Reds system proving to be valuable source

Reds system proving to be valuable source

CINCINNATI -- For much of the 1990s and the early part of the 2000s, the Reds Minor League system was essentially an afterthought to ownership. Few of its Draft picks and prospects ever panned out or matched the perceived hype.

Now it's become a more reliable pipeline that has regularly moved prospects to the big leagues. In the past three years alone, Reds fans have become familiar with the likes of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Drew Stubbs, Chris Dickerson, Ryan Hanigan and more.

With the exception of Votto, who was drafted by ex-general manager Jim Bowden, a bevy of prospects have risen to the Majors under ex-GMs Dan O'Brien and Wayne Krivsky and current GM Walt Jocketty. Since O'Brien took over in 2003, the organization rededicated attention and resources to scouting, drafting and developing players.

Rampant injuries and trades at the big league level in 2009 forced the farm system to be counted on more than usual. Not only did players rise from Triple-A to the Majors, but players on the lower levels filled in and bolstered the higher levels of the Minors. The proof was seen at Triple-A Louisville, which still reached the playoffs despite sending several players up the road to Cincinnati.

"It was kind of a teaching year for a lot of guys," Reds Minor League director Terry Reynolds said. "There were a lot of surprises with performances from guys that went from [Class] A ball to Triple-A. It was a challenging year but a good year. We asked [them] to perform at a higher level and they did that."

And coming as soon as Spring 2010, the next crop of coveted Reds prospects will be seeking to get their shot at the Major Leagues. Here is a look at some of them:

1B Yonder Alonso: In his first full professional season after being the Reds' first-round Draft pick in 2008, Alonso did not disappoint. The 22-year-old batted .292 with nine home runs, 52 RBIs and a .374 on-base percentage in 84 games combined for Class A Sarasota and Double-A Carolina. And that was despite missing two months with a broken hamate bone in his right hand that required surgery in June.

To make up for lost time after the injury, the left-handed hitting Alonso got extra at-bats with Triple-A Louisville during the playoffs and went to the Arizona Fall League. After a short break, he's now playing winter ball in Puerto Rico.

"He came back the way I expected he would," Reynolds said. "He's a professional the way he goes about his business, his at-bats and he was the same way during his rehab. It's too bad he missed time but he came back, went to Triple-A and did well there and at the Arizona Fall League."

Signed to a Major League contract, Alonso is obviously on the fast track. But there are complications. The Reds' best hitter, Votto, is already entrenched at first base. There has been speculation that Votto could be moved to left field to clear a spot for Alonso.

"I can tell you this, at some point he will be in the big leagues," Reynolds said. "It depends on the opportunity. I don't know when that will be."

And although the Reds aren't saying it publicly, Alonso could also be a coveted trade chip that would probably net a nice return.

OF Chris Heisey: Although a 17th-round Draft pick in 2006 plucked from a tiny college, Heisey has hit his way to the brink of a callup. Turning 25 on Dec. 14, Heisey started 2009 at Double-A and finished at Triple-A. Overall, he batted .314 with 22 homers, 77 RBIs and a .379 on-base percentage in 134 games. Over his Minor League career, he's batting .298.

With the Reds trying to fill a vacancy in left field with a strong hitter, Heisey will be a candidate for the job when camp opens.

"He played very well in Louisville and did well in the Fall League," Reynolds said. "He's one of those guys that grows on you. He's taken the ball and run with it at every level. It will be fun to see if can compete in spring for a job at the Major League level. He's got the tools to play the game."

IF/OF Todd Frazier: Recently rated the No. 1 prospect in the Reds organization, ahead of Alonso, Frazier has a strong right-handed bat and is versatile. He has played shortstop, second base, third base and left field.

"He played them all well," Reynolds said. "He gives a GM a whole lot of options. He can be a regular at any one of those spots."

Frazier, who batted .292 with 16 homers, 77 RBIs and a .351 OBP in 135 games at Carolina and Louisville, might have an outside chance at the left-field vacancy in the Majors.

"It probably wouldn't hurt him to get more time in Triple-A," Reynolds said. "Seasoning is a good thing. There's no need to hustle someone up when you don't have to."

RHP Mike Leake: Cincinnati's first-round Draft pick in 2009, Leake did not sign until August after a full season at Arizona State. A groundball pitcher, the 21-year-old features a fastball, curveball, slider and changeup.

Leake made his pro debut in the Arizona Fall League, where he was 1-2 with a 1.37 ERA in six games, including five starts. In 19 2/3 innings, he only walked three and struck out 15.

"The most impressive thing was his demeanor and the way he went about his business with an enthusiasm for playing," Reynolds said. "He came to instructional league, his first professional experience, and did well for us. In the AFL, he got better each time out. He knows how to pitch and is wise beyond his years in how he pitches. This spring, I will be interested to see what level he lands a role at."

LHP Travis Wood: It was a breakout year in the Minors for Wood, who was 13-5 with a 1.77 ERA in 27 starts combined with Carolina and Louisville. In 167 2/3 innings, he walked 53 and struck out 135.

It was a nice turnaround from 2008 at high Class A and Double-A, when Wood had a 5.47 ERA.

"He had a great year," Reynolds said. "He's a guy that has finally gotten the maturity and confidence to know that he is good. We believe in him and now that he believes in himself, it's been fun to watch him blossom. He is sure coming off of a confidence-building year."

Wood's primary pitches are a fastball and changeup, but he learned how to throw a cutter, which helped him pitch better inside. He could have an outside chance at the vacant fifth spot in the rotation.

"He took the instruction of the pitching coach and made the most of it," Reynolds said.

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