This offseason, MiLB.com is 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.
By now, Reds fans know all about Billy Hamilton and his historic season. The question, though, is why the Reds opted to keep the stolen base king away from Cincinnati, at least in September.
And it's a valid question. Up until this season, the Hamilton skeptics knocked the shortstop's hitting and on-base percentage. But after batting .311 with a .410 OBP at two levels in 2012, Hamilton proved he is the real deal when it comes to a dream leadoff man. He could have been a useful bench piece on a Reds team that eventually blew a 2-0 lead to the Giants in the NL Division Series.
In terms of team success, the Reds' affiliates were a letdown. Only two of six clubs, Class A Advanced Bakersfield and Rookie-level Billings, finished with a record above .500 (Bakersfield lost to Modesto in five games in the Cal League semifinals). Triple-A Louisville went 51-93.
Of course, there is more to the Reds' system than Hamilton. Here's a look at some of the notable players at each position from this season:
Reds Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Tucker Barnhart, Pensacola (41 games), Bakersfield (59 games): The switch-hitting backstop moved up two levels in 2012 and struggled at times, but the Reds are high on his defense -- he won a Gold Glove in 2011 with Class A Dayton but followed that up this season with a dozen errors. Still, he hit .278 at Bakersfield before grinding through the Double-A Southern League to finish the year. He's 21 and still learning to hit at the higher levels.
"I think he would have been better, but we had to send him to Double-A with the injuries we had there, but he would have been better if he stayed in the Cal League," said Chris Buckley, the Reds' Senior Director of Scouting. "He might not have been quite ready, but we see him as a solid prospect -- he's going to play in the big leagues, his defense alone will get him there."
Honorable mention: Dioner Navarro and Daniel Paula.
First base -- Donald Lutz, Pensacola (40 games), Bakersfield (63 game), AZL Reds (4 games): The 23-year-old Cal League All-Star led the Reds' system with 22 homers and ranked third with 71 RBIs while hitting .269. It was also his second straight year with at least 20 homers and 70 RBIs.
"Everybody talks about his age, but he was a soccer player in Germany for some time, so whatever it says on his birthday, take about three off that," said Buckley, stressing Lutz's development. "He's getting better and better. He's on the 40-man roster, so we'll get him going. He'll wind up in Louisville by the end of next year."
Honorable mention: Carlos Sanchez, Sean Buckley, Neftali Soto.
Second base -- Devin Lohman, Bakersfield (130 games): Lohman proved his versatility and power in 2012, ranking fourth in the Reds' system with 70 RBIs while also stealing 34 bases. And by versatile, we mean he split time at the middle-infield positions, playing 66 games at second and 61 at shortstop. Overall, he hit .257 with 127 hits in 130 games. He batted .329 against lefties, though, and ranked third in the system in steals.
Buckley said, at worst, Lohman could reach the Majors in a utility role.
"He had a good season, he's a solid player," Buckley said. "He can play short, second, third, can steal bases, he's got a little power. He also hit behind Billy Hamilton, and doing that, you get a lot of opportunities."
Shortstop -- Billy Hamilton, Pensacola (50 games), Bakersfield (82 games): He stole 155 bases. Enough said.
OK, clearly there is more to baseball's fastest man. Hamilton, who is now being converted to the outfield, was on a mission to prove his doubters wrong (he attempted to steal 192 times in 132 games) and ended up tormenting opponents with not only his speed but also his ability to reach base -- the switch-hitter had 159 hits and 86 walks in 132 games, including 38 extra-base hits. He's 22 and broke professional baseball's all-time record for stolen bases in a season while solidifying himself as the Reds' No. 1 prospect entering 2013. A move to the outfield also gives Didi Gregorious an easier path at short.
But why wasn't he on the Reds' roster heading into the postseason? Buckley said the Reds simply didn't want him sitting around on the bench or limited to pinch-running.
"That's really what figured into it," Buckley said. "He's not going to move [Zack] Cozart off short. He hadn't played center field yet. I'm sure he could have handled it, but he's just now going to play center field."
Hamilton's move to center, Buckley said, wasn't because the Reds didn't think he was a good enough infielder.
"There are a lot of reasons," Bill Bavasi, Cincinnati's vice president of scouting and development, told MLB.com. "We have Cozart. We have Didi. If you watch Hamilton's style of play, it's a pounding style of play. It would be an easier position for his body to take along with the base stealing."
As far as Hamilton's speed, Buckley believes the Mississippi native would be the fastest player in the Majors if he were promoted today.
"Oh yeah, he might be on the same level as Usain Bolt," said Buckley of Hamilton, who managed an inside-the-park home run this season in 13.8 seconds. "He's absolutely as fast as anyone is, if not faster, and the thing about Billy is his quickness."
Buckley said the Reds need a true leadoff hitter, and Hamilton is it.
"Our team doesn't have a leadoff hitter," Buckley said. "We tried Zack, we were 29th in baseball in production in the leadoff spot. Whatever position [Hamilton] plays, he's absolutely a leadoff hitter. ... Whenever he gets to Cincinnati, we're going to have a better offense than we have now."
