain his 2009 & 2010 performance level while allowing so much contact. The general thinking is that pitchers cannot control the outcome of balls in play. Additionally, high contact pitchers with neutral GB/FB tendencies in a bandbox like GABP seem like an inherently poor fit. Arroyo also benefited from the league wide decline in power, which made contact less harmful than in years past but may not continue in the 2011 season. Maybe Arroyo can continue to thrive with varied offspeed offerings, but I wouldn't be willing to extend him out past 2011. In fact, given our pitching surplus, I wouldn't hesitate to see what Arroyo would fetch on the trade market.

However, the Reds will have to hope that Arroyo can maintain his performance level by throwing the kitchen sink at opposing teams. Regardless of the performance level, the Reds can confidently pencil Arroyo in for 200+ innings in 2011.

Mike Leake -- Expectations: None, Grade: B

What Mike Leake managed to do in 2010 was nothing short of remarkable. His performance in spring training was so strong that he broke camp with the team and skipped the minors entirely, which you simply don't see all that often. And, probably for good reason.

It was an interesting decision due in no small part to the fact that Leake had never started every 5th day. In college, he started once a week, so it seemed likely and logical that Leake would start the year in the minors to acclimate to the heavier workload. But, the Reds deemed him MLB ready and it didn't take him long to prove that he was.

Leake tossed a rather stunning 138.1 innings with a 4.23 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and 91/49 K/BB ratio. He managed to induce ground balls at a good clip (1.58 GB/FB ratio) and produced solid ratios (3.2 BB/9 and 5.9 K/9) for a rookie who bypassed the minors entirely. Not surprisingly, his early season performance was much stronger than his second half. He simply hit a wall and wasn't effective late in the season. It was likely a combination of fatigue and hitters learning the book on Leake.

His monthly splits reveal his hot start and subsequent fade:

April: 3.25 ERA in 27.2 IP
May: 1.88 ERA in 38.1 IP
June: 5.22 ERA in 29.1 IP

July: 4.56 ERA in 25.2 IP

August: 8.83 ERA in 17.1 IP

Looking at his mid/late season fade, it is easy to call the decision to start him off in the majors a questionable one. The Reds did effectively manage his pitch counts, as his highest game total was 106 pitches, but Leake simply hadn't been stretched out to handle the grind of a major league starting pitcher. His performance level was sufficient, but his endurance was not. However, he showed in his first few months that he was polished enough to succeed at the highest level right away, which made him essentially a no-risk draft pick.

Both Mike Leake and Mike Minor were polished college pitchers who have so far outperformed their projected draft positions. Minor has better stuff than was commonly believed and Leake moved much faster than thought possible. Not sure why the scouting was off the mark on these college pitchers, but polish may be somewhat underrated these days.

Overall, it was a surprising and strong rookie debut for Leake. Not surprisingly, he faded as his innings total mounted, but he gave the Reds some real big innings and some stability in the rotation at a time when it was definitely needed. The future is bright and having a pitcher in the rotation who understands how to pitch will provide some real stability for years to come.

Johnny Cueto -- Expectations: Medium, Grade: B+

Johnny has been in the majors for three seasons and has made incremental improvement each year. Despite his annual improvement, it's hard not to be somehow disappointed. Obviously, that isn't fair to Cueto, but he is a victim of his own success. In 2007, Cueto blazed through three minor league levels with a 3.07 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 1.9 BB/9, and 9.5 K/9. That level of performance brought about notions of immediate MLB dominance. Instead, he has followed the more traditional path of incremental improvement.

In 2010, Cueto tossed 185.2 innings with a 3.64 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and a 138/56 K/BB ratio. It was a nice combination of workload and performance level.

2008: 4.81 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, and 8.2 K/9 in 174.0 innings
2009: 4.41 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 3.2 BB/9, and 6.9 K/9 in 171.1 innings
2010: 3.64 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 2.7 BB/9, and 6.7 K/9 in 185.2 innings

He set a career high in innings pitched and improved across the board, with the exception of strikeouts which are in modest decline. Cueto is likely reining in his stuff in favor of improved command and control. As he has continued to evolve as a pitcher, Cueto has altered his pitch selection:

Year:__FB%__ SL%__CH%


Perhaps it's the influence of roving instructor Mario Soto, who deserves a decent amount of credit for his work with our young pitchers, but whatever the reason Cueto has de-emphasized his slider in favor of his change-up. The change in pitch selection has likely brought about improved control and slightly fewer strikeouts. In short, Cueto is learning how to effectively utilize his arsenal for maximum benefit.

All in all, it was a nice season for Cueto, but one that didn't get a great deal of hype. To a certain extent, Cueto was overshadowed by Mike Leake, Travis Wood, and Aroldis Chapman. Those three each made a bigger splash, but Cueto's quiet improvement was just as impressive and certainly shouldn't be overshadowed. If Cueto makes yet another incremental improvement in 2011, then he'll be approaching some rather rarefied air.

