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Cincinnati Reds Blog

A day-to-day record of the mind of a Cincinnati Reds fan.

Updated: 2017-03-23T10:15:32.279-04:00


Book Review: How College Athletics Are Hurting Girls' Sports by Rick Eckstein


We take time out from our preview schedule to do a book review, a bit afield from our normal topics here but important nonetheless.  The book is How College Athletics Are Hurting Girls' Sports by Rick Eckstein, an author and sociology professor at Villanova University.  Eckstein has previously co-written a book titled Public Dollars, Private Stadiums, about using taxpayer monies to fund athletic facilities for professional teams.

This book is both a scholarly exercise and a personal look, as Eckstein is a researcher and also a father and youth sports coach.  While he concentrates in this volume on girls' sports, the issues also have implications for boys.  In reading it I was often reminded of Jeff Passan's recent book The Arm, about baseball pitcher injuries occurring earlier and earlier, and affecting many youngsters.  A common theme in both books is the prevalence of so-called travel teams, and the dangers of concentrating on one sport year-round resulting in overuse injuries.

The book is very readable though the reader should be aware this is a scholarly treatment.  It is based on research, much of it Eckstein's own research, and tends to pound on a point more than a "popular" tome would.  That's all right, because there is an important point to pound here; the influence of for-profit sports organizations and retailers selling a product to get children and their parents to buy into a notion that they can earn scholarships to colleges through sports.  Never mind that these families are already well off, could easily afford the college tuition, and spend more on these travel teams than they would just paying the tuition even if they do manage to get a scholarship.

Eckstein concentrates on five sports; soccer, field hockey, ice hockey, figure skating, and ultimate frisbee.  They each have different professional possibilities, different college opportunities, and different places in society.  There are themes common to all and individual to each.  Eckstein has spent a lot of time preparing his material, going to conferences and meetings for each sport and interviewing girls and parents as well as coaches and officials in each.  The interview quotes from those involved are the most compelling part of the book.  The selling tactics used, what people have learned, and what they choose to ignore is often very telling.

I never had a child with aspirations of playing a sport in the pros or in college, but if I had I would have wanted to read this book first.  Eckstein devotes a chapter to each of several aspects of the issue, then a final chapter with some ideas for reform, many of them quite earth-shaking to our present way of doing things.  Perhaps the way we do things could use some shaking.

2017 Roster Preview Part 21: Wallach, Winker, Wood, Zarraga


To finish out our preview, we will look at four players today instead of three.

Chad Wallach, 25, is a non-roster catcher originally drafted by the Marlins in the 5th round of 2013.  Wallach has good on-base skills, not much power, and did not actually catch in 2016.  He was invited to major league spring training mainly to catch bullpens for the many pitchers in camp.  Someone has to catch all those pitchers.  Since Wallach gave up 81 steals in the 2014 minor league season, he hasn't done much catching in games.

He's not very fast, and his other position is first base, so he isn't going to make the big leagues that way.  However, he's willing to hang around and do the odd jobs like this so he's handy.  He played 69 games at double-A Pensacola in 2016 and put up a 240/363/410 slash line.  With no speed and no defensive value that won't get him a job as anything but a coach, so that is likely his goal now.  Who's to say he can't do it?

Jesse Winker, 23 (24 in August) is one of the Reds' hottest prospects.  He was the 49th pick of the 2012 draft and the Reds have moved him a slot at a time, and he has posted a .296 minor league batting average.  He batted .303 at triple-A Louisville in 2016, and so is on the cusp of the majors.  Now he just needs a job.

Winker makes contact and drives the ball and also draws walks, so he is excellent at getting on base.  On the other hand, he has shown little power, doesn't have much speed, and is not well regarded defensively.  Winker has hit as many as 16 homers in a minor league season, but hit only 3 last year in Louisville.  He profiles as an excellent leadoff man though without the speed stereotypically associated with that job.  He projects as the only hitter on the Reds besides Joey Votto likely to deliver above-average offense in 2017.  Hopefully the Reds will make room for him in the lineup by midseason.

Blake Wood finally made it back to a full-time job in the majors after going through arm surgery and did a creditable job in the Cincinnati bullpen.  He's 31 and turns 32 in August.  He'd put in full seasons with Kansas City in 2010 and 2011, but had managed only 9 games for Cleveland since then.  His 2016 season featured 70 games, 76 innings, and a 3.99 ERA.  He struck out 81 and walked 38.

Wood throws a 96 mph fastball, a good slider, and a change that is mostly for showing left-handers.  His main weakness is control that can be iffy.  He is a perfectly capable middle reliever and can soak up a few innings and even pitch in some important spots.  Wood figures to pitch the 6th or 7th this year.

Shawn Zarraga is a 28-year old catcher drafted in the 44th round in 2007 by the Brewers.  Like Wallach, he is in camp to catch all those extra pitchers and rest the regular guys.  He's a stocky dude and a lot like Wallach, actually; decent on-base skills, not much power, handy enough to have around.  He's never been regarded as much of a prospect and has never caught 100 games in a minor league season.

Zarraga has a .281 minor league batting average, but only .236 in triple-A.  He's just an organizational guy, helpful to have around, not a vital part.  But you need those guys, and they often become coaches and managers.  By this age, that's likely to be Zarraga's career plan.

2017 Roster Preview Part 20: Vincej, Votto, Walker


We are barrelling toward the end of our preview, even as Opening Day approaches.

Zach Vincej is a non-roster infielder, a 25-year old from California selected in the 37th round of the 2012 draft by the Reds.  He turns 26 in May.  He hadn't turned up on anyone's prospect radar until an eye-opening performance in the Arizona Fall League in 2016.  That got him some attention and an invite to major league spring training.

