Lutz Ready for Return to Southern League
One year ago Bakersfield had the best first-half record in the California League. Now much of that core is getting ready to start the season at Pensacola. One year ago there was a talent void at the top of the Cincinnati development system left by trades and promotions. This group contains some of the top candidates to fill it and they're ready for AA action.
In forecasting organizational rosters things get more uncertain when going deeper in the system. For the Reds in 2013 there won't be many surprises at the MLB level. The AAA roster will be made up of holdovers from last year, veterans providing depth, and top AA performers. Typically it's at the AA level where many top prospects work on skills without competing for playing time with older players.
In 2011 Pensacola finished around .500. There was a lot of transition during the season when they received several Bakersfield players from a team that finished with the best first half record in the California League. It's no surprise that the offense got more challenging for them against higher level pitching in venues closer to sea level and many will be reunited again on the Blue Wahoo roster to work for further advancement.
Rotation: Kyle Lotzkar, Chad Rogers, Tim Crabbe, Josh Smith, Mark Serrano
Lotzkar is a former supplemental first round pick and though he came into the Cincinnati organization out of high school he fell behind after Tommy John surgery. He started off well in five games at Bakersfield in 2012 before putting up an ERA over five at Pensacola. The Reds still think enough of his potential to keep him on their 40-man roster and now at the age of 23 he might be a candidate for a move into the bullpen if he can't improve command.
Late-rounder Rogers made the Cali League all-star team in the first half of last season and put up an AA ERA under two in six games after promotion. Crabbe had a fair start with the Wahoos last year before getting hit hard in the second half which prompted a demotion to Bakersfield. He finished the season strong with the Blaze, worked in the Arizona Fall League, and should be ready for a return to the Southern League.
Josh Smith spent all of last season in the Bakersfield rotation and his sub-four ERA was the fifth lowest in the California League. Serrano spent all of last year at Pensacola and made it into the rotation for nine starts, finishing with an ernie under four over 90+ innings.
Predicting the bottom half of the bullpen is slightly more accurate than throwing darts blindfolded. Relievers drafted out of college are a little older and frequently candidates to fast-track up the chain and skip levels. Also, the Reds picked up some free agents that have been in the minor leagues for a while and might even pull down a AAA spot forcing one of last year's Wahoos into a return.
Bullpen: Brian Pearl, Josh Ravin, Curtis Partch, Chris Manno, Loek Van Mil, Jeff Stevens, Jose Diaz
2012 was a tale of two seasons for Pearl. He had a 1.31 ERA to earn a spot on the Cali League all-star team before getting hit hard in AA after promotion. Ravin and Partch have been in the system for a while. Neither impressed as a starter but the Reds thought enough of their mid-90's fastballs to protect them against the Rule 5 draft with spots on their 40-man roster while they try to get on track relieving.
Manno was a return from the Johnny Gomes trade who impressed at the lower levels of Washington's organization. In 2012 he had a sub-four ERA over 50 games at Pensacola. Seven-footer Van Mil was tough on hitters with Cleveland's AA team last year before getting knocked around in a handful of games at the next level.
The Reds picked up journeyman free agents Van Mil, Stevens, Diaz, Jeff Marquez, Lee Hyde, and Yohan Pino as they try to hang on to careers. Cincinnati thought enough of Stevens to select him in the sixth round of the 05 draft. That turned out to be a highly productive pick because they eventually traded him to Cleveland for Brandon Phillips.
Catchers: Tucker Barnhart, Nevin Ashley
Barnhart is the top rated catching prospect in the Cincinnati organization. He started off 2012 by getting on base well at Bakersfield, but could not sustain it after a promotion. Ashley was a sixth round pick in 06. He's good defensively, but he was hampered by a hand injury last season in the Rays system.
Infield: Beau Mills, Brodie Greene, David Vidal, Devin Lohman, Travis Mattair, Michael Gilmartin
Mills, Cleveland's 07 first round pick, came into the Reds organization midseason last year in a deal for cash. He brings good power at first and improved his contact after the move. Greene left his power in the California League in 2011 and slugged .100' less at Pensacola last year. Vidal started off hot at Bakersfield but was probably promoted too early and was inconsistent in AA. He'll look to make it a different story in his return this season. Mattair was the top run producer at Bakersfield last year after spending the entire season with the Blaze. Like Mattair, shortstop Gilmartin is a Rule 5 pickup that hit .256/.339 OB with 9 HR at Stockton last season.
Outfield: Donald Lutz, Ryan LaMarre, Steve Selsky, Bryson Smith, Josh Fellhauer
Lutz may move back to first base, but the Reds would like to convert him into the outfield before he gets blocked behind Joey Votto. LaMarre is the Reds backup plan at center field/leadoff man in case Billy Hamiton falters. Fellhauer had a .400 OBP with the Wahoos last year and could find himself at Louisville to start the season. Selsky flat out mashed the ball after his promotion from Dayton last year and they've probably seen enough of him in single A. Smith has hit over .300 at every stop thus far.
It's always interesting to see how the hitters make the transition from the Cali League. Though the venues there are hitter-friendly, they were still successful at winning games against competition playing on the same fields. They will lose Hamilton to AAA but there are multiple candidates for leadoff and though none will steal 100 bases, they will set the table for middle of the lineup.
The pitching has more uncertainty. There are strong arms on the staff, but some need to work on command. Then again, that's common in the minor leagues. Cincinnati is very pitching deep at the top and they can afford to be patient in AA since there aren't a lot of openings expected above them in the immediate future.