Travis Wood -- Expectations: Low, Grade: A-

Yet another pitching surprise for the Reds and a good one at that. Wood has long been a favorite of mine due to his plus change-up and clean mechanics, but he arrived on the scene in 2010 with slightly better top-end velocity than was advertised.

Wood made quick work of the competition, flashing good stuff, great command, and a very good feel for pitching.

He stepped up to throw 102.2 innings with a 3.51 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 2.3 BB/9, and 7.5 K/9. Wood featured a four pitch mix, including a fastball (64.1% of the time), changeup (10.1%), cutter (19.9%), and curveball (5.9%). He's got a very nice repertoire, which he used to keep the righthanders off balance and completely dominate the lefties.

On the season, Wood gave up absolutely nothing to lefties. He gave up a slash line of .136/.219/.227/.446. He also did a very nice job against righties to the tune of .240/.289/.363/.651. Overall, the addition of the cutter has really given Wood the ability to handle righthanded hitters. It allows him to keep them honest on the inner half of the plate, which improves the effectiveness of his fading changeup on the outer half.

Of course, Wood also provided one of the singular moments of the season for the Reds when he nearly tossed a perfect game against the defending NL champion Phillies in their home park. Wood threw 9 innings and gave up only 1 hit, no walks, and 8 strikeouts. His perfect game was foiled by a Carlos Ruiz double in the ninth inning and the Reds inability to score a run. The game ultimately went to extra innings where the Reds came out on the short end, but it was a national coming out party for Travis Wood.

The only potential red flag on Wood is his GB/FB ratio. He exhibited a heavy fly ball tendency, which isn't ideally suited for Great American Ballpark and may come back to bite him if hitters catch up to him as he gets around the league for a second and third time. At that point, it'll be up to Wood to adjust, which shouldn't be a problem given his feel for pitching.

Overall, it was an exciting and impressive debut for Wood and one that is very encouraging for 2011 and beyond. Wood and Leake are two pure pitchers. They may not have the best stuff on the staff, but they understand how to utilize it and how to attack the hitters. They should be consistent and reliable members of the rotation for years to come, which will provide a nice counterpart to the more volatile high ceiling/low floor starters on the staff (see below).

Homer Bailey -- Expectations: Low, Grade: C+

Homer continues to be the ultimate enigma, which may be what he is right down to his core (A pitcher who prefers to be called Homer?). I won't spend too much time parsing his numbers and analyzing his performance, as it won't really throw any additional light on the true Homer Bailey. We've seen him at his best and at his worst, but it's still impossible to tell which version will show up on any given day. He still seems to have all the potential in the world, but his performance simply never reflects it.

Here's a quick overview of Bailey in 2010. He pitched 109.0 innings at the beginning and ending of the movie with a long injury stint in between. When all was said and done, Homer had a 4.46 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, and 100/40 K/BB ratio. The biggest positives are his career best walk (3.3 BB/9) and strikeout (8.3 K/9) rates. His April and May were forgettable, at best, while his August and September were fairly impressive. He also acquitted himself well in a 2 inning postseason relief appearance against the Phillies. It does bear mentioning that Homer's numbers are somewhat skewed by his dominance against the lowly Pirates (16.0 innings, 0.56 ERA, 15/0 K/BB). Additionally, even in his good starts, I was struck by the number of times he badly missed the target. The catcher would set up on the corner only to have to reach all the way back across the plate to catch the pitch on the other corner. So, I'm not convinced that he truly turned the corner in the final two months. Once again, Homer was maddening, showing enough upside to be optimistic about his chances in 2011, but not enough to allow any certainty in that regard.

For me, the most telling thing about his season actually occurred off the field. In late May, Homer was shut down and DL'd due to shoulder stiffness. Homer was upset about the decision because he didn't feel the arm was that bad, going so far as to refuse a cortisone injection.

Two things are really striking about this situation. First, Homer seemed to have no understanding of the severity of the problem. He protested going on the DL because he didn't believe that he needed to miss even two weeks worth of games. In the end, he didn't return to the majors until August 15th. It seems a somewhat shocking lack of self-awareness about the health of his arm. Either he simply has no clue about the condition of his arm or he did and simply refused to acknowledge it due to his innate stubbornness. I'm not sure which would be the preferable explanation, but I'd certainly hope that a pitcher has a better feeling for the condition of his arm.

The second thing that jumped out at me was his refusal of the cortisone shot, which manages to seem impressive, stubborn, and disconcerting all at the same time. It's impressive in that a 20-something kid actually steps back to consider a team doctor's advice and ultimately goes against the organization's advice. If an organization had invested millions of dollars in me and had a doctor telling me what I needed to get healthy, I'd probably take the doctors advice on all but the most major procedures. However, Homer was stubborn because a cortisone shot is a minor medical matter, not a major surgery. This is an instance in which refusing the team's treatment seems rather odd and unnecessarily stubborn. The team doctor and organization simply want Bailey to get healthy and back on the mound, which (in theory at least) is what Homer wants as well. There was no divergence of interests between the player and the organization, as both want performance and health over the short and long haul.

