Hamilton, Reds racing to the future

Top prospect leads speedy organization with 75 steals

By Robert Emrich / MiLB.com | October 16, 2013 6:00 AM

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.

On the surface, the Reds organization suffered through a difficult 2013. The organization posted the worst composite record among Minor League affiliates, with none of their teams qualifying for the playoffs.

There were positives, however. The Reds ranked 11th among Major League organizations with 621 stolen bases and boasted two players among the top 10 in the Minors. Billy Hamilton was second with 75, while Junior Arias ranked ninth with 60.

This season also produced successful debuts for recent draftees like Phillip Ervin. Selected 27th overall in June, he batted .331 with nine homers 35 RBIs and a .989 OPS in 46 games across two levels. Fellow first-round pick Michael Lorenzen worked his way up to the Southern League, while fourth-rounder Ben Lively compiled a 0.88 ERA over 41 innings.

Reds Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Jose Ortiz, Billings (48 games): A 2012 17th-round pick, Ortiz got off to a strong start in his first pro season. The 19-year-old backstop led the Mustangs with 14 doubles and tied for the team lead with eight homers. He also was second with 81 total bases and threw out 23 percent of would-be basestealers.

"We were really happy," Reds director of player development Jeff Graupe said. "With a young high school kid going up there in his first full season, I think he handled himself very well. Offensively, he showed the ability to drive the ball to all fields and continued to refine his approach. Defensively, he continued to improve and showed arm strength that will help him at future levels."

First baseman --Seth Mejias-Brean, Dayton (127 games), Bakersfield (three games): Give Mejias-Brean credit. In a park and league known for suppressing offensive numbers, the 22-year-old batted .305 and ranked ninth with an .834 OPS. The Reds' No. 20 prospect also tied for third with 35 doubles and slugged 10 home runs.

"Seth had a great season," Graupe said. "He battled through a really tough April and May and really came on in the second half and put together what turned out to be a tremendous season. A good season."

The University of Arizona product also was one of league's the better defensive first basemen, posting a .993 fielding percentage that's even more impressive when one considers that Mejias-Brean is a natural third baseman.

"[He] started to learn the intricacies of first base while still playing a high-quality third base," Graupe said. "Just the ability to add another position gives him advanced versatility down the road."

Second baseman -- Miguel Mendez,, DSL Reds (63 games): Repeating the Dominican Summer League, Mendez ranked eighth with a .332 batting average. The 20-year-old racked up 32 steals, smacked 20 doubles and posted a .422 on-base percentage.

"Miguel's a guy who makes a lot of contact, sprays line drives all over the field and plays a solid second base. Definitely put together a nice season," Graupe said.

Honorable mention: Avain Rachal, Billings (53 games): Selected in the 22nd round of the 2012 Draft, Rachal moved up to the Rookie-level Pioneer League and batted .253 while drawing 41 walks.

"Avain was another first-year pro. Really hit well in Billings, which is another pitcher enviroment, and as one of the younger hitters in that league really put together a nice season," Graupe said. "Good athlete, very good offensive approach, shows power to all field, looks to be a doubles hitter in the end. Interesting young guy to watch."

Shortstop -- Ronald Bueno, AZL Reds (five games), Billings (48 games): Bueno made the jump to the Pioneer League and found success in Billings, batting .274. Graupe noted that the 21-year-old is not likely to impress statistically but does the little things that help a team succeed.

"Ronald is a gamer. Anything we asked him to do, he's tackled any challenge and succeeded," Graupe said. "He has an advanced feel for small ball. Good bat-control guy, can bunt, can steal bases when needed, really plays the game the right way."

Third baseman -- Juan Silverio, Bakersfield (126 games), Pensacola (two games): Silverio joined the Reds early in the season after being released by the White Sox and made the most of his second chance. The 22-year-old wound up leading the Blaze with 80 RBIs while contributing 19 homers and batting a solid .286.

"We were very happy with Juan," Graupe said. "Very good worker, pleasant teammate. Good hands defensively at third. We exposed him to some [shortstop] and second and first as well and he did a nice job everywhere we asked him to play. Big-time raw power, still trying to figure out how to translate it into games at times. Dangerous hitter, working to refine his approach."


Billy Hamilton, Louisville (123 games), Cincinnati (13 games): While statistically it was a down year for Hamilton, it's easy to forget that he was making the transition to the outfield while moving up to Triple-A. Still, the club's top prospect stole 75 bases, batted .256 and set a career high with six homers in 123 games. And he made an electrifying big league debut.

"I thought Billy had a successful year," Graupe said. "Everyone will point to the batting average and see that it hasn't been what it has been the past few years, but he did a good job continuing to battle at a new level and a new defensive position."

Defensively, Hamilton committed seven errors in 118 games in center field while racking up eight assists.

"As easy as Billy's speed and athleticism can make the outfield look at times, there's a lot that goes into a position change at a high level," Graupe noted. "I think continuing to persevere with the bat and finishing up where he finished and improving was a positive.

