By Josh Boyd
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2004.
2. Edwin Encarnacion, 3b
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 195.
Background: Former Reds special assistant Al Goldis was scouting Hank Blalock in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2000 when he came across Encarnacion, who was playing shortstop. Cincinnati acquired him the following year in the Ruben Mateo-Rob Bell trade with Texas. A two-level jump to Double-A last spring proved to be a tad overzealous, and he was forced to step back and make adjustments.
Strengths: Encarnacion has special bat speed and plus-plus power potential. He’s advanced at recognizing pitches early. He still shows middle-of-the-diamond actions, along with above-average strength.
Weaknesses: During his struggles in Double-A, Encarnacion’s attitude and work ethic were concerns. He needs to use the opposite field more effectively by allowing outside pitches to get deeper. He has the bat quickness to do so. Like many developing hitters, he needs to lay off breaking balls down and away.
The Future: Encarnacion made encouraging strides with both his hitting approach and his demeanor after being sent to high Class A Potomac. He’s better prepared for a second tour of Double-A in 2004.
3. Brandon Claussen, lhp
Age: 24. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Background: The top pitcher in the Yankees system, Claussen went to the Reds at the trade deadline in a deal for Aaron Boone. Though he returned ahead of schedule from Tommy John surgery in June 2002, Claussen was shut down with a tired arm for precautionary reasons after three starts in August.
Strengths: Claussen topped out at 94 mph before the operation, and pitched from 87-92 in 2003. He fires slightly across his body, creating good arm-side tail on his fastball and adding tilt and depth to his plus 78 mph slider. His changeup is an average big league pitch. He has good command and can work both sides of the plate.
Weaknesses: The good news is the Reds sidelined Claussen before he reinjured his arm. The red flag is that healthy pitchers usually don’t need to be shut down and his velocity isn’t all the way back.
The Future: Provided there aren’t further setbacks, Claussen will get every opportunity to win a job in the Reds’ revamped rotation in spring training. He profiles as a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter.
4. Dustin Moseley, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 200.
Background: Moseley signed late in 2000 for $930,000 and has advanced rapidly, earning midseason promotions during each of the last two seasons and reaching Triple-A at age 21.
Strengths: Moseley’s mature knack for pitching has enabled him to move swiftly up the ladder. While he’s not overpowering with his 88-92 mph fastball, he has plus movement and manipulates the ball to both sides of the plate with a cutter and two-seamer. His 77-81 mph curveball with 12-to-6 break and his deceptive sinking changeup are among the best in the organization. His delivery is clean and effortless, potentially allowing him to add to his fastball.
Weaknesses: Because he doesn’t have plus velocity, Moseley has to rely on location and setting up hitters. Scouts say he doesn’t have a true out pitch, so he won’t be able to carry a pitching staff.
The Future: Though his ceiling is limited, Moseley is a good bet to enjoy a long and productive career in the majors. He reminds scouts of control artists like Rick Reed and Bob Tewksbury. He’ll start 2004 in Triple-A and could help the Reds rotation before the all-star break.
5. Joey Votto, 1b
Age: 20. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Background: Votto was a surprise second-rounder in 2002, in part because he signed for a below-market $600,000, but Cincinnati brass also fell in love with him after he put on an impressive power display at Cinergy Field. Drafted as a catcher, he primarily played third base in high school and now has moved to first base to expedite his development. He was one of several Reds prospects who had to be demoted after initially struggling in 2003.
Strengths: Reds scouts envision Votto as a middle-of-the-lineup force. He’s short and direct to the ball with natural loft in his swing, which will lend itself to big-time power potential as he matures. A dead-pull hitter in 2002, he moved closer to the plate and started driving the ball to left field this season.
Weaknesses: Votto draws lots of walks but is often too patient at the plate, putting himself into poor hitting counts by taking a lot of borderline pitches. Defense will never be his strong suit.
The Future: A coach’s dream, Votto is a baseball rat who studies the art of hitting. He’ll return to low Class A Dayton, but could emerge quickly without the rigors of catching holding him back.
6. Phil Dumatrait, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 185.
Background: Undrafted out of high school, Dumatrait blossomed into a first-rounder at Bakersfield thanks to a spike in velocity. Regarded as the Red Sox’ best pitching prospect heading into last spring, Dumatrait was dealt with Tyler Pelland for closer Scott Williamson in July.
