Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 11/19/14

It’s not hard to find a list of any MLB team’s top prospects, but will any of those prospects be ready to contribute in 2012? We’re here to help you prepare for the unexpected by ranking each team’s top five minor league prospects from a fantasy perspective. While they may not be the team’s brightest stars (though many of them will be) they’re the names you’ll need to know when the unexpected happens. Make sure to check out our other top minor league prospects posts for each of the 30 teams.

Potential roster vacancies: C, 3B, SS, OF, SP

I hesitated before putting shortstop on the list of potential roster vacancies because the Reds have Zack Cozart, a nice looking rookie, penciled in as their opening day starter. Reds manager Dusty Baker is known, and often mocked, for his general disdain towards rooks, which is why shortstop inevitably does find its way onto this list, but it likely won’t be a vacancy unless the Tommy John surgery performed on Cozart’s non-throwing arm (I know, it’s not just for pitchers) doesn’t heal as expected. At that point, former starter Paul Janish is waiting in the wings. As for the rest of the infield, Ramon Hernandez is gone and Ryan Hanigan and Devin Mesoraco will split time. Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips are studs on the right side of the infield, and Scott Rolen is an injury waiting to happen at third base.

In the outfield, Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce aren’t going anywhere, but the same can’t necessarily be said for Ryan Ludwick. In the even someone is hurt or trade, Chris Heisey will fill in, though he’ll likely find a good number of at-bats regardless because he has some scary power. Beyond those four, Miguel Cairo can play some outfield, but there’s not much else on the major league roster. That’s when they’ll start mining the minors for outfield help.

The Reds rotation is much improved over recent seasons when Bronson Arroyo was the staff’s ace. Now Arroyo finds himself slated at number four behind Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos and Mike Leake but before Homer Bailey. I like all of these starters, but injuries do happen. You’ll probably find “SP” listed as a potential roster vacancy for every single team we look at.

In the bullpen, the signing of Ryan Madson ends the discussion over who’ll supplant Francisco Cordero. Madson has been a setup man/fill-in closer for most of his career and will finally get a chance to rack up some saves. With Sean Marshall, Nick Masset and Logan Ondrusek also on the opening day roster, Cincinnati has one of my favorite bullpens in baseball.

Cincinnati Reds Top 5 Minor League Prospects for Fantasy Baseball

1. Devin Mesoraco, C

Maybe it’s cheating to put him on this list, but he’s appeared in just 18 games in his major league career. He’ll battle Hanigan for playing time in the wake of Hernandez’s departure, and he’s already getting drafted in fantasy leagues as a potential top 15 catcher. Given his good discipline at the plate and moderate strikeout numbers, Mesoraco could hit .270-.280 with 20 homer pop, though we’ll see if that comes right away.

2. Todd Frazier, 1B/OF

Frazier will be 26 this season so eventually the Reds are going to have to give him a chance. He probably won’t play at first base, but outfield is a distinct possibility. He walks a decent amount, though not necessarily impressive, and strikes out a lot. Barring luck, I’ll cap his batting average at  .260 since it’s unlikely his skills drastically improve at such an advanced age. He has enough power to hit 15-plus homers over a full season.

3. Pedro Villareal, SP

Aroldis Chapman might be the first guy to crack the rotation in event of injury, but after him there aren’t many/any good prospects on the cusp of the major leagues. Villareal is probably the first. He played at double-A last season and had a very nice walk rate (under 2.00 BB/9), which bodes well for immediate success, but he’s not an elite strikeout pitcher. That’s OK with me, though. He could be useful in spot starts.

4. Neftali Soto, 1B

I’ll admit I don’t know where Soto would play if he made the team, but he hit 30 homers last year in just 379 at-bats at double A. He barely ever walks, maybe every 20 plat appearances or so, and does strike out in about one of every five at-bats, but there is so much power potential here. Plus, the Reds shipped two of their more major league ready prospects, Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal, to the Padres for Mat Latos. Someone has to rank fourth.

5. Henry Rodriguez, 2B

This last spot came down to Rodriguez and a shortstop prospect named Didi Gregorious (coolest name ever). While shortstop was listed as a potential roster vacancy and second base wasn’t, I elected to go with Rodriguez because his skill set seems more major league ready (offensively at least, there are reports of issues with his defense/focus) and he has higher offensive upside. Unless you’re in one of those weird (maybe they’re revolutionary?) leagues that tracks defense, offense is all you care about in fantasy. Rodriguez could hit .280 in the majors with 20 steal speed and enough pop to maybe hit a few homers.

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