10 Reds prospects to watch
Bumper crop of middle infielders maturing on the farm
With the 2009 season quickly approaching, MLB.com takes a look at 10 of the Reds' most intriguing prospects that you should keep an eye on.
Yonder Alonso, 1B: The seventh overall pick in 2008 out of Miami, the left-handed hitter signed at the deadline but showed right away why he was worth the money and big league contract. He hit .316 in a brief stint at Class A Advanced Sarasota before heading to Hawaii Winter Baseball, where he batted .308 with a .419 on-base percentage and a .510 slugging percentage. Alonso, who turns 22 on Minor League Opening Day, came to the United States from Cuba as a child and batted .370 with 24 homers and 72 RBIs in his final year with the Hurricanes. He hits for power and average and has great makeup. His presence at first base means that he or sophomore Joey Votto eventually will move to the outfield.
Juan Francisco, 3B: One of the top power prospects in the organization, the 21-year-old has made strides each year, though he is still raw when it comes to things like plate discipline (19 walks vs. 123 strikeouts in '08). But the left-handed hitter has a great arm and puts on a show during batting practice. He batted .277 with 23 homers and 92 RBIs at Sarasota last year, leading the system in homers and RBIs and earning a spot in the All-Star Futures Game.
Todd Frazier, SS: One of a handful of great middle infield prospects in the organization, Frazier is third in a line of New Jersey brothers who have played pro ball, and he's the best of the trio. An '07 supplemental first-round pick out of Rutgers, he combined to hit .291 with 19 homers and 74 RBIs between Class A Dayton and Sarasota last summer, finishing fifth in the system in average and homers and fourth in RBIs. A shortstop, he's also seen time at both corners and the outfield. The 23-year-old has great makeup and projects for plus power, especially if he stays in the middle infield.
Kyle Lotzkar, RHP: The possessor of the best curveball in the system, the 19-year-old Canadian was taken in the supplemental first round in '07 out of high school. He throws a lively fastball in the low- to mid-90s as well as a curve and changeup and is working on consistency on all three. He had a 3.58 in 10 starts at Dayton and had been limiting Midwest League foes to a .215 average over 37 2/3 innings before a stress fracture in his elbow ended his season in early August. But he pitched in instructional league, is healthy now and is expected to break camp on time.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
Neftali Soto, 3B: An '07 third-round pick out of high school in Puerto Rico, the then-shortstop broke pretty much every national high school power record set by Juan Gonzalez, then hit .303 in his Gulf Coast League debut that summer. Moved over to third base, he started '08 at Billings, batting .388 with four homers and 11 RBIs in his first 15 games before an injury to (since-traded) Dayton third baseman Brandon Waring prompted his recall. Soto went on to hit .326 with seven homers and 36 RBIs in 52 Midwest League games. Just turned 20, he is known for his power, but also can hit for average and has a plus arm.
Zachary Stewart, RHP: The club's third-round pick last spring, Stewart was, at different times, the closer and ace starter at Texas Tech and could be a very quick mover. With a fastball in the mid-90s and a plus slider, he combined to post a microscopic 1.09 ERA between Dayton and Sarasota in his pro debut, collecting five saves and fanning 36 over 33 innings while limiting opponents to a .220 average.
Drew Stubbs, OF: The Reds' top pick, eighth overall, in '06 out of the University of Texas, Stubbs' ascent has been slowed somewhat by injuries, but he rose through three levels last season while hitting .277 with seven homers, 57 RBIs and an organization-best 33 steals. The 24-year-old is a great defensive center fielder with a plus arm, good bat speed and power potential that has not clicked quite yet in terms of home run production.
Daryl Thompson, RHP: Acquired from the Nationals in '06 in the multi-player deal involving Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez, Thompson may have been viewed as a throw-in since he was shut down at the time with shoulder trouble. But he could be the best of the bunch picked up by the Reds. He led the system with a 2.70 ERA last season and pitched at five levels (making his big league debut as well as a rehab stint in the Gulf Coast League). His Minor League totals were 99 strikeouts against only 32 walks over 126 2/3 innings. He made his Major League debut in style with six shutout innings against the Yankees, but shoulder soreness shut him down for awhile shortly thereafter. He has good command of his fastball and has three other pitches to keep hitters off stride.
Chris Valaika, SS: The Reds' 2008 batting champion as he combined to hit .317 between Sarasota and Chattanooga. Selected in the third round in 2006 out of UC-Santa Barbara, he is known not for any one outstanding on-field tool but for the whole toolbox, which includes makeup and leadership. He has good power for a shortstop, having hit 18 homers, while his 81 RBIs ranked second in the organization. He has great instincts and probably could play anywhere in the infield if called upon. The MVP of the Pioneer League in his pro debut, he had a team-record 32-game hitting streak that summer at Billings, then batted .284 with 12 homers and 79 RBIs the following year between Dayton and Sarasota.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.