GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- This spring gave a strong indication of why the Reds were willing to make the hard decision to part with some elite prospects over the winter.
After former first-round picks Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal and first-round supplemental pick Brad Boxberger were traded to the Padres in the Mat Latos deal, a number of other young prospects have stepped right up.
"We feel that we were all excited about the trade for a few reasons," said Bill Bavasi, the Reds' vice president of scouting and player development. "Our Minor League guys and our scouts are sophisticated enough to know that the fact you're able to make those trades says a lot about your production and the players you've signed and the players that are being developed."
Expectedly after such a blockbuster trade, the Reds' ranking dropped from sixth in 2011 to the 16th-best Minor League system by Baseball America entering 2012. That could be a temporary slide if some players continue to make progress.
where to watch
A look at where the Reds' Top 20 prospects are starting the 2012 season:
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.
Two rookies that had brief time in the Major Leagues last season -- shortstop Zack Cozart and catcher Devin Mesoraco -- begin the season on the 25-man roster for a Cincinnati team seeking to contend in the National League Central. Cozart, who hit .345 this spring and cemented his role as the everyday shortstop. Mesoraco, the organization's top prospect, will share time behind the plate with veteran Ryan Hanigan.
In their first big league camps, shortstop Didi Gregorius, pitcher Daniel Corcino and outfielder Denis Phipps were among those to make strong impressions. Over in the Minor League camp, shortstop Billy Hamilton's development continued to create buzz.
"There are not a whole lot of teams that can gear to win and also be developing," Bavasi said. "The scouts have done a great job bringing in talent and guys that have aptitude. The guys in development have done a great job in developing that aptitude. We look at every position and some are stronger than others. But in general, we're in pretty good shape. We can always get better and we understand that."
With the Minor League season getting under way, fans can keep track of the Reds' top prospects throughout the year on Prospect Watch. And get scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more for all of the Reds' Minor League teams on the Reds' affiliates page.
Fans attending games at Class A Advanced Bakersfield and the new affiliate at Double-A Pensacola should be seeing some exciting players.
Hamilton, 21, has been promoted to high A for the first time, on the heels of stealing an organization-record 103 bases for Class A Dayton last year. Hamilton, the Reds' Minor League Player of the Year in 2011, was the first player in 10 years to steal 100 times during a Minor League season.
At Pensacola, which will open a brand-new ballpark on the water next month, Gregorius should dazzle with some of the nifty defense he displayed during big league camp. Gregorius is probably close to big league ready defensively but needs to continue to working on his hitting. The Blue Wahoos will also feature right-hander Corcino, who has drawn comparisons to big league ace Johnny Cueto, and speedy outfielder Ryan LaMarre.
Debuts and Draftees
The 2012 season marks the pro debut of last June's first-round pick, right-handed pitcher Robert Stephenson. Taken 27th overall, Stephenson signed at the deadline in August and participated in instructional ball only last year for the Reds. MLB.com already has the 19-year-old from Alhambra High School in Martinez, Calif., as the No. 3-ranked prospect in the Reds' system. He is starting the season in extended spring before moving on to rookie-level Billings.
Left-handed pitcher Tony Cingrani, the Reds' third-round pick in 2011 who made 13 starts for Billings last season, gets his first full year as a pro. It will be another full year for second baseman Ryan Wright, the fifth-round pick in 2011 that made only two errors in 45 rookie-level games last season. Sean Buckley, the sixth-round pick and third baseman, hit 14 homers in 59 games for Billings last season.
Teams on TV
The Triple-A Louisville Bats are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2012 MiLB.TV package will include more than 2,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.