AA Year in Review

In the standings Pensacola had a mediocre season, finishing with a record slightly below .500. Of course the main goal in the minor leagues is to develop players for advancement to contribute to the parent team's effort. Some Wahoos made the jump to an AAA roster that was decimated by promotions and offseason trades. With future trades pending, they figure to see more stability in 2013.

It was a year with a lot of transition for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Heavy turnover from last year's Louisville roster pulled some of their top hitters to the AAA level while a strong first half at high-A Bakersfield replaced them with other top Reds prospects. Overall they won 68 games while losing 70 with identical 34-35 records in both the first and second half seasons.

Of all the players that spent their entire 2012 season with the Wahoos, Daniel Corcino is the top-rated prospect. The Dominican had a strong season with a 3.01 ERA and struck out 126 hitters in 143 innings after skipping high-A to start this season. His stature and background often draws comparisons to Johnny Cueto. If the Reds rotation lacked depth like it did when the current Reds ace skipped AAA at the age of 22 Corcino might be a candidate to follow the same path next year. As it is, he'll start the 2013 season at Louisville and try to make a case for a midseason call-up when opportunity arises.

Left-hander Tony Cingrani spent most of the year with the fish after an early season promotion. He didn't stop there because he eventually got the call to join the Reds after roster expansion just one year after closing games for Rice University. The 23 year-old has handled the fast track well, combining for an overall 1.73 ERA/1.03 WHIP between high-A/AA. He's figured out how to miss bats at those levels, averaging over one strikeout per inning with a K/BB ratio of 3.3. He will join Corcino with the Bats in 2013 to provide a formidable L/R combination at the top of their rotation.

Also in the rotation was J.C. Sulbaran who had a flat four ERA and was second to Corcino in innings pitched before the Jonathan Broxton trade sent him to the Royals. Going with him in the deal was Donnie Joseph who dominated as a closer for Pensacola with a sub-one ERA before he was promoted to Louisville. Pedro Villarreal had a handful of AA starts before earning a promotion as well.

Kyle Lotzkar is a highly-rated Reds prospect that is trying to catch up on his development after missing all of 2009 to Tommy John surgery. He started out strong at Bakerfield and was promoted after five games. He eventually ran into challenges at the higher level and finished with a 5.21 AA ERA. Lotzkar was a supplemental first round selection of the Reds in the 2007 draft and they thought highly enough of him to give him spot on their 40-man roster to protect against the Rule 5 draft. He turns 24 this fall and will either start next season at Louisville or at Pensacola with intent for a quick promotion.

Also in the rotation was Tim Crabbe who held down a spot for the first half of the season before some rough outings inflated his ERA close to five and sent him back to Bakersfield. He finished well with the Blaze and had a low- three ERA in ten starts. Crabbe has a mid-90's fastball and many considered him a bargain when the Reds selected him in the fourteenth round of the 09 draft. He's now 24 and should get another shot in the Southern League in 2013.

Wirfin Obispo spent most of his 2012 season with the Wahoos, kept an ERA under three, and eventually moved into their rotation. His resume has a few twists to it. He started off as a solid reliever for the Reds in the Dominican League before the INS blocked his advancement to the mainland. That led him to pursue his career in Japan for four years before re-signing with the Reds this year. He'll turn 28 later this month and figures to start 2013 at AAA.

Wilken De La Rosa had a solid season facing younger competition out of the Wahoos' pen and finished with mid-two ERA in 46 appearances. Previously he pitched in the Yankee and Dodger organizations and the 27 year-old is ready for AAA next year.

Justin Freeman also had a good year out of the Pensacola pen and finished with an ERA below three over almost seventy innings. 2012 was his second stint in AA after putting up an ernie at five and a quarter in 2011. He'll turn 26 in October and will be ready to advance as well. The lineup was almost like at tale of two teams. In the early part of the season Henry Rodriguez led the fish attack by hitting around .350 in 33 games before he went on the DL. Since the Reds organization was flush with middle infield prospects he moved to the hot corner. Upon returning from injury he was promoted to Louisville before getting the call from the Reds after roster expansion. Didi Gregorius followed a similar path, sans injury. The slick-fielding shortstop hit .278 in 81 games with the fish.

Pensacola was also where top-rated Reds prospect Billy Hamilton ended his season. He wasn't able to duplicate the .323 average he achieved at Bakersfield in the first half of the season but he did hit .286 and matched his high-A on-base percentage which was north of .400. Of course he also finished his record breaking season of 155 stolen bases. Hamilton will begin next year in AAA, but there is some uncertainty on where he will be playing. Challenges in the field have led some to speculate that he would eventually be moved from shortstop. However, after his promotion this season his error frequency this season improved from one every three games on average at Bakersfield to one every eight for Pensacola. Reds utilityman Wilson Valdez is around the .200 mark this season and that job is within Gregorius's reach for 2013. That would open up the Bats' shortstop position for Hamilton. On the other hand the speedster projects to be a dangerous leadoff hitter and the quickest way to get there with the personnel on the current Reds roster is at center field.

With the turnover in the lineup there were a couple of outfielders that spent their entire 2012 season with the Wahoos. Josh Fellhauer had an outstanding season and finished with a .314 AVG/.409 OBP. Another projected leadoff hitter in the system is second round draft choice Ryan LaMarre who hit .263/.356 while manning center. Yet another outfielder is Bryson Smith who hit over .300 in the first half at Bakersfield and duplicated that average in 50 games with the Wahoos. Given the lack of outfield depth in the organization, Fellhauer and LaMarre figure to move up to Louisville next season leaving the AA leadoff job to Smith.

In the infield David Vidal replaced Rodrguez at third but was unable to duplicate the success he had when he began the season at Bakersfield. He did flash a little power with eleven homers in 97 games and the 22 year-old will resume his development with the Wahoos come opening day 2013.

Donald Lutz and Tucker Barnhart are a couple more Blaze players that earned midseason promotions. Lutz was a Cal League masher before fouling a pitch of his foot and going on the DL. After healing he started off slowly at Pensacola before raising his AA average to .242. Barnhart is the top-rated catching prospect remaining in the Reds system and projects as a Ryan Hanigan-type receiver with good defensive and on-base skills offsetting a lack of power. He also faced challenges against higher level pitching and hit .200 with the fish. Both are in line to return to the Southern League next year.

During the past season the Reds also purchased former Indian first-rounder Beau Mills. He replaced journeyman Joel Guzman at first base and hit .272 while slugging nearly .500 with ten homers in around 200 AB. There doesn't figure to be much movement at that position in the organization with Joey Votto and Neftali Soto in front of him. Whether or not the Reds decide to convert Lutz to left field will affect his future at first.

Offseason deals and promotions left voids at the top of the Reds minor league system that later came into play with promotions up from the lower levels throughout the season. No one knows what is in store between now and next season, but there is not a lot of turnover expected in the parent team roster. The Reds are contenders instead of builders so any deals will remove more prospects for players expected to make an immediate impact at the MLB level. If the front office does not find any veterans at the right price prospects returning to the top levels will see less movement in the 2013.

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