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Post-2005 Prospect Review: Cincinnati
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

Prospects with Double-Digit Upside
Likely 2006 September Call-ups
Potential Reserve Help
Minor League Draft Picks
Organization Rankings
Cincinnati's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects

Prospects with Double-Digit Upside

Chris Denorfia, 25, OF-R
10/38 for .263/.364/.421 with 1 HR, 2 RBI, 8 R, 1/1 SB%,
and a 6:9 BB:K for Cincinnati.
100/323 for .310/.391/.505 with 13 HR, 61 RBI, 50 R, 8/11 SB%,
and a 41:54 BB:K for AAA Louisville(IL).
62/188 for .330/.391/.564 with 7 HR, 26 RBI, 40 R, 4/7 SB%,
and a 17:38 BB:K for AA Chattanooga(SL).

With impressive plate discipline, developing power, good speed, and capable defense at all three outfield positions, Denorfia already looks like an ideal fourth outfielder for the Reds. His 3.84 #P/PA in his brief time in the majors further illustrates his potential to succeed as a starter whenever the annual bout of injuries strikes a Cincinnati starter. The relatively unknown Denorfia only should need 300 at-bats to reach double-digit value, and if you don't expect him to receive that level of playing time, you haven't followed the Reds' DL transactions in recent years. Consider Denorfia perhaps the likeliest candidates in the majors to turn a profit on a minimal draft day investment, though even remaining in bidding towards $10 isn't a terrible idea given his $20 upside as an everyday player next summer.

Justin Germano, 23, RH Starter
3-2 on a 38:5 K:BB in 49.1 IP over 8 GS
with 62 H, 7 HR, a 1.20 G-F, and a 4.01 ERA for AAA Louisville(IL).
7-6 on a 100:32 K:BB in 112 IP over 19 GS
with 111 H, 13 HR, a 1.09 G-F, and a 3.70 ERA for AAA Portland(PCL).

Pilfered from San Diego with Travis Chick for Joe Randa, Germano remained extremely effective after changing teams and deserves an extended look during spring training. Of course, I also expected him to spend 2005 in a big league rotation and he never even received a cup-of-coffee, so his lack of dominance seems to really limit his roto value right now. The prospect of pitching in Cincinnati similarly concerns me, so even if Germano emerges from a pack of nearly a dozen potential starters, you only can risk an endgame selection of the rookie due to his uncertain immediate future. Conversely, a move somewhere like Kansas City or Tampa Bay just might result in Rookie of the Year consideration since Germano's excellent control will minimize his downside in any pitchers' park.

Likely 2006 September Call-ups

Bobby Basham, 25, RH Starter
5-3 on a 46:9 K:BB in 51.1 IP over 10 GS
with 52 H, 5 HR, a 1.54 G-F, and a 2.98 ERA for AA Chattanooga(SL).
5-2 on a 42:6 K:BB in 50.1 IP over 10 GS
with 60 H, 3 HR, a 1.86 G-F, and a 3.75 ERA for A+ Sarasota(FSL).

Missing all of 2004 due to shoulder surgery didn't keep Basham from bouncing back very nicely this summer. While he no longer ranks as a top prospect due to persistent health problems and advancing age, this performance places him back on track to join the Reds next fall. The number of pitchers competing with Basham means you can't risk a draft pick on him in the spring, but keep him in mind when planning your keeper teams' futures over the winter.

Willie Bergolla, 22, 2B-R
5/38 for .132/.132/.132 with 0 HR, 1 RBI, 3 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 0:10 BB:K for Cincinnati.
117/400 for .293/.325/.390 with 2 HR, 38 RBI, 59 R, 16/19 SB%,
and a 19:39 BB:K for AAA Louisville(IL).