Vincej has a good defensive reputation as a shortstop, has shown little power until his AFL performance, and has good contact skills and draws some walks.  He profiles as an extra infielder.  Last year he was repeating double-A at Pensacola and batted .281 with 3 homers.  He will probably play at Louisville this year with a look at playing more positions so he can ease into a bench position with the big club soon.  He could do that job.

Joey Votto is the best hitter in the National League.  He is 33 and will turn 34 in September.  He led the NL in on-base percentage and OPS+ in 2016 while batting .326 with 29 homers and 97 RBI.  It was another all-around solid season for the Canadian.

Votto suffers a problem seen often in baseball, where the best player on a bad team comes in for a lot of criticism for not making his teammates better.  It's a silly complaint, and involves finding fault with an excellent ballplayer because management hasn't done its job.  Votto has now played 10 major league seasons at a very high level, and has yet to show signs of slippage due to age.  It would behoove Reds fans and announcers to appreciate this jewel in front of us while he is here.  He ranks 8th on the all-time list of Reds for WAR as calculated by Baseball-Reference and is now the team's best first baseman ever, having surged past Tony Perez.  Gotta show the man some respect.

Christian Walker is a Pennsylvania native taken by the Orioles in the 4th round of the 2012 draft out of the University of South Carolina.  He had brief trials with Baltimore in 2014 and 2015.  Since he is limited defensively to first base, he didn't have much space in Baltimore behind Chris Davis and has even less in Cincinnati behind Joey Votto, what with no DH rule.  The reasoning of adding the 26-year old Walker to the major league roster is mysterious and unfathomable.

Walker has spent the last two years at triple-A Norfolk, batting .257 with 18 homers and 74 RBI in 2015 and .264 with 18 homers and 64 RBI in 2016.  So, we can expect him to bat cleanup for Loiusville this year.  Why you spend a 40-man roster spot on that I don't really know.  He's been waiver bait all winter.  The Reds cut Jumbo Diaz to add him to the roster.

Roster Cuts


The first roster cuts of the spring have taken place, with 16 players assigned to the minor league camp.  Those names:

IF Brandon Dixon and Dilson Herrera.
OF Aristides Aquino and Gabe Guerrero.
C Joe Hudson
P Luis Castillo, Keury Mella, Jackson Stephens, Nick Travieso, Tyler Mahle, Lisalverto Bonilla, Ariel Hernandez, Ismael Guillon, Jimmy Herget, Nick Routt and Kevin Shackelford.

The only real surprise here was Dilson Herrera, but that's because he's been hurt.  He may well open the season on the disabled list for the minors.

2017 Roster Preview Part 19: Storen, Travieso, Turner


We are coming closer and closer to the end of the alphabet:  not there yet though.

Drew Storen is a 29-year old veteran closer who will turn 30 in August.  He was a first round pick by Washington in 2009 and saved 43 games for them in 2011.  He's been up and down since then, partly related to some health issues.  All of his major league games have been pitched in relief, 412 of them over seven seasons.  His career ERA is 3.31 and he has 369 strikeouts and 109 walks in 386 innings.  He is coming off his worst major league season in 2016 with a 5.23 ERA, and so was willing to sign a one-year deal with the Reds for $3 million to try and rebuild some value.

Storen's velocity was down significantly in 2016, as he was delivering his fastball at 92 mph rather than his previous 94-95 level.  That velocity loss, which led to increased reliance on his slider and change, was the reason for his decreased effectiveness and if he doesn't find those extra inches on the heater he will continue to struggle.  Such a velocity drop often indicates injury.  He is slated to be one of four rotating closers for the Reds, but if he's ineffective--and spring training has been rough so far--that won't go very well.

Nick Travieso was a first round pick by the Reds in 2012 (the 14th pick overall) and is now 23 years old.  He had a terrific 2014 in the Midwest League at Dayton, then had some injury issues in 2015 and some struggles adjusting to double-A in 2016 as he was 5-7 with a 3.84 ERA at Pensacola.  He got a cortisone shot a couple of days ago, so some soreness continues.

Travieso throws his fastball in the low 90s and has a good slider and a developing change.  His main problem has been command.  If Travieso can get a better idea of location, he could be a back-end starter.  If not, he probably needs to convert to bullpen work where the fastball might play up and reach a higher velocity.  The Reds may have him repeat double-A, or could move him up to Louisville.

Stuart Turner is a 25-year old catcher originally drafted by the Twins in the 3rd round in 2013.  He's played the last two years at former Reds affiliate Chattanooga, and was drafted by Cincinnati in this winter's Rule 5 draft.  If the Reds keep him on their major league roster, he remains their property; if not, he must be offered back to Minnesota.

Turner has a reputation as a good defensive catcher, but has just a .241 average as a minor leaguer and hit .239 for Chattanooga last year.  He doesn't have a lot of power, either, so if he sticks around it will be just as a defensive backup.  He sticks as Tucker Barnhart's caddy if Devin Mesoraco can't go; otherwise, he doesn't fit on the roster.  That's the line he is walking.  Well, that and he gets to audition for other teams as well while in major league spring training.  Things could be worse.

2017 Roster Preview Part 18: Shackelford, Stevens, Stevenson


We continue our journey through the Reds' spring training roster in the letter S.

Kevin Shackelford is a non-roster right-handed pitcher, age 27 and turning 28 in April.  He's a Marshall University alum and a 2010 draftee of the Brewers in the 21st round.  He originally came to the Reds in the Jonathan Broxton trade, reached his six-year minor league free agent rights this offseason, looked around for offers and decided to return to the Cincinnati organization on a minor league deal with a major league camp invite.

Shackelford started some in his first three years of pro ball but has been exclusively a reliever since 2013.  In 2016 he posted a 2.03 ERA in 35 games between double-A and triple-A.  In seven years of the minors his ERA is 4.20.  He's got unimpressive stuff, good control, and a knack for avoiding home runs.  He'll be on the Pensacola or Louisville roster, and might even get a call up in a pinch.  Mostly this is just about doing a solid for a minor league soldier.

