Thursday, February 21, 2008

Reds loaded with fantasy prospects

SARASOTA - Fantasy players on the prowl for young talent might want to drop by Ed Smith Stadium some time in the next month or so.

There's a whole host of prospects on display at the Cincinnati Reds' spring training complex, and you'd be wise to familiarize yourself with the names of some players who could make a big fantasy impact this year.

Start with outfielder Jay Bruce (above), Baseball America's 2007 Minor League Player of the Year. Bruce's skills at the plate have been favorably compared to Larry Walker, and he's a strong candidate to win the Reds' starting CF job at just 20 years of age.

New Reds manager Dusty Baker got his first live glimpse of Bruce's swing Wednesday during the team's first full-squad workout and came away impressed.

"He has a very good stroke," Baker told the Reds' team Web site. "He comes through the zone with good balance, keeps his head still and down. Talking to him, he's very confident he can hit without being arrogant. That's the first thing you like to see in a young hitter."

Bruce doesn't have the speed of a prototypical leadoff hitter, which is a slot the team is looking to fill at the same time as its open CF spot. Kenny Lofton's name has popped up as a possible acquisition, which would probably keep Bruce in Triple-A to start the year. Still, you'll want to keep track of how he progresses this spring and if he can win over Baker and Reds management. It won't be long before Bruce breaks through at the big-league level, so I advise you to get in on the ground floor.

Another young infielder to keep tabs on is Joey Votto, who appears to be in line to take over the majority of playing time at 1B from Scott Hatteberg this season. Votto flashed his skills in a brief big-league stint last year - .321, four HRs, 17 RBIs in 84 at-bats - and could be an overlooked source of power in deep leagues in 2008.

The Reds aren't without pitching prospects, either. You've probably heard the name Homer Bailey, a much-heralded, 21-year-old righty who made his debut last season. Things didn't go quite as expected in Bailey's rookie year (4-2, 5.76 ERA, 1.57 WHIP in 45.1 innings), but that's no reason to give up on the kid so soon. Bailey is a lock for the Reds' starting rotation, probably as the No. 3, and will be given every opportunity to show off the repertoire that led some scouts to place him on par with the Yankees' Phil Hughes.

Two other young pitchers to watch: 24-year-old Edinson Volquez, acquired in the Josh Hamilton deal and once the Texas Rangers' top minor league pitcher, and Johnny Cueto, a 22-year-old rookie with an outside shot at making the big-league roster out of spring training.

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