I expected a strong AAA campaign by Bergolla to vault him into the starting second base job in 2006. Unfortunately for the rookie, he posted another OBP under .350, barely improved his power numbers, suffered from a severe decrease in patience, and watched Ryan Freel emerge as one of the league's best leadoff men. At least Bergolla only turns 23 in February, giving him plenty of time for the additional minor league seasoning necessary before Cincinnati can consider him as a possible regular.

Travis Chick, 21, RH Starter
4-11 on a 113:67 K:BB in 143.2 IP over 27 GS
with 154 H, 17 HR, a .81 G-F, and a 5.27 ERA
between AA Mobile(SL) and AA Chattanooga(SL).

Acquired from San Diego with Justin Germano for Joe Randa in one of the best trades of the year, Chick changed organizations in his second straight deadline deal, bottoming out by registering a 21:27 K:BB in 46.1 IP over 8 starts for Chattanooga. The good news is that he only turned 21 in June, spending the season as one of the youngest AA pitchers after skipping high-A completely. One more year of development should vault Chick near the top of Cincinnati's prospect list, placing him in line for a rotation slot by 2007.

Phil Dumatrait, 24, LH Starter
4-12 on a 101:70 K:BB in 127.2 IP over 24 GS
with 115 H, 4 HR, a 1.33 G-F, and a 3.17 ERA for AA Chattanooga(SL).
0-0 on a 13:3 K:BB in 10 IP over 2 GS(3G)
with 8 H, 0 HR, a 2.40 G-F, and a 2.70 ERA for A+ Sarasota(FSL).

Missing all of 2004 due to injury didn't keep the former first round pick from a welcome return to effectiveness this summer. He moved past A-ball for the first time, posting a shockingly good ERA despite a poor record and very troublesome command. I still suspect Dumatrait's skill deficiencies will result in a move to the bullpen, though if he echoes this performance for AAA while cutting his walk rate, he just might earn consideration for a late-season spot start.

Richie Gardner, 23, RH Starter
3-6 on a 47:24 K:BB in 66 IP over 13 GS
with 80 H, 6 HR, a 2.43 G-F, and a 5.73 ERA for AA Chattanooga(SL).

Labrum surgery in August formally ended his season even though Gardner originally headed to the DL in June. While he should return to full health in the spring, Gardner's overall ineffectiveness this summer dims his prospect star. The good news is that he maintained decent control while registering a superb ground-fly ratio, suggesting he could remain a very viable fantasy option in Cincinnati. Gardner may possess as much upside as any pitcher in the organization, securing his status as an excellent mid-season pickup whenever the Reds recall him.

Alex Graman, 28, LH Swingman
0-0 on a 0:2 K:BB in 1.1 IP over 2 G
with 3 H, 1 HR, a 3-3 G-F, and a 13.50 ERA for New York(A).
7-7 and 1 Save on a 115:48 K:BB in 119.2 IP over 20 GS(28G)
with 118 H, 14 HR, a 1.27 G-F, and a 3.16 ERA
between AAA Columbus(IL) and AAA Louisville(IL).

A brief yet ineffective stint with the Yankees resulted in Graman's departure from the organization after nearly seven seasons. He quickly latched onto the Reds, remaining effective in his return to the rotation despite a midsummer move to the Clippers' bullpen. I see no reason he can't emerge as an asset in either role given his skill set, but until you see some team give him a long look in the majors, his nearly four full AAA campaigns indicates you shouldn't risk a roster slot on Graman.

Carlos Guevara, 23, RH Reliever
4-3 and 14 Saves on a 65:14 K:BB in 51.1 IP over 44 G
with 39 H, 2 HR, a .89 G-F, and a 2.45 ERA for A+ Sarasota(FSL).

Don't expect the otherwise dominant Guevara to continue closing in the majors, but he should challenge for a spot in the Reds' pen no later than 2007. Absolutely nothing in his skills indicates forthcoming problems for Guevara above A-ball, so feel free to view him as potential roster filler if he echoes these skills in the upper minors.

