Chapman leads three Reds on top prospects list
Fireballer No. 6; Mesoraco, Alonso 45th and 49th, respectively
CINCINNATI -- Like anybody in baseball would forget about someone able to throw a 105-mph fastball just because it was the offseason.MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects list was revealed Tuesday night, and it was no surprise that Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman was a very high selection. Chapman was the sixth-ranked prospect overall, the second-ranked pitcher and the top left-hander named on the list. To help in making the selections, MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo polled scouts and scouting directors around the league. Two other Reds prospects made the cut with catcher Devin Mesoraco ranked 45th and first baseman Yonder Alonso coming in 49th.
It's arguable that no one on the list generated the type of anticipation Chapman did last season. After the Cuban defector was declared a free agent, the Reds won the bidding battle last January and signed the then 21-year-old to a six-year, $30.25 million contract.Chapman was originally groomed to be a starting pitcher at Triple-A Louisville, but the Reds decided he could best help their pennant race chances from the bullpen. A conversion was made in June, and Chapman succeeded. In 15 relief appearances for the Reds after his Aug. 31 promotion, Chapman was 2-2 with a 2.03 ERA. In 13 1/3 innings, he had five walks and 19 strikeouts. With a reputation for stunning velocity, Chapman made good on the night of his debut when he reached 103.9 mph. In a Sept. 24 game at San Diego, all 25 pitches thrown were 100 mph or higher, including one to Tony Gwynn Jr. that reached a record 105.1 mph. Although the long-range plan is for Chapman to eventually start in the Majors, the Reds are planning to employ him again as a reliever in 2011. That was cemented after veteran lefty Arthur Rhodes departed as a free agent. "He has No. 1 starter stuff. But he has, like I said, No. 1 bullpen stuff, too," Reds manager Dusty Baker said in December during the Winter Meetings. "We have seen guys go back and forth, but we wanted to keep him, hopefully, in one area versus back and forth. Because with a guy throwing that hard, is he more valuable to us every fifth day or every other day, so to speak?" Mesoraco, 22, initially struggled after becoming the Reds' first-round Draft pick (15th overall) in 2007. "I always knew it was a matter of time before things started to click," Mesoraco said in October. "I wasn't worried. It was a matter of getting experience. I tried not to let it get to me." A .240 hitter with 18 home runs through his first three professional seasons, Mesoraco batted a combined .302 with 26 homers, 75 RBIs and a .377 on-base percentage combined last season at Class A Lynchburg, Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville. Defensively, he caught 41 percent of runners attempting to steal. After the season, Mesoraco was invited to play in the Arizona Fall League. He will likely begin the 2011 season back at Louisville, but a Major League promotion before season's end isn't out of the question. Alonso, who will turn 24 on April 8, hasn't let being blocked at first base in the Majors by National League MVP Joey Votto hinder his progress. In 132 games at Carolina and Louisville, he batted .290 with 15 home runs, 69 RBIs and .362 OBP. The Reds made him a September callup, during which 16 of his 29 plate appearances came as a pinch-hitter. In the Majors, Alonso batted .207 (6-for-29) with three RBIs and will be working to make the club this season as a left-handed bat off the bench.