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Smith, Hamilton show major talent
Cincinnati sees prospects Mesoraco, Alonso reach bigs
10/19/2011 10:24 AM ET
Dayton's Billy Hamilton has 151 stolen bases over the last two seasons.
Dayton's Billy Hamilton has 151 stolen bases over the last two seasons. (Paul R. Gierhart/MiLB.com)
This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.



The Reds' lone Minor League team to reach the postseason in 2011, Dayton, lasted only three games, losing to Lansing in the first round of the Midwest League playoffs. But the lack of postseason action doesn't take away from what some of the organization's best young talent accomplished this past summer -- the Reds themselves struggled to reproduce their 2010 success, but they did see top talents like Yonder Alonso and Devin Mesoraco make it to the Majors in 2011.

Reds Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Yasmani Grandal, Bakersfield (56 games), Carolina (45 games), Louisville (four games): It's a toss-up here between Grandal, the Reds' No. 1 pick in last year's Draft, and Devin Mesoraco, who is a few months older than Grandal and posted just about equal stats. For Grandal, the 2010 No. 12 overall pick worked his way up to Triple-A in just his first full season (he played in only eight games in 2010) and led the Reds system with a .401 on-base percentage. In 15 fewer games than Mesoraco, the Miami product hit .301 with 14 homers and 68 RBIs; Mesoraco, who finished the year in the Majors, batted .289 with 15 homer runs and 71 RBIs at Triple-A Louisville.

"I think we were extremely happy with both of them," said Jeff Graupe of the Reds' Player Development department. "You look at Yasmani for a first-year player, to do what he did -- the plate discipline and power combo from both sides of the plate. To hit .300 and get up to Triple-A in his first full season is pretty remarkable."

Either way, the Reds have a good problem behind the plate with a pair of 22-year-old studs entering 2012. Graupe said Mesoraco's plans for 2012 are not yet decided, but it's a good bet that Grandal is back in Louisville.

First base -- Neftali Soto, Carolina (102 games), Louisville (four games): Soto, who signed with the Reds out of high school, led the system with 30 home runs and hit .412 in his brief taste of Triple-A hitting by the end of the season. He batted .278 and ranked fifth among Reds prospects with 80 RBIs, with most of those coming at Double-A Carolina despite missing all of May with a broken wrist. The 22-year-old led the Southern League in homers and ranked third in the SL with a .575 slugging percentage.

"Another guy who had a great year, he's really young still, just 22, but a guy who has been around in our system for a while and gets forgotten about a bit," said Graupe.

Other worthy candidates include Donald Lutz, who hit .301 with 20 homers and 75 RBIs at Class A Dayton, and lefty-swinging Robert Maddox, an Ohio native who batted .282 with 16 home runs and 51 RBIs in 63 games for short-season Billings.

"Lutz is a great athlete, another guy who is 22 and might be younger in terms of baseball years," Graupe said. "He grew up in Germany, didn't get the exposure and play as much as kids his age in that league, but both him and Maddox have premier power."

Second base -- Henry Rodriguez, Carolina (69 games), Bakersfield (58 games): The switch-hitting 21-year-old did his best Brandon Phillips imitation in 2011 when he hit .320 with 13 longballs, 30 stolen bases and ranked fourth among Reds hitters with 81 RBIs, solid production from a middle infielder (Phillips went .300/18/82 and stole 14 in the Majors).

"Henry is a gamer, one of the guys that wherever you put him, he hits," said Graupe.

Rodriguez, who led the Reds system with 165 hits, batted .340 in the California League and .302 after a bump to Carolina in his third season above the Caribbean rookie circuits.

"He plays a solid second base, shows ability to play all around the infield. He broke his ankle in last game of the season, but we're not expecting him to miss any time next year. He'll miss his Venezuelan Winter League, where he plays shortstop and he's turned himself into a big deal down there in that league."

Third base -- David Vidal, Dayton (127 games): The Reds' eighth-rounder from 2010 led the system with 85 RBIs and ranked fourth with 20 homers in his first full Minor League season. He hit .297 against lefties and with runners on base.

"He was a JuCo guy [Miami-Dade] who got some time in rookie ball last year, and he showed impressive hands and solid arm strength at third," Graupe said. "He's got a real good idea how to hit, has good at-bats, uses the middle of the field, and he has more power than you'd think from his frame."

Shortstop -- Billy Hamilton, Dayton (135 games): Hamilton, the Reds' second-round pick in 2009, was a nightmare for pitchers (and catchers) in the Midwest League, showing off his wheels at just about every opportunity. The switch-hitting infielder led the Minors with 103 stolen bases while hitting .278 with 50 RBIs and 30 extra-base hits. To put that into perspective, the speedy Michael Bourn led the Majors in steals with 61.

"We're as high on him as anybody -- he's a great kid, a great worker who wants to be one of the best," said Graupe.