Kevin Howard, 24, 2B-L
142/479 for .296/.346/.428 with 12 HR, 70 RBI, 63 R, 13/21 SB%,
and a 33:64 BB:K for AA Chattanooga(SL).

Howard won both the Little League and College World Series before Cincinnati selected him in the fifth round of the 2002 draft. Solid plate discipline and all-around offensive talent seemingly placed him on track to reach the majors very quickly, but his walk rate dropped from .12 to .07, prompting the Reds to leave him off the 40-man roster and then bizarrely deal him to the Yankees with Ben Himes for Tony Womack. Perhaps Howard never will develop into more than a quality bench player. He also clearly needs more times in the minors. However, he appears to own the basic skills to remain successful and still could appear in the majors next fall.

Steve Kelly, 26, RH Starter
5-5 on a 67:41 K:BB in 104.2 IP over 19 GS
with 107 H, 10 HR, a 1.38 G-F, and a 4.82 ERA for AAA Louisville(IL).

Arm problems ended his season in July, though he failed to maintain his previous level of command in AAA even prior to his injury. He should spend the majority of 2006 attempting to translate his success at lower levels into similar effectiveness in an attempt to reach the majors next fall. Don't expect him to contribute to fantasy teams before 2007.

Ben Kozlowski, 25, LH Starter
2-3 on a 30:18 K:BB in 44.2 IP over 8 GS
with 52 H, 3 HR, a .76 G-F, and a 4.63 ERA for AAA Louisville(IL).
4-4 on an 82:31 K:BB in 111.1 IP over 20 GS
with 129 H, 10 HR, a 1.45 G-F, and a 4.04 ERA for AA Chattanooga(SL).

Although he reaches the majors for a couple of spot starts with Texas in 2002, Kozlowski then returned to the minors for a couple more AA campaigns, finally reached AAA this summer after solid work at Chattanooga. Unfortunately, a combination of unimpressive command and dominance suggests he can't remain effective as a big league starter, severely limiting Kozlowski's long-term fantasy value compared to the promise he displayed earlier this decade.

Miguel Perez, 22, C-R
0/3 for .000/.000/.000 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 0:1 BB:K for Cincinnati.
15/72 for .208/.275/.292 with 1 HR, 5 RBI, 5 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 5:19 BB:K for AAA Louisville(IL).
78/291 for .268/.305/.347 with 4 HR, 33 RBI, 36 R, 7/8 SB%,
and a 16:63 BB:K for A+ Sarasota(FSL).

Jumped to Louisville and then Cincinnati on the basis of his defense alone, Perez lacks any semblance of substantive offensive skills. He likely needs two more years of seasoning, preferably including a full AA campaign, before even deserving a bench job in the majors. Nothing here indicates the potential for any useful fantasy value.

Junior Ruiz, 25, OF-L
78/272 for .287/.359/.342 with 1 HR, 19 RBI, 37 R, 14/20 SB%,
and a 29:28 BB:K for AA Chattanooga(SL).
58/186 for .312/.419/.435 with 3 HR, 24 RBI, 40 R, 17/19 SB%,
and a 33:20 BB:K for A+ Sarasota(FSL).

Promising speed and excellent plate discipline give Ruiz plenty of fantasy upside if he reaches the majors. A large lack of power may destine him to a AAAA career, but if you see Ruiz join the Reds as a reserve outfielder, a minimal FAAB bid could net you a superb outfield value.

Dane Sardinha, 26, C-R
0/3 for .000/.000/.000 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 0:1 BB:K for Cincinnati.
67/299 for .224/.284/.358 with 10 HR, 36 RBI, 36 R, 1/1 SB%,
and a 22:72 BB:K for AAA Louisville(IL).

Losing nearly forty points of BA eliminates any benefit from a welcome improvement in plate discipline from abhorrent(10:94 BB:K in 2004) to merely mediocre. With Miguel Perez passing Sardinha on the organization depth chart, the former second round pick appears well on his way to a career as a AAAA journeyman, virtually useless to both MLB and fantasy teams.

