From our friend, Tom Nichols of the Dayton Dragons:


Hands on Deck: Jefry Sierra/Yorman Rodriguez, Kyle Waldrop, Juan Silva, Bryson Smith, Steve Selsky, Brennan May, Jaren Matthews.

If you go back to this date in 2011, the Dragons outfield picture featured a fierce competition at the spring training camp in Goodyear, Arizona with more deserving players than roster spots available. The situation in 2012 is very similar.

In 2011, no fewer than nine outfielders legitimately deserved spots with the Dragons, but there were only five roster positions available. Yorman Rodriguez, Juan Duran, Jefry Sierra, Jaren Matthews, and Kurtis Muller came east to be part of the Dragons opening day ballclub. Four other players who just missed the cut—Stephen Hunt, Theo Bowe, Dayne Read, and Drew Poulk—stayed in extended spring training, waiting for their chance.

When a need arose at Advanced-A Bakersfield, Hunt got the call, and remained there for the rest of the season, enjoying an excellent year. Bowe traded places with Muller not long afterwards in Dayton, and late in the season, Muller also returned. Both players were starters with the Dragons come playoff time. Read saw playing time at both Bakersfield and rookie-level Billings. Poulk, a non-drafted free agent, eventually got 62 at-bats with the Dragons and had some big games. He hit .354 in 96 at-bats at Billings.

The competition in 2012 features eight names, although two of the eight are probably also competing for one job in Bakersfield. That would leave six other players battling for four more outfield spots in Dayton.

Yorman Rodriguez and Jefry Sierra combined for 661 at-bats for the Dragons in 2011, and one of the two probably will move up to Bakersfield with the other returning to Dayton.

Rodriguez was a blue-chip prospect entering the 2011 season, having once received the largest signing bonus ever given to an amateur player by the Reds (a record since broken by Aroldis Chapman). Rodriguez struggled through a tough first-half, suffered a shoulder bruise shortly after the all-star break, returned for one game, and missed the remainder of the year. Rated as the #5 prospect in the Reds organization by Baseball America entering the 2011 season, he is now listed at #19 heading into ’12. Rodriguez hit .254 for the Dragons with seven home runs and 40 runs batted in, logging 280 at-bats. He struggled defensively in center field early in the season, moved to right field, and fit better there. He could be given another shot at center in 2012.

Sierra eventually replaced Rodriguez in center field and provided an enormous defensive upgrade. Former Reds outfielder Eric Davis, now a special assistant with the Reds, called Sierra the best defensive outfielder in the entire organization. He displayed tremendous range, turning doubles and triples into fly outs, and featured a very strong arm. Sierra’s high-energy approach to the game, positive attitude, and aggressive actions on the field fit in well with a 2011 Dragons team that was fueled by speed and aggressiveness. Offensively, Sierra endured some struggles but improved as the season progressed. He finished the year at .234 and stole 30 bases.

Kyle Waldrop is a virtual lock to be in the Dragons opening night lineup. He is rated as the #22 prospect in the Reds organization, and among outfielders, only Rodriguez and former Dragon Ryan LaMarre are ranked higher. Waldrop is 20-years old, a native of Ft. Myers, Florida, and will enter his third professional season in 2012. Waldrop was drafted by the Reds in the 12th round in 2010, but would have been selected much higher if not for a potential commitment to play college football. He had signed a national letter of intent to play at the University of South Florida as a safety/wide receiver before reaching agreement with the Reds on a career in baseball. Waldrop is a left-handed batter who served as the right fielder with Billings in 2011, batting .273 with five home runs, 29 runs batted in, and a .471 slugging percentage in 68 games (278 at-bats). He led the Billings team in games played, hits, doubles, and triples (second in the league in triples with nine). Waldrop is said to be an excellent athlete with solid tools. He should be in the lineup on a daily basis at Fifth Third Field in 2012.

Juan Silva was the left fielder on the Billings club last season and could fill the same roll with the Dragons in 2012. Silva, a 21-year-old native of Puerto Rico, was a ninth round draft pick by the Reds in 2009 out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy and High School, the same school that produced former Dragons outfielder Alex Oliveras. The 2011 season was Silva’s third year of professional baseball, and it marked his best campaign. He batted .293 and added four home runs in 150 at-bats, primarily hitting out of the two-hole in the batting order. He is a left-handed batter.