Jackson Stephens is a right-handed pitcher drafted by the Reds out of high school in Alabama in the 18th round in 2012.  He's 22 and turns 23 in May.  He had struggled his first three years, posting high ERAs and repeated his level at Dayton.  2015 at Daytona was a breakout year for him, with a 12-7 record and 2.97 ERA, then his 2016 at double-A Pensacola was solid with an 8-11 record and 3.33 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 151 innings to just 41 walks.  That was enough to get him noticed, and a roster spot.

Stephens does not have impressive stuff but shows good control and ability to pitch.  He may eventually head to the bullpen, but figures to get a chance to start at Louisville this year and see how his stuff holds up one level closer to the majors.  The kid has been solid the last couple years and deserves a chance to see what he can do.

Robert Stephenson is a right-handed pitcher from California the Reds chose as the first round pick in 2011, the 27th pick in that draft.  His prospect status has always been based on his extreme fastball velocity.  Stephenson throws a fastball that can touch 100 mph and sits in the upper 90s.  His problem has been regularly throwing strikes.  His 586 minor league innings have included 273 walks along with 608 strikeouts.  His 37 major league innings included 19 walks.

Stephenson is now 24 and due on the major league stage.  The kid has a major league arm with that hot fastball, an excellent splitter as a changeup, and a good curve.  Mostly he has to learn to trust his stuff and pitch smart.  Maybe that's just letting his catcher call the game and him just throwing,   He should be in the major league rotation this year and if he isn't it's his own fault.

2017 Roster Preview Part 17: Romano, Routt, Schebler


Now back from my vacation, we resume our regularly scheduled roster preview.

Sal Romano is a huge right-handed pitcher, listed at 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds.  With a big body like that, he ought to be durable.  He was drafted out of high school in the 23rd round, and struggled in his first couple of pro seasons.  He had a good year in 2016 in double-A and at age 23, is a hot prospect.  In 27 starts for Pensacola he was only 6-11 but had a 3.52 ERA and struck out 144 in 156 innings while walking just 34.

Romano throws a fastball in the mid-90s and a good slider.  The changeup is still a work in progress, and he won't really be major league ready as a starter until he develops it into a usable pitch.  Expect him to work on that at Louisville in 2017, and if that goes well he might get some major league work at the end of the season.  Either way, he is a candidate for the Cincinnati rotation in 2018.

Nick Routt is a tall lefty from the D.C. area drafted in the 16th round in 2012 out of Mississippi State.  He was used as a reliever his first pro season, then shifted into the starting rotation, rising slowly through the ranks.  The organization put him full-time in the bullpen in 2016, and he posted a 0.89 ERA in 33 games at double-A Pensacola, though a 5.00 ERA in 17 games at triple-A Louisville.  Overall it was a good year, but he's 26 now and turns 27 in August, so the clock is ticking.

Routt throws a low-90s fastball, an overhand curve with good break, and a circle change.  He's shown good command the last couple of years, and may end up being a lefty specialist out of the bullpen with a chance to be something more.  A lot of that will depend on throwing all of his pitches for strikes.  Look for him in the Louisville bullpen this year with a chance to move up.

Scott Schebler is a lefty-hitting outfielder out of  Iowa, originally drafted by the Dodgers in the 26th round of 2010.  He came to the Reds in the Todd Frazier trade.  He started 2016 with the major league team as a part-time player and had a horrible April.  Schebler was sent to Louisville, where he began to hit, and was recalled in August after Jay Bruce was traded to take over right field.  He began to hit and got hotter as the season went toward its end.  Schebler starts 2017 as the likely right fielder.

Even with his horrible April Schebler ended with a slash line of 265/330/432, plus 9 homers and 40 RBI in 82 games.  He's 26 years old for the 2017 season and projects for a .260 average with 20 homers and decent defense.  The Reds seem to think he can cover center field, but although he runs pretty well that's not in his skill set.  He can handle a corner just fine, though.  I'm curious if Schebler has any development left, but he's not a bad player as is.

2017 Roster Preview Part 16: Raburn, Reed, Renda


In this segment, we begin the letter R.

Ryan Raburn is a veteran right-handed hitting outfielder who has also played second base.  He is 35 and turns 36 in the middle of April.  He has played 922 major league games with a career batting average of .253 and a 100 OPS+.  So, he's been about an average hitter, but only plays decent defense in left field, really, so he's always been a part-timer or a bench guy.  In 2016 for Colorado he hit .220 as a part-timer.

The Reds signed him to a minor league deal with a chance to be a bench player.  Based off last year in Colorado, he doesn't have anything left, but he did well in a more limited role with Cleveland the year before.  Chances are good he makes the team, but whether he can be of any help is a question.

Cody Reed is a 23-year old left-handed pitcher who will turn 24 in mid-April.  Reed got his first taste of the majors in 2016, and it didn't go well:  in 10 starts with the Reds, he went 0-7 with a 7.36 ERA.  It was a disappointing debut for the promising prospect, especially compared to his triple-A performance: he was 6-4 with a 3.04 ERA in 13 starts for Louisville.  That major league hurdle can take some time to get over.

Reed throws his fastball at 93 mph and also throws a good slider and change.  His biggest issues at the major league level were a few too many walks and a lot too many homers.  He can be vulnerable to right-handed hitters, which is bad because that's most of them.  To succeed, he needs better fastball location and to get swings and misses at his change.  He has the skills to do that.  Look for him to make the season opening rotation and be at least an average starter this season.

Tony Renda is a minor league veteran in camp as a non-roster player.  He's 26 and was a second-round pick by the Nationals in 2012.  He made his major league debut for the Reds in 2016 and started at four positions, 2B, 3B, LF, and RF, while batting .183 in 32 games.  He started at second base in the minors, but the Reds began playing him at more positions in 2016 with the idea of making him a utility player.