David Shafer, 23, RH Reliever
1-6 and 6 Saves on a 41:24 K:BB in 39.2 IP over 34 G
with 31 H, 3 HR, a 1.17 G-F, and a 4.08 ERA for AA Chattanooga(SL).
1-0 and 5 Saves on an 18:2 K:BB in 13.2 IP over 10 G
with 9 H, 0 HR, a .22 G-F, and a 0.00 ERA for A+ Sarasota(FSL).

A 32nd round pick in 2001, Shafer finally left A-ball this year, remaining reasonably effective at Chattanooga as he finished the season with a strong career 217:58 K:BB in just under 200 innings. Shafer's biggest problem is that Cincinnati possesses a tremendous abundance of capable big league and AAAA relievers on the 40-man roster. Spending a full campaign in the upper minors should enable him to consolidate his gains and prepare to compete for a job with the Reds in 2007.

Joey Votto, 22, 1B-L
119/464 for .256/.330/.425 with 17 HR, 83 RBI, 64 R, 4/9 SB%,
and a 52:122 BB:K for A+ Sarasota(FSL).

While dealing Sean Casey creates a long-term opening at first for Votto, his BA drop and unimpressive power potential leave him little immediate value. Wait to see if he can boost his OPS back over .800 in the comparatively easier hitting environment in the Southern League before employing Votto as anything more than a long-term lottery ticket in a very deep NL leagues.

Potential Reserve Help

Chris Booker, 28, RH Reliever
0-0 on a 2:4 K:BB in 2 IP over 3 G
with 6 H, 2 HR, a 1-5 G-F, and a 31.50 ERA for Cincinnati.
8-4 and 20 Saves on a 91:28 K:BB in 65 IP over 59 G
with 45 H, 2 HR, a .45 G-F, and a 2.49 ERA for AAA Louisville(IL).

Selected in today's Rule 5 draft by Detroit and immediately sold to Philadelphia, Booker enters his twelfth professional season next spring despite just reaching the International League last year and the majors this summer. My biggest concern here is that his absolutely awful groundball rate leaves him extremely vulnerable to home runs in CB Park. The combination of an abundance of homers with unimpressive control thoroughly detracts from an outstanding strikeout rate. Booker could flourish if kept from entering games with anyone on base, though I instead expect the inevitable departures from such strict usages to result in completely unacceptable qualitative stats in any fantasy league.

Eric Crozier, 27, OF-L
50/221 for .226/.302/.425 with 6 HR, 24 RBI, 25 R, 4/6 SB%,
and a 24:77 BB:K between AAA Syracuse(IL) and AAA Louisville(IL).
21/121 for .174/.235/.298 with 3 HR, 18 RBI, 13 R, 1/3 SB%,
and a 9:52 BB:K for AA Trenton(EL).

Last year Crozier managed 50 extra-base hits while demonstrating good patience at AAA, so his tremendously poor 2005 seems mostly an off-field problem based on changing organizations twice on waivers without receiving the big league look he reasonably deserved. Now hopefully he can resurrect his career in a better environment via minor league free agency since wasting one of his peak seasons in this fashion drops his immediate upside rather precipitously.

Ryan Hanigan, 25, 1B-R
107/333 for .321/.418/.405 with 4 HR, 29 RBI, 45 R, 4/5 SB%,
and a 50:41 BB:K for AA Chattanooga(SL).

Released in January from Cincinnati yet resigned and promoted by summer, the former undrafted free agent added a career-high BA to his excellent plate discipline in his first exposure above A-ball. He concluded his season with a trip to the AFL, where his offense unsurprisingly collapsed thanks to his limited power. While Hanigan's history behind the plate suggests intriguing upside as a 25th man, he can't afford any drop in performance as he nears the majors

Aaron Holbert, 32, 2B-R
6/27 for .222/.290/.333 with 0 HR, 2 RBI, 3 R, 1/1 SB%,
and a 3:8 BB:K for Cincinnati.
70/230 for .304/.351/.461 with 6 HR, 23 RBI, 33 R, 12/17 SB%,
and an 11:31 BB:K for AAA Louisville(IL).

