Cueto emerging from Bailey's shadow

Cueto emerging from Bailey's shadow

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Once Homer Bailey realizes his Major League destiny, the masses will be quick to identify the Reds' next top pitching prospect.

Right-hander Johnny Cueto has put himself into position to be that guy.

Bailey was the organization's Minor League player of the year, but the Reds still recognized Cueto as their pitcher of the year. The 21-year-old was a combined 15-3 with a 3.00 ERA in 26 starts combined at Class A Dayton and higher Class A Sarasota. He also had 143 strikeouts.

"He's a special kid," Reds assistant director of player development Grant Griesser said. "He really, really put himself on the map last year -- not that we didn't know this guy was a talent. The numbers he put up between Dayton and Sarasota were extremely impressive. He's a quiet competitor. The sky is the limit for Johnny."

Cueto, who stands at 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, was signed in 2004 out of the Dominican Republic. He spent his first pro season in the Dominican summer league and 2005 in the Gulf Coast League but posted a 5.02 ERA in 13 games that season.

A hot start with Dayton where he went 8-1 with a 2.59 ERA and two shutouts in 14 starts, including a streak of 21 consecutive scoreless innings, earned Cueto a promotion to Sarasota in late June.

"We're looking for big things out of him," Griesser said. "He's one of those guys that are not big in stature. But he's certainly got a lot of heart and a big right arm."

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On the move: Miguel Perez, who has been restricted from much activity after a rib removed during November surgery, has begun catching in the bullpen. On Sunday, he was catching a bullpen session for Bailey. Perez is not expected to resume playing in games until at least the All-Star break.

Name in the game: Former Reds first baseman Todd Benzinger, who caught the final out when Cincinnati won the 1990 World Series at Oakland, has been in Minor League camp this week working with hitters as a guest instructor. Benzinger will be departing this week.

Class of '06: Right-handed pitcher Sean Watson, the Reds' second-round draft pick last season, was 1-2 with a 4.23 ERA in 17 games combined at rookie level Billings and Class A Dayton. Watson owned a 1.52 ERA in his seven games at Billings, including four starts.

Game on: Minor League camp full squad workouts began late last week. The first Minor League games begin on Thursday.

What they're saying: "He didn't have any days off in there. That was 32 straight games. You know as a hitter at any level, to be able to do what he did just shows he's a very consistent player that's serious about his work. He was prepared every day." -- Griesser, on shortstop Chris Valaika, the 2006 third-round draft pick that had a Pioneer League record 32-game hitting streak for Billings last season.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.