Renda gets the bat on the ball and takes walks, and has a .289 batting average and .361 on-base average in the minors.  He has little power, but good speed.  So, he has the makings of a good bench player, but may get a full year of triple-A this season to get him ready for the role.  He has gotten off to a good start in spring training so if he impresses enough he could stick for the whole year.

2017 Roster Preview Part 15: Ogando, Peralta, Peraza


Nobody with a name starting with N in the big-league camp, so today we do O and P.

Nefi Ogando is a stocky Dominican native and right-handed reliever at age 27, to turn 28 in June.  He was picked up by the Reds off waivers, his second waiver transaction of this offseason.  That's after moving once on waivers last offseason.  So, this guy is waiver bait.  He's also got a 3.66 career ERA, though that's in just 20 major league innings.  He pitched 16 for Miami last year and 4 for the Phillies the year before.

Ogando has a hot fastball but a mediocre slider and shaky command.  He can get the ball up there at 95 mph.  Location has been the problem; he tends to average a walk every other inning, and he doesn't get enough strikeouts to make up for that.  He's unlikely to get much better, but when a guy can throw this hard he'll keep getting chances.  The Reds will keep him around as long as they can commit the 40-man roster spot, but expect him to spend most of the year in Louisville.

Wandy Peralta is a left-handed reliever from the Dominican who stands a good chance to make the major league team.  He's 25 and will turn 26 in July.  The Reds signed him in 2009 and he has slowly worked his way through the minor league system.  He was mostly a starter at the beginning, but was converted to full-time relief in 2016 and had a strong season with a 2.50 ERA in 76 innings.  He struck out 58 and walked 26.  He struggled a bit in a late-season trial, with an 8.59 ERA in 10 games for Cincinnati.

Peralta is expected to be mostly a lefty specialist, but may have the stuff to do more.  He gets his fastball up there at about 95 mph, and mixes in a changeup.  He also throws a slider that's mostly for show at this point.  With a lack of lefty relievers on the roster he stands a good chance to make the team, but must show something to impress the decision makers.  At worst, he will go to Louisville with a chance to move up later.

Jose Peraza is a right-handed hitting speedster who now has a spot in the everyday lineup with the trade of Brandon Phillips.  The 22-year old (who will turn 23 at the end of April) will play second base, then likely move over to shortstop when Zack Cozart is traded.  The Reds have been trying to get him into the lineup, using him at short, second, center, and left field last year.  Now he figures to play every day and bat second.

Peraza hit .324 in 72 games last year with a 324/352/411 slash line.  He's a slash hitter, more swatting at the ball, who tries to punch the ball through a hole and then use the speed that got him 21 steals in 2016.  He's been a .299 hitter in the minors, .289 at triple-A, and is young enough that he could add some strength and power.  He's not likely to walk much but if he makes enough contact he could still be effective offensively.  The Reds plan to give him a chance to try.  With Peraza and Billy Hamilton at the top of the order, Cincinnati could lead the league in steals in 2017.

2017 Roster Preview Part 14: Mella, Mesoraco, Mitchell


We'll finish up letter M in this installment.

Keury Mella is a 23-year old right-handed pitcher from the Dominican.  He'll turn 24 in August.  Mella originally signed with the Giants and came over with Adam Duvall in the Mike Leake deal in 2015.  In 2016 he made 24 starts for single-A Daytona, posting an 8-9 record and 3.90 ERA, then made a final good start for triple-A Louisville.

Mella throws a sinking fastball in the low 90s, and has a good curve plus a change that is currently mostly for show.  His strikeout rate dropped this year, though his walk rate remained a little high.  He's got good stuff but still has command issues and needs to learn better how to work with it.  He's also had some shoulder issues that cause worry.  He should go to double-A this year, and we'll wait and see how that goes.

Devin Mesoraco is a 28-year old catcher for the Reds, will turn 29 in June.  He had an outstanding season in 2014, but has played only 37 games in the two seasons since due to injuries.  One of the big storylines this spring is how well Mesoraco does with his rehab.  A power-hitting catcher who plays solid defense is a very valuable property.  Whether Mesoraco can be anything like that again is an open question.

Hitters who miss a year, let alone two, often have difficulty getting back to their previous level.  Missing that much time against live pitching tends to set back production.  Defense is also a question, because the hip issues he has had make squatting behind a plate a problem, and a lot of his value was defensive.  The Reds would be a much better club if Mesoraco can catch 100 games at something resembling his 2014 production.  That's not something you should bet on.

Evan Mitchell is a 24-year old right-handed pitcher drafted by the Reds in the 13th round in 2013.  He'll turn 25 in a couple of weeks.  He's a reliever in camp on a non-roster invite.  Mitchell split his 2016 between single-A Daytona and double-A Pensacola, and posted a 2.87 ERA in 63 innings over 45 games with 50 strikeouts and 21 walks.

Mitchell throws a low 90s fastball with a good curve and a change that is still, well, coming along.  Control has been an issue but seemed better last year.  If he can get the command, and especially develop to change to combat lefty hitters, he could come along fast.  He's likely to start 2016 at double-A.

In the Media


An interview with me (and other Reds bloggers) is up at the Cardinals site of my friend Daniel Shoptaw, C70 At the Bat.  We talk about the offseason and take a look at 2017.

2017 Roster Preview Part 13: Lorenzen, Luetge, Mahle


It's our lucky 13th installment, as we go through letter L and start M.

Michael Lorenzen is a 25-year old right-handed pitcher who was an outfielder and closer in college at Cal State Fullerton, was drafted by the Reds with the 38th pick in the 2013 draft, and the club tried to make him into a starter, but that hit a snag.  So, he is now ticketed for the bullpen.  That's where he pitched for Cincinnati in 2016, and in 50 innings over 35 games he was 2-1 with a 2.88 ERA and struck out 48 while walking just 13.