The journeyman spent a second season in Louisville, earning some time with the Reds when injuries depleted the big league roster. Unfortunately, Holbert's unimpressive numbers in the majors seemingly leave him destined for a AAAA career. Although his status as a middle infielder with some BA/SB upside automatically provides him respectable value for a fantasy rookie, I don't envision Holbert receiving the chance necessary to chance to fulfill his potential any time soon.

Norris Hopper, 26, OF-R
140/451 for .310/.354/.368 with 1 HR, 37 RBI, 70 R, 25/32 SB%,
and a 27:38 BB:K for AA Chattanooga(SL).

A third relatively mediocre AA campaign probably leaves Hopper little room for advancement in an organization already pushing Chris Denorfia and Junior Ruiz to the majors as outfield reserves. The minor league free agent needs to carry these stats to the highest rung of the minors before earning any consideration for a big league bench job.

Brian Peterson, 27, C-R
94/348 for .270/.323/.411 with 6 HR, 40 RBI, 37 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 24:56 BB:K for AA Chattanooga(SL).

Last year Peterson earned an AFL slot after posting a .300/.361/.444 performance in his second tour of Chattanooga. Yet the Reds opted to employ Steve Lomasney and then Miguel Perez with Dane Sardinha at AAA Louisville this summer, relegating Peterson to an unfair third AA campaign. He wisely departed Cincinnati for Detroit this winter and now faces far less competition to secure a big league job, though after his inconsistency in 2005, wait until Peterson at least echoes these stats for AAA Toledo before considering him anywhere.

Tom Shearn, 28, RH Reliever
4-5 and 1 Save on a 93:44 K:BB in 93 IP over 9 GS(44G)
with 83 H, 11 HR, a 1.32 G-F, and a 4.26 ERA for AAA Louisville(IL).

I scarcely understood why below-average command kept Shearn from joining Houston's bullpen when he posted a 2.92 ERA on an 80:41 K:BB in 83 IP for AAA New Orleans(PCL) in 2002. Hopefully registering similar numbers over the past two years will result in a better outcome for Shearn, who only needs to demonstrate improved control before nearly requiring a shot in the majors.

Steve Smitherman, 27, OF-R
35/141 for .248/.272/.333 with 1 HR, 11 RBI, 12 R, 1/1 SB%,
and a 5:14 BB:K for AAA Louisville(IL).
87/313 for .278/.379/.486 with 11 HR, 62 RBI, 45 R, 3/4 SB%,
and a 48:78 BB:K for AA Chattanooga(SL).

No longer a prospect by practically any standard, Smitherman still rates as potential bench asset if his slowly improving plate discipline ever translates to better AAA numbers. However he currently lacks the obvious power necessary to warrant any fantasy attention given his otherwise limited offensive skills.

Rob Stratton, 28, DH-R
8/26 for .308/.379/.769 with 4 HR, 5 RBI, 5 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 2:5 BB:K for AAA Louisville(IL).

A torn Achilles' tendon ended Stratton's season after scarcely a week of April games, costing the Branyanesque slugger a golden opportunity to earn regular playing time in the depleted Reds' outfield. Even if he somehow wins a roster spot in the spring, the strong likelihood of Stratton posting a terrible BA should keep him off roto rosters indefinitely.

Pedro Swann, 35, DH-L
130/456 for .285/.354/.489 with 18 HR, 85 RBI, 67 R, 5/5 SB%,
and a 36:101 BB:K for AAA Louisville(IL).

Quietly registering another solid AAA season didn't propel Swann back to the majors. Of course, he lacks any overt upside despite solid all-around baseball skills, so I understand why teams prefer to employ younger options as reserve outfielders. I just also know that Swann could contribute for another year or two if given an opportunity, though unless you see him secure that regular role, don't add him to any team.

