The Reds improved their major league squad greatly dealing for front line starting pitcher Mat Latos. It came at a cost, though, and that cost was a host of their top prospects. What is left is a top heavy system headlined by some up the middle talent.
Top 5 fantasy baseball prospects
1- Devin Mesoraco, C
Mesoraco is amongst the best prospect backstops in baseball. He spent almost all of 2011 at the Triple-A level proving 2010 wasn't a fluke. It took him a while to figure things out, but he now blends power, contact skills that should allow him to hit for a decent average, and strike zone recognition that will help him draw walks and boost his on-base percentage. He got a cup of coffee at the end of the season, and will begin 2012 in the majors. The Reds no longer have Ramon Hernandez cluttering the catching situation, and Mesoraco will find himself battling Ryan Hanigan for playing time. Hanigan is a plus defender, and manager Dusty Baker loves veterans, scrappiness, and all that non-sense. Eventually, Mesoraco's bat should push him into the clear starting catcher role this year, with Hanigan serving as a solid backup.
2- Billy Hamilton, SS
Hamilton stole bases at a Rickie Henderson-esque level in Low-A swiping 103 bases in total. He's widely considered the fastest player in the minors, and his speed is off the 20-to-80 scouting chart. His defense is messy, and he may require a move to the outfield if he doesn't figure things out, but the tools are there for him to stick if it clicks. He offers no power, and he has been a slow mover thus far. He may be a minor league level a year type, but his speed is special. He'll open the year in High-A.
3- Henry Rodriguez, 2B
Rodriguez is probably a better fantasy prospect than reality one. He is an erratic defender at second base, shortstop and third base. Some question whether the errors in the field are a result of him being disinterested. If he matures and puts the makeup question behind him (he did just turn 22), he could stick in the middle infield at second base. He has walked at a below average rate in the minors, but brought that up to a passable eight percent in 312 Double-A plate appearances. He doesn't strike out much, and hit .320 in 516 at-bats split between High-A and Double-A. It wasn't a hollow average either. He popped 13 home runs, and added 36 doubles and a triple for good measure. Rodriguez is an above average runner and stole 30 bases with 10 caught stealing. He should open the year in Triple-A, and could be the heir apparent to Brandon Phillips second base job if he departs via free agency next offseason.
4- Daniel Corcino, SP
Keith Law is a big enough fan of Corcino that he included him in his top-100 prospect list. He is a shorter, 5-foot-11, right-handed pitcher that throws his fastball in the low-to-mid-90s, but it comes with effort. His best secondary pitch is a plus change-up. Corcino also throws an average slider that lacks consistency. He spent the entire season in Low-A, where he posted outstanding numbers. He struck out better than a batter an inning, 10.08 K/9, limited the free passes, 2.20 BB/9, and those components led to a solid 3.42 ERA and an even more impressive 2.80 FIP. He should begin the year as a 21 year old in High-A. If he picks up where he left off in Low-A last year, a midseason promotion to Double-A seems reasonable.
5- Neftali Soto, 1B
How does 30 home runs in 379 Double-A at-bats sound? In all, Soto slugged 31 home runs, adding another in 17 Triple-A at-bats. He is an impatient hitter with a long swing that results in big strikeout totals. That said, if the power plays, the player stays. If he isn't undone by strikeouts, he could be a low average slugger in the majors. With Yonder Alonso out of town, Soto is the Reds in house replacement if they are unable to sign Joey Votto to a contract extension after the 2013 season. If Soto continues to punish the ball, the Reds may be tempted to take a look at him in September when rosters expand. He's a bad runner that should be relegated to first base duties, and first base duties only. Then again, the same could have been said about Alonso, and that didn't prevent the team from giving him a look at third base and in left field.
Bonus- Yorman Rodriguez, OF
The performance has yet to match the tools for Rodriguez, but the tools are intriguing. He has above average speed, and has flashed above average power. His approach leaves a lot to be desired. He is a free swinger that walked just 25 times and struck out 80 times in 280 Low-A at-bats. Rodriguez is only 19 years old, and won't turn 20 until the middle of August, so time is on his side. Keep an eye on Rodriguez to see if his tools begin actualize in game play more often in 2012.
Top 5 in 2012
1- Devin Mesoraco, C
An impact prospect at a position that still lacks offensive fire power beyond the cream of the crop. It may take him a while to wrestle enough playing time from Hanigan to be relevant in single catcher leagues, but he should be drafted in all two catcher leagues.
2- Zack Cozart, SS
Cozart isn't flashy, but he offers a bit of power and a bit of speed. He should reach the mid-to-high teens in home runs, and the low teens in stolen bases (his 30 stolen base season in 2010 looks like an outlier). He may hit for some average, as he did hit .310 last year while repeating Triple-A. He probably won't, though, as his previous high was .280 at Low-A in 2008. Even if he only hits .250-.260, he'd be a valuable middle infielder in large mixed leagues, and a solid NL-only shortstop option.
3- Todd Frazier, IF/OF
Frazier is an older prospect, just turned 26, that has proven all he can in the minors. His versatility in the field is reminiscent of former Reds super utility man, Ryan Freel. Frazier can play all over the infield, and can also play the corner outfield in a pinch. Without injury, his most likely path to playing time is stealing at-bats from Ryan Ludwick and Chris Heisey in left field. Of course, with fragile Scott Rolen manning third, injury could also open up a playing time battle to Frazier and Juan Francisco. Frazier has some pop, but sacrifices average for it. He's no better than a .260 hitter, and possibly worse. He chips in a bit of speed as well. In leagues where only one game played is required for eligibility, Frazier will be a Swiss army knife that can be slotted in at first base, second base, shortstop, third base and outfield. In stricter formats, he'll likely only open with third base eligibility having played in 27 games there according to FanGraphs. He's most likely to be nothing more than an NL-only option, but a hot streak could put him on the map in large mixed formats as well.
4- Denis Phipps, OF
As a man who loves advanced metrics, it pains me to include Phipps on this list. Phipps is an aggressive hitter that needed a .425 BABIP in Double-A, and a .487 BABIP in Triple-A to enjoy his breakout. He offers modest power and speed. Phipps inclusion on this list is a byproduct of two factors. The first factor is that he finished the year in Triple-A. The second factor is that he plays outfield and left field could be a revolving door if Heisey, Ludwick, or Frazier is unable to secure regular playing time.
5- Didi Gregorius, SS
Gregorius is a long shot to see the majors this year. He finished the year in Double-A, and needs more seasoning. However, the Reds expect to be in the playoff hunt this year, and may not wish to turn the shortstop job back over to light hitting Paul Janish again if Cozart suffers an injury or is ineffective.