The last five winners of the award have been former Dayton Dragons players, and eight of the 10 winners since 2000 when the awarded was initiated have been former Dragons.
Among the leading candidates for the award in 2010 are catcher Devin Mesoraco (2008 Dragons), outfielder Dave Sappelt (2009 Dragons) and pitcher Donnie Joseph (2009-'10 Dragons). If Joseph is selected, he would become the first player to win the award in the same season he played for the Dragons since Austin Kearns in 2000.
Here are some of the candidates:
Devin Mesoraco : The Reds # 1 draft pick from 2007 enjoyed a tremendous breakout year in 2010. He began the season with Single-A Lynchburg, jumped to Double-A Carolina in late-May, and was promoted to Triple-A Louisville in mid-August. Overall, Mesoraco led the entire Reds organization in home runs with 26. He batted a combined .302 to rank fourth among Reds full-season minor leaguers, and his 75 runs batted in also ranked fourth. Mesoraco was just 19 years old when he joined the Dragons in 2008 and played in 83 games with Dayton, batting .261 with nine homers and 42 RBI.
Dave Sappelt : A speedy center fielder with tremendous range in the outfield, Sappelt also played at all three levels of the Reds farm system in 2010. His overall batting average of .342 was 37 points higher than any other full-season player in the organization. He added 10 home runs, 74 runs batted in, and 25 stolen bases. He was the batting champion in the Southern League with Carolina at .361. Sappelt spent most of 2009 with the Dragons, appearing in 74 games and batting .269 with three homers, 25 RBI, and 26 steals.
Donnie Joseph : A left-handed relief pitcher, Joseph was dominant against opposing batters in 2010. He began the season with the Dragons before moving up to Lynchburg and finishing the year with Carolina. Overall, he posted 24 saves, 14 more than any other player in the system. With Dayton, Joseph pitched in 19 games, posting a record of 2-1 with a 0.78 earned run average and six saves. He struck out 40 batters in 23 innings (40 of the 88 batters he faced) and gave up only 13 hits and two earned runs. Joseph's combined numbers in 2010 included 57 appearances out of the bullpen and an ERA of 2.08 with 103 strikeouts in 65 innings and an opponents' batting average of .182.
Two other candidates for the award have not played in Dayton. Wladimir Balentin, who came up in the Mariners organization, and Aroldis Chapman, an international free agent, had solid seasons in 2010.
Wladimir Balentin : Balentin, an outfielder, spent the entire season at Louisville and batted .282 with 25 homers and 78 RBI.
Aroldis Chapman : The Cuban missile pitched at Louisville before his call-up to Cincinnati. At Louisville, he was 9-6 with a 3.57 ERA.
The Reds also name a Minor League Hitter of the Year and Minor League Pitcher of the Year following each season. Former Dragons third baseman Juan Francisco and pitcher Travis Wood were the winners in 2009. The five players listed above will be candidates for these honors, as will the following players.
Jordan Hotchkiss : Hotchkiss, who spent every day of the 2009 season with the Dragons, pitched most of the year with Lynchburg in 2010, going 10-4 with a 2.30 ERA. He led the organization in ERA by a wide margin. Including three late starts in Double-A with Carolina, his final ERA of 2.43 was 38 points better than any other Reds minor league starting pitcher. Hotchkiss pitched in 33 games for the Dragons in 2009 and was the hard-luck hurler on the staff, posting an excellent ERA of 2.73 despite a record of 3-6.
Matt Klinker : Klinker, a product of Lakota West High School in West Chester, led the Reds organization in victories with 11. He spent the majority of the season at Double-A Carolina, where he posted a record of 7-6 with a 2.83 ERA that would have ranked fifth in the league if he had not finished just short of the minimum number of innings needed to qualify. He went 4-4 in nine starts at Louisville after a promotion to Triple-A. Klinker made 18 starts with the Dragons in 2008, going 6-4 with a 3.26 ERA.
Jeremy Horst : Horst, the Dragons ace pitcher on their 2008 playoff club, pitched at three different levels in the Reds system in 2010, going a combined 4-4 with a 2.66 ERA in 44 games with Lynchburg, Carolina, and Louisville. He struck out 75 batters in 71 innings and walked only 18. With the Dragons in 2008, Horst was 8-2 with a 2.38 ERA.
Former Dragons who have won the Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award include Heisey (2009) and Kearns (2000) as well as Chris Valaika (2008); Jay Bruce (2007); Homer Bailey (2006); Chris Denorfia (2005); Stephen Smitherman (2003); and Adam Dunn (2001).
Meanwhile, two 2010 Dragons finished among the Reds organizational leaders this season. Second baseman Henry Rodriguez led the organization in RBI with 82 and finished second in batting average at .305. First baseman Chris Richburg, who spent the majority of the season in Dayton, finished third in RBI with 77 and fourth in home runs with 19.
Reds 2010 Organizational Leaders (full-season clubs)
*former Dragons player
*Dave Sappelt, LVL-CAR-LYN .342
*Henry Rodriguez, DAY-LYN .305
*Chris Valaika, LVL .304
*Devin Mesoraco, LVL-CAR-LYN 26
Wladimir Balentin, LVL 25
*Neftali Soto, LYN 21
Runs Batted In:
*Henry Rodriguez, DAY-LYN 82
Wladimir Balentin, LVL 78
*Chris Richburg, DAY-LYN 77
*Matt Klinker, LVL-CAR 11
*Matt Fairel, CAR-LYN 10
*Jordan Hotchkiss, CAR-LYN 10
Matt Maloney, LVL 10
Earned Run Average:
*Jordan Hotchkiss, CAR-LYN 2.43
Tom Cochrane, LVL-CAR 2.81
Matt Maloney, LVL 3.34
*Donnie Joseph, DAY-LYN-CAR 24
Jon Adkins, LVL 10
*Jordan Smith, CAR-LVL 9
Reds Organizational Leaders (short-season clubs)
Billy Hamilton, BIL .318
Three Players with 7
Runs Batted In:
Robert Maddux, AZL-BIL 46
Earned Run Average
Tanner Robles, BIL 2.98
Daniel Tuttle, BIL 5
Porfirio Martinez, BIL 6
Abbreviations: LVL: Louisville; CAR: Carolina; LYN: Lynchburg; DAY: Dayton; BIL: Billings; AZL: AZL Reds.
The Dragons will open their 12th season in the Midwest League on April 7, 2011 against the Bowling Green Hod Rods at Fifth Third Field.