Help is on the way for the Reds

Young guns Bruce, Cueto, Votto and Bailey ready for Majors

Johnny Cueto's 3.07 ERA and 170 strikeouts in 161 1/3 innings led the Reds organization. (Jerry Hale/MiLB.com)

By Lisa Winston / MLB.com | October 24, 2007 6:00 AM

Before the 2007 season began, MLB.com took an in-depth look at every big league team's Minor League system. Now it's time to recap all 30 organizations, from top prospects to the recent draft class.

Coming into the 2007 season, Cincinnati's newly installed farm director Terry Reynolds had a new title but significant working knowledge of his system, having served as the Reds' director of amateur scouting for the previous three drafts.

Given what he had to work with, it's fair to say the club was looking at depth in its starting pitching, outfield talent and a glut at shortstop. In retrospect, this turned out to be mostly true -- though perhaps not with all the same names in the same slots.

The results were mixed for the Reds' two top names heading into the season. The club's most promising hitter, 2005 first-round outfielder Jay Bruce, not only lived up to billing but actually surpassed highest hopes, cruising through three levels with the best numbers in the organization. Top pitcher Homer Bailey, expected by many to be cemented into the Reds rotation by midseason, struggled with inconsistency and injury but when he was good he was very good, and at 21, 2008 looks even better.

The shortstop mix thinned out a bit -- not by the Reds' choice -- while the pitching depth may have increased thanks to the emergence of several sleepers.

The farm system's combined .512 winning percentage was good enough for 10th place overall, and three clubs -- Class A Dayton, Class A Advanced Sarasota and Triple-A Louisville -- finished over .500.

Organizational Players of the Year

PRESEASON PREDICTIONS

Jay Bruce, OF: We said, "there is nothing that Bruce can't do and he should continue to rack up the numbers against Florida State League pitching in '07." We were slightly off target. He racked those numbers up not only against Florida State League pitching but Southern League and International League pitching as well, combining to hit .319 (which led the organization's full-season players) and a system-best 26 homers and 89 RBIs. His makeup and maturity served him well in leagues stocked with older players, and he further established himself as one of the top prospects in the game. Before the season started, Reynolds responded to the question of whether, indeed, there was anything Bruce couldn't do by saying, "In my mind, no. You hate to jinx a guy by saying something like that." For once, a baseball person didn't have to worry about being superstitious.
Video: Interview with Jay Bruce
Audio: Bruce smacks an RBI double
Audio: Bruce jacks a solo homer

Johnny Cueto, RHP: We gave Cueto the nod partly due to the prevailing belief that Bailey would soon be in the Majors. But the diminutive Cueto, just 5-foot-10, earned the award on his own merits. His 3.07 ERA and 170 strikeouts in 161 1/3 innings both led the organization and, like Bruce, he competed at three levels, ranging from Sarasota to Chattanooga to Louisville, including a 2.05 ERA in four starts at the Triple-A level. The Reds are thrilled with his development as he is the standard-bearer for their Latin American scouting scene. Throwing a mid-90s fastball, slider and changeup with a smooth, easy delivery, he could be joining Bailey as a front-of-the-rotation guy in the big leagues sooner rather than later.
Audio: Cueto notches sixth strikeout in Triple-A debut

POSTSEASON SELECTIONS
As chosen by the author, not the organization

Our preseason predictions couldn't have been more on target -- Bruce and Cueto lived up to their billing in 2007.

Climbed the Ladder

Joey Votto, 1B: Coming off a breakthrough Southern League MVP season at Chattanooga, where he hit .319 with 22 homers and 77 RBIs, Votto's numbers would have to be pretty impressive to constitute a climb up the ladder. And they were. He batted .294 with 22 homers and 92 RBIs at Louisville, earning International League Rookie of the Year honors. He also impressed at the Major League level, hitting .321, with four homers and 17 RBIs in 24 games with the Reds. A converted catcher from Canada, he has good speed for the position and a glove that has gotten better with time and effort.
Video: Votto solo shot
Audio: Votto launches grand slam
Audio: Votto slugs two homers
Video: Interview with Joey Votto