Homer either lacks trust of any kind in the organization or he simply suffers from an over abundance of youthful arrogance that leads him to believe he always knows best. Whatever the reason, this seems to be par for the course in his development as a player, as he has butted heads with the Reds coaches throughout his time with the organization. I can't easily recall any young player having so many issues and conflicts with an organization on his way up the ladder. Developing Homer Bailey is no small task and these problems are likely the root cause of his struggles. He has all the tools, but seems to lack the mentality to put them to use.

Once again, the Reds head into 2011 with reasonably high hopes for Homer Bailey. It remains to be seen whether those hopes will again be derailed by Homer's frequently misguided actions and stubborn attitude.

Edinson Volquez -- Expectations: None, Grade: B+

Edinson's grade is based largely on the complete lack of expectations. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in early August of 2009, it was pretty remarkable for Edinson simply to get back to the majors in 2010. Not only did he return to the show, but he had flashes of brilliance.

On July 17, Volquez made his first start of the season. Facing the Rockies, he tossed 6.0 innings, allowing 3 hits, 1 run, and posting a 9/2 K/BB ratio. The other highlight of his season occurred on September 11th when he faced the Pirates. In that game, Edinson threw 7.0 innings allowing 1 hit, 0 runs, and posting a 10/1 K/BB ratio.

Unfortunately, there were also significant bumps in the road, the most notable of which occurred during Game 1 of the NLDS. Facing the Phillies, Edinson lasted a mere 1.2 innings in which he allowed 4 hits, 4 runs, 2 walks, and striking out no one. In arguably the biggest start of the season, Edinson couldn't have performed worse. That start set the tone for the entire series. It was a curious choice by the Reds brain-trust to start Edinson in Game 1, but there was some justification for it, as Volquez posted a 1.95 ERA in 27.2 September innings. So, the regrets about starting him in Game 1 are based largely on hindsight, as the decision made sense in foresight.

When all was said and done, Edinson pitched 62.2 regular season innings in which he posted a 4.31 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and a 67/35 K/BB ratio. Overall, the strikeout rate was as impressive (9.6 K/9) as the walk rate was unimpressive (5.0 BB/9). While Edinson's command has never been his strong suit, it was worse than usual in 2010. Clearly, he had yet to regain his feel for pitching, but the power was back. In 2010, his fastball averaged 93.6 mph, which was almost exactly what it has been every year since 2006. So, the velocity is all the way back and hopefully the command improves in 2011. Pitchers are usually better in their second year back from Tommy John surgery, so the Reds have to hope that's the case with Volquez, especially since the player for whom he was traded led his team to the World Series.

2010 Top 25 Prospects and Review

Well, time for a quick bit of housekeeping before my 2011 List gets underway. Below is my 2010 Top Prospect list for the archive and posterity sake. And, while I'm at it, I may as well take a quick spin through it with the benefit of hindsight.

All in all, I'm pretty pleased with my list this year. I don't see any glaring mistakes and my faith was rewarded on a few of these guys.

Aroldis was undeniably the top guy in the system and showed why in his limited MLB performance. An ungodly fastball and a video game slider. He just needs polish. Yonder finished strong to justify the ranking. There isn't much to separate the polished Leake and Wood, so I'm happy with where I had them pegged.

Neftali Soto's career seems to be sliding away after a strong start and Maloney is withering on the vine. If I missed the mark, it was probably on J.C. Sulbaran, whose feel for pitching simply hasn't caught up to his stuff. Wiley's 2010 season was a waste, but I still like what he brings to table. I suspect he'll do some nice things in the D-Back system. Whether he'll do enough to ever see the majors certainly remains to be seen. He has a long way to go, but he does a couple of nice things to generate value. Josh Ravin stumbled his way into a promotion, then surprisingly took his performance up a notch against tougher competition. He remains an intriguing enigma. Good stuff, clean mechanics, but simply can't find sufficient control. Time is running out.

As for Mesoraco, he obviously outperformed the ranking, but 16 was as high as I could justify ranking him based on his strong peripherals. Still, nice to see him make good.

As much as I like Fellhauer's swing, well-rounded game, and instincts, I wasn't sold on his upside and so far I'm comfortable with his ranking.

Anyway, here was the 2010 list:

0. Aroldis Chapman, lhp
1. Yonder Alonso, 1b
2. Todd Frazier, inf/of
3. Mike Leake, rhp
4. Travis Wood, lhp
5. Chris Heisey, of
6. Juan Francisco, 3b
7. Yorman Rodriguez, of
8. Zach Cozart, ss
9. Neftali Soto, inf
10. Matt Maloney, lhp

11. Billy Hamilton, ss
12. J.C. Sulbaran, rhp
13. Brad Boxberger, rhp
14. Chris Valaika, ss/2b
15. Matt Klinker, rhp
16. Devin Mesoraco, c
17. Danny Dorn, 1b/lf
18. Juan Silva, of
19. Donnie Joseph, lhp
20. Byron Wiley, of

21. Daniel Tuttle, rhp
22. Miguel Rojas, ss
23. Logan Ondrusek, rhp
24. Josh Fellhauer, of
25. Josh Ravin, rhp
xx. "Other Notables"