"Athletically, there isn't much that Billy can't do. Letting him go play the outfield and run down balls -- a lot of that did come naturally. The added stresses of what to do when a ball is hit and where to throw and advanced knowledge of center field itself, it wasn't as easy as it appeared. By the end of the year, he really started to turn some heads defensively."

Junior Arias, Dayton (72 games), Bakersfield (53 games):

Graupe had nothing but praise for the 21-year-old outfielder, and it's easy to see why. Arias hit 15 homers, finished ninth in the Minors with 60 steals and committed six errors in 98 games in center field, a new position for the former third baseman.

The numbers were a vast improvement after Arias batted .208 with seven homers in 97 games with Class A Dayton last season.

"Junior is as talented a player as I've come across," Graupe said. "You can stack his tools up against anybody and he compares favorably. He really worked this year to refine his approach, I thought he did a better job early in counts. He also made the switch to the outfield this year, which was a definite positive move for us as he covers a lot of ground and he can really throw. On the bases, we challenged him to be very aggressive.

"Like any young player, it starts with the speed, and the more situations he puts himself in, the better he becomes. So the more he can run at the low levels, the better his instincts will become as he progresses."

Jesse Winker, Dayton (112 games): Winker, a 2012 first-round pick, followed up an All-Star performance in Billings last season with a strong year in the Midwest League. The Florida native batted .281 with 16 homers and 76 RBIs and ranked seventh in the league with an .841 OPS en route to midseason All-Star honors.

"Jesse has a very advanced feel for hitting for such a young man," Graupe said. "He takes quality at-bats, he's not afraid to hit with two strikes, very selective. He put together a very nice year. Defensively, he showed a lot of improvements. He's another quality young man who's good on a team."

Utility -- Mike Hessman, Louisville (121 games): Hessman is baseball's version of a ronin, with 2013 marking his fourth straight season with a new club (counting a 2011 stint in Japan). Once again, the real-life version of Crash Davis showed why teams continue to value the veteran, leading the organization with 25 homers and finishing eighth in the International League with an .823 OPS.

"I think the first thing is that Mike is a tremendous professional. That's one of the reasons we were drawn to him," Graupe said. "He can not only go up and perform the way he's expected to, he helps younger hitters in the lineup. Tremendous guy, tremendous player. Obviously, he hits a lot of home runs -- I believe he now has 400 professional home runs [close, 403], which is a terrific accomplishment. Just a consummate pro. We were nothing but thrilled with Mike."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Robert Stephenson, Dayton (14 games), Bakersfield (four games), Pensacola (four games): A year after making a solid professional debut, Stephenson climbed the ladder to Double-A Pensacola. The 2011 first-rounder was second in the organization with a 2.99 ERA and third with 136 strikeouts while going 7-7 and holding opponents to a .217 average.

"Robert has three plus pitches that can be overpowering," Graupe said. "He's really worked hard to refine his command and he was outstanding this year. I'm very excited by his development and for what his future holds.

"Any pitcher with the type of raw ability that Robert has, it's only a matter of time before they really start to accelerate themselves. As he continued to perform, he forced our hand to find more and more challenges for him. He gets ahead with his fastball, and once he's established himself, he has three pitches that can all be strikeout pitches."

Honorable mentionGreg Reynolds, Louisville (23 games), Cincinnati (six games): This season represented a complete turnaround for the veteran. After struggling for two years in the Pacific Coast League, Reynolds signed with the Reds, led the International League with a 1.06 WHIP and ranked second with a 2.42 ERA and 12 wins.

"We knew Greg would be an intelligent pitcher, coming from his background. What we didn't know was how quality of a person he is," Graupe said. "This is a guy who does all his work. I was impressed with how he reinvented himself as a pitcher, became more of a ground-ball guy, establishing his sinker. Couldn't be more pleased with the signing and adding of Greg to our organization."

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Ismael Guillon, Dayton (27 games): On the surface, Guillon's 7-8 record and 4.75 ERA might make his inclusion seem a bit out of place. It's the other numbers that warrant his inclusion, however. The 21-year-old ranked fourth in the organization with 134 strikeouts in 121 1/3 innings and third in the Midwest League with a .220 batting average against.

"The biggest thing is that Ismael competes all season," Graupe said. "His walk totals [95] were higher than any of us would have liked, but he did continue to compete through some very frustrating moments. I think it's a testament to his competitive spirit. As he got more and more confident, he's able to attack the zone more and more and he ended up with some good results."

Relief pitcher -- Trevor Bell, Pensacola (27 games), Louisville (three games): Despite not signing with the Reds until May 23, Bell wound up leading the organization with 17 saves. The 2005 first-round pick was outstanding in the Southern League, compiling a 1.72 ERA and .193 opponents' batting average.

"We were thrilled to have him," Graupe said. "He did a great job for us and I think he has a lot of future success ahead of him."

Robert Emrich is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEmrich. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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