Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Futures Roster Announced for Historic Game

DAYTON, OH—An unprecedented collection of Major League prospects will appear at Fifth Third Field on Saturday as part of the historic Reds Futures Game.

The top five prospects in the Reds organization (based on Baseball America’s 2009 Top Prospects List) and most players on the Reds top 30 prospect list are scheduled to play in the game. The “Futures” will play the Cincinnati Reds in the Reds final pre-season game of 2009.

This is believed to be the first time ever that such a highly-regarded group of prospects has played against a major league team in a ballpark where many of the prospects once played on their climb toward the big leagues. Twenty-two (22) of the 29 players on the Futures Team roster have played for the Dayton Dragons.

Thirteen (13) of the top fourteen (14) position-player prospects in the Reds organization are scheduled to play in the game. Additionally, eight pitchers who are listed among the top 30 Reds prospects by Baseball America are scheduled to play. The Futures Team roster includes players from Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A.

Highlighting the Futures Team Roster is the Reds 2008 first round pick and the seventh overall selection of the 2008 draft, first baseman Yonder Alonso. Alonso is currently the top-rated prospect in the Reds organization. Infielder-Outfielder Todd Frazier (#2 prospect), outfielder Drew Stubbs (#3 prospect), shortstop Chris Valaika (#4 prospect), and outfielder Yorman Rodriguez (#5 prospect) are also scheduled to play.

Alonso was one of college baseball’s top players last spring at the University of Miami. He led the Hurricanes to the College World Series and was a 1st Team All-American selection. He hit .370 with 24 home runs and led the nation in walks. His swing produces power to the alleys and is considered a perfect fit for Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark.

“Alonso is the rare hitter who has both plus power and the swing and pitch awareness to hit for a high average as well,” said Baseball America.

Frazier, who played for the Dragons in 2008, was the Reds supplemental first round draft pick in 2007. Frazier first gained national attention in 1998 when he led Toms River, New Jersey to the Little League World Series title. In his first full-season of professional baseball in 2008, Frazier belted 19 home runs and batted a combined .291 between Dayton and Sarasota.

Stubbs and Valaika were both members of the Dragons in 2007. Stubbs was the Reds first round draft pick in 2006 and finished the 2008 season by batting .293 in Triple-A with Louisville. Valaika was the Reds 2008 Minor League Player of the Year when he batted .317 to lead all Reds minor league players. He also hit 18 home runs and drove in 81 runs as a shortstop.

Rodriguez is the youngest player on the Futures Team at age 16. He signed with the Reds last year and was given the largest signing bonus ever awarded a Venezuelan player. He will make his professional debut in 2009 and is considered to be a power-hitter with blazing speed.

Other top 10 prospects in the Reds organization who are scheduled to play are third baseman Neftali Soto (#7 prospect), third baseman Juan Francisco (#8 prospect), and catcher Devin Mesoraco (#10 prospect).

The remainder of the Futures Team roster includes shortstop Zack Cozart (#19 prospect); outfielders Chris Heisey (#22 prospect), Danny Dorn (#23 prospect), and Sean Henry; catchers Craig Tatum (#28 prospect) and Chris Denove; and pitchers Jordan Smith (#13 prospect), Josh Roenicke (#14 prospect), Zach Stewart (#15 prospect), Dallas Buck (#21 prospect), Carlos Fisher (#24 prospect), Pedro Viola (#25 prospect), Sean Watson (#26 prospect), Robert Manuel (#27 prospect), Misael DeJesus, Ramon Geronimo, Aguido Gonzalez, Daniel Ray Herrera, Curtis Partch, Mace Thurman, and Philippe Valiquette.

Roenicke, Viola, and Herrera are still in contention to make the Reds major league opening day roster.

Notes on Other Members of the Reds Futures Team

Neftali Soto
Soto had a huge half-season in 2008 when he batted .340 with 11 home runs and 47 runs batted in while playing in 67 games with the Dragons and Billings. He moved to third base in 2008 after being drafted as a shortstop in the third round in 2007.

Juan Francisco
Francisco is the top power hitter in the Reds organization. With the Dragons in 2007, he led the Midwest League with 25 home runs and then followed that with 23 homers at Sarasota in 2008 to league all Reds minor leaguers.

Devin Mesoraco
Mesoraco was the Reds first round draft pick in 2007 after earning the Pennsylvania High School Player of the Year award earlier that spring. Mesoraco was only the third catcher ever drafted in the first round by the Reds. He played for the Dragons in 2008.

