Shortstops are Starting Tall for the Reds

While Zach Cozart embarks on his rookie season as a Reds starter, Cincinnati has two other highly rated shortstops in their organization. Didi Gregorius is now hitting .400 at AA Pensacola while Billy Hamilton is considered by many the highest rated prospect still in their developmental system.

Historically Cincinnati has enjoyed stability at the shortstop position. David Concepcion was a nine-time all-star for the Big Red Machine. Before players had the option of free agency it was easier for teams to retain their services long term which is what the Reds did with his predecessors Leo Cardenas and Roy McMillan. Concepcion lasted into the late 80's when Barry Larkin started a Hall of Fame career.

This has not been the case in recent years. The Reds have had six different opening day starters at short since Larkin's retirement after the 2004 season. Reviewing personnel currently in the Cincinnati system suggests they will soon be able to remove the revolving door at the middle infield position.

Zach Cozart's brief debut last season left Reds fan yearning for more. Since opening day he's picked up where he left off before going down to injury. As can be expected with any rookie, he'll soon face challenges after major league pitchers gain experience facing him. Key to his season will be how he counters their adjustments. If he's successful then he'll be on a lot of ballots for Rookie of the Year.

Meanwhile Didi Gregorius added two more hits for Pensacola last night to raise his average over .400. Maintaining that level of production will surely earn him consideration for a promotion. One goal for this year was improving his plate discipline. He walked a couple of times last night and has seven BB in 67 plate appearances (1BB/11.0PA). That may not sound impressive, but he came into the season with a rate of 1BB/17.5PA over his first four minor league seasons. Right now one has to wonder how much further development can be accomplished in AA. When someone's hitting .400, who cares what their on-base percentage is? He won't maintain that average at higher levels and will eventually need to develop selectivity against more advanced pitchers.

His other assignment was to improve in the field. He has already shown athleticism and arm strength capable making dazzling plays. However, he's committed 94 errors in 324 minor league games. One also has to figure he can polish his glove in the International League the same as he can in the Southern. Another interesting note is that he's only struck out 174 times in 1,425 plate appearances (1K/8.2PA) which is a surprising rate for a free swinger. That contact projects him as a top-of-the-lineup hitter and good hit-and-run batter. He has a low stolen base success rate (60%) which is expected to improve for anyone with his speed.

21 year-old Billy Hamilton will become the consensus top-rated hitter prospect in the Reds system once Cozart and Devin Mesoraco lose their "prospect" status. He's started the season batting .353/.438 OB% at high-A Bakersfield. Hamilton is a prototypical leadoff man with speed that will disrupt opponents. Last season he was the first minor leaguer in over a decade to steal 100 bases. In the field he committed 39 errors at shortstop for Dayton last year. Because of the range that comes with his speed the Reds are still committed to keep him at the position.

Last year's opening day starter, Paul Janish is currently hitting .344/.403 OB% at Louisville. No one has ever questioned his ability with the leather. He hit .260 in 200 AB with the Reds in 2010 which earned him the starting position in 2011. If he'd been able to maintain that average as a regular he'd still be there. Two years ago he showed that he can hit for a decent average as a part-time player on the major league level. Unless 34 year-old Wilson Valdez (.217) improves productivity Janish will put pressure to regain his spot as a utility infielder for the Reds.

After the arrival of Cozart, the remaining area of concern in the Reds infield is at third base. Scott Rolen has had a brilliant career at the hot corner. However the 37 year-old is in the last year of his contract and he's started off poorly at the plate. This comes after injuries limited his 2011 season to 65 games. He certainly knows what it takes to hit in the big leagues and unless he makes a huge improvement to his .170 average the seven time all-star will be faced with the decision if it's time for the sun to set on his career. Another top Reds prospect, Todd Frazier, is currently with the parent team. He will have opportunity to prove his MLB¬-readiness because the main backup at third, Miguel Cairo, is older than Rolen and currently on the DL.

While Cozart has a solid glove at short, there might be some notions to move him to third in future. Even if Frazier hits well they can still make room for him in the outfield. The high ceiling on Gregoruis's defensive potential will keep him at short in spite of current inconsistency. Besides, Cozart projects to have power that is more expected from a corner infield spot. Hamilton is a couple years away from arriving in Cincinnati. Until then Gregorius's development at the next level is key to the Reds near future. If he keeps hitting .400 it should be only a matter of time before we see how that goes.

News from the Farm:

Indianapolis made the final out with the tying run at the plate when Louisville held on for a 4-2 win at Louisville Slugger Field. Chad Reineke turned in a quality start to get his first win of the season. He allowed four hits and one run (none earned) over six innings. Neftali Soto, Paul Janish, and Dioner Navarro each had two hits. Veterans Janish and Navarro are both hitting over .320 this season. Jordan Smith allowed a run while picking up his first save.

Pensacola scored four runs in the first en route to a 10-4 win that evened their series at Montgomery two each with the finale pending today. Tim Crabbe made a quality start and picked up his first win of the season. Cody Puckett went 3-5 to raise his average over .300. The top of the Wahoo lineup, Ryan LaMarre, Didi Gregorius, Henry Rodriguez, and Joel Guzman, contributed two hits each.

Bakersfield won their 8th straight last night in a 6-5 contest at Stockton. David Vidal went 2-5 to raise his average to .300. Donald Lutz added two more hits and got the Blaze scoring started with a three run shot in the first; his fourth homer of the season. Chad Rogers allowed one run in six innings to get his first win. Brian Pearl pitched a scoreless ninth for his fourth save.

Billy Hamilton Theft Watch:

Hamilton reached base only once last night. In the fourth he essentially converted a walk into a triple two steals later. The speedster has now swiped 18 bags in as many games.

Five Dayton runs in the seventh provided the Dragon's margin of victory in an 8-3 contest over visiting Cedar Rapids. Juan Perez had three hits while Kyle Waldrop, Junior Arias, and Yovan Gonzalez, added two each. Waldrop is now hitting .327 and Gonzalez is at .394 on the season. Daniel Tuttle allowed three runs (two earned) in six innings without a decision. Dan Jenson threw two scoreless frames to pick up the win. He hasn't allowed an earned run in seven appearances.

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