Juan Francisco, 3B: The switch-hitting hot-corner man batted .289 in a 2006 campaign split between the Gulf Coast League and Short-Season Billings and capped the year with a strong instructional league performance. He lived up to expectations in his first full season by hitting .268 with 25 home runs and 90 RBIs for Class A Dayton and Class A Advanced Sarasota. Though his 161 strikeouts were among the most in the Minors, the young power hitter should refine his game with age and experience.
Audio: Francisco belts three homers

Daryl Thompson, RHP: Acquired in a multi-player trade in 2006, Thompson was sidelined by a torn labrum later that summer. In 2007, he showed the Reds much more than mere potential, starting the season at Class A Dayton on a 5-0, 0.96 tear in his first five starts. He went 14-5 with a 3.18 ERA at Dayton and Sarasota, striking out 121 while walking just 33 in 133 innings. Boasting a mid-90s fastball, changeup and curveball, Thompson's emergence deepened an already impressive pitching prospect pool.
Audio: Thompson notches sixth strikeout

Justin Turner, 2B: Taken in the seventh round of the 2006 Draft, Turner turned heads in his pro debut by hitting .338 with six homers and 41 RBIs at Billings to earn Pioneer League All-Star honors. He built on that success by batting .311 with 59 RBIs at Class A Dayton.
Audio: Turner knocks RBI double at the Midwest League All-Star Game

Kept Their Footing

Homer Bailey, RHP: Sure, he didn't set the world completely on fire in 2007, but at just 21, the future remains bright for the 2004 first-rounder. Indeed, the adversity he faced may turn out to be for the best, since some felt his biggest weakness was overconfidence. Bailey was 6-3 with a 3.07 ERA at Louisville but was inconsistent at the Major League level, posting a 6.99 ERA in his first few starts. Sidelined for several weeks with a groin injury, he returned to the Majors and was more successful down the stretch, lowering his season ERA to 5.76 in nine games overall. With further experience, look for a strong 2008 showing from the Texas native.
Audio: Bailey fans his third of the game

Chris Valaika, SS: One of the Reds' trio of shortstop prospects (along with Paul Janish and Milton Loo), Valaika had the best season of the three -- but not an outstanding one. He hit .307 at Dayton but just .253 at Class A Advanced Sarasota after a midseason promotion. A third-round pick out of Santa Barbara in 2006, he may be the most well-rounded of the Reds' infield prospects. At Billings in 2006, he assembled a 32-game hitting streak and earned Pioneer League MVP honors.
Audio: Valaika hits two-run shot

Paul Janish, SS: The most defensively advanced of the shortstop crew, the fifth-round pick out of Rice in 2004 had a rough year at the plate, hitting .244 at Chattanooga and just .221 at Louisville. He is still considered by many to be ready for the big leagues. He lost development time when he missed all of 2005 to Tommy John surgery but cruised from Dayton to Chattanooga in 2006, hitting .304 for the three clubs.
Audio: Janish launches grand slam
Audio: Janish roundtripper

Drew Stubbs, OF: The Reds' top pick in 2006 spent his first full season at Dayton, hitting .270 with 12 homers, 43 RBIs and 23 steals. He's an outstanding defensive outfielder, and his solid average was a plus after hitting .252 at Billings in his pro debut.
Audio: Stubbs goes yard
Audio: Stubbs smacks a double
Video: Interview with Drew Stubbs

Sean Watson, RHP: The Reds selected Watson out of Tennessee with their second pick in 2006, loving his knuckle curve and mid-90s fastball. A closer in the college ranks, he's been starting in the pros thus far, posting a 3.42 ERA with 135 strikeouts in 126 1/3 innings at two Class A stops in 2007.
Audio: Watson fans his tenth of the game
Video: Interview with Sean Watson

Slipped a Rung

Milton Loo, SS: Sadly, Loo slipped more than a rung -- he may have fallen right off the ladder. He spent the year on the suspended list, staying home in Hawaii due to family issues. A 2005 ninth-round pick out of high school in Hawaii, Loo had an elbow injury end his 2006 season after 14 games.

