Everyone is watching the exploits of top Reds prospect Billy Hamilton at Triple-A Louisville after the speedy 22-year-old swiped a record 155 bases last season. However, it was underscored during his first big league camp that Hamilton is far from a finished product. He is still learning a new position -- center field -- and how to handle himself against more experienced pitching.
"He had to come here to see where his development is, where he is, and realize he has some ways to go," manager Dusty Baker said last month. "If he didn't, he'd be here already."
While Choo has been very successful through nine games this season, he is signed to a one-year contract and then expected to become a free agent. That opens the door for Hamilton, possibly for Opening Day 2014.
As for 2013, there are players who could help Cincinnati in its efforts to repeat as National League Central champions. At the forefront is Triple-A Louisville starting pitcher Tony Cingrani. Through two starts this season, the left-handed Cingrani has worked 12 1/3 scoreless innings, with 21 strikeouts. That included six hitless innings and 14 strikeouts in his first start.
"Cingrani is the first callup if one of my starters goes down," Baker said on Wednesday.
There could be other callups if right-handed starter Daniel Corcino keeps progressing. Infielder Henry Rodriguez has plenty of room for improvement defensively, but his bat is Major League ready if he's needed at some point.
Minor League Baseball is under way, and you can keep track of the Reds' top prospects throughout the season on MLBPipeline.com and Prospect Watch. Get scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more for all of Cincinnati's Minor League teams on MLBPipeline.com/Reds.
Even with the talent on the cusp at Louisville, there are other waves a notch, or a couple of notches, below. At Double-A Pensacola, center fielder Ryan LaMarre is a constant stolen-base threat who also plays excellent defense. Corner outfielder/first baseman Donald Lutz has big left-handed power and has impressed everyone with his hitting skill. Lutz, who didn't start playing until he was a teenager in Germany, has narrowed the learning curve considerably in a short amount of time.
Several top prospects are currently at Class A Advanced Bakersfield, including power-hitting third baseman Sean Buckley and second baseman Ryan Wright. Outfielder Yorman Rodriguez, 20, slipped a notch back to low-Class A Dayton last season but is back in Bakersfield. Once signed as a 16-year-old, Rodriguez has a strong throwing arm and a high ceiling for hitting.
And at Dayton, 2011 first-round pick Robert Stephenson can throw 98-99 mph and had a solid first pro season in 2012.
Debuts and Draftees
The Reds' 2012 first-round pick, right-handed starting pitcher Nick Travieso, pitched eight games and 21 innings for the AZL Reds in the Arizona League after signing. Travieso learned the regimen required of pitching every fifth day and will resume playing for a Rookie level short-season club later this year.
A pair of supplemental first-rounders who followed, outfielders Jesse Winker and Jeff Gelalich, are also off to good starts to their pro careers. Winker, a high-school pick currently at Dayton, batted .338 in 62 games at Billings in the Pioneer League. Gelalich, taken out of UCLA, is a left-handed hitter like Winker and his teammate at Dayton.
And although he was a 22nd-round pick in 2011, keep an eye on pitcher Amir Garrett. A college basketball player, Garrett announced last week he was leaving St. John's University and is expected to focus on baseball. The 6-foot-5 left-hander played at the Rookie level for only nine games last season and is still working to command his 95-96 mph fastball.
Teams on TV
The Louisville Bats, Pensacola Blue Wahoos and Dayton Dragons are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2013 MiLB.TV package will include more than 3,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.