Third base -- Travis Mattair, Bakersfield (126 games): A second-round pick by the Phillies in 2007, this summer proved to be a breakout season for the 6-foot-5 23-year-old. Mattair hit .274, led the Reds' system with 82 RBIs and ranked second with 19 home runs -- he hit more homers in 2012 than he did in his previous four seasons combined.
"We're feeling pretty good about him, he had a good season, he's a hard-working guy," Buckley said. "A very good athlete for a big guy. Hopefully he'll go to Double-A and do the same things. We're pretty good at that position."
Honorable mention: Seth Mejias-Brean.
Steve Selsky, Bakersfield (69 games), Dayton (59 games): Another Arizona product, Selsky hit over .300 for the second straight year, finishing at .317 with 18 homers, 74 RBIs and 18 steals at two levels. The right-handed California native ranked third in the Reds' system in homers and second in RBIs and batting average thanks to a boost from Cal League pitchers -- he hit 15 of his 18 homers in Bakersfield.
"He reminds me of Chris Heisey when he was coming through our system," Buckley said. "He wasn't the highest drafted guy in our system, but he was a very good hitter."
Theo Bowe, Bakersfield (96 games), Dayton (24 games): Would it be unfair to compare Bowe to Hamilton? The speedy outfielder had 70 stolen bases while hitting .310 in 120 games. He ranked fourth in the Minors in steals in 2012 after swiping just 20 a year ago, and he also improved his batting average, from .244 in 2011 to .314 during his stint at Bakersfield.
"Theo is one of those athletic high school kids, he was a football player, and I think playing the last two years with Billy Hamilton has helped him," said Buckley. "He needed to be a little more aggressive, and this year he played the first part in Bakersfield with Billy and started getting aggressive. He runs almost runs as fast as Billy but doesn't quite have the same tools."
Bryson Smith, Pensacola (50 games), Bakersfield (57 games): Smith, a 34th-rounder out of Florida last year, hit .310 with six homers, 69 RBIs, a dozen steals and 113 hits in 107 games while reaching Double-A. The righty hit .368 in his first season and ranked fifth in the Reds' system in RBIs and sixth in batting.
"He's a solid guy," Buckley said. "Our scouts did a good job, we have some smart hitters, and Bryson Smith is a guy who got to Double-A one year out of the Draft."
Honorable mention: Ryan LaMarre, Felix Perez, Denis Phipps.
DH/Utility: Jesse Winker, Billings (62 games): One of the Reds' first-round picks in 2012, Winker led the system with a .338 average while adding five homers, 35 RBIs and 77 hits in 62 games for Billings. He's ranked as the Reds' No. 14 prospect entering 2013.
"He was second in hitting in the league for a high school kid," Buckley said. "He's pretty impressive for a high school kid that's facing almost all college pitchers. Winker is one of our better prospects."
Right-handed starter -- Chad Rogers, Bakersfield (21 games), Pensacola (6 games): Rogers isn't one of the Reds' top 20 prospects, but it's hard to argue with his numbers. He moved up to Double-A and finished a combined 9-5 with a 2.90 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 143 innings at two levels. The righty ranked second in the Reds' system in both ERA and wins after a solid rookie campaign at Dayton in '11. His top competitor for this honor is probably Daniel Corcino, the Reds' No. 2 right-handed prospect, who went 8-8 with a 3.01 ERA and ranked third in ERA and second in wins.
"Our scouts did a good job on him," Buckley said of Rogers, who, as Buckley noted, missed time after getting bit by a shark while surfing. "He's a solid guy. He has good stuff, the Cal League's a tough place to pitch, so those numbers are legit."
Left-handed starter -- Tony Cingrani, Bakersfield (10 game), Pensacola (16 games), Cincinnati (3 games): Few pitchers dominated in 2012 like Cingrani, a 23-year-old out of Rice who went 10-4 with a 1.73 ERA and struck out 172 batters in 146 innings while moving up two levels. The Reds' top lefty prospect earned a late-season trip to Cincinnati and pitched in three games, and the Reds think he has a chance of making the team next Spring. A Cal League All-Star, Cingrani held batters to a .191 average. Even in the Majors, he struck out nine in five innings.
"Absolutely phenomenal, what he's done, he's surprised us all," Buckley said. "He was kind of an enigma in college baseball -- I think our guys saw him pitch well, and we were lucky we saw him pitch -- he was kind of starting to get it. He has a real good fastball and a lot of deception in his delivery. He's 90-95, very deceptive, a plus change-up. He was a college senior one year after the Draft and he's in the big leagues already."
Relief pitcher -- Carlos Contreras, Dayton (40 games), Bakersfield (9 games): The Dominican right-hander led the Reds' system with 20 saves and had stellar numbers as a workhorse for the Dragons. The 21-year-old held batters to a .170 average and finished a combined 1-1 with a 3.12 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings at two levels.
"He's 94-98 with a plus changeup, that's a good one," said Buckley, who also believes Contreras will start at Pensacola next season and see time as a set-up man. "He might be able to do that if his breaking ball gets a little better."