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Cincinnati Reds center field prospect Drew Stubbs: power prospect with wheels, or speed whiz who will hit for big power?
The jury may still be out on that one for the club's first-round pick from 2006, but Stubbs, currently playing for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League, has his own thoughts on the matter.
"I think speed is the one thing you can bring out to the park every day," said Stubbs, who led all Cincinnati farmhands in stolen bases this past season, with 33 compiled across three Minor League stops. "You're not always going to hit well, and you're going to make some errors on defense, but speed is something that will be a consistent part of your game, and it's what I build my foundation on."
When the Reds took Stubbs with the No. 8 overall pick in '06 out of the University of Texas, he was widely regarded as one of the top collegiate power hitters and one of the top collegiate baserunners, after he hit .342 with 12 homers and 26 steals in 62 games for the Longhorns. Not a bad combination.
In his pro career thus far, the power potential has not yet translated into home run numbers, but many people think that will come, in time, for the 24-year-old.
"I do think I have the ability to hit for some power," he said, "and I'm working on using the whole field."
In his pro debut in 2006 at Class A Short-Season Billings, Stubbs hit .252 with six home runs and 19 steals in 56 games. The next summer, spending the entire year at Class A Dayton, he batted .270 with 12 homers, 43 RBIs and 23 steals.
This year, though, the Reds were more aggressive when it came to moving him up the ladder. He started the summer at Class A Advanced Sarasota, hitting .261 with five homers, 38 RBIs and 27 steals, entrenched in the No. 5 spot in the batting order. It was an up-and-down campaign, as he batted .337 in April before hitting a rocky stretch in May and June. But a .321 start to July earned him a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga right before the big-league All-Star break.
With the Lookouts, he stayed in gear, hitting .315 over 26 games, but did not go deep at all.
Stubbs' travelogue was not yet over. In mid-August, as a result of the trickle-down effect of the trade of Adam Dunn to Arizona and the subsequent callup of outfielder Chris Dickerson to the big leagues, Stubbs was promoted to Triple-A Louisville. There he batted .293 with two home runs and 10 RBIs over the last few weeks of the International League season.
"I was surprised when I got the call to go to Louisville to finish the year, because I was assuming I'd stay the rest of the year in Double-A," he said. "But when they traded Adam Dunn, it freed up a spot, and I was at the right place at the right time and made the most of the opportunity."
Meanwhile, in Arizona, Stubbs is getting a chance to see some time in both left field and right field, as the Javelinas are stocked with several natural center fielders like himself, such as the Yankees' Austin Jackson, the Mariners' Greg Halman and even Tampa Bay taxi squad prospect Desmond Jennings.
And, in true Stubbs fashion, the easygoing Texan is looking at that as a plus.
"That's giving me some versatility, since I've been more exclusively a center fielder," said Stubbs, who was hitting .158 with a steal after five games. "I'm experiencing some new territory out there and working on my offensive game also."
SS Chris Valaika was the Reds' Minor League batting leader this season, hittin .317 between Sarasota and Chattanooga while adding 18 home runs and 81 RBIs. A third-round pick in 2006 out of UC Santa Barbara, he was the Class A Short-Season Pioneer League MVP that summer after posting a 32-game hitting streak at Billings and batting .338. A consistent player with good instincts all around, he played in the Futures Game this past summer at Yankee Stadium, an experience he calls the highlight of his career so far. At Peoria this fall, he was hitting .333 with two homers -- both of which came in an Oct. 18 game -- and seven RBIs.
2B Justin Turner has been Valaika's double-play partner for nearly all of their pro careers, the exception being a few weeks in 2007, and continues that partnership with him at Peoria. The seventh-rounder in 2006 out of Cal State Fullerton hit .298 with eight homers and 53 RBIs this season between Sarasota and Chattanooga, finishing fourth in the system in batting. He hit .307 with 10 home runs at Dayton in 2007. At Peoria, Turner was off to a slower start with a .190 average in six games, though he had three RBIs.
OF Sean Henry is on hand with Peoria as a taxi squad player, meaning he is only activated twice a week. Originally a 20th-round selection in 2004 by the New York Mets, he was picked up in late 2007 in exchange for veteran Jeff Conine. This year, after opening the season for two weeks at Sarasota, the converted middle infielder moved up to Chattanooga, where he hit .285 with 11 homers, 62 RBIs and 16 steals. In his limited action at Peoria, he was hitting .214 in four games with a pair of steals.
RHP Robert Manuel, in his first campaign as a full-time reliever, had about as good a season as any reliever in the Minors. Spending most of the summer in the Chattanooga bullpen, with brief stints at Sarasota and Louisville, he combined for a 1.25 ERA and walked 18 while striking out 103 in 86 2/3 innings. His .174 combined average against ranked among the Minor League leaders. Originally signed by the Mets as a non-drafted free agent, he was traded to the Reds in 2006 for veteran southpaw Dave Williams. Over the next two seasons, he split his time between relief and starting, but was always more effective out of the 'pen. With Peoria, he had a 3.00 ERA in three games, fanning two without walking a batter in three innings.
RHP Carlos Fisher, an 11th-round pick in 2005 out of Lewis and Clark State, was converted from the rotation to relief this past season to make better use of his heavy sinker. He lowered his ERA with a 3.04 in 50 games at Chattanooga, then posted a 1.04 mark in 14 games at Louisville. He allowed just three homers on the season, striking out 67 in 68 innings. For the Javelinas, he had a 3.38 ERA with one save in three games, fanning three over 2 2/3 innings.
LHP Pedro Viola blew away batters in his stateside debut in 2007, when he combined across three levels to post a 1.42 ERA. His numbers were not quite as dominant in his full-season campaign at Chattanooga in 2008, though, as his ERA sat at 4.48 in 52 games there. But he did strike out 84 batters in 82 1/3 innings. With Peoria he had a 7.50 ERA in two games with four strikeouts in six innings. After a rough first start, he recovered to give up just one hit over three shutout frames in his second outing.
RHP Sean Watson was the Reds' second-round pick in 2006 out of Tennessee. He also made the move from starter in 2007 to reliever in 2008, posting a 4.42 ERA between Sarasota and Chattanooga to go with 13 saves, tied for second in the system. He combined to strike out 75 batters in 55 innings while walking 42. Watson was scuffling in the early Arizona going with a 19.64 ERA, allowing two or three runs in all three of his relief appearances.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.