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Reds' farm primed to continue production

Reds' farm primed to continue production

While the 2009 Cincinnati Reds did not land any players among the final vote-getters in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, the club certainly had a more-than-respectable pipeline of young players that contributed throughout the season.


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Outfielders Drew Stubbs and Chris Dickerson, infielders Paul Janish and Adam Rosales, pitchers Carlos Fisher, Matt Maloney and Ramon Ramirez and catcher Ryan Hanigan all got a chance to show their stuff to one degree or another as a total of 17 rookies saw playing time at one point or another for the Reds.

And the club's continued balanced depth at the upper levels suggests more of the same in 2010.

"I would say our Triple-A team is going to be really good and we'll have some guys who will be in a position to help us in the big leagues," said Terry Reynolds, Cincinnati's director of player development.

Among that crew are several of the organization's best prospects, among them first baseman Yonder Alonso, their first-round Draft pick in 2008; shortstop Zack Cozart, the most advanced of a deep crew of middle infielders; shortstop/second baseman Chris Valaika, who is coming back from a broken hand which cost him most of 2009; Todd Frazier, a shortstop-turned-outfielder who may be the top all-around prospect in the system right now; and outfielder Chris Heisey, who was the system's Minor League Hitter of the Year between Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville in '09.

"I think any or all of them, if needed, could go to the big leagues," Reynolds added.

The logjam at shortstop in the Minors, which at one point included Janish, Cozart, Valaika and Frazier, has been eased somewhat by the shift of the latter two into more utility-type players. At this point, Reynolds said, he sees Frazier opening the season as Louisville's left fielder and Valaika as their second baseman, with Cozart at shortstop.

"Ultimately, though, that will be the GM's decision and it puts him in a good spot that all of those guys can play multiple positions and play them so well," Reynolds said. "If he has a hole anywhere, he has someone to plug into it. They've all created more value for themselves with their versatility."

That depth at shortstop doesn't end at the upper levels. Far from it, in fact. Three of the most intriguing prospects in the system are all, for now at least, shortstops as well. Miguel Rojas, the 20-year-old Venezuelan who hit .273 at Class A Dayton, is likely to open the season in that spot at Advanced A Lynchburg, the Reds' new affiliate since moving out of the Florida State League. Mariekson Gregorius, a Dutch teenager who hit .314 at short-season Billings last year, is expected to open the season at Dayton, while raw-but-athletic Billy Hamilton, the club's second-round Draft pick this year out of high school in Mississippi, has blazing speed and a strong arm and will probably begin the year at extended Spring Training before joining Billings in June.

When it came to the Draft, the Reds seemed comfortable enough with their wealth of hitters to concentrate more on advanced pitching. They signed their first 16 picks which included 10 pitchers, seven of them out of college.

The first two picks, Arizona State right-hander Mike Leake and USC right-hander Brad Boxberger, both got their first real mound time in the Arizona Fall League, where Leake made his debut with a 1.37 ERA in six outings. Boxberger struggled with an 11.37 ERA but struck out 13 in 12 2/3 innings.

While the Reds finished at 78-84, six games below .500 in the big leagues, the Minor League affiliates took their hits as well, going a combined 343-415 (.453), 29th out of 30 clubs. But the Louisville squad went 84-58 and made it to the International League playoffs, while the Gulf Coast League team also finished over .500 (28-27).

ORGANIZATIONAL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR

MLB.com's Preseason Picks

Neftali Soto, 3B: Soto, the Reds' third-round pick in 2007 out of high school in Puerto Rico, broke all of Juan Gonzalez's power records there and continued to hit .340 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs in just 67 games between Billings and Dayton in 2008. In '09 he came down to earth, batting .248 with 11 homers and 57 RBIs at Advanced A Sarasota. Still just 20, there is plenty of time for Soto to reach his potential. With veteran Scott Rolen and power-hitting Juan Francisco there, there's no rush either. A position move is not out of the question.

JC Sulbaran, RHP: In his pro debut, the Curacao native, who moved to Florida as a teen to become eligible for the Draft, came off an impressive World Baseball Cup debut in which he struck out future Hall of Famer Pudge Rodriguez on three pitches. The 19-year-old was inconsistent at Dayton physically and emotionally, finishing with a 5.24 ERA in 21 starts and striking out 100 in 92 2/3 innings. The talent is there if he can harness it.

MLB.com's Postseason Selections

Chris Heisey, OF: Though lacking one commanding tool, the 17th-rounder from 2006 out of tiny Messiah College in Pennsylvania has done a little bit of everything every season and now sits on the brink of the big leagues. Just added to the 40-man roster this week, he combined to hit .314 with 22 homers, 77 RBIs and 21 steals between Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville, adding 35 doubles to finish in the top five in the organization in all of the key offensive categories. He can play all three outfield positions and has good instincts on the bases and in the field.

Travis Wood, LHP: After a 2008 season in which the crafty lefty struggled to a 7.09 ERA in 80 innings at Double-A Chattanooga, no one could have foreseen his Most Outstanding Pitcher Award after a performance in the Southern League where he posted a 1.21 ERA in 119 innings before moving up to Louisville. Combined between his two stops, Wood was 13-5 with a 1.77 ERA in 27 starts, walking 33 and fanning 135 in 167 2/3 innings. He limited hitters between the two leagues to a .204 average against. A second-rounder in 2005, Wood put his command together, big time, and all of his pitches -- a fastball, changeup, cutter and occasional curve -- have movement.

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

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