AAA Season Recap

Phipps Hit .220 With Bats

As is sometimes the challenge for minor league teams, the Louisville Bats had to contend with massive turnovers from their 2011 roster and struggled through a 51-93 season which was the worst record in the International League. Promotions and trades left a void at the top of the Reds system that will begin to fill as top remaining propsects advance next year.

Perhaps many felt that Louisville was in for a long season after losing many of their top players last season to promotion and trades. If so, they were not disappointed. The Bats struggled to a 51-93 record which was the worst in the International League. So goes the nature of minor league baseball. It's easy to forget that the main priority is to prep players to help the parent team win games and should they capture a AAA championship along the way it's just a nice side benefit.

On the other hand they had the satisfaction of watching alum Zach Cozart nail down regular duty at shortstop where Reds had much turnover since the retirement of Barry Larkin. Last year's Reds minor league player of the year Devin Mesoraco split time behind the plate for most of the season before a recent return to Louisville to tune up his swing. Of course Todd Frazier may end up as the NL's Rookie of the Year and has been invaluable to their effort by filling in for injuries at third and first base. Finally Mat Latos has been solid in the rotation after coming over from San Diego for a package of high-profile prospects. Other trade returns J.J. Hoover has a mid-two ERA in 21 games out of the Reds bullpen and Wilson Valdez has kept a utility job with the Reds all season.

When Frazier was promoted to the Reds a couple of weeks into the season that meant that seven of the ten Bats making the most plate appearances in 2011 were no longer with the affiliate. Danny Dorn, Kristopher Negron, and Chris Valaika were the only returnees that had more than 200 AB. Dorn got off to a slow start and was eventually released in the second half of the season while hitting .230. Valaika and Negron spent some time on the DL and both finished the season hitting below .225.

The Opening day rotation had a couple of MLB veterans from whom the Bats lost services during the season. Jeff Francis was granted free agency and he eventually made it back to the majors with the Rockies. 39 year-old Bret Tomko did an injury rehab in the AZL and now he's pitching in the Diamondback organization. Chad Reineke led this year's Bats in innings pitched and the 30 year-old's ERA jumped over a half a run to 4.57 this year. Pedro Villarreal joined from Pensacola early in the season and kept his ERA under four much of his time before a rough finished raised it to 4.61. Sean Gallagher tied Reineke for most starts and finished with an ernie around five.

Relievers Jordan Smith and Carlos Fisher had seen action with the Reds in the past. Both had disappointing seasons coming out of the Bats pen with ERA's north of mid-four. Nick Christiani finished strong and got his down to 3.34. Kanekoa Texeira (2.72) was a bright spot in the pen all season long and J.J. Hoover gave lights-out closing in thirty appearances.

Of course the function of an AAA team is actually two-fold. They are the highest development level for major league franchises and they are also be used as a holding area for veterans in reserve to supplement the active roster as needed over the long season. The Reds signed MLB veteran Dioner Navarro to provide catching depth and he led all regulars with a .319 batting average and .449 slug pct. That earned him a call from the Reds when Mesoraco was sent down and he's joined their effort to finish off the season with a division championship. Navarro is 28 years old and it's too early to give up on Mesoraco so chances are he'll try his luck at finding a spot on another franchises MLB roster in 2013.

The Bats sent a couple of infielders up after expansion that joined them midseason from Pensacola. Henry Rodriguez and Didi Gregorius are two of the top prospects in the Reds system and as of right now they figure to continue their development with the Bats after spring training next year. Both had over 200 plate appearances and mid-.200 averages in AAA this season.

One of the biggest disappointments with the Bats this season was outfielder Denis Phipps. The 26 year-old had a breakout sesason in 2011 while shooting up the organization with an overall average of .346 split between Carolina and Louisville and figured to be the first outfield call-up during the season. Instead he struggled with an average below .200 before going on the DL with a shoulder injury. He came back to raise that to .221 and did manage to hit 15 HR in 92 games. He's now with the Reds and made his second MLB appearance last night as a pinch runner.