Lorenzen throws two fastballs, a four-seamer that comes in about 96 mph, and a two-seamer that's a bit slower but sinks, and is very difficult to hit.  He also throws a good slider.  He'll mix in a change from time to time, but that's a work in progress, which is why starting is still a challenge.  Lorenzen is in the bullpen mix for 2017, and figures to get significant work.  The plan is to use him more as a two-inning setup man, with some closing duties.

Lucas Luetge is a 29-year old (turns 30 at the end of March) left-handed pitcher who got a non-roster invite, and has 111 games of major league experience, all with Seattle from 2012-2015.  In 89 innings he has struck out 74 and walked 47 (8 intentional) and posted a 4.35 ERA.  In 2016 he pitched for Salt Lake City in the Pacific Coast League and had a 4.85 ERA in 56 relief innings.

Luetge throws a four-seam fastball at 91 mph, a sinker (which is his go-to pitch), a slider, and a change.  It's a big repertoire, more like a starter's, and he gets a lot of strikeouts but also walks a lot of batters.  He might do better to just concentrate on a couple of pitchers, like the sinker and the slider.  He get a look in camp, but figures to pitch the year at Louisville.

Tyler Mahle is a 22-year old right-handed pitcher drafted by the Reds in the 7th round of the 2013 draft and in camp as a non-roster guy for a look.  He gets this courtesy after a 13-win season at Dayton in 2015 followed by 14 wins between single-A Daytona and double-A Pensacola in 2016.  His Pensacola ERA was 4.92 due to a high home run rate, but on the year he struck out 141 in 151 innings with just 37 walks.

Mahle throws a low-90s fastball plus a good-looking slider and changeup.  It's not top-notch stuff but it plays up because of the control.  ESPN's Keith Law says the home run problem in double-A was mostly due to overuse of the fastball, and he will need to mix his pitches better.  He's still young and will probably start 2017 in double-A with a chance to move up to Louisville around mid-season.  He could show up in Cincinnati as soon as 2018.

2017 Roster Preview Part 12: Iribarren, Jennings, Kivlehan


In this installment of our series, we finish letter I, then take on letter J and K, with three non-roster outfielders.

Hernan Iribarren is a 32-year old Venezuelan who has been kicking around baseball for quite some time, including brief stints with Milwaukee in 2008 and 2009, and finally again with the Reds in 2016.  That adds up to just 48 major league games, and a .264 batting average.  He's been a pro in the US since 2004, and has played 1257 American minor league games, with a .300 average.  He has played mostly second base, but has manned every position except catcher.  And he'd probably do that if asked.

He hits for a good average and draws some walks, but has little power and is losing speed in his 30s.  At triple-A Louisville last year he batted .327 in 101 games, playing just about everywhere, and included 20 doubles in his count.  He'd be a handy guy to have on a bench as someone you could stick anywhere and a pinch-hitter who wouldn't be an automatic out.  He's a handy 25th man or taxi-squad guy.  That's why the Reds will have him in camp.

Desmond Jennings is a 30-year old center fielder and former top prospect in camp with the Reds looking for a fresh start.  He has spent the last seven seasons with Tampa Bay, including 2012-2014 as a starter, but has a pedestrian .245 career batting average.  He has some speed, and some power, but never emerged as a star and the Rays decided his glove no longer justified his bat, and released him last August.  Perhaps tellingly, no one picked him up after that.  Now he gets just a non-roster invite on a minor league contract.

Jennings is a good left fielder but below average in center.  The Reds will look at him as an outfield backup and caddy for Billy Hamilton.  As that and a possible platoon mate for Scott Schebler, Jennings could make some sense.  He'll have to impress someone in camp, because the Reds have a lot of outfielders around.

Patrick Kivlehan is a right-handed hitting outfielder drafted by the Mariners in the 4th round of 2012 out of Rutgers, and has been in two trades and two waiver deals in the last two years.  The Reds picked him up at the very end of the season when the Padres waived him, and put him into three games, where he went 0-for-5.  That's not much to go on, so we'll look at his minor league performance.

Kivlehan has spent most of his time at third base, but he is a four-corner player; first, third, left and right field.  He has power but also contact issues; his line for 223 triple-A games is 255/308/457.  He's getting a look-see, but look for him to end up as Louisville's cleanup hitter in 2017.  He's 27 and has to bide his time looking for a major league opportunity to come along.

Reds Lose Exhibition Game


The Reds lost an exhibition game to the Indians today.  The score was 8-2.  Getting in the work in game conditions, man.

Reds Lose Exhibition Game


The Reds lost an exhibition game to the Indians today.  The score was 8-2.  Getting in the work in game conditions, man.

Spring Games Begin


The Reds played their first spring training game today, losing to the Giants 6-4.

And so, it begins!

2017 Roster Preview Part 11: Hernandez, Herrera, Iglesias


Wrapping up letter H and beginning letter I.

Ariel Hernandez is a Dominican right-handed pitcher, aged 24 but turning 25 in a few days, picked up off waivers last offseason.  He pitched in 2016 at the A-ball level for Cincinnati, posting a 3-2 record and 5 saves with a 2.18 ERA in 43 games.  In 62 innings he struck out 74 and gave up just 29 hits but walked 39.

As you could guess from the stat line, Hernandez has great stuff but poor control.  He throws his fastball in the high 90s and a tremendous curve, but throwing strikes has been a problem.  Two organizations gave up on him because he was so wild.  The Reds see the light at the end of the tunnel and will likely start him in double-A for 2017.  If he can keep his game up at Pensacola, he'll be in the majors soon.

