Breaking Down the 2011 Outfielders
Part 6 of 8 in the Dragons 2011 Positional Preview
Today we look at the outfield positions.
Hands on deck: Yorman Rodriguez, Juan Duran, Jefry Sierra, Donald Lutz, Dayne Read, Kurtis Muller, Stephen Hunt, Theo Bowe, Jaren Matthews.
In the Dragons 2010 preview, it was noted that the roster makeup of the outfield position was the toughest to predict among all the non-pitcher spots on the field, and the same is true for 2011. The team likely will keep three "pure" outfielders plus three additional players listed as outfielders on the roster who will also see some action at an infield position. For this preview, no players who spent time with the Dragons in 2010 are discussed. However, it is always possible that someone unexpectedly will be bumped back from the Advanced-A level (Bakersfield) into the Dayton picture, as Byron Wiley was at the last moment in 2010.
The Dragons outfielders from last year all are expected to move up. The starting outfield in Bakersfield could consist of former Dragons Josh Fellhauer, Andrew Means, and Ryan LaMarre, with Cameron Satterwhite, Alex Oliveras, and Josh Garton coming off the bench. Justin Reed and Kevyn Feiner, two players that saw time in the Dayton outfield in 2010 and in previous seasons, have been released.
The Dragons outfield picture in 2011 features very solid depth. All nine of the players on the list above could justifiably play in Dayton in 2011, but three names off the list will probably have to start the year in extended spring training.
Yorman Rodriguez is the one player among the nine on the list above who would seem to be a sure bet to start 2011 in Dayton. Rodriguez was signed by the Reds on his 16th birthday in August of 2008 as an international free agent. He was reportedly given the largest signing bonus ever awarded a Venezuelan player at the time, and it has been simply a matter of time for Dragons fans to get a look at Rodriguez at Fifth Third Field. He is now 18 years old and ready for the challenge despite the fact that he might be the youngest everyday player in the Midwest League this season.
Expectations for Rodriguez have steadily remained very high since the day he signed a contract with the Reds. He was rated as the fifth best prospect in the Reds organization entering the 2009 season by Baseball America; the sixth best in 2010; and he is back to #5 entering 2011. He is the # 1 outfield prospect in the entire system.
Rodriguez played at Billings in the Pioneer League in each of the last two seasons, appearing in almost the exact same number of games both years. In 2009, he was only 16 years old for most of the season and batted .219. Last season, still the youngest regular in the league, he raised his batting average 120 points to .339. He added two home runs and drove in 39 runs in 43 games. He also stole 12 bases. Rodriguez is very athletic with excellent arm strength, good speed, and the potential to hit for power. He is expected to be the Dragons opening night center fielder.
Juan Duran joined Rodriguez as a high-profile international signing by the Reds in 2008. Like Rodriguez, he was just 16 years old when he began playing professional baseball three years ago. Unlike Rodriguez however, Duran is still waiting for the breakout season that justifies the expectations that were placed on him the day he signed his first pro contract.
Duran has remained on the Baseball America prospect list but his ranking has dropped each season. He was listed at #9 in the Reds organization entering the 2009 season. He was rated as the 18th best prospect entering 2010. He is at #28 on the list entering this season, but he is still listed as the Reds fifth best outfield prospect. Duran will be 19 years old this season, his fourth year in professional baseball.
Duran has exactly 500 at-bats over his three years playing professionally, roughly the equivalent of one typical full season. His career batting average is .214. He has connected on seven home runs and driven in 56 runs. He has struck out 170 times. He did enjoy his best season in 2010 at Billings when he batted a career-high .244 with six homers as he began to show the progress that the Reds hope will continue in 2011. At this point, he looks like a likely candidate to start in left field or right field for the Dragons on opening night.
