MLB Spring Training: 5 Questions Answered in Cincinnati Reds Camp
Spring Training is supposed to be about a few things.
Old guys shaking off the rust. Young guys getting a taste of the Big League nectar. Regulars suiting up for 250 meaningless innings, while the rest of us drink beer and scan our Twitter feed.
But despite its monotony, at the end of the day Spring Training is mostly about learning.
Baseball organizations migrate to Florida or Arizona to learn what kind of team fills their dugout. Fans follow closely to learn, for many, JUST how bad their team will look when that first pitch is thrown.
A month ago, I wrote this, detailing five questions facing the Reds in camp. Today, as the Reds leave sunny Goodyear, we finally have answers.
1) Who Plays Left Field?
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The Prediction: “Heisey out-hits Ludwick in Spring Training. Ludwick starts Opening Day. The City of Cincinnati collectively groans.”
What We’ve Learned: Out of the gate, I’m 0-1. Well...kind of. Obviously, we don’t know who the Opening Day left fielder will be, as it’s two days away and Reds manager Dusty Baker’s lineups are about as easy to predict as the endings to commercials in Thailand.
Still, in a spring training where he was supposed to muscle out Ryan Ludwick for the job, Heisey absolutely wilted, hitting .245 with one home run.
Ludwick only hit .283 (two homers) in the same number of at-bats (53), so I expect Dusty to look to his matchup cheat sheets when the Reds face Mark Buehrle on Thursday.
For the record though, I’m still in Heisey’s corner.
2) How Will Cozart and Mesoraco Adapt as Starters?
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The Prediction: “Both rookies acquit themselves well in their first camp as starters. General optimism runs high to start the season.”
What We’ve Learned: I’ll call it 1-1 now. Granted, Mesoraco hasn’t exactly punished the ball (.250 BA, .745 OPS), but did anyone really expect him to yet? If he hits at that clip and handles the pitching staff well, I think we’ll all be satisfied.
Cozart, on the other hand, has people talking Rookie of the Year.
Tied with Brandon Phillips for the most at-bats on the team (58), Cozart’s put together a .345 BA and a .534 slugging percentage (seven doubles, two triples). After years of Orlando Cabrera and Edgar Renteria and Paul Janish, it’s hard to not be hyperventilating about this guy.
3) Who Makes the Bench?
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The Prediction: “Similar to last year, the Reds break camp with twelve pitchers. Valdez and Harris make the squad, Frazier eeks in purely for his versatility, and Janish is sent packing.”
What We’ve Learned: Thanks to the trade of Francisco, aka Senor Jumbo-tron, I managed to hit this nail pretty close to the head. Willie Harris benefits the most from Francisco moving to Atlanta, as he immediately became the team’s only left-handed bench guy. Despite his .635 spring OPS, he’s in.
And, despite Paul Janish’ nice performance in Goodyear (.310 BA, .912 OPS), Dusty clearly preferred Valdez’ experience and versatility.
The only development that blindsided me was Frazier’s artillery show. Five home runs, a .291 average and a Votto-esque 1.030 OPS forced the Reds’ hand. Frazier makes his first club out of camp, a well-deserved promotion.
4) Who Makes the Bullpen?
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The Prediction: “Madson, Marshall, Massett, Bray, and Arredondo are your 7-8-9 guys when camp breaks. Ondrusek and long-man Sam Lecure fill out the rest, despite Brackman making it a tough call.”
What We’ve Learned: I believe a mulligan is in order here.
From the first day of camp, Reds relief pitchers have gone down more frequently than whatever “it” was in that Yung Joc poem.
First it was Masset, on the shelf to start the season with shoulder inflammation. Then it was Madson, who never threw a pitch in Spring Training and somehow shredded his elbow. On a one-year deal, he’ll be getting around $8 million to sit in the clubhouse playing Tonk.
