One strategy for an organization to build a strong Minor League farm system is by way of trades, especially when that team is out of contention. In recent years, the Reds have put together quality Minor League talent without having to trade away valuable pieces. They have drafted and signed prospects who they have been able to develop into Major League-level players.
One look at the Reds' 25-man roster this season is an indication of the success Cincinnati has had with players who have been in the system for the entirety of their careers. Joey Votto, who was drafted by the Reds in 2002, is a perfect example, as is 2005 first-round pick Jay Bruce. Ace Johnny Cueto and All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman each signed their first professional contracts with the Reds. There are many more who did so as well.
It's not hard to assume, then, that the next star in Cincinnati will come from the farm system, and there are plenty of players who have shown the potential to become that guy. Whether it's speedy outfielder Billy Hamilton, powerful right-handed pitcher Robert Stephenson or sweet-swinging Jesse Winker, many of the club's young prospects have Cincinnati fans excited.
"I really tip my cap to our scouting department," Reds director of player development Jeff Graupe said shortly after the 2013 Draft brought in more fresh talent. "They've done a tremendous job."
After giving up one run in three relief appearances (five innings) for the Reds in 2012, Tony Cingrani began 2013 as a starter for Triple-A Louisville. Less than a month into the season, Cingrani was still starting, but he was doing so at the Major League level.
Previously the most promising pitching prospect in Cincinnati's system, Cingrani has moved on and become a legitimate big league starter since first taking over for the oft-injured Cueto on April 18. The 24-year-old left-hander has been consistent for the Reds, giving up more than three runs just once in 11 starts, while twice striking out 10 or more batters.
Although Cingrani has proven he can deliver at baseball's highest level, there is room for improvement. He's relied mostly on his fastball to this point, but as the season has progressed, he's improved his secondary pitches, particularly his curveball and slider.
The Reds selected Dan Langfield in the third round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, and he immediately showed off his power arm with the club's rookie team. Langfield struck out 54 batters in 37 innings and went 3-0 with a 2.68 ERA in 15 appearances (five starts). Unfortunately for the 22-year-old right-hander, he has yet to pitch in 2013 because of a shoulder injury that has kept him out of action and knocked him off the Reds' Top 20 Prospect list after being ranked 18th to start the season.
Outfielder Kyle Waldrop was taken by the Reds in the 12th round of the 2010 Draft as somewhat of a project, considering he was a two-sport athlete in high school and had much to learn when it came to baseball. The 21-year-old projects as a corner outfielder, but he has to prove he has the offensive ability to play there.
Waldrop's best season as a professional came last year, when he batted .284 with eight homers and 50 RBIs for Class A Dayton, making him club's 16th ranked prospect to start 2013. He added more power this season, as he's hit 13 home runs while playing for Class A-Advanced Bakersfield, but with a batting average that hovers around .240 and an on-base percentage below .300, Waldrop has fallen outside of the top 20 in the Reds system.
The presence of Hamilton as Cincinnati's top prospect did not stop the club from drafting another talented outfielder -- Phil Ervin -- with the 27th pick in June's Draft. Considered to be a five-tool player, Ervin debuts on the Reds' prospect list in the No. 4 spot. In roughly 30 games for Rookie League Billings, Ervin has maintained a batting average near .300 with an on-base percentage closer to .400.
Right-handed pitcher Michael Lorenzen was selected 11 picks behind Ervin in June and now ranks two spots behind him on the Reds' list. Although Lorenzen also played center field at Cal-State Fullerton and came in wanting a chance to swing the bat, Cincinnati has used him as a pitcher. With 95-98 mph heat, Lorenzen started one game for the Reds' Rookie League team in Arizona before being promoted to Class A Dayton, where he has come out of the bullpen.
Outfielder Yorman Rodriguez, who was signed by the Reds in 2009, slipped into the top 20 when Tony Cingrani graduated from the list, but he has moved up to No. 16 in the newest update. Like Ervin, Rodriguez shows the potential as a five-tool player, but his game is not quite as complete. At 20, he still has time to develop and refine his swing, which he is now doing with Double-A Pensacola.
reds' top prospects
Although Winker ranks No. 5 in the Reds' system -- moving up six spots since the beginning of the season -- he sits behind fellow outfielders Ervin and Hamilton. But Winker, 19, has an approach at the plate beyond his years and has drawn comparisons to Cincinnati slugger Jay Bruce. His defense continues to improve, as he learns to make up for his lack of speed by getting good reads and playing angles.
Right-handed pitcher Kyle Lotzkar has trended in the opposite direction, dropping from No. 6 before the season to No. 12. Since being drafted in 2007, Lotzkar has dealt with various arm injuries, including a torn labrum last season that didn't require surgery but likely moved him to a permanent bullpen role. His fastball reaches 94 mph and he owns a good slurve, but his changeup is a work in progress.
Top 100 representation
The Reds have just two players in MLB.com's top 100 prospects, but they both sit in the top 20. Hamilton (No. 19), who became one of the game's most popular Minor Leaguers last season when he stole a professional-record 155 bases, leads the way. He started the season as the 11th-ranked prospect and represented the Reds at the Futures Game during the All-Star break. But he's fallen off a bit as he adjusts to a new position in center field and tougher competition at the Triple-A level.
Immediately behind Hamilton at No. 20 is Stephenson, who has a chance to follow a path similar to that of Cingrani. Stehpenson began the season ranked 51st on the top-100 list, but he made a big jump after going 5-3 with a 2.57 ERA in 14 starts for Class-A Dayton. He earned a nod as a starter for the Midwestern League All-Star Game but couldn't pitch because of a hamstring injury. Recently, the 20-year-old armed with a fastball that can touch triple digits was promoted to Class A Advanced Bakersfield as he quickly climbs the Minor League ladder.
Based on a scoring system that awards 100 points to the team with the No. 1 prospect, 99 points to the team with the No. 2 prospect, etc., the Reds farm system ranks 14th among all 30 clubs. Hamilton and Stephenson combine to give the Reds 163 points, which is 12 less than to begin the season, mostly because Cingrani graduated from the top-100 list.
Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.