GOODYEAR, AZ - FEBRUARY 27: Devin Mesoraco #65 of the Cincinnati Reds throws the ball down to second base against the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear Ballpark on February 27, 2011 in Goodyear, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Cincinnati Reds Top 20 Prospects for 2012
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine of course. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders. Order early and order often!
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don't make it at all.
A major point to remember is that grades for pitchers do NOT correspond directly to grades for hitters. Many Grade A pitching prospects fail to develop, often due to injuries. Some Grade C pitching prospects turn out much better than expected.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise coming from me, and some C+ prospects turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Devin Mesoraco, C, Grade A-: Hard to believe this guy looked like a busted first round pick two years ago. Better conditioning and strike zone gains worked wonders. Should be an above-average defender who hits for power.
2) Billy Hamilton, SS, Grade B+: Ridiculously fast and he uses that speed well. Lacks power and strikes out a lot, but I remain optimistic that his hitting skills will improve and thus the grade. Might end up at second base.
3) Daniel Corcino, RHP, Grade B: Everyone makes Johnny Cueto comparisons, and it makes a lot of sense. Size and stuff are similar. Excellent component ratios in the Midwest League, demonstrates ability to throw plus fastball, solid slider and changeup for strikes.
4) Robert Stephenson, RHP, Grade B: High school first-rounder with live arm, 92-96 MPH fastball and a promising curve. Projects as a number two starter if all goes according to plan. Would have been a top ten pick in some draft classes, but the '11 group was so strong he fell to 27th overall.
5) Zack Cozart, SS, Grade B-: Good fielder with some pop in his bat, keeps exceeding expectations. Plate discipline is spotty and I doubt he hits .300+ in a full season, but he should be a solid regular.
6) Tony Cingrani, LHP, Grade B-: Borderline C+. Relieved in college for Rice but a starter now, developing slider and changeup with good results in Pioneer League. Throws strikes, has a shot at becoming a number three starter. Grade is aggressive but I like him.
7) Didi Gregorius, SS, Grade C+: Toolsy infielder from Curacao, great throwing arm, good range, still makes a lot of errors. Line drive hitter with poor plate discipline but still young enough at 21 to develop considerably.
8) Todd Frazier, UT, Grade C+: Nothing left to prove in the minors. Turns 26 in February and we have a read on his skills now after two seasons in Triple-A. He's not going to hit .300 in the majors, but he's got enough power to be useful and can play multiple positions without being a liability. In these days of large pitching staffs and small benches, that has value.
9) Yorman Rodriguez, OF, Grade C+: One of several young Latin American power hitters with poor plate discipline in the system. Age 19, has 20/20 potential but injuries and a poor hitting approach have held him back. Physical potential to be a star, but can he refine it?
10) Henry Rodriguez, 2B, Grade C+: 21-year-old switch-hitter produced .320/.372/.469 mark with 36 doubles, 13 homers, and 30 steals combined between High-A and Double-A. He has a legitimate bat, but sloppy defense and too many mental mistakes hurt his stock with scouts. If he gets his head on straight, he could be a very impressive player.
11) Neftali Soto, 1B, Grade C+: Slammed 30 homers in Double-A at age 22 but plate discipline remains poor and he has an uphill battle in the OBP and batting average departments.
12) J.C. Sulbaran, RHP, Grade C+: Live arm, posted impressive 155/50 K/BB in 137 innings in the California League although 4.60 ERA makes him easy to overlook. FIP was much better at 3.29. 22-year-old is well-known from performance in international competition a few years ago.
13) David Vidal, 3B, Grade C+: Solid production in Midwest League, .280 with 20 homers, 37 doubles. Performed well defensively. Plate discipline needs some work but an intriguing player.
14) Tim Crabbe, RHP, Grade C+: Overlooked prospect, posted solid ratios in difficult California League, 3.41 ERA with 123/46 K/BB in 111 innings, 97 hits. Above-average fastball and slider. Needs a third pitch, but there are things to build on here.
15) Kyle Lotzkar, RHP, Grade C+: Still striking people out at a good clip, driving the long road back from Tommy John surgery.
16) Juan Duran, OF, Grade C: High-ceiling power hitter knocked 16 homers in Midwest League, but has very poor strike zone judgment, fanned 152 times in 367 at-bats. Still has time to improve at age 20.
17) Gabriel Rosa, 3B, Grade C: Second-round pick out of Puerto Rico, hit poorly in rookie ball and has strike zone issues but also has all the tools to succeed.
18) Tucker Barnhart, C, Grade C: Impressive defensive catcher, lacks home run power but makes contact and switch-hits. Profiles as a reserve unless he hits more, which is possible.
19) Junior Arias, 3B, Grade C: Turns 20 tomorrow. Another young Latin American (Dominican Republic) with loads of offensive potential but a poor feel for hitting and issues with contact. High ceiling, high risk.
20) Denis Phipps, OF, Grade C: This is why teams don't like to give up on tools guys. Never hit well before, but exploded in 2011 by hitting .346/.397/.527 in Double-A/Triple-A at age 26, earning a spot on 40-man roster. This was driven by BABIP well over .400 despite striking out once per game. Seems unsustainable to me, but he continued to hit well in winter ball and he has enough tools to deserve a look at least as a reserve.
OTHERS: James Allen, RHP; Andrew Brackman, RHP; Sean Buckley, 3B: Amir Garrett, LHP (incredible ceiling but very raw); Stalin Gerson, RHP (I put my Russian history degree to use when writing the book comment); Cole Green, RHP (Sam LeCure Part Two); Brodie Greene, INF; Drew Hayes, RHP; Donnie Joseph, LHP; Josh Judy, RHP; Ryan LaMarre, OF; Donald Lutz, 1B; Chris Manno, LHP; Juan Perez INF; Josh Ravin, RHP; Daniel Renken, RHP; Josh Smith, RHP; Pedro Villareal, RHP; Kyle Waldrop, OF; Ryan Wright, 2B.
The big trade tore the top part of this system off. Grandal and Alonso are strong B+ prospects and Boxberger a B-/B. The ranking would have been Mesoraco-Hamilton-Alonso-Grandal-Corsino-Stephenson-Cozart-Boxberger. Also don't forget Torreyes and Sappelt, who would have been ranked something like 12th and 13th.
Ranking of the Grade C/C+ types is pretty much a crapshoot outside the Top Ten. Several of the "others" guys could easily fit into the 16-20 range but I wanted to write about Phipps because people ask about him.
As it stands, there is still talent here but the trades unavoidably thin things out. Mesoraco, Cozart, and Frazier are ready to help in 2012. Henry Rodriguez has a lot of talent offensively but defense and intangibles are issues. Gregorius hasn't put up the numbers yet, but he's very young and I will cut him some slack for that. If you could combine Gregorius' defense with Henry R.'s bat, you'd have a star. Alas, genetic experimentations of that type are illegal.
There is a group of guys with 1) huge power potential but 2) big flaws in their approach, beginning with Yorman Rodriguez and Neftali Soto. There's a significant risk that none of them will figure it out, although they are all young enough to improve.
On the pitching side, Corcino looks like a mid-rotation guy to me. Stephenson has the highest ceiling and could develop into a staff anchor, but hasn't pitched yet and we don't know how the scouting reports and high school performance will translate. I like Cingrani quite a bit. Amir Garrett could have the best potential of any pitcher in the system, but there is so much uncertainty about him that I want to see how things look a year from now before ranking him highly.
Keep an eye on infielder Juan Perez, a sleeper from the 2011 draft.