Strengths: Dumatrait’s curveball is the best in the organization. He adds and subtracts from the pitch, using a slower curve to get ahead in the count and a sharper hammer to finish hitters. His fastball sits at 88-90 and features outstanding late life that makes it difficult to command, but he has learned to harness it. He’s athletic and operates with a free and easy delivery.
Weaknesses: Dumatrait needs to incorporate his changeup into his mix more often. His command isn’t always sharp and is the key to him achieving his ceiling as a major league starter.
The Future: The Reds say Dumatrait has good enough stuff to succeed as a situational reliever in the majors right now. While that could ultimately be his role, his stuff is good enough to start and he’ll continue to do so in Double-A.
7. Stephen Smitherman, of
Age: 25. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 235.
Background: Smitherman followed up a breakthrough 2002 campaign by leading the Double-A Southern League in on-base percentage and finishing second in slugging. He also hit the game-winning homer for the U.S. in the Futures Game.
Strengths: Unlike most aggressive power hitters, Smitherman has become more selective at the plate while maintaining his ability to drive the ball. His natural prowess to put the barrel on the ball has been consistently underrated. He runs well for a big man.
Weaknesses: Though he learned to lay off some balls out of the strike zone, Smitherman still has holes and can get tied up with hard stuff inside. He’s also susceptible to breaking balls down and away, but he can punish fastballs. A diabetic, he suffered a scary episode in June when he had to be helped off the field. But he didn’t miss any time.
The Future: Smitherman struggled during a brief trip to the majors and never got back into a groove afterward. He’ll have to prove himself in Triple-A in 2004, but already has exceeded expectations.
8. Tyler Pelland, lhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 195.
Background: Former Reds special assistant Al Goldis’ work in the Gulf Coast League also paid off with Pelland. In July he recommended that the Reds acquire him from the Red Sox, and they did later that month in the Scott Williamson deal. Pelland would have gone in the first five rounds in 2002 if not for his commitment to Clemson, and he got fourth-round money ($240,000) as a ninth-rounder.
Strengths: Pelland has a 90-95 mph fastball with with good late life in the strike zone. He’s mechanically sound, drawing comparisons to Mike Hampton. His changeup has good action and deception. He shows a good feel for setting up hitters. He has made significant strides with his stuff in just one season as a pro.
Weaknesses: Because of his stocky build, Pelland isn’t projectable, though he already flashes plus velocity. He has a feel for a power breaking ball, but it’s inconsistent at this point.
The Future: Reds officials say Pelland will be able to handle a jump to low Class A, coming off an impressive showing in instructional league. He probably won’t surface in Cincinnati until 2007.
9. Chris Gruler, rhp
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 200.
Background: Rated as the Reds’ top prospect entering 2003, Gruler never got the chance to build on that status. He was shut down with a sore shoulder during instructional league in 2002, but after an offseason of rest and rehab was pronounced ready for Dayton’s rotation. After three disastrous starts, he had season-ending shoulder surgery.
Strengths: Reds special adviser Johnny Bench compared Gruler’s stuff to Tom Seaver’s after a predraft workout in 2002. He worked with a free and easy arm action and polished delivery, making his shoulder injury all the more surprising and frustrating. He generates 89-95 mph heat when healthy, and his hard curveball ranked among the best in the system. He’s a hard worker, which will help in his comeback.
Weaknesses: Gruler has been healthy enough to tally just 50 pro innings. He’s had little time to work on his changeup. When he returns, it may take time before he’s as sharp as he was during his debut.
The Future: Gruler has to prove his arm is sound. He has had only one minor setback with tendinitis, though his rehab will continue into the 2004 season. He should take the mound in low Class A by May.
10. Ty Howington, lhp
Age: 23. B-T: B-L. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 220.
Background: Howington appeared on the cusp of the big leagues after reaching Double-A before his 21st birthday. But he has battled elbow and shoulder problems for much of the last two seasons and posted a 5.45 ERA in Double-A in that span.
Strengths: At his best—and he was close to it in the second half of 2003—Howington can pour 89-93 mph heat with above-average life in the strike zone. He has developed a good cutter to complement one of the most effective changeups in the system, and his curveball will be at least average.
Weaknesses: Howington hasn’t gotten back to 94 mph, which he hit regularly in 2001, and his arm troubles are a concern. His velocity was in the mid-80s in early 2003. The injuries limited his range of motion, which affected his mechanics and arm action and ultimately his command.
The Future: Coming off another encouraging showing in instructional league, Howington is ready for a fourth shot at Double-A at age 23. He has the potential to be a workhorse in the Andy Pettitte mold if he can stay healthy.