Zack Cozart
Cozart was the Midwest League’s all-star shortstop with the Dragons in 2008 after being selected in the second round by the Reds in the 2007 draft. Cozart was also selected as the Best Defensive Infielder in the Reds organization by Baseball America.

Danny Dorn
Dorn has been an outstanding hitter over three seasons in minor league baseball. He has hit at least 20 home runs in each of the last two years and has posted a career batting average of .297. Dorn looks like a steal as a 32nd round draft pick in 2006 out of Cal State-Fullerton.

Robert Manuel
Manuel was honored by MiLB.com as the top relief pitcher in Minor League Baseball in 2008. He pitched in 52 games and allowed only 12 earned runs all season with a 1.25 earned run average, mostly with Double-A Chattanooga.

Zach Stewart
Stewart began his professional career with the Dragons in 2008 after being selected in the third round out of Texas Tech University. He fired 96 mile per hour fastballs in his first game and allowed only one earned run in 11 appearances with the Dragons, notching a 0.55 earned run average.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The $50 Million Dollar Man

Stephen Strasburg is, by most accounts, not human.

The San Diego State pitcher averages 19.4 strikeouts per innings. Put into some semblance of perspective, this means he pushes the MLB strikeout record every 9-inning outing.

His fastball reportedly reaches 103-mph. He has knee-buckling off-speed stuff, which is grossly unfair. At last check he was 5-0 with a 1.87 ERA. So he can be scored upon, albiet rarely.

Not at all surprising is that fact that Strasburg is represented by Scott Boras, the one man willing to place an obscene enough dollar amount on what scouts have dubbed a once-in-a-decade talent. One report has Boras asking $50 million, give or take a million.

So, the Strasburg Watch begins. Will it be the Nationals, Rockies ... ? Which team will be bad enough to earn the opportunity to draft him? Which team will be brave enough to sign him on Boras' terms? Is Strasburg really this good? Is anyone, for that matter?


He's a funny guy

During my 10 years covering the team, the Reds clubhouse has had its share of psuedo-comedians.

Pete Harnisch's thick Brooklyn-esque accent and incessant practical jokes.

Adam Dunn's self-deprecating humor.

David Weather's southern drawl and down-home metaphors.

But, none quite compare to resident funny man Kent Mercker.

Reds fans will get a taste of Mercker's comedic charm when he debuts on the Reds Radio Network this week, broadcasting spring training games Wed., Thur, and Sat. Mercker might also be part of the regular season Reds radio rotation.

Mercker, a Dublin, Ohio native, pitched for 18 seasons in the major leagues for the Braves, Orioles, Indians, Cardinals, Red Sox, Angels, Rockies, Cubs and Reds (1997, 2003, 2005-06, 2008).

You have to be present to win

I'm not naive enough to believe Sean Miller will retire as Xavier's head basketball coach. The once-in-a-lifetime job he'd be crazy to pass up will one day come. But, the time is not now, and Kentucky is not that job.

Besides, Miller realizes that leaving XU now would be like exiting the party just before they hand out the door prizes.

Coaches always are looking ahead, and Miller sees the promised land in the nearby distance. Next year's Muskies could be scary good, and he knows it.

"Something special", Miller called it.

Two of the best players on the team didn't play this season -- Jordan Crawford and Mark Lyons. Incoming freshman small forward Kevin Parrom could be an instant contributor next year.

Crawford sat out this season after transferring from Indiana. Lyons was ruled ineligible due to courses at Brewster Academy, a prep school in Wolfeboro, N.H., that did not meet core NCAA standards. Both practiced with the team and were impressive, in particular Crawford.

Add to them returnees Derrick Brown, Jason Love, Kenny Frease, Terrell Holloway, Dante Jackson, Brad Redford, Jamel McLean and ... well, you can understand Miller's optimism.

It's hard to find a weakness.

Again, not to sound naive, but Miller is the first XU coach that I believe could be in town for the long-haul.

One, the University now is in position to compensate him fairly.

Two, he has top-notch facilities and an established recruiting base.

Three, Cincinnati is a city where his family feels comfortable.

One day the lure of a stronger conference and the opportunity to compete annually for a national title might steer Miller clear of Victory Parkway.

In the near-term, the spoils of success are his ... right here at Xavier.

For now.