Jefry Sierra has made the move from second base to center field over the past year. He may fill a utility role for the Dragons in 2011, serving as the team's fourth outfielder and also seeing time at second base when starter Devin Lohman needs a day off or when Lohman is filling in at shortstop. Observers rave about Sierra's skills in center field, and many say he is the best defensive outfielder of anyone who will play in Dayton in 2011. Sierra will be 20 years old on opening day, still young by Midwest League standards. His speed is a great tool. He stole 22 bases in Billings last season in just 58 games, and he certainly could combine with Dragons shortstop Billy Hamilton to give the Dragons two serious base stealing threats in the batting order. Sierra hit .336 with the Gulf Coast League Reds in 2009 but dropped to .247 with Billings last season. He does not have a career home run.
New Dragons manager Delino DeShields was one of the top base stealers of his generation over his 13-year big league career, so he certainly will appreciate the pressure that Sierra and Hamilton will be able to put on opposing defenses.
Donald Lutz, a native of Germany, was mentioned briefly in the Dragons first base preview as an outfielder who could see some time at first, but as spring training has progressed, it now appears that Lutz may actually see the bulk of his time at first base and might even be the starter there. Lutz batted .286 at Billings last season, connecting on seven home runs and driving in 28 runs in 55 games. He is a left-handed hitter who has been one of the top players on the German national team. Lutz's brother, Sascha, is also one of Germany's best baseball players.
Dayne Read is battling for a spot on the Dragons roster and could also wind up in the starting lineup on opening night. Read was drafted by the Reds out of junior college in 2009 and made his professional debut last season with Billings. He is an excellent athlete who was recruited to play football by Vanderbilt, Duke, and East Carolina. Read was an outstanding high school player in a great state for high school baseball, Florida. He led his team to the 2007 state title and was named the 2A state player of the year. Last season at Billings, Read hit .257 with three home runs and 21 RBI, and he added 10 stolen bases. Read is known as a good athlete and a hard-nosed player who will give it everything he has each time he steps on the field.
Kurtis Muller was drafted by the Reds in the 22nd round last June out of the University of Iowa. Division I college players in the Reds organization usually begin their pro careers in Billings (if not in Dayton), but because of the surplus of outfield talent, Muller and Stephen Hunt both started a level lower in Goodyear with the AZL Reds. Both performed very well. Muller was selected to the AZL full-season all-star team, finished 10th in the league in batting average at .317, and second in the circuit in base hits. Though he did not hit a home run, he added seven steals in 49 games. At Iowa last spring, Muller hit .381 and stole 30 bases while leading the team in many offensive categories. He has been impressive this spring and is in a battle for a roster spot or spot in the opening night starting lineup. He runs well and is said to have good baseball instincts and overall skills.
Stephen Hunt was drafted by the Reds in the 15th round in 2010 out of the University of South Florida. Like Muller, he started in the AZL and had his way with the young pitchers in that league. Hunt batted .338 in 22 games and was promoted to Billings. Unfortunately for Hunt, once he joined the Mustangs, Rodriguez, Duran, Read, and Sierra were already entrenched with most of the playing time, and Hunt got into only 14 games, batting .170 with a couple of home runs. At USF last spring, Hunt his .307 with 20 doubles and seven home runs in 56 games. He walked nearly as many times as he struck out. Hunt is said to be a fundamentally sound player, described by one instructor in the Reds organization as "a ballplayer, the kind of guy you win with."
Theo Bowe is another player in the mix for an outfield spot on the Dayton roster. Bowe is one of the smallest players in the organization, listed at 5'9", 162 lbs., but he possesses blazing speed. Bowe has already spent three seasons in rookie ball in the Reds organization and batted .300 as a part-time player in Billings last year (130 at-bats). Over the last two years combined, Bowe has accumulated 231 at-bats and stolen 27 bases, a very impressive ratio.
Jaren Matthews was profiled in the Dragons first base preview, but may wind up spending more time in the outfield as Lutz has staked a claim at first base. He is an athletic player with power out of Rutgers University and appears on his way to Dayton for opening night.
The Reds have some interesting decisions with this group and the three who do not make the opening day roster could certainly factor in shortly thereafter. In 2010, outfielders Josh Garton and Cameron Satterwhite started the season in extended spring training and wound up combining for about 600 at-bats with the Dragons. If the Dragons need reinforcements at this position in 2011, there should be some quality athletes available.