When it comes to looking at the state of the farm for the Cincinnati Reds in 2009, the names may not be as big as last year, but the pool is deeper.
Coming into '08, the Reds had a promising homegrown "big four" on the horizon with pitchers Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey, first baseman Joey Votto and outfielder Jay Bruce. (That group didn't even include youngster Edinson Volquez because he was neither a rookie nor a homegrown farmhand).
This year, while there may not be a Votto or Bruce waiting to emerge in the immediate future, the organization is understandably pleased when it looks at its ranks and sees its depth, especially on the offensive side.
And that offense is especially strong around the infield. So much so that the club could afford to trade away second baseman Justin Turner and power-hitting third baseman Brandon Waring to pick up catcher Ramon Hernandez and still be loaded.
Of the club's 2008 organization leaders, three of the top four RBI producers, three of the top five home run hitters and four of the top five in average were all infielders.
Though the big league Reds were shut out of the playoffs for the 13th year in a row, three of their Minor League squads made it to the postseason, including their Triple-A affiliate at Louisville.
Chris Dickerson, OF
The 2003 16th-round pick currently tops the depth chart in the race for the starting left field job, having made a good impression with a .304 average, six homers and 15 RBIs in 31 games with Cincinnati before injuring his ankle. He hit .287 in 97 games at Louisville, where his 26 steals ranked third in the system.
Ryan Hanigan, C:
The 28-year-old batted .271 in 31 games in Cincinnati last year and has been making a big impression in camp in his quest for the backup spot to veteran Ramon Hernandez. He hit .324 at Louisville prior to his callup.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
The closer prospect with the blazing fastball was a 2006 10th-round pick out of UCLA, where he was a football player before changing sports. The son of former big leaguer Gary and nephew of Ron, he split the 2008 campaign between Double-A Chattanooga and Louisville before making his big league debut.
Carlos Fisher, RHP
Fisher moved from starter to reliever last year and posted a 3.73 ERA over 50 2/3 innings at Chattanooga before moving up to Louisville, where he was 5-0 with a 1.04 ERA.
Chris Heisey, OF:
Drafted in the 17th round in 2006 out of Messiah College in Pennsylvania, he's been a hit with the system for his hard-nosed, all-out style. He batted .291 with nine homers and 61 RBIs, mostly at Advanced Class A Sarasota, and his 32 steals ranked second in the system.
Robert Manuel, RHP:
MLB.com's Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year was a non-drafted free agent acquired from the Mets in '06 for southpaw Dave Williams. He posted a 1.25 ERA as a setup and middle man at Sarasota, Chattanooga and Louisville, combining for 103 strikeouts over 86 2/3 innings and a .174 opponents' average.
Jordan Smith, RHP:
A 2006 sixth-round pick out of community college in Nevada, Smith was 7-2 with a 2.55 ERA at Sarasota and 2-6 with a 5.40 ERA at Chattanooga in '08 but played the second half of the season with a sore knee that required surgery. The 23-year-old with the sinking fastball and plus slider could be in the big leagues this year.
2008: Yonder Alonso, 1B:
The seventh overall pick out of Miami, he signed late but went right to Sarasota and hit .316 in six games. He followed that up with a .308 average, .419 on-base percentage and .510 slugging percentage in Hawaii Winter Baseball. Alonso, who turns 22 on Opening Day in the Minors, is a left-handed hitter with great plate discipline and should be a quick mover.
2007: Devin Mesoraco, C:
The 20-year-old native of Punxsutawney, Pa., hit .261 with nine homers and 42 RBIs in 83 games at Class A Dayton last summer. The 15th overall pick, he has a plus arm and great makeup.
2006: Drew Stubbs, OF:
Stubbs was the eighth overall selection out of the University of Texas and, though injuries have slowed him a bit, he moved through three levels in '08 and led the system with 33 steals. He also has a plus arm and a quick bat. He hit a combined .277 with seven homers and 57 RBIs.
2008 Draft Recap
RHP Zachary Stewart (3), a closer at Texas Tech, throws a fastball and slider and was impressive in his pro debut with an 0.55 ERA and three saves at Dayton and a 1.62 ERA over 16 2/3 innings at Sarasota. ... SS Alexander Buchholz (6) hit .396 with 26 RBIs in 34 games at short-season Billings after signing out of Delaware. ... OF David Sappelt (9) signed out of Coastal Carolina and hit .299, third in the organization, with seven homers and 35 RBIs at Billings. He is an outstanding defensive outfielder. ... OF Theodis Bowe (21), a Delaware high school product, makes it home to first in under 4.0 seconds and stole six bases in a brief stint in the Gulf Coast League. The 18-year-old left-handed batter stands 5-foot-9. ... RHP Juan Carlos Sulbaran (30), a Curacao native signed out of American Heritage High School in Florida, will be making his pro debut this summer but lost "sleeper" status when he struck out Ivan Rodriguez on three pitches in the Netherlands' loss to Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. He has great stuff and, though only 19, may break camp with Dayton, thanks to his international experience.
Hitter of the Year -- 3B Neftali Soto
The 2007 third-round pick out of high school in Puerto Rico broke all of Juan Gonzalez's power records there. He combined to hit .340 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs in only 67 games between Billings and Dayton last season.
Pitcher of the Year -- RHP Juan Carlos Sulbaran
Maybe it's just having watched this kid pitch against Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, but not only will he make his pro debut with Class A Dayton at age 19, he will dominate Midwest League hitters.
The Reds have several young future stars who will be making their stateside debuts in '09, including the aforementioned Sulbaran. Another exciting international signee is 16-year-old Venezuelan OF Yorman Rodriguez, a five-tool talent who likely will make his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League later this season. Another one to watch is OF Juan Duran, a 6-foot-6 Dominican 17-year-old whose arrival to the field this summer will be delayed by knee surgery. ... The Reds will have a new Double-A home this summer, moving from Chattanooga to Carolina in the Southern League. And this may be their last year in the Advanced Class A Florida State League with Sarasota as Cincinnati will be leaving that spring complex in 2010 for Goodyear in Arizona.
"I think the strength at this point, compared to where we were four years ago, is depth. We've got some pretty good players throughout the system, and that's always nice. If someone moves up, you always have someone to replace them with."
--Terry Reynolds, Reds director of player development
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.