Projecting the Louisville Roster
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Projecting the Louisville Roster

Cincinnati turned over its AAA roster in 2012 and the results were not good on the field. Louisville finished with the worst record in the International while waiting for new prospects from lower levels. Three of the top ones will arrive this year in Billy Hamilton, Daniel Corcino, and Tony Cingrani.

There was a lot of transition in manager David Bell's first season at Louisville last year after trades and promotions caused heavy turnover from 2011. The results weren't good as the Bats struggled with the worst record in the International League. It should be a different story in 2013 when they receive some top prospects from AA and veterans that were put in place to provide depth as the Reds go after their third division title in four years.

The pitching staff should be especially strong to start the season with two of the Reds top prospects and Mike Leake getting squeezed out of the Reds rotation by the conversion of Aroldis Chapman to a starter.

Rotation: Mike Leake, Tony Cingrani, Daniel Corcino, Armando Galarraga, Pedro Villarreal

It's odd to project Leake on a minor league roster since he's spent almost no time on one since he made the Reds rotation after they invested a first round selection on him in 09. He did an adequate job as their #5 in 2012 but it looks like he's going to lose his spot as Cincinnati tries to utilize Chapman over more innings.

Cingrani and Corcino are consensus top five Reds prospects. Cingrani is a top 100 MLB prospect after having one of the top seasons of any minor league pitchers last year. Corcino broke into some top 100 lists also and has drawn comparisons to current Reds ace Johnny Cueto.

Galarraga is famous for a missed umpire call with two outs in the ninth inning robbing him of a perfect game for Detroit. The 31 year-old right-hander has started 100 MLB games and will try to salvage his career at the bottom of the Bats rotation.

Villarreal did a decent job at Louisville last year after an early season promotion from AA. He kept his ERA under four until it got inflated when he was knocked around in few bad outings late in the season. He eventually made his MLB debut after roster expansion.

Bullpen: J.J. Hoover, Clay Hensley, Nick Christiani, Wilken De La Rosa, Justin Freeman, Drew Hayes, Kanekoa Texeira

Hoover was a lights-out closer for the Bats last season when he wasn't putting up a flat two ERA with the Reds. Hensley appeared in 60 games for the world champion Giants and got his ERA under three before going on the DL with a groin injury and getting hit hard the final month. Christiani finished strong with the Bats last season, getting his ERA down to 3.34. Journeyman Texeira re-signed with the Reds last month after keeping a sub-three ernie at Louisville in 2012.

28 year-old southpaw De La Rosa and Freeman formed a formidable L/R combo in the Pensacola pen last season when both finished with sub-three ernies, earning invitations to spring training. Joining them was Blue Wahoo teammate Drew Hayes who has held up under a fast track since the Reds drafted him out of Vanderbilt. He skipped over high-A last season, finished at 3.34 for Pensacola, and pitched in the Arizona Fall League after the season was over.

Catchers: Miguel Olivo, Corky Miller

Last year's top Louisville player, Dioner Navarro left via free agency after seeing post-season action with the Reds. They've signed veteran Olivo to take his place. Miller is no stranger to Louisville after the Reds re-signed him for a fifth season. He also played for the Bats from 2001-4. He'll soon turn 37 and his experience makes him a good catcher to work with young pitchers.

Infield: Neftali Soto, Henry Rodriguez, Jason Donald, Mike Hessman, Emmanuel Burriss, Kristopher Negron

Soto struggled at the start of his first full AAA season, but finished on an uptick to get his average up to .245. He hit 30 HR's at Pensacola in 2011 and should be ready to get back closer to that number this year. Rodriguez possibly has the most MLB-ready bat of the Cincinnati prospects and he'll get more AAA action at the start of the season to try and make a case for a return to the Reds later. He's a free-swinger with high contact and it should be interesting to watch him hit behind Billy Hamilton.

35 year-old Hessman clubbed 35 home runs at Oklahoma City last year and will provide power to this season's Louisville lineup at third base. Donald was a trade return in the Stubbs/Gregorius/Choo deal and figured to start the season on the active roster before they signed Cesar Izturis. Oddly enough he was the base-runner in the missed call of Galarraga's would-be perfect game. Burris was the 06 first-round pick for the Giants in whose system he played up until last year. The Reds also re-signed Kristopher Negron who may get also get some action in the outfield.

Outfield: Denis Phipps, Billy Hamilton, Felix Perez, Derrick Robinson, Cody Puckett

The speedster Hamilton is the top-rated prospect in the system and will bring his excitement to the top of the Bats lineup while converting to center field. Phipps disappointed last season while dealing with a shoulder injury. He hit better over the second half and will be out to show that his breakout year in 2011 was no fluke. Perez can play all three outfield positions and spent all of 2012 with the Bats where he cracked .300 at the plate.

The last couple of spots are toss-ups. The Reds signed Robinson after Kansas City let him leave via free agency. The switch hitter is in their spring training camp after hitting .268/.344 at Omaha last year. Puckett debuted in AAA after a promotion last season and struggled getting on base consistently. He did pop sixteen homers between Louisville and Pensacola and that power would be more interesting if his glove could stick in the middle infield. Ryan LaMarre could easily get one of the spots unless the Reds prefer him playing CF every day in Pensacola. If he begins the season in AA they will keep an eye open for an early promotion.

AAA really has two functions. It is the highest development level for prospects, but many of the spots are used to provide a reserve of veterans in case they're needed during the season. Because of that some top prospects may stay in AA longer to get more regular playing time. Still, fans paying admission to an AAA venue would like to see the home team win some games, which didn't happen very often in Louisville in 2012. It should be a different story this time around.