the best news of all was undoubtedly the outstanding year enjoyed by Bailey, who may have even surpassed the great expectations that had been placed on his 20-year-old right arm. He went 10-6 with a 2.47 ERA between Class A Advanced Sarasota and Double-A Chattanooga and was widely regarded by season’s end as one of the top pitching prospects in the Minors.

Not all the news was good, however. Once-highly regarded Thomas Pauly and Richie Gardner, both of whom slipped through the Rule 5 draft due to shoulder surgery, continued to ail. Gardner went 0-3 with a 6.97 ERA in limited time at Sarasota, while Pauly, a Princeton product, has not pitched since 2004. In addition, the system took a big hit when Zachary Ward, Cincinnati’s third pick in 2005 who did not make his pro debut until ’06, was dealt to the Twins for Kyle Lohse. Ward arguably was the Reds’ top pitching prospect behind Bailey. Cincinnati also dealt 2003 first-rounder Ryan Wagner to the Nationals in an eight-player mega-deal.

On the field, the Reds saw two of their farm teams, Double-A Chattanooga and Rookie-level Billings, make it to the postseason while Triple-A Louisville fell just short.

I didn’t like the Lohse/Ward trade either, but Cueto outpitched Ward in their time together in Dayton and ended up in A+, while Ward went to the Minnesota system and struggled.

Five faves

At the start of the season, identified five prospects to keep an eye on. Here’s how they fared in 2006:

Homer Bailey, RHP
The Reds took the kid gloves off with Bailey in 2006, after having him work on a strict pitch count in a tandem starting (aka piggyback) situation in 2005, which he admittedly did not like. He combined for an organization-high 156 strikeouts in 138 2/3 innings between stops at Advanced A and Double-A, scattering 99 hits. He pitched even more effectively after a promotion to Chattanooga, going 7-1 with a 1.59 ERA in 13 starts. Before his move up, he struck out the side on 12 pitches at the Florida State League All-Star Game. Bailey throws a mid-90s fastball and plus curve, and there already has been talk of joining the Cincinnati rotation in 2007.

I love Bailey, but I’ll be surprised if he’s a Red before June or July.

Miguel Perez, C

The defensive stalwart has still not gotten into an offensive groove, though he’s shown flashes. At Chattanooga, he hit .241 in 111 games, his average dipping 20 points from 2005. His work behind the plate is so strong that all he needs to do is show something there and he could earn a big-league job. The Reds may have been a little disappointed that he didn’t rise past Chattanooga this season, but he’ll get some Major League Spring Training time to show his stuff and work with the established pitchers.

He’s Louisville bound. I understand he’s great defensively, but his hitting..ugh.

William Bergolla, SS/2B

Bergolla was taken off the Reds’ 40-man roster this past August but went unclaimed off waivers and is playing winter ball in his native Venezuela, hoping to catch someone’s eye. He hit .279 with 14 steals in 114 games at Louisville but did not make it to the Majors to follow up on his brief 2005 big-league debut. He is a very good defensive middle infielder with above-average speed, and odds are good he’ll land somewhere.

But it appears the Reds have given up on him. He might return to Louisville, but he no longer seems to be considered a prospect by the team.

Cinderella story

Jesse Gutierrez, 1B
Gutierrez, a 20th-rounder in 2001 out of college in California, has worked his way slowly but steadily up the Reds’ ladder and continued to do so in 2006, hitting .282 with 10 homers, 61 RBIs and 27 doubles in his Triple-A debut at Louisville. He’d been doing so well in 2005 with a .310 average and .530 slugging percentage at Chattanooga before a knee injury short-circuited his season.

Decent player, but with Hatteburg extended in front of him in Cincinnati and Votto behind him in Chattanooga, where does he fit?

Breakout year

Some players were pegged as breakout candidates before the season began. Did they live up to expectations?

Sam Lecure, RHP
Lecure, a 2005 draft pick who did not pitch for Texas that year due to academic ineligibility, finished sixth in the Florida State League with a 3.43 ERA this season, going 7-12 in his first full season. He is a polished pitcher who could continue to move quickly.

Haven’t seen him, but it’ll be interesting to see how he does in Chattanooga. The FSL is known as a pitcher’s league, we’ll see how he progresses in ’07.

Tyler Pelland, LHP
Pelland continued to struggle with command, though he has Major League stuff. In 28 starts at Chattaooga, he helped anchor the Lookouts’ playoff-bound staff with a 3.99 ERA, although he walked 89 while striking out 107 in 142 innings.