Dilson Herrera is a short and stocky guy, a second-base prospect picked up in the Jay Bruce trade.  He'll turn 23 in a week, but already has some big league experience.  He could get more this season, but is having a recurrence of his shoulder problems from last year.  That would be a shame, because Herrera has excellent potential as an offensive infielder.

Herrera has just a .215 major league batting average, but he was 20 and 21 in the seasons that was recorded.  In the minors last year he batted .274 with 15 homers and 64 RBI as a triple-A player.  In 2015 he hit .331 in the minors.  He is projected as an average defensive player but if he can hit like that it will play.  With Brandon Phillips traded Jose Peraza is first in line for playing time, but Herrera would take over second base if and when Zack Cozart can be moved.  That is, if he's healthy.  Surgery could be in his future.

Raisel Iglesias is a 27-year old pitcher from Cuba signed by the Reds in 2014.  He now has 174 innings in the majors with a 2.53 ERA.  Cincinnati had hoped to develop him as a starter, but shoulder issues seem to have him ticketed for the bullpen now and in the future.  That went well in 2016 with a 3-2 record, 6 saves, and a 2.53 ERA.  He'll also take on the role of mentor for new Cuban signee Vladimir Gutierrez.

Iglesias throws a 93 mph fastball but his best pitch is a killer slider that tends to leave right-handed batters flailing.  For lefties he uses a change which doesn't work quite as well, but it's still a good assortment.  The Reds have been talking about using Iglesias and the rest of their bullpen arms in non-traditional roles, trying to get them in higher-leverage situations and pitching more innings.  Getting Iglesias about 100 innings out of the bullpen, rather than 70, seems like a good idea.

2017 Roster Preview Part 10: Gutierrez, Hamilton, Herget


Vladimir Gutierrez is a right-handed Cuban pitcher just signed by the Reds this off-season and invited to major league camp as a non-roster player.  He is 21 and won't turn 22 until September.  In tryouts he showed a mid-90s fastball and a sharp curveball, but no real change and command that comes and goes.

He has pitched so little, and been away from competition for so long, that there is literally no way to predict what he will do.  My prediction, and this is just a guess, is he will start the year in Dayton to get some experience.  It is equally likely they will keep him in extended spring training to work on his delivery and making it consistent. And there is a very minor chance he is so good in the spring he starts at Daytona or Pensacola.  We just don't have enough data here.

Billy Hamilton, 26 (27 in September) is the Cincinnati super-speed center fielder.  The fastest man alive can outrun anything in the outfield and covers ground like no one else can.  He also has a good throwing arm.  In fact, most of his value is defensive.  The questions around Hamilton have always involved his hitting.

Hamilton is very slender and has little power.  The worry is that he will not make contact with enough authority to be a viable hitter.  He was doing better with that later in the 2016 season, which brings us to the other worry; durability.  Hamilton may not be strong enough to stay in the lineup on a daily basis.  2017 will tell us a lot on that count.  In 2016 he had a slash line of 260/321/343 and stole 58 bases while scoring 69 runs in 119 games.  If he can manage that, that will play.

Jimmy Herget is a right-handed pitcher with a non-roster invite to spring for a look-see.  He was a 6th round pick by the Reds in 2015 and is 23, turning 24 in September.  (That's three September birthdays in three guys today, if you're counting.)  He's a reliever, had a solid debut at Billings in 2015 in his first pro work, then spent 2016 at Daytona and went 4-4 with 24 saves in 50 outings with 83 strikeouts in 61 innings.

That draws attention, and gets him some time at major league camp even though he isn't yet on the roster.  He throws just above sidearm with a low-90s fastball that runs in on righties, making it tough for them to hit.  He's also got a nice breaking slider, but the change is not impressive, making him vulnerable to left-handers.  He projects to be a pretty good major league reliever in a couple of years, and if that change comes along he could be a dangerous closer.

2017 Roster Preview Part 9: Garrett, Guerrero, Guillon


Working through letter G.

Amir Garrett is a tall left-handed pitcher who played college basketball at St. Johns.  Now 24 and turning 25 in May, he has made rapid progress since committing to baseball full-time.  He has become a regular on prospect list, and was the 86th best prospect in the game on the preseason list by ESPN's Keith Law.

Garrett has a funky three-quarters delivery that hides the ball well until his fastball comes at the hitter in the mid-90s with good movement.  He also has a slider that breaks nicely unless he drops down too far and it flattens out.  The change is still a work in progress but it's coming along.  Garrett made 12 starts in double-A last year and went 5-3 with a 1.75 ERA, then went 2-5 with a 3.46 ERA in triple-A.  He is most likely to start the year in Louisville, but has a chance to make the Opening Day rotation, and if not is likely to get a call during the 2017 season.

Gabriel Guerrero is a non-roster outfielder and nephew of Vlad Guerrero at age 23.  He's a toolsy right fielder who has never quite been able to fulfill his promise and the high expectations generated by the family name.  He was originally signed by Seattle and was most recently with Arizona.

Guerrero has never really had any success above A-ball.  The last two years in the higher minors he's been hitting .230 with no real on-base skills.  He's got power and speed but does not appear to have his uncle's talent for making contact with the baseball.  He's still young and talented so there's hope, it's just not likely.

Ismael Guillon is a left-handed pitcher from Venezuela.  He's 25 years old.  He was on the prospect track until he tore a muscle in early 2015 and missed the whole season.  He came back in 2016 and had a solid year as a swingman at single-A Daytona, going 7-2 with a 2.41 ERA.  That was a pretty low rung for a guy who was 24, though, and he's going to have to transition to the higher minors.

Guillon throws his fastball in the low 90s and has a good change, though he is still working on a curveball.  He's got promise but has been very inconsistent and of course has to show what he can do at higher levels.  Ticket him for double-A in 2017, and we'll see what happens.

