Friday, January 24, 2014

A pair of Reds make the cut for MLB.com's top 100 prospects list


The fine folks at MLBPipeline.com unveiled their list of Top 100 Prospects for the 2014 season on Thursday and the wonderful collection of young baseball talent included a pair of Reds.

Robert Stephenson now owns the title of Cincinnati's top prospect after overtaking Billy Hamilton in the rankings. The right-handed hurler ranked 19th in this year's tabulations while Hamilton settled in quite nicely and respectably at the 37th position.

So, how exactly are the rankings determined? Great question. Mark Sheldon of MLB.com provides us with some valuable insight:

The annual ranking of baseball's biggest and brightest young talent is assembled by MLBPipeline.com Draft and prospect experts Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis, who compile input from industry sources, including scouts and scouting directors. It is based on analysis of players' skill sets, upsides, proximity to the Majors and potential immediate impact to their teams. The list, which is one of several prospect rankings on MLBPipeline.com's Prospect Watch, only includes players with rookie status in 2014.

To say that either Stephenson or Hamilton are included in these rankings is not too surprising. Last week, both players were tabbed among the top 10 prospects at their respective positions, with Stephenson earning the title as 7th-best right-handed pitching prospect, while Hamilton was bestowed the honor of being the 8th-best outfield prospect.

At just 20-years-old, the future for Stephenson looks extremely bright. A native of Martinez, Calif., some have projected that the powerful arm of Stephenson could be pitching off a major league mound by the end of summer. In 22 starts split between Dayton, Bakersfield, and Pensacola last season, Stephenson compiled a 7-7 record, 2.99 ERA, 1.111 WHIP, and 3.89 K/BB. He boasts an excellent fastball in the 93-98 mph range and continues to fine tune his off-speed pitches.

As for the speedy Hamilton, he enters the 2014 campaign with high expectations, and also considerable pressure. The 23-year-old will be tasked to replace the departed Shin-Soo Choo in center field and leadoff. It's a challenge that Hamilton has happily accepted, though.

"It's my job to do what I can to get the spot," Hamilton said in December. "I've been working really hard this offseason to learn more stuff to help me. My main key is to be healthy and ready for Spring Training and try to win the job."

Hamilton shined in his short September stint with the Reds in 2013, going 9-for-19 (.368), and wreaking some serious havoc on the basepaths (13-for-14 in stolen base attempts). However, there remains legitimate concern with his ability to hit at the major league level. In 123 games for Triple-A Louisville last year, Hamilton batted .256/.308/.343 with 75 swiped bags and 18 doubles. Simply put, he will have to record a much better batting average and on-base percentage line with the big club. But it should be noted that the Mississippi native owns a .350 on-base percentage in 2,258 plate appearances over his minor league career. So, if he can get on base at the rate more similar to 2012 (.413), both he and the Reds should be in mighty good position to soften the blow of losing Choo atop the batting order.

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