|Record-breaking baserunner Billy Hamilton could be the league's next great speed threat. (USATSI)|
Before the start of the season, we'll highlight a few players in each team's minor-league system to let you know which players you should be paying attention to throughout the year. These aren't meant to be comprehensive top-prospect lists, but should provide a look at some key players within each team's organization.
The Reds won 97 games in 2012, their most since the '70s squads, largely due to healthy starting pitching and an incredible amount of top-shelf homegrown talent. With the proven ability to develop stars, the Reds have a plethora of talented arms ready to fortify the rotation and bullpen, as well as a record-setting speedster who is nearly major-league ready.
2013 Impact Players
The 2012 season was unforgettable for Hamilton, who swiped 155 bags in 192 attempts, setting the professional record for more stolen bases in a season. Splitting time between Class A Advanced and Double-A, Hamilton also managed to get on base 41 percent of the time over his 605 plate appearances, an elite number for the 21-year-old. Those two metrics are a big reason Hamilton has been rated a top-20 prospect by Baseball America and MLB.com heading into 2013.
Hamilton was moved off his natural position of shortstop to center field late last year (before the team added Shin-Soo Choo), and while his defense is a work in progress, he's capable of being one of the league's premier center fielders once he develops. The Reds might have found a leadoff hitter in Choo, but Hamilton profiles to be an elite top-of-the-order batter, something that could take the Reds offense to the next level. Once he proves ready with the glove and capable against Triple-A pitching, he's likely to get his shot at the majors.
LHP Tony Cingrani
Taken in the third round of the 2011 draft, Cingrani blazed through the minors in 2012, striking out 172 batters in 146 innings (for a 10.6 K/9) while posting a 1.73 ERA over two levels (with around 60 percent of his work coming in Double-A). He even made three relief appearances with the Reds, allowing one run in five innings while striking out nine batters.
Cingrani's quality fastball/changeup combination would make him an effective reliever immediately for the Reds should he be needed to fill that role. His breaking stuff needs work to establish him as a rotational mainstay long term, but it can certainly get there. The Reds' rotation has virtually no shot of remaining as healthy as it was in 2012, and if someone goes down long-term, the 23-year-old should be one of the first to get the call.
The Reds' first-round pick in the 2011 draft, Stephenson enjoyed an excellent first professional season at the age of 19 in 2012, striking out 72 batters and walking 23 in 65 innings over 15 starts split between the rookie level and Class A level. Stephenson threw four pitches well as a high schooler, but it remains to be seen which of those will stick with him by the time he reaches the majors. If he can pair a solid changeup and curveball with his plus fastball, Stephenson has the makings of a No. 1 or No. 2 starter in a few years' time.
RHP J.J. Hoover
Acquired from the Braves for Juan Francisco in April of last year, Hoover was moved to the bullpen full time by the Reds, and the results have been tremendous. The 25-year-old posted a 1.22 ERA in Triple-A last season with 55 strikeouts, 12 walks and one home run allowed in 37 innings. He was nearly as good in the majors, posting a 2.05 ERA with 31 strikeouts, 13 walks and two home runs allowed in 30 2/3 innings while picking up his first career save. He has been very difficult to hit (32 hits allowed total between the majors and minors in 2012), and looks the part of a future closer. The Reds re-signed Jonathan Broxton to a multi-year deal to fill that role, but even if he does an admirable job and sticks in the ninth inning, Hoover could wind up as one of the game's better setup men.
The Reds have several key pitchers who appear ready, or nearly so, for the majors in 2013 in Cingrani, Hoover and right-hander Daniel Corcino. Most of the Reds' key hitting prospects have already graduated to the majors, but plenty of eyes will remain on Hamilton's development to see when the speedster will have a full-time job in the majors. He and the team's pitching depth give the Reds just what they need from their minor-league system heading into the 2013 season.