2017 Roster Preview Part 8: Ervin, Feldman, Finnegan


We finish letter E and then tackle letter F.

Phillip Ervin is an Alabama native and alum of Samford U., drafted by the Reds in the 1st round of the 2013 draft.  He's 24 and will turn 25 in July.  Ervin is kind of short but stocky, has been playing all three outfield positions but spent most of his time the last couple of years in left field.  He spent 2016 at double-A Pensacola and hit just .239 but also hit 13 homers and 22 doubles in 122 games, drove in 45 runs and scored 71, drew 65 walks and had a slash line of 239/362/399.

Ervin has power and speed but hits a lot of pop-ups.  He needs to do a better job of making consisten solid contact, which probably means reworking his swing.  His defense is pretty good but not really good enough to be a regular in center field.  His best projected path now is to be a bench player, but he has the potential to be more if he can work out the holes in his swing.

Scott Feldman is a 34-year old veteran of 12 big league seasons.  He had a 17-win season in 2009, but mostly is a mid-rotation type with a career record of 71-77 and a 97 ERA+.  In 2016 he pitched mostly in relief for Houston and Toronto and went 7-4 with a 3.97 ERA.  The Reds plan to use him as a veteran stabilizer for the rotation.

Feldman tops out about 90 mph, throwing most a two-seamer (sinker), a cutter, and a curve.  He used to throw a slider but seems to have junked it, and sometimes throws a straight change.  He mixes his pitches and changes speeds, living off the element of surprise more than stuff.  Feldman throws strikes and tries to keep the ball in the park.  He's not going to be great but he's a way to soak up innings while the young pitchers mature.

Brandon Finnegan is a 23-year old left-hander, will turn 24 in April.  He's less than six feet tall so there were some worries about him as a starter, but he stuck in the Reds rotation all year and went 10-11 with a 3.98 ERA.  However, his FIP was 5.19 and he often had trouble getting out of the sixth inning, so concerns remain.  The high FIP is a function of a high walk rate and a high HR rate.

Working as a starter, Finnegan's fastball dipped a bit to 92 mph, but still showed good movement as he worked mostly with the two-seamer/sinker.  He also throws a good slider and an excellent change.  The guy's got three good pitches so it seems a shame to put him in the bullpen, but he does need to work on his command.  He would make a great reliever-a bullpen of Finnegan, Lorenzen, and Iglesias would be one of the best ever-but the Reds are going to keep with this experiment of Finnegan in the rotation.  If it works, he could be Cueto-quality.

2017 Roster Preview Part 7: Dixon, Duvall, Elizade


We finish letter D and start into E with three position players.

Brandon Dixon is a 25-year old who was drafted by the Dodgers in the third round in 2013 out of the U. of Arizona.  Dixon came along with Jose Peraza and Scott Schebler in the Todd Frazier deal.  He's got a non-roster invite to major league spring training after a decent year at double-A Pensacola, where he hit 16 homers and stole 15 bases.  His slash line of 260/315/434 is not real impressive.

The Dodgers him out as a pro at third base, then moved him to second, and began playing him in the OF.  He got a double-digit number of starts at second, center field, and right field, with a few more at first base, third base, and left field.  The idea seems to be that he won't hit enough to be a regular, so they will make him a multi-position sub.  He seems pretty good in the infield but is still rough in the outfield.  He reminds me a bit of Kristopher Negron.  He might grow into a bench job but I wouldn't count on it.

Adam Duvall took advantage of a chance to play regularly in Cincinnati and hit 33 homers while driving in 103 runs.  He's a late bloomer at 28, and will turn 29 in September.  He ended up on the All-Star team as an injury replacement.  Surprisingly, Duvall ended up a contender for the Gold Glove award as a left fielder.  We knew he had power, but he ended up more athletic than expected.

Duvall continued to show some contact issues, with a 241/297/498 slash line that showed his excellent power but trouble with getting on base.  He will be valued in the field, but needs to improve his batting eye to maintain his offensive value as pitchers will be more aware of his weaknesses and more prepared to exploit them.  He will have to show that 2016 was not a career year and avoid a sophomore slump.  Duvall will start 2017 as the cleanup hitter.

Sebastian Elizalde is a 25-year old lefty-hitting outfielder from Mexico and non-roster invite to major league spring training.  He began his pro career at home in the Mexican leagues and was signed by the Reds in 2014.  Last year he played right field for double-A Pensacola and hit for a 297/324/387 slash line with 5 homers and 54 RBI in 111 games.

Elizalde had a good batting average last year but did not show great power or speed, and has not impressed on defense either.  He's still young but there's not a lot here than says anything other than "organizational player."  Perhaps the Reds think he can be more than that.

2017 Roster Preview Part 6: Davis, DeSclafani, Diaz


It's on to the letter D.

Rookie Davis is exactly what that nickname indicates.  His given name is William Theron Davis, and he is a 23-year old right-handed pitcher from North Carolina, who will turn 24 at the end of April.  The Reds picked him up from the Yankees' system in the Aroldis Chapman trade, and he was 10-3 with a 2.94 ERA at double-A Pensacola last year, then struggled in four starts at Louisville to end the season.

Davis didn't get a lot of attention on prospect lists this year, probably because he doesn't have a high-speed fastball.  He's a big guy but throws in the low 90s, though he is said to have good movement on the fastball and good command.  He also works with a curve and a change.  Though he was successful at double-A his strikeout rate wasn't impressive.  He'll go to triple-A Louisville this year, and if things go well he'll get his shot in the majors soon.

Anthony DeSclafani has become the ace of the Cincinnati staff by default.  He's a 26-year old right-hander who will turn 27 in mid-April.  He started 2016 on the disabled list but returned to make 20 starts and post a 9-5 record and 3.28 ERA.  With Homer Bailey on the shelf to start the season he's the odds-on favorite to make the Opening Day start.