A.J. Zapp, 27, 1B-R
97/399 for .243/.318/.358 with 6 HR, 40 RBI, 31 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 38:113 BB:K for AAA Louisville(IL).

I suspect Zapp's Indiana roots led him to the Midwest after a career spent in leagues located everywhere else in the country. Hopefully he enjoyed this relative homecoming since signing with Cincinnati left him no chance of reaching the majors regardless of his performance. Admittedly, posting these mediocre numbers after registering a .291/.365/.523 line for AAA Tacoma(PCL) in 2004 suggest he may never receive more than the briefest cup-of-coffee, but he still owns sufficient skills to develop into a capable bench option by the end of the decade.

Minor League Draft Picks


Aside from players listed above, no other Cincinnati prospect deserves consideration in 2006 fantasy drafts. Allan Simpson, Joe Valentine, Brian Shackelford, and Elizardo Ramirez no longer qualify as rookies due to exceeding the service time maximum.

Organization Rankings

A ridiculous abundance of injuries, the annual minor league free agent exodus, a preference towards selecting high-risk draft picks, and today's loss of Kevin Howard and Chris Booker all combine to leave Cincinnati with less depth of viable fantasy options than almost any franchise in the game. However, the immediate upside of Chris Denorfia, and to a slightly lesser extent, Germano, Ruiz, and Bergolla, provides a few good targets in most standard leagues. Given the likelihood of available playing time for this quartet, the Reds merit a relatively decent ranking above the Cubs and Jays, teams that possess far deeper systems with more impact talent but lack big league roster spots due to an abundance of monied free agents and young veterans.

Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2005, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, as well as consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from the lower levels of each system:

1. Arizona Diamondbacks(Co.Jackson, C.Quentin, S.Drew)
2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim(J.Mathis, B.Wood)
3. Texas Rangers(I.Kinsler, J.Botts)
4. Seattle Mariners(S.Choo, J.Strong)
5. Minnesota Twins(F.Liriano, Kubel)
6. Boston Red Sox(Pedroia, C.Hansen, Papelbon)
7. Chicago White Sox(Br.Anderson, Ch.Young)
8. Atlanta Braves(Marte, Chuck James)
9. Tampa Bay Devil Rays(Del.Young)
10. Baltimore Orioles(Markakis, Maine, W.Young)
11. Oakland Athletics(D.Barton)
12. Cleveland Indians(Fr.Gutierrez, F.Carmona)
13. Cincinnati Reds(Denorfia)
14. Kansas City Royals(Huber)
15. Chicago Cubs(F.Pie)
16. Toronto Blue Jays(D.McGowan)
17. Detroit Tigers(Verlander)
18. New York Yankees(K.Thompson)

Today's Fantasy Rx: Place Chris Denorfia high atop your draft sleeper lists. I currently expect the Reds to break camp with Denorfia and Jacob Cruz backing up Ken Griffey, Austin Kearns, and Wily Mo Pena in the outfield. The fragileness of that trio creates immense opportunities for the youngster to manage double-digit value despite beginning 2006 as no better than the fifth outfielder. He looks like an automatic addition anywhere under $5, and if any of the veterans succumb to a spring injury, bidding towards $10 still might net you an excellent long-term value on top of solid fantasy value next summer.

Cincinnati's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2006
1. Chris Denorfia, OF
2. Justin Germano, SP
3. Junior Ruiz, OF
4. Willie Bergolla, 2B
5. Joey Votto, 1B
6. Richie Gardner, SP
7. Bobby Basham, SP
8. Travis Chick, SP
9. Ryan Hanigan, 1B
10. Miguel Perez, C
11. Phil Dumatrait, SP
12. David Shafer, RP
13. Carlos Guevara, RP
14. Steve Smitherman, OF
15. Steve Kelly, RP

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