Stephenson, Hamilton crack Top 100 Prospects list
Righty ranks No. 19, speedster at No. 37 on ledger released by MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Heading into the 2014 season, the Reds' organization will have a new top prospect.
Cincinnati has two players on the list of the Top 100 Prospects in baseball released Thursday by MLBPipeline.com. Double-A Pensacola right-handed pitcher Robert Stephenson ranks No. 19 while overtaking the club's former top prospect, rookie outfielder Billy Hamilton, who came in at No. 37.
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.
Stephenson, 20, was ranked last week by MLBPipeline.com as the No. 7 right-handed pitching prospect. Hailing from Martinez, Calif., he was the Reds' first-round selection (27th overall) in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft.
In 22 starts combined at Class A Dayton, Class A Advanced Bakersfield and Pensacola, Stephenson was 7-7 with a 2.99 ERA. Over 114 1/3 innings, he gave up 92 hits and walked 35 while striking out 136. Entering the 2013 season, he was ranked 51st overall.
Stephenson displayed fastball velocity mainly in the 93-98 mph range last season. He sometimes touched 99 and 100 mph.
"One of the big things Robert did this year was he discovered what works for him," Reds player development director Jeff Graupe said last week. "He came to us as a high school kid who was very talented but was almost trying to do too much at times. He added a few extra pitches he probably didn't need. Going away from that and using his main three pitches and attacking hitters early in counts, I think, was a big step forward."
Expected to begin 2014 with Pensacola, Stephenson will get his first exposure to Major League hitters as a non-roster invite to Reds Spring Training next month.
Hamilton, 23, enters this season with the inside track to be the Reds' everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter after Shin-Soo Choo departed as a free agent.
"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."
In 123 games for Triple-A Louisville last season, the switch-hitting Hamilton batted .256 with a .308 on-base percentage. In 13 big league games, including three starts, he batted .368 with a .429 on-base percentage and stole 13 bases in 14 attempts.
In 2013, Hamilton was ranked as the No. 11 overall prospect. Although he has successfully transitioned defensively from being a shortstop to a center fielder, there are still questions over whether Hamilton can consistently hit at the big league level.
"If he's the player we think he can be, there is no doubt that he'd be sitting on top of the lineup," Reds manager Bryan Price said last month. "What we're trying to do right now is define and decide if he's ready to take on that responsibility."
A second-round pick of the Reds in the 2009 Draft, Hamilton stole a professional baseball-record 155 bases in 2012 while with Bakersfield and Pensacola. In 2013 at Louisville, he had 75 steals in 90 attempts.