Hamilton ranked third in the Reds' system with 153 hits and was caught stealing 20 times. The thievery comes a year after he swiped 48 bases in 69 games for Billings.

"He's one of the most exciting players to watch in the Minor Leagues," Graupe said. "Defensively, he'll play short with anybody, he makes some incredible plays, he's come a long way defensively and we believe he'll play shortstop in the end and be a top of the order leadoff hitter with game-changing speed."

Graupe said Hamilton was indeed encouraged by the Reds this spring to be an aggressive base stealer.

"I think we led all of Minor League Baseball in steals, and Billy was a big part of that. We preach to them to err on the side of being aggressive, especially in the low Minors. It's easier to teach how to hit the breaks than the gas."

Designated hitter -- Devin Mesoraco, Louisville (120 games), Cincinnati (18 games): The Reds' top pick in 2007 has continued to progress, earning Futures Game and International League All-Star honors in '11. He saw solid playing time in the Majors with the Reds banged up at catcher in September.

"He keeps getting better, he's an off the charts makeup guy, and he wants to keep improving. Every year he gets better -- his game-calling, blocking, receiving, he's taking steps forward," said Graupe. "Offensively he's shown what our scouts thought he would do."

Graupe said he thinks Mesoraco will be in a position to make the Major League roster next spring, although the organization will re-evaluate expectations in the coming month for all players.

"That's probably a better question for [Reds general manager] Walt [Jocketty], but I think hes going to come in and get every opportunity."

Outfielders

Jeremy Hermida, Louisville (105 games), Cincinnati (10 games), San Diego (20 games): Hermida finished the season in the Majors with San Diego after the Reds waived him in September, but that shouldn't diminish his .319 average with 17 homers and 55 RBIs as an IL All-Star with Louisville. This was Hermida's first lengthy stay in the Minors since 2005, and he surely would have rather been up with Cincinnati, but nevertheless, he finished as one of just three Reds Minor League outfielders with double-digit homers.

"He was a great professional," said Graupe. "[He] gave us consistent at-bats and we're glad we could help him get to a good opportunity in the end."

Yonder Alonso, Louisville (91 games), Cincinnati (47 games): Another former first-round pick, Alonso hit .297 at Triple-A with decent production numbers before getting solid time in the Majors, where he batted .330 for the Reds. He again played in the Futures Game and was an IL All-Star, driving in 56 runs in 91 games.

"He's just a very professional hitter," said Graupe. "Quality at-bats and he has the ability to drive mistakes."

Ryan LaMarre, Bakersfield (117 games), Carolina (five games): LaMarre and fellow speedster Quintin Berry had very similar seasons, both hitting about .280 with six homers and 40-plus stolen bases. LaMarre is a few years younger and swiped 52 bases along with 47 RBIs while reaching Double-A in his second season. Dayton's Juan Duran also had a productive season -- his 71 RBIs led all Reds outfielders.

"He's another guy who, in his first full season, played ahead of most of his draft class, and we're happy with the year he had," Graupe said of LaMarre. "He plays a very good center field, he's an aggressive baserunner and we like his future."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Josh Smith, Dayton (26 games): The Florida native was an easy pick here after going 14-7 with a 2.97 ERA in 142 2/3 innings. He led all Reds Minor League pitchers in wins, ERA, strikeouts (166), WHIP (1.09) and batting average against (.228). A big strikeout pitcher out of Lipscomb University, Smith walked just 33 batters all season and earned a trip to the Midwest League All-Star Game.

"I don't know that we thought anyone could put up those numbers, but we knew he'd go out and carry the load and perform well," said Graupe. "He's got a low 90s fastball, solid slider, solid feel for a changeup and the ability to throw all three where he wants when he wants to."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Tony Cingrani, Billings (13 games): The Rice product dominated the Pioneer League, finishing 3-2 with a 1.75 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 51 1/3 frames for the Mustangs. He walked just six batters and allowed only one homer all season. The Reds' third-round pick this summer also earned league Pitcher of the Week honors on Aug. 29 and was nominated for a MiLBY Award as the Best Short-Season Starter of 2011.

"Tony had a great first pro experience. He really he showed a plus fastball, plus change and an average slider, and the only thing that held him back was he was coming off a college career where he pitched out of bullpen," said Graupe. "We're expecting him to take off next year."

Relief pitcher -- Drew Hayes, Dayton (51 games): A righty out of Vanderbilt, Hayes owned a 1.35 ERA and led the Reds' system with 22 saves. He struck out 89 in 60 innings, allowed just two longballs and held batters to a .141 average.

"I think Drew's numbers speak for themselves, he showed a plus fastball, plus slider and he was great in late inning situations," Graupe said. "He took over the closer job for that team, and between him and Blaine Howell and Daniel Wolford, they had power arms that allowed them to shorten games."

Danny Wild is an editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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