Short Seasons Begin

It's now time for the rest of the prospects to get into action as the 2014 short season begins. For Cincinnati, Billings started Pioneer League play earlier this week while the Arizona League will begin Friday. Strong-armed Mustang Jeremy Kivel and some prospects at Arizona out of the Domincan League will be interesting to watch develop in the Reds lower levels.

Billings will try to win the rubber game of their first series of the season tonight against visiting Great Falls. The Mustangs lost their opener 4-7 but came back last night to even their record with a 2-1 win. Soid Marquez threw two-plus innings of scoreless relief with good timing for the win. Starter Jeremy Kivel allowed only one run and left with a lead, but he didn't finish the fifth inning to qualify for the victory. An RBI single by Aristides Aquino in the first and a solo homer from Ty Washington in the third was all the scoring the home team would need on the evening. Washington finished with three of his team's seven hits and Jefry Siera retired the ninth inning in order for the save.

Kivel projects as one of the top Cincinnati prospects in the Rookie Leagues right now. A torn ACL sabotaged his senior year in high school and the Reds found him waiting in the tenth round on draft day two years ago. Last season he used his mid-90's fastball to record a sub-four ERA in the Arizona league and struck out nearly a quarter of the batters he faced.

Also on the Billings pitching staff is Wyatt Strahan out of USC who will be making his professional debut. The third-rounder is the highest draft selection to sign with the Reds as of right now. He'll also go to work with a mid-90's heater and a sharp curve.

Daniel Paula returns behind the plate for Billings this season. The 22 year-old free agent signee hit .262 for them last year and .341 at Arizona in 2012. Second baseman Washington is another returnee poised to put up big numbers against Pioneer League pitching this season. He's started out 3-8 in the first two games.

Cory Thompson could leave this season one of the top middle infield prospects in the Cincinnati system. He was a fifth-rounder out of high school last year and hit .266 at Arizona last year (.305 through July) with a .341 on-base percentage. He'll again be playing by the same third baseman, Kevin Franklin who debuted at Arizona after his second round selection in last year's draft.

A couple of Dominican League veterans that will be interesting to watch are Alberti Chavez and Kevin Garcia. Chavez didn't exactly light it up in the AZL last year, but he was freakishly young and now he's still only eighteen years old. To place him so high at that age Cincinnati must have thought him to have a high upside after he cracked .300 in the Dominican League in 2012. Garcia torched the AZL for a .324 average last season while reaching base 40% of the time and popping four homers.

Eighth rounder Brian O'Grady could make some noise after debuting following his senior season at Rutgers. He hit .338 for the Scarlet Knights while surpassing the .400/.500 on-base/slugging barriers. The Pioneer League is a popular landing spot for college players while Arizona is a common starting place for high school prospects and player advancing out of the Dominican League. However, the Reds didn't use many picks on high talent in this year's draft so there is room for some returnees. Back is 2012 fourth-rounder Mark Armstrong who was picked before Ben Lively but made only two scoreless appearances in 2013.

Mason Felt is on the AZL Red roster and it would be a great story to see him debut after a tragic automobile accident that has sidelined him since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2012.

Joining those two on the pitching staff is Jacob Constante who was the Reds biggest foreign free agent signee last year. He had a solid debut in the DSL and since he was a little older than most signees, he's now ready to come stateside at the age of 20.

Along with Constante is a trio of prospects who all cracked .300 for the DSL Reds last year. 2B Miguel Mendez had a monster season, hitting .333 AVG/.422 OB. SS Hector Vargas was right behind him at .327/.408. OF Joseph Siri hit .303 and led the team with five home runs.

Based upon past credentials, there's reason to believe that this year's rookie league class could have more prospects putting up big numbers than in recent years. Of course at this level they're judged more on future potential than their stats. Still, there's no reason those two criteria can't exist together. Cincinnati still hasn't signed around half of their draft picks this year and have until July 18 to bring more of them into the organization so there will likely be some more names added to those rosters.

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