With the lack of starting pitching at the top of the Reds system (other than Bailey), Pelland should ge a shot, maybe in ’07.

Chris Dickerson, OF
A multi-tooled athlete with power and speed, Dickerson will remain one to watch if he can just kick the consistency at the plate into gear. He hit just .242 at Chattanooga but had 12 homers, 48 RBIs, 21 steals and 21 doubles as well as seven triples. He’s also a fine defensive outfielder.

I saw him at Sarasota in ’05 and he didn’t impress me, but I’ve read more good things than bad about him. He needs to get on base more consistently.

2006 draft recap

1. Drew Stubbs, OF
The eighth overall pick out of Texas batted .252 with six homers, 24 RBIs and 19 steals in 56 games at Billings in his pro debut. The Longhorns’ starting center fielder for three years, he became the first collegiate position player drafted first by the Reds since infielder Brandon Larson in 1997.

I think it was a disappointing year for Stubbs. With 3 years of college, I expected him to smoke the Pioneer League and he wasn’t even the best player on his team.

2. Sean Watson, RHP
The right-hander taken out of Tennessee in the second round got his career started at Class A Dayton and struggled in a brief taste of pro life, posting an 8.59 ERA in 10 games and allowing 22 hits over 14 2/3 innings with five walks and six strikeouts. A closer in college, he throws four pitches, including a knuckle-curve.

He was horrible at Dayton. Hopefully, he’ll adjust and move up quickly this year.

3. Chris Valaika, SS
The Pioneer League MVP was taken in the third round out of Santa Barbara and hit .324 with eight homers, 60 RBIs and a .520 slugging percentage. But what really had people talking was his 32-game hitting streak, tied for the longest in the Minors in several years. It also set a league record. Valaika also shared the league lead with 89 hits.

Some think he should start the season at FSL Sarasota, but I think he’ll at least start the season in Dayton. I’m looking forward to seeing him play. Valaika, Janish, and Rosales give the Reds three interesting SS prospects in the system.

4. Justin Reed, OF
The multi-tooled athlete was the only high school position player in Mississippi selected on the first day of the draft, as the Reds were able to sign him away from a football commitment to Ole Miss. Though he batted just .180 in 44 games in the Gulf Coast League, his six triples — which tied for the league lead — give an indication of his speed and line-drive bat.

I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s a Dragon this year.

5. Josh Ravin, RHP
A California high schooler taken in the fifth round, Ravin went 0-1 with a 4.29 ERA in seven Gulf Coast League games, striking out 22 while walking 10 in 21 innings.

Another 2007 Dayton Dragon.

2005 draft recap

1. Jay Bruce, OF
The club’s top pick a year ago continued to put up excellent numbers, finishing fifth in the Midwest League (and tops in the system) with 81 RBIs as he hit .291 with 42 doubles, 16 home runs, 19 steals and a .516 slugging percentage at Dayton. The likelihood that he will share outfield real estate with this year’s top pick, Drew Stubbs, is high and bodes well for the future of the organization. He has terrific makeup and maturity for a high school pick. Bruce also has a solid arm and hits with power to all fields.

Other than the end of the season, when he was hurt and trying to play through it, Bruce was a stud for the vast majority of the season. He struggled somewhat against LHP, but the ball rockets off his bat. He’s quite a talent.

2. Travis Wood, LHP

After combining for a 1.29 ERA in 48 2/3 innings between the Gulf Coast and Pioneer Leagues, Wood picked up where he left off in his full-season debut, going 10-5 with a 3.66 ERA in 27 starts at Dayton. He allowed only 108 hits in 140 innings, striking out 133 with the best changeup in the system and outstanding command of his fastball on both sides of the plate.

Wood was fun to watch and I’m interested to see where he ends the 2007 season. Chattanooga, maybe?

3. Zach Ward, RHP
If the Reds’ homegrown pitching doesn’t develop, he could turnout to be the one who got away. Their third pick in 2005 signed too late to play that year but was 7-0 with a 2.29 ERA, tops in the organization, and a .188 opponents’ average at Dayton in his debut when he was traded to Minnesota for Lohse. He throws a fastball in the 90s and a hard slider.

This was a bad deal for a team trying to build a pitching staff from the minors. Lohse was overpaid and Ward has tremendous upside. This could be one of those deals that teams point to years from when they’re talking about trading a prospect for a “proven major leaguer”.

Interesting to note that picks #4 & 5 in this draft have progressed higher than 1-2-3.