Bryson Smith is an interesting prospect to follow in 2012. Smith played college baseball at the University of Florida, a team that advanced to the runner-up spot in the 2011 College World Series. In his senior season with the Gators in 2011, he hit .328 with a pair of home runs. Then, when the post-season began, Smith emerged as Florida’s best hitter. In 16 post-season games, he hit .439. He was first selected to the Southeast Conference All-Tournament Team, then chosen to the College World Series All-Tournament Team. Smith was drafted by the Reds in the 34th round and initially assigned to the Goodyear Reds. He played in just six games in Goodyear and hit .385 to earn a promotion to Billings. With the Mustangs, Smith played in 19 games and hit .362 while belting five home runs and driving in 18 runs in just 69 at-bats. His slugging percentage at Billings was .667 and his on-base percentage was .483, both tremendous numbers. Combining his numbers with Goodyear and Billings, Smith batted .368 in his first season of professional baseball. The sample size is small, but the results could not be much better. Something started to click for Smith toward the end of the 2011 college season, and it continued through the summer. Smith is 23 years old and bats from the right side.

Like Smith, Steve Selsky is product of a strong college program. Selsky played at the University of Arizona and had a great sophomore season in 2010 before suffering through a frustrating ’11 campaign that caused him to drop to the 33rd round of the draft. In 2010 with the Wildcats, Selsky hit .370 with nine home runs and 52 RBI in 58 games to earn selection to the All-PAC 10 Conference Team. In 2011, he endured injuries (broken wrist, hamstring) that he tried to play through at times, and finished the year at .215 in just 18 games. After signing with the Reds, Selsky was sent to Goodyear, where he played in 20 games and batted .338. He was promoted to Billings for eight games late in the season. Overall, he played in 28 professional games in 2011 and batted .311 with seven home runs and 20 RBI in 106 at-bats.

Selsky was a great high school player. He represented the state of California in the International Home Run Derby at Tropicana Park in Florida and was also recruited by Cal State Fullerton, Fresno State, UCLA, Loyola Marymount, San Diego, and numerous other schools before deciding upon Arizona. He comes from a great sports family. His father played professionally in the Dodgers and White Sox organizations and his mother played Olympic volleyball and earned All-America honors at Long Beach State. One sister played volleyball at the University of Michigan, while his twin sister, Sam, played at Santa Clara. Selsky attended the University of Arizona College of Medicine as a pre-physiology major. Like Smith, he is a very interesting prospect to watch. Selsky is 22 and bats right handed.

Brennan May was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Reds last March. May had played at Tallahassee Community College in 2010, batting .257 with three home runs in 39 games. The previous spring, May played at Middle Georgia Junior College and hit .311 with six homers in 24 games. After signing with the Reds, May went to Goodyear and batted .274 with seven home runs and 32 RBI in 45 games. He played in four games with the Dragons at the end of the 2011 season. At the end of his high school career in College Park, Georgia, May was labeled by Baseball America as an “athlete with raw tools who has quick hands and raw power.” Dragons manager Delino DeShields became acquainted with May in the Atlanta area, where DeShields resides, and recommended him to the Reds. DeShields believes that May is a sleeper who will progress quickly as he gains experience. May is 21 years old, bats right handed, and has the range to play center field.

Jaren Matthews spent most of the 2011 season with the Dragons and is a candidate to return. Matthews can also play first base, and that attribute could be valuable with the questionable availability of the two players expected to play that position for the Dragons (Sean Buckley is out due to a medical issue and Robert Maddox is coming back from off-season surgery). Matthews batted .217 with five homers and 21 RBI in 66 games with the Dragons last season. His 2011 season with the Dragons ended August 10 when he suffered a broken bone in his hand. Matthews spent three seasons at Rutgers University. In his final season there, 2010, he batted .305 with seven homers and 40 RBI in 56 games. Matthews played with the Goodyear Reds after being drafted in the 32nd round by the Reds in 2010. He hit .290 with seven homers in 29 games at Goodyear. He is a left-handed batter who possesses strong athleticism.

This article was posted in its entirety with the approval of Tom Nichols.