Cody Strait, OF: Strait's 50 steals in 2006 led the Reds' farm system and his 17 homers ranked third, but he struggled at the plate in 2007. Starting the year at Double-A Chattanooga, he hit just .216, and later batted just .241 back at Sarasota. Between the two stops he combined for 14 home runs and 50 RBIs, but given the depth of the Reds' outfield talent, it will take a big 2008 for him to regain his footing.

B.J. Szymanski, OF: The club was hoping for a breakthrough season from its second-round pick out of Princeton in 2004, but he has not yet lived up to expectations. Though he did cut his Minor League-leading 191 strikeouts in 2006 down to 153 this season, his .242 average at Class A Advanced Sarasota may have cost him prospect status.

On the Radar

Carlos Fisher, RHP: The 11th-rounder from 2005 was on our radar watch list before the season after he quietly went 12-5 with a 2.76 ERA at Dayton in 2006. This year he planted himself much more firmly on the radar with a 3.73 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 154 innings split between Sarasota and Double-A Chattanooga.
Audio: Fisher fans his fourth straight

Chris Heisey, OF: We got a tip during Spring Training to keep an eye on this 17th-round pick out of Messiah College in 2006. It was on target. He finished fourth in the organization with a .295 average, adding 10 homers and 22 steals at two Class A stops in his first full season.
Audio: Heisey's 12th-inning homer breaks tie

Daniel Dorn, OF: Dorn, the Reds' 32nd-round pick out of Cal State Fullerton in 2006, led the Pioneer League in slugging and hitting (.354) last year. For an encore he batted .281 with 12 homers and 66 RBIs at Sarasota and earned a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga, where he hit .311 with eight home runs and 21 RBIs in just 26 games.
Audio: Dorn goes yard

Pedro Viola, LHP: The Dominican-born reliever was impressive in his first Minor League season, posting a 1.87 ERA and striking out 49 in 43 innings at Dayton. Promoted to Sarasota at summer's end, he compiled an 0.90 ERA in 20 innings. The Reds sent him to the Arizona Fall League to continue his development.
Audio: Viola posts third strikeout in save

Carson Kainer, OF: Kainer, the club's 14th-round pick in 2006, was one of the feel-good stories of the year. The first baseball player to start a professional career after a kidney transplant, he hit .280 at Dayton. He had the operation last September.
Audio: Kainer belts RBI double

2007 Draft Recap

1. Devin Mesoraco, C: A high school prospect from Pennsylvania taken with the 15th overall pick, Mesoraco hit .219 with a homer and eight RBIs in limited time in the Gulf Coast League. He has recovered from Tommy John surgery to show he is a complete defensive player, and his offensive numbers should soon follow.

2. Todd Frazier, SS: Selected out of Rutgers with the 34th pick in the draft, Frazier batted .319 with five home runs and 25 RBIs at Billings. He has power for his position, though he may ultimately end up at either a corner or outfield spot.
Audio: Frazier's game-winning single in the ninth

3. Kyle Lotzkar, RHP: Scouted as both a pitcher and shortstop in high school in Canada, the supplemental first-round pick posted a 3.86 ERA in seven Gulf Coast League starts, walking just seven while fanning 24 in 21 innings. Moving up to Billings, he compiled a 1.13 ERA in two starts. A potential power pitcher with a mid-90's fastball, he needs mound time to develop his command.
Audio: Lotzkar notches eighth strikeout

OTHERS OF NOTE: 3B Brett Bartles (30) hit .312 with five homers and 26 RBIs in just 39 games at Billings. SS Neftali Soto (3) batted .303 with two homers and 28 RBIs in the Gulf Coast League. RHP Jordan Hotchkiss (31) posted a 1.89 ERA in 19 innings in the Gulf Coast League. SS Zachary Cozart (2) was assigned straight to Class A Dayton, where he hit .239 with two homers and 18 RBIs.

Lisa Winston is a reporter 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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