Today it has been speculated that Aroldis Chapman is moving back to the closers role. Among a lot of the heated talk over such a move, someone pointed out that the last four Reds top prospects according to Baseball America have all been “jerked around” and that the Cincinnati Reds have had a tough time working with the whole idea of winning now and making good decisions for the future. Let’s talk about this for a second on a player by player basis.
Edit: Dusty Baker and Walt Jocketty have both come out since and stated that no decision has been made and one won’t be announced today.
After 2008 Baseball America named Yonder Alonso as the Reds #1 prospect. He was a first baseman who could hit, but he was behind some guy named Votto who had just put up a very strong season at the Major League level in his rookie season. The Reds had a problem of having two quality first baseman. Eventually, once Alonso seemed “ready” .296/.364/.478 in two seasons with Louisville the Reds asked the more athletic and more experienced (albeit limited experience) Joey Votto to move to left field so they could retain Yonder Alonso. Joey Votto said no and Alonso played sparringly in left field in 2011, hitting .330/.398/.545 and playing poor defense out of position before the Reds had to trade him. They used him in a package to land an elite level starting pitcher, and you can certainly make the argument that minor leaguers are useful as trade parts and no one should argue with you on that point. But the Reds wavered on what to do with Alonso and let another players refusal to try something dictate what happened to another player. He never was given a chance to start for the Reds.
After the 2009 season Baseball America named Todd Frazier as the top prospect in the system. While that ranking may have been strongly tied to his playing second base at the time, he was coming off of a good offensive season as well at the Double-A level. Frazier did take a step backwards at Triple-A the next year before rebounding some in 2011 where he spent some time with the Reds, playing third, left, short, second and third base. In 2012 he was also with the Reds, spending time at third base and left field, but was the back up in each situation though it did work out to give him ample playing time. However he was playing behind a veteran Scott Rolen at third base who was having a horrible offensive season. He was also behind Ryan Ludwick in left, who was barely hitting .200 through May. Frazier has moved all around for the Reds before he seems to finally be getting his shot, but perhaps only because Scott Rolen turned down an offer from the Reds to come back in a part time role.
After the 2010 season, Aroldis Chapman was ranked as the Reds top prospect. He was used as a starter in the first half of the season, but was put in the bullpen for Louisville in the second half to limit his innings. He was then used in the Reds bullpen down the stretch in 2010. The next year, despite the front office saying the plan was still to use him as a starter in the future, he was used in the bullpen role where he was dominant. He then headed into 2012 competing for a rotation spot and was arguably the best starter in the spring. Injuries happened and the Reds put him back in the bullpen, again stating his future role was in the rotation. Here we are now in 2013 and Chapman went into the spring, looking for a starting rotation spot. He hasn’t been as good this spring as he was last, but his numbers are certainly stronger than that of his competition and Walt Jocketty has again said that he prefers Chapman in the rotation on several occasions. Yet it is being strongly “reported” today that Chapman is heading back to the bullpen. While the Reds haven’t made an official statement, they have certainly struggled to commit to a plan for the guy with arguably the best arm in baseball.
After the 2011 season Baseball America named Devin Mesoraco as the best prospect in the system. He had hit a combined .295/.374/.533 in 2010 and 2011 between Advanced-A, Double-A and Triple-A. He was also ranked as the top catching prospect in the game. He then went into the 2012 season with the Reds as the backup catcher and was limited to catching “his guys” and wasn’t given a chance to catch the entire rotation. He struggled with the backup role as he was limited to 10-12 at bats a week and wound up with just 165 at bats as a rookie. He has destroyed spring training pitching this year and again looks to be the backup catcher to Ryan Hanigan and by all indications, will still just catch “his guys”.
That is four years in a row of top prospects in the Reds organization, who to this point have yet to be given an actual shot to be a starting player at this point in time. Todd Frazier looks to bust that streak this season. It still begs the question though, have the Reds handled their top prospects correctly or have they wavered too much in the hopes of winning an extra game or two while delaying the future potential of the team for short term goals?