Big things were expected of Neftali Soto at first base too. His performance at the plate was lackluster over much of the season, but he finished strong to raise his average to a more respectable .245 with 14 HR and led the Bats with 59 RBI. Not knowing what trade activity is in store for this offseason he figures to be primed for a strong 2013 season as he continues his development with the Bats. Of course there is no hurry to rush another first baseman to the parent team after the Reds signed a ten year contract extension with Joey Votto before opening day.

Another bright spot was the finish of Felix Perez. He got hot to end at .301 in almost 400 AB. The Cuban had some controversy before he started playing professionally when his first contract with the Yankees was voided because MLB found out that he had misrepresented his age and suspended him for a year. He's got the reputation of having a strong work ethic on the field and even though his power projections have yet to materialize he is capable of playing all three outfield positions and should gain consideration for a spot on the Reds 40-man roster in 2013.

Next year help will be on the way for the rotation. Daniel Corcino and Tony Cingrani entered the season as two of the top pitching prospects in the organization and validated that with strong campaigns. The 22 year-old Corcino skipped high-A this season and finished with a 3.01 ERA at Pensacola. He's been compared with fellow Reds Dominican Johnny Cueto and if the Reds didn't have depth in the rotation he'd be a candidate for a fast track to the majors like they did when they bypassed the then-22-year old Cueto over AAA for his MLB debut at the beginning of the 2008 season.

Meanwhile the Reds have been cautious and limited Cingrani's innings after converting him from a closer when he was in the Rice University bullpen. Evaluators must have seen something because even though that logic is not typical, thus far it's been successful. Cingrani started off this year dominating batters in the hitter-friendly California League before a mid-season promotion. The 22 year-old southpaw then maintained a 2.12 ERA in 16 appearances with Pensacola.

The Blue Wahoos are also ready to provide another leadoff hitter candidate in Josh Fellhauer. He hit .314/.409 OB% while spending his entire season in the Southern League. The Reds also have high hopes for Ryan LaMarre, a former second round selection out of Michigan. He finished at .263/.356 OB while manning centerfield all season. Both outfielders have an AVG/OB differential suggesting they've developed plate discipline desired for a leadoff hitter.

Of course when it comes to leadoff prospects, the first person in mind is the one that set the minor league record for stolen bases. With Cozart and Hamilton already in the system, some believe that a position change is in Billy Hamilton's future. The Reds have been content to let him continue to develop at shortstop where he was charged with an error every four games on average. He does know the way to first base, batting .323/.413 OB at Bakersfield. That average dropped to .286 in AA, but he managed to keep the OB the same. The speedster often makes walks hurt worse by converting them into "virtual triples", swiping second and third during the next at-bat. He's only 21 years old and could stand to improve contact, fanning around 19% of his plate appearances this season. With his speed, any reduction will make a positive impact on average because his BAPIP was .400 in 2012. Assuming he continues to play short he could start out next season at Louisville if Gregorius manages to win a Reds job as a utility infielder in spring training. If he does begin the season with Pensacola it will be with expectation of a promotion in the near future.

After a roster turnover in 2012 most of the top Reds prospects remaining were in the lower levels of the system. Louisville fans have reason to look forward to 2013 as they advance to fill the void. One big unknown is the potential addition of veterans to provide organizational depth at the top like Navarro and Francis were this season. Given the average age of the Reds roster it's expected to be mostly the same next year. Still, 162 games is a long season and the front office will be on the lookout to add a veteran or two if they feel they could come in handy as they try to maintain their success of 2012.

Other News from the Farm:

Billings fell back into a tie for their division lead with an 11-5 loss at Helena. The Brewers broke a tie with six runs in the eighth inning. Jeff Gelalich had a couple of hits for the Mustangs and scored twice while Robert Maddox added a solo home run in the second. Ryan Fennell got the start and allowed two runs in two innings. Joseph Housey gave up two runs in one plus innings for the loss. Billings will end their regular season with two games at co-leader Missoula.

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