Seeing Red: The Minor League System of the Year
Depth is an important thing to have in Major League Baseball. Numerous unexpected injuries occur each year. Players counted on to make important contributions are ineffective. As such, Major League Baseball teams count on their minor league systems to help fill those voids - both temporarily and permanently. The organizations also look to their systems for future stars.
So which club benefited the most from its minor league system in 2008? The answer is fairly clear-cut when you analyze each organization's Major League Roster:
The most impressive thing about the Cincinnati Reds' season is that the club developed a number of very promising young players despite having the organization's top two prospects fail to succeed as expected. While Homer Bailey and Jay Bruce (albeit to a lesser extent than Bailey) struggled, players such as Johnny Cueto and Joey Votto thrived. Although technically not a rookie due to having too many innings at the Major League level, Edinson Volquez - an import from the Texas organization - was arguably Cincinnati's best starting pitcher.
The club also benefited from fill-in contributions from a large number of home-grown talents, including Adam Rosales, Paul Janish, and Daryl Thompson. Let's start off by taking a look at the biggest impacts from the minor league system in 2008.
Joey Votto 1B
This former catcher burst upon the scene in 2008 and could have been a serious Rookie of the Year candidate in the National League, if it had not been for Geovany Soto's excellent season in Chicago. Votto, a Canadian, began the season with Scott Hatteberg acting as insurance, but the veteran was soon deemed expendable. Votto ended up appearing in 151 games for the Reds in 2008 - more than any other player on the club. He was also second in OPS-plus among the regulars at 124. Votto posted an ISO of .209 in 2008, as well as an impressive 25.2% line-drive rate. The left-handed hitter held his own against southpaws with a line of .289/.356/.477.
Jay Bruce OF
So, is he Austin Kearns or Adam Dunn? Maybe he's somewhere in between? Both Kearns and Dunn were highly-regarded outfield prospects when they burst upon the scene, but Kearns (.315/.407/.500 at age 22) never fully translated his athletic skills to the diamond and has yet to fully reach his potential (and is now with Washington). Dunn (.262/.371/.578 at age 21) , has had much more success, but he has developed into a one-dimensional slugger (and is now in Arizona). The Reds are hoping for more from Bruce, who struggled in his first Major League season. Now, to be fair to Bruce, he had a pretty nice season for a 21-year-old. However, the expectations were astronomical for the budding superstar, especially after he burst onto the scene early in the season when he batted .579 and slugged 11 hits, while posting five walks and just one strikeout in his first five games. He struggled to hit for average the rest of the season, but Bruce slugged 14 homers in the final two months.
Johnny Cueto RHP
Not even the Reds expected Cueto to be this good this fast. You can completely ignore the 9-14 record, and the ERA. Yes, Cueto was inconsistent but you cannot discount the raw numbers for the 22-year-old hurler. He showed solid control for a hard-throwing youngster and has excellent make-up. Cueto does a nice job of mixing his three-pitch repertoire, which includes a 93-95 mph fastball, a slider and a change-up (although he used this pitch just 6.7% of the time). He needs to work on avoiding the long ball and could stand to induce more ground balls (38.6 GB%), especially while pitching at home.
The numbers are ugly, especially for someone who was touted as an early favorite for the Rookie of the Year crown. Bailey allowed way too many hits and home runs. The hard-thrower also did not strike anybody out. The whispers about Bailey's lack of desire have been around since high school and, although he's only 22, it's time for him to show a little bit more at the upper levels of professional baseball. Bailey's fastball velocity was down in 2008, which is cause for concern, especially considering how much he leans on it (71.4% of the time in his MLB career). He obviously needs to rely on his secondary pitches more, including his curveball, which can be a plus pitch.
As mentioned above, Volquez was not technically a rookie in 2008 nor was he a product of the Reds' system. However, he pitched just 80 Major League innings over three seasons with Texas with little or no success. Traded for Josh Hamilton - in a trade that worked out great for both clubs - Volquez blossomed in Cincinnati at the age of 25. One of the reasons for his success was that he relied more on his plus change-up to compliment his 92-95 mph fastball (and occasional breaking ball). He led the club in wins with 17 and strikeouts with 206, and was second in innings pitched with 196. The innings total can actually be seen as a negative as manager Dusty Baker overworked yet another young pitcher. Volquez also led the team in walks with 93, which resulted in a lot of pitches thrown (3,386 to be exact).
Others: A collection of minor league players filled in admirably for injured Reds in 2008. Outfielder Chris Dickerson may have secured himself a roster spot for 2009 with a solid debut at .304/.413/.608. Catchers Ryan Hanigan and Wilkin Castillo (acquired in the Dunn trade with Arizona) could battled for the back-up catcher roll in 2009. Infielders Paul Janish and Adam Rosales both struggled with the bat but showed enough on defence to be considered for bench roles next season. Pitcher Daryl Thompson, a former top prospect in the Montreal/Washington system, finally overcame injury woes and made his much-anticipated debut and could be in line for more innings in 2009.
The Minnesota Twins narrowly missed the American League playoffs despite relying on a young pitching staff, which included rookies Nick Blackburn, Glen Perkins and near-rookie Kevin Slowey. Brian Bass and Craig Breslow, after being acquired from other organizations, were also counted on heavily out of the bullpen. Infielder Brian Buscher graduated from rookie status at the age of 27 by appearing in 70 games. Youngsters Carlos Gomez and Denard Span had significant roles in the outfield. What sets Cincinnati apart from Minnesota is that the Reds' players have higher ceilings and had more statistical success overall in 2008.
The Oakland Athletics organization also received consideration for Top Minor League System of the Year, but that club was hurt by the fact most of the young players were acquired from other organizations, including Greg Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, Daric Barton, and Gio Gonzalez.