The Catching Pipeline

After removing a couple of catchers from their system who were first-round draft picks Cincinnati is now working to re-stock the pipeline for the position. Tucker Barnhart is at AA and is the top rated prospect remaining with a host of other candidates in the lower levels showing offensive skills that will improve their status.

Not long ago the Cincinnati catching pipeline was a bit depleted when their two top prospects, Devin Mesoraco and Yasmani Grandal, were removed from promotion and trade. Mesoraco is now splitting time with veteran Ryan Hanigan with the parent team. Big things are still expected of the former first round selection but right now the Reds would be happy if those two could form a tandem as effective as the one Hanigan shared with Ramon Hernendez before his free agency departure after the 2011 season. Two players sharing time behind the plate is not a big deal if they can provide the results because the rigors of the position require that every team use two roster spots for catchers anyway. Thus far Mesoraco has shown modest improvement over a disappointing rookie season when he made an unexpected trip to Louisville to work on his swing. 32 year-old veteran Hanigan's average is climbing back toward .200 after struggling through a hand injury that put him on the DL earlier in the season.

37 year-old Veteran Corky Miller made his first MLB appearance since 2010 during his absence. The Reds must like Miller catching their AAA pitchers and he must like it too because he's now in his sixth season in his second tour at Louisville after playing there four years from 2001-04. He's a classic career minor leaguer, seeing less than 600 MLB plate appearances in a career that spans 13 seasons. After Hanigan's return he cleared waivers and is no longer on the 40-man roster.

Every team will use a third catcher after roster expansion if not sooner in the season. Former minor league free agent Nevin Ashley may be playing his way into a position for a MLB debut come September at the age of 28. Previously some injury issues inhibited his development when he reached the top level of the Rays system, causing them to release the former sixth round selection. He latched on with the Reds and right now is over .300 with an OBP close to .400 while sharing duties behind the plate.

Of course neither of the AAA catchers can still really be considered a prospect and the top one of those in the system is generally acknowledged to be Tucker Barnhart at Pensacola. This is his second season with the Blue Wahoos with production at the plate significantly better than he had after a promotion from Bakersfield in the second half of last season. The 22 year-old is a switch hitter, but much better in the left-handed batter's box. He projects as a Hanigan type, strong behind the plate and advanced on-base skills to offset low power numbers.

Behind him is a variety of candidates vying for a perceived number two spot. Chris Berset is another catcher with a solid defensive reputation and has recently given reason to believe he's upgraded his skills with the bat. At the age of 25 he's older than most of his high-A competition right now, but progress is progress and he's making a case for a promotion when Barnhart advances to AAA.

Perhaps his biggest competition is his current teammate Yovan Gonzalez who also projects with solid skills behind the plate. The 23 year-old neither walks much nor makes many extra base hits, but a .336 batting average cures a lot of ills.

Perhaps the top catching prospect in the system to project hiting a few home runs someday is former Notre Dame backstop Joe Hudson who debuted at Dayton this season after Cincinnati selected him in the 6th round of last year's draft. He's hitting .235 without a homer in his first 51 professional games.

It hasn't been very long since the short seasons began but 20 year-old Daniel Paula has started off like gangbusters, hitting .391 in six games. He's been used as a DH some and when he's not behind the plate action has gone to 19 year-old Jose Ortiz who has also started out above .300 in the early part of the season after hitting .359 in thirteen games in the Arizona League last year.

Cincinnati was also very active going after catching prospects in the recent draft. Four of their players selected were drafted as catchers: Shedric Long (12th round), Jarrett Freeland (15th), Morgan Lofstrom (20th), and Zach Collins (27th). Not all of them will stick at the position and thus far only Long has signed. He's splitting time at Arizona with Jose Duarte who has gone 5-16 (.313) since making the move stateside from the Dominican League this year.

There are enough candidates there for at least one or two to start crashing the party when top prospect lists are published for the Cincinnati organization. For right now Hanigan's contract keeps him under team control until 2015 which is also the earliest year that Mesoraco can test free agency. The Reds have basically put all their eggs in one basket with that duo for right now. Help should be on the way, if needed, a couple of years down the road.

Organizational News:

The Reds returned home and got back into winning ways with an 8-1 victory in a rain-shorted game against defending champs San Francisco. Bronson Arroyo picked up the win for his six-inning complete game over which he allowed only one run on two hits. Four Reds hitters stroked two hits apiece: Hanigan, Brandon Phillilps, Jay Bruce, and Todd Frazier, including Frazier's three-run homer in the third inning.

Greg Reynolds got another win as Louisville prevailed 5-2 at Indianapolis. The big right-hander allowed ten hits in six-plus innings, but only two runs (one earned) crossed the plate while he struck out eight. Emmanuel Burris had three hits in the contest while Neftali Soto and Mike Hessman contributed two apiece including Hessman's solo home run in a three-run rally in the third. Nick Christiani entered in the ninth and ended the game for a save.

Pensacola also had a rain-shortened game that they won 4-3 at Jacksonville. The Wahoos were held to only three hits, but rallied for four runs in the fourth inning to provide the win. Ryan Dennick picked up the victory by allowing three runs while pitching a five-inning complete game.

Bakersfield allowed five after the seventh inning and came up short in an 8-5 loss at Lancaster. Yovan Gonzalez had three hits and drove in a run. Ryan Wright, Juan Duran and Juan Perez contributed two each including a solo home run by Wright to lead off the game. Juan Silva also connected with a two-run homer to give his team a three-run lead in the third inning. Jon Moscot got no decision from allowing three runs on four hits and three walks in five innings that included five strikeouts. Sean Lucas was charged with two runs in less than inning pitched that pinned the loss on him.

Dayton took a tie game into the twelfth inning before losing 5-4 at South Bend. Beau Amaral and Junior Arias each had two of the Dragons' eight hits in the game. Starter Nick Travieso allowed four runs on five hits and three walks in six innings pitched with six strikeouts and did not figure into the decision. Jesus Adames threw a scoreless eleventh inning but took the loss from allowing the game-winner in the final frame.

Billings took a three-run lead in the sixth inning and held on for a 3-1 win at Great Falls. Daniel Paula had a couple of hits to raise his average to .391. Pedro Diaz had a strong start and was awarded the win for holding the Voyagers to one run on four hits in six innings. Abel De Los Santos struck out the last three hitters of the game for the save.

The AZL Reds lost at the AZL Rangers by a score of 3-2 in ten innings. Jose Fernandez had three of the Reds' eight hits. Manny Aybar lasted five innings and allowed one run on five hits. Owaldo Meires allowed a home run in the ninth to send the game into extra innings and an unearned run the next frame for the loss.

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