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Johnny Be Good

Also in the Daily Scoop... • Scout's take on Johnny Cueto • Top 10 rookies • Mike Hampton is hurt again

Johnny Cueto allowed just one baserunner against the Diamondbacks in seven innings Thursday and became the first Reds pitcher since 1900 to strike out 10 batters in his debut, a 3-2 Cincinnati win. It was a stunning coming out party ... unless, that is, you've been scouting Cueto for years.

"He has a big-time arm,'' said one scout from an American League team who's seen Cueto at least a dozen times.

Cueto, a 5-foot-10 right-hander, is known for a fastball that's 95-96 mph and a superb changeup. Cueto drew decent reviews this spring, then threw a game where he walked five batters and didn't get out of the first inning. So his gem Thursday, where the only blemish was Justin Upton's solo home run in the sixth inning, almost seemed to come out of the blue for the Reds. Though, not to the scouts who've been following him.

(At least once a week, I'll provide a scout's in-depth look at a player.)

"His arm action is as clean and loose as you can get. When you see this guy, you think he can be a guy who goes deep into a game or [can] be a closer. He has a better arm than Homer Bailey, who was a No. 1 pick. He's legit. He's where he should be. A lot of scouts will say he's a little on the small side. But that arm is big. He has an explosiveness to his fastball that's a treat to watch.''

1. Kosuke Fukudome, Cubs outfielder. He's already off to a nice start (4-for-8), confirming what scouts saw in Arizona. "He only looked overmatched on one or two at-bats,'' one scout said. "He has a nice approach at the plate.'' So far he's the best thing about the Cubs.

2. Joba Chamberlain, Yankees reliever. He created a little stir with a victory dance after whiffing Frank Thomas (though, Thomas said he was OK with it) and looks ready for more eighth-inning domination. New Joba rule: no radio show, which was canceled by GM Brian Cashman.

3. Evan Longoria, Rays third baseman (in minors). A tremendous hitter, he should be with the Rays. Some aren't really sure why he isn't. A Rays' person said the decision was only partially financial (having to do with starting his arbitration-eligible clock), but the scouts think that must be the part that counts. Because they are sure he's ready.

4. Colby Rasmus, Cardinals center fielder (in minors). To a man, every scout in Florida loved him. They also think he should also be in the bigs, especially since he's left-handed and could handle a majority of pitchers. The Cards could use him, too.

5. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox pitcher. He's already thrown a no-hitter, so you know he has great stuff. There were questions about his maturity when Boston made him a sandwich pick in its great 2005 draft, but it has no regrets.

6. Cueto.

7. Manny Parra, Brewers pitcher. Left-hander who threw a perfect game in the minors last year was the talk of Brewers camp.

8. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox center fielder. Speedster starred last October, turning Coco Crisp into trade bait.

9. Geovany Soto, Cubs catcher. Hit .389 with three homers in a cameo last year and extends the powerful Cub lineup.

10. Daric Barton, A's first baseman. Whenever I saw him this spring, Barton, who came to Oakland in a trade for Mark Mulder after the 2004 season, was crushing the ball.

Some others: Ian Kennedy, Yankees pitcher; Cameron Maybin, Marlins outfielder (minors); Andrew Miller, Marlins pitcher; Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers pitcher; Edinson Volquez, Reds pitcher; Jayson Nix, Rockies second baseman.

• Mike Hampton's press plaudits this spring were overblown. Hampton, who continues to physically fall apart, failed to start for the Braves on Thursday night due to a "strained pec,'' and will be of no help this season, just like he's been for six of the previous seven years of his $120-million contract. One scout predicted he wouldn't be anything more than ordinary even if he remained healthy, noting that the only remarkable thing about him this spring was that "he looked smaller.''

• By default, Grady Sizemore now has the longest consecutive games streak, at 361 games. Juan Pierre lost his 434-game streak when he lost his job (not that the Dodgers made a mistake, because Andre Ethier deserves to be in left field).

• After saying this spring he wanted to protect Alfonso Soriano by dropping him out of the leadoff spot, all it took was two losses before Lou Piniella moved Soriano back to leadoff. The reason Soriano moved him out this spring probably had something to do with the expectation that Brian Roberts was on the way. Either that, or Piniella has even less patience than we thought.

• Ryan Zimmerman was considered a fabulous defensive third baseman when he was drafted out of the University of Virginia in 2005, but a lack of power (he hit just five home runs in his final season there) gave some teams pause. (But as one scout pointed out, Virginia plays in a "pasture.") Zimmerman has already hit two big home runs this season for the Nats.

• Some scouts were surprised the Mets let Ruben Gotay go. Though he's a very good hitter, the Mets thought he was pretty limited defensively and preferred a righty swinger. What the Mets really need is someone to play shortstop and back up Jose Reyes, who wore down late last year, and Gotay isn't that person.

• The Boston Globe reported that both Chicago teams have been the hottest pursuers of Coco Crisp. Crisp's $5 million salary is a detriment, and I was surprised to see the White Sox already had the fifth highest payroll, at $122 million. I also heard the Cubs backed off a little once they signed Reed Johnson.

• New Reds manager Dusty Baker made a strange call to have Edwin Encarnacion bunt with runners at first and second and down two in the ninth Wednesday night. When Encarnacion, who has zero sac bunts in his career, got behind 0-2, Baker took off the bunt sign and Encarnacion homered.

• Sometimes when Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa has a point, he takes it too far. Umpires were allowing coaches to work from out of their boxes in spring, but when ump Ed Montague directed Bowa into the box, there was no good reason not to comply.

• Brian Bannister may turn out to be a bigger loss to the Mets than Scott Kazmir.

• Time for the Tigers to wake up, eh?

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