DeSclafani alternates between a four-seam and a two-seam fastball.  The hummer averages about 93 mph, with the four-seamer a little faster but the two-seamer getting sinking action.  He also mixes in a nice slider as his main off-speed pitcher, and has mostly junked his standard changeup in favor of a knuckle-curve.  The mix seems to be working for him.  His true talent level is about a #3, but for now he is the best guy in the Reds' rotation.

Jumbo Diaz is not quite as large as he once was, but he is still a large man.  He's a right-handed reliever who will turn 33 at the end of this month.  Diaz struggled a bit early on and got sent to the minors but returned and got his ERA down to 3.14 by the end of the season.  He has occasional problems with walks, and has a bad habit of giving up too many home runs.

Jumbo brings heat, throwing his fastball at about 96 mph and working off it with a sharp slider.  He will infrequently mix in a changeup for show.  The heat is nice but sometimes shaky command makes him a home run risk, which limits him to the middle innings.  He's handy to have there, and is likely to fill that role in 2017.

Update (3/13):  Jumbo was placed on waivers and claimed by the Rays.  The hard thrower's expected spot in the bullpen is now up for grabs.

2017 Roster Preview Part 5: Arroyo, Coleman, Cozart


This time around we will go back and get a late addition, then finish up the letter C.

Hey, look who's back!  Bronson Arroyo, one of the best pitchers in team history, has signed a minor league deal with the deal.  He's about to turn 40 so the guy is no spring chicken.  He also hasn't pitched in the majors in two years, and has pitched only two games in the minors (with limited success) in that time.  Still, what the heck?

The slim right-hander posted a 105-94 record for Cincinnati in eight seasons, from 2006-2013,  ranking 17th on the all-time career list for wins.  He's 9th in starts and 17th in innings.  He does hold the team record for most home runs given up.  He delivered at least 199 innings in each of his years with the Reds, a tremendous record of durability.  Whether he's got anything left is anybody's guess at this point, but it doesn't cost a lot to find out.

Louis Coleman is 30, will turn 31 early in April, and is in camp as a non-roster players after six seasons with the Royals and Dodgers.  The right-handed reliever worked in 61 games for the Dodgers last year, pitching 48 innings with a 4.69 ERA.  He was dropped by the Dodgers, after being released by the Royals the year before.

He has a 2.23 ERA as a minor leaguer, including 2.35 at triple-A.  He relies mostly on his slider, as his 89 mph fastball does not impress.  That seems to work all right in the minors but hasn't worked as well in the majors.  He's probably the Louisville closer this year as he waits for another shot.

Zack Cozart was a major trade target last year until he got hurt and missed the last month and a half.  He's back this year, but probably only until he proves he's healthy, and a contending team's shortstop gets hurt.  Cozart is a strong defensive shortstop with some pop but is a streaky hitter who on balance does not get on base enough to be effective offensively.

At age 31 (32 in August) Cozart is not part of the Reds' long-range plans.  He can become a free agent after this year and will probably not re-sign with Cincinnati, which will look for a younger SS.  He set career highs in homers with 16 and walks with 37 last year.  The team would like to deal him and play their younger infielders.  In the meantime, Cozart will work hard as always.

Bill James Says (brief interlude)


In a column currently up at Bill James Online, the dean of sabermetrics says that as part of his current research, the 2016 Reds pitching is the worst ever.  I think we covered something like this a few months ago, but here it is again.  Things can't get worse, can they?

2017 Roster Preview Part 4: Castillo, Chacin, Cingrani


In the fourth part of our series, we look at three pitchers.

Luis Castillo is a 24-year old Dominican right-hander just obtained from Miami in the Dan Straily deal.  He signed in 2012, spent two years in the Dominican developmental league, then began pitching stateside in 2014.  That's gone pretty well, as he has a 2.45 ERA in high-A ball the last two years.  In 2016 he went 8-4 with a 2.07 ERA in 21 starts in the Florida State League, then struggled a bit in three double-A starts, with an 0-2 record and 3.86 ERA.

Castillo is ranked by ESPN's Keith Law as the 94th best prospect in baseball.  He throws very hard, showing a high-90s fastball that can reach 100 mph when he really gets going.  He's also got a good changeup, but hasn't been able to find the right breaking pitch, with his slider not fooling many.  So, his strikeout numbers look pretty mediocre for a guy who throws so hard.  Expect the Reds to send him to Pensacola to work on that slider, and if he finds the touch he could move up very quickly.

Alejandro Chacin is a 23-year old Venezuelan right-hander in camp as a non-roster player.  He'll turn 24 in June.  Chacin was the closer for double-A Pensacola last year and had a big year with 30 saves, a 5-2 record and 1.78 ERA, thus the invite to camp.  He struck out 75 with 26 walks in 61 innings.

He's had success everywhere he's gone in the minors, with excellent strikeout rates and decent if a bit high walk rates.  He's a sinker/slider guy with a nearly sidearm motion.  He'll be in Louisville to start the year and if he keeps having success will soon be pitching in Cincinnati.

Tony Cingrani is a 27-year old left-handed pitcher, will turn 28 in July.  He's our only guy today with major league experience, and he has 269 innings for Cincinnati under his belt.  Cingrani came up through the system as a starter but doesn't really have the stuff to be successful in that role in the majors.  He pitched in relief for the full year in 2016 and served as the closer for awhile, notching 17 saves.  In 63 innings he struck out 49 and walked 37.

Cingrani's fastball played up last year in relief use, averaging 94 mph, but he uses it almost exclusively.  He relies on a deceptive delivery that makes the pitch difficult for the batter to pick up.  He throws a slider about 10% of the time, but that's it...which also made starting a difficult career path.  A workable changeup would really make Cingrani a much more effective pitcher, because as he stands right now he has a middle relief profile.