Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Pair of Reds land on 'top 100 prospects' list by ESPN's Keith Law


A day removed from ranking Cincinnati's farm system as the 16th-best in baseball, Keith Law of ESPN Insider was at it again on Wednesday, but this time he published his 2014 list of Top 100 Prospects.

Not surprisingly, the Reds placed a couple of players on Law's list: RHP Robert Stephenson and OF Billy Hamilton. The article is available for those with paid subscriptions only, so you will have to shell out a few dollars if you want a glimpse at the whole list, but we will at least give you some insight on how the two Reds prospects fared.

Stephenson earned the 29th spot in the rankings and continues to be the consensus top youngster in Cincinnati's minor league system. Meanwhile, Hamilton grabbed the 52nd slot, making him the second and final Reds prospect on the list.

Here is a snippet of what Law had to say about both of them:

Stephenson

Stephenson still showed premium stuff, a 93-98 mph fastball and a power breaking ball in the low 80s that is almost unhittable, especially for right-handed batters. His changeup still has a ways to go, although the Reds are forcing him to throw a certain number each game so he doesn't just rely on blowing his fastball by left-handed hitters (which he can do, at least at the lower levels).

Stephenson stays over the rubber well and takes a long stride toward the plate, but he's pretty late turning his pitching arm over and is stiff when he gets out over that front side. He also has a head-bobble after release, which is usually a bad sign for the pitcher's command, but in Stephenson's case command isn't a problem, nor is control; he walked just 22 batters across both A-ball leagues this year, just 5.6 percent of the men he faced.

He'll pitch at 21 years old in 2014, likely starting in Double-A, and the Reds have handled him carefully enough to keep him healthy; as the changeup goes, so goes Stephenson, with that No. 1 starter upside still within reach.


Hamilton

Hamilton's an 80-grade runner, perhaps the fastest man to step on a baseball field in a few decades, and his baserunning has improved to an unheard-of degree since he signed with the Reds, who've also taught him to switch-hit and switched him to center field, with the latter transition more successful so far than the former.

His issue is that pitchers have begun crowding him on the inner half because his wrists aren't strong enough to handle hard stuff in on his hands; you need a certain degree of hand/wrist strength to hit what major league pitchers are throwing, especially to that area of the zone. If he can find that missing strength, he has the other tools to be an impact player -- his speed is game-changing, and he's already an above-average defender in center.

This is the third time that both Hamilton and Stephenson have landed on top prospects list over the past week. Last Friday, they were ranked among the studs in MLB.com's rankings, while Baseball Prospectus included them on their top 101 list on Monday, as well.

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