Every now and again it’s fun to take a peep down at the Reds’ minor league system. The best thing about minor league ball; the team names. Can you imagine an MLB team named the Blue Wahoos, like Cincinnati’s AA affiliate in Pensacola? Bud Selig would nix that faster than Billy Hamilton going from second to home on a chip ground out to second.
Speaking of Hamilton, the Reds number one prospect, he’s currently playing high-A ball in the California League for Bakersfield. It’s a very small sample size, as are all of these minor league numbers, but Hamilton is off to an amazing start. Going into Monday’s play he held a .382/.500/.676 slash line. His on-base plus slugging of 1.176 is leading all qualified hitters in the entire Reds’ organization.
This all coming off a season where he led professional baseball with 103 stolen bases. He has already swiped nine in 10 games. He’ll be in a Blue Wahoo uni sometime in May.
Check this speed:
Hamilton is still striking out way too often, and in those first 10 games he’s already committed four errors at short. Last season, there was chatter that he may be moved to second. But since Brandon Phillips signed his six-year deal it’s safe to say that’s talk has died. And with Reds’ rookie Zack Cozart hitting and fielding as well as he has at shortstop Hamilton is currently, and will be, cockblocked at both infield positions.
Here’s an idea. Start getting him some play in the outfield, preferably in center. That way when he is ready for the bigs the Reds could shop Drew Stubbs—assuming the reigning strikeout king is worth than a half dozen Maryland crab cakes. And that’s not a knock on Maryland’s crab cakes but to give up a big league ball player for six isn’t… never mind, getting way off the topic here.
Sidenote: Former Reds’ great Eric Davis called Hamilton, “The most fearless base stealer I’ve ever seen.” Big words coming from a fellow fearless base stealer.
Let’s move to some guys closer to the major league level. The only true prospect in AAA is J.J. Hoover, the relief pitcher who came over in the Wily Mo Fransisco, whoops… Juan Francisco deal. Wily Mo Pena and Fransisco are just so similar it’s difficult not to cause confusion.
Counting Sunday, Hoover has pitched in five ballgames. Aside from one outing which saw him give up two hits and two earned, dude has been perfect. Not perfect, he did walk one in an outing. But has not allowed a hit in the four innings pitched other than two hit, two earned game. And get this, in five innings pitched he has struck out 10 batters.
Even counting his subpar outing the ERA is 3.60 while holding the opponents to a .118 batting average with a 0.6 WHIP.
At 24, the right-hander is a former starter who was converted to the pen last year by the Braves. When pitching relief his heat runs at 91-94 MPH complimented by a deceptive slider in the low-80s. Given that he is a former starter, Hoover has the stamina to give the Reds’ a couple of nice innings when the front man maxes out after five.
Two more middle infielders are currently knocking the snot out of the ball are in AA Pensacola; Didi Gregorius (.341/.362/.341) and Henry Rodriguez (.333/.356/.476). Gregorius is playing short with the club while Rodriguez is manning second.
Gregorius has a missile launcher arm—a legit 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale—making his hose is the second best in the entire organization, trailing only current Reds’ eight-time Gold Glove third baseman Scotty Rolen.
Scouts think Gregorius’ his plus bat speed and control along canny pitch recognition will get him to the bigs. It’s doubtful he’ll ever be more than a slap-hitting singles hitter with very little speed. But his main asset is his glove. Anyone fortunate enough to catch some spring ball in Goodyear was treated to his highlight reel play at short.
Rodriguez was another guy who played well in Arizona. Opposite of Gregorius, if the switch-hitting Rodriguez makes it to the majors it’ll be more thanks to his stick than his glove. His power is more gap-to-gap than into the crowd. Of course if he makes it to Cincinnati, those gappers could very easily end up 30 rows deep in Great American.
Rodriguez has hit over .300 in each of his last four minor league seasons. Both Gregorius and Rodriguez are on the Reds’ 40-man roster so they’ll both be up in September.
Jeff Francis, a starter in AAA-Louisville, is far removed from his prospect days. A 31-year old ballplayer is not prospect. He’s either a guy who signed a minor league deal and is trying to get back to the majors or he’s a guy who simply loves the game and refuses to hang up the cleats until he’s totally out of gas… or his wife begs him.
Francis is a former 17-game winner at the major league level. The lefty suffered a serious shoulder injury in 2008 that forced him out of the entire 2009 campaign. He didn’t take the hill again until mid-May 2010 for the Rockies.
After putting up some seriously bad numbers in 2010 Colorado the former first round draft pick (ninth overall) was granted free agency and hooked on with Kansas City last season. Again, his stats looked more like something tossed by Francis Sinatra.
Again though, Francis’ injury was severe he missed an entire season. A serious should injury isn’t like modern Tommy John surgery where many times a player will be back as good as new in a year. Shoulder injuries can doom careers. Just ask former Cubs phenom Mark Prior.
Francis’ number one attribute is his ground out/fly out ratio. When pitching in Cincinnati’s cracker box stadium a guy who keeps the ball on the ground is an automatic star—especially with the defensive quality of the Reds’ infield.
Francis making his third start tonight at 6:30 in Louisville. The Reds don’t have a single southpaw in their rotation. As much as fans are begging, Cincinnati probably wont put Aroldis Chapman on the mound to start the game… not yet anyway. But after the first injury or too many more Homer Bailey starts expect Francis to get the call.
Even though the off-season saw the Reds seemingly trade all of their top minor league talent for Mat Latos and Sean Marshall. They’re still rich with prospects. A few big names were left out. Todd Frazier, Daniel Corcino, Ryan LaMarre, and Donnie Joseph—to mention a few.
But today the Reds have a much needed off day, and the Louisville Bats game—with Jeff Francis starting—is about to begin.
So we’ll talk about those kids later…