Then it was Bray, whose resume reads like an ICU rotation log. He’s “healthy” now, but apparently not healthy enough to be, in Dusty Baker’s words, a “late inning lefty.” Being that the bullpen is a place where guys come in to pitch the late innings, and being that Bray throws with his left hand, I’ll assume this means they’re leaving him on the roster to pitch batting practice.
And as long as people are keeping score, I whiffed on Brackman too. With a 5.59 ERA and more walks than K’s, the only tough call he was a part of was the one to his agent. You know, where he had to explain why, despite being seven feet tall and throwing like 200 miles per hour, he still couldn’t seem to get a damn job.
Yes, my blood pressure is fine. No, I am not on the verge of slamming chairs into lockers.
5) What Happens with Aroldis?
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The Prediction: “Chapman shows signs of shoulder fatigue in Spring Training, putting him on the slow train to Triple-A.”
What We Learned: I couldn’t have been more wrong here, bringing my record to 2-2.
Chapman was, far and away, the most electrifying pitcher in Goodyear (go figure). Yet somehow, he was sent to the bullpen and Homer Bailey was handed the fifth starter job.
Forgive me for a second while I check my math...
Bailey: 14.2 innings pitched, 7.98 ERA, six strikeouts and seven walks.
Chapman: 17 innings pitched, 2.12 ERA, 18 strikeouts and two walks.
A few things bear mentioning here. First, I am fully aware that Chapman was bullpenned because of all the injuries there. Second, Homer Bailey is out of Minor League options, meaning he HAS to make the big league club or the Reds risk losing him to another team (he’d be gone in a second). Third, Chapman has pitched extensively out of the bullpen; Homer has only ever been starter.
All of that is fine, but there’s another side to the coin. The Chapman Plan, we were told, was to milk a somewhat risky investment by aiming for the highest possible return. That is, do whatever is necessary so you are paying him $30 million to pitch five to seven innings per game, not one.
The goal this spring was simple. Make sure his arm can make the transition from reliever to starter without blowing up, and make sure he can locate the plate without using a compass (Chapman has struggled MIGHTILY with control in the past).
The numbers speak for themselves here. Chapman dominated. He was by FAR our best starter. His shoulder/elbow/fingers/toes showed no sign of fatigue. Quite simply, he earned it.
Yet as we head back to Cincy to start the season, Reds management saw fit to completely buck their own plan in order to fill a bullpen need. A knee-jerk, World-of-Fear type reaction that will only worsen an already ill-conceived path of development for Aroldis.
And Finally...A Surprise
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In a momentous, franchise-changing development that could never have been captured in any kind of prediction, we learned something else.
There will be plenty of time to discuss the Joey Votto mega-deal that was announced yesterday to the astonishment of EVERYONE (fans, reporters, probably Votto himself). In the coming days, we’ll learn exact numbers, and we’ll find out how many crazy clauses and incentives can be crammed into a 10-year deal.
But for now, let’s be content to acknowledge that we learned one more thing about this Reds team. Or, more specifically, about the guys running this Reds team. By signing Votto to a massive deal, the Reds made a statement to their fans, and to the rest of baseball.
Under the leadership of general manager Walt Jocketty (and on the strength of owner Bob Castellini’s pocketbook), the Reds showed everyone that losing is a past reality in Cincinnati. The days of letting franchise players flee to wealthier pastures are gone. If we grow a star, we’re keeping that star, and the rest of the league shall suffer the consequences.
It can be assumed here that the Reds expect a windfall of positive results to follow. Increased ticket sales. Merchandise flying off the racks. Possibly even a new, more lucrative television deal. These are all ways that clubs sustain winning. They put an entertaining product on the field, even if it costs money on the front end, with the assumption that they’ll be paid back in the long run.
With Joey the Red in the fold for life, the Reds get a great player, one with the potential to be an all-time great. However, the implications stretch far beyond even that. If the Reds can make this kind of leap of faith, an obvious signal of commitment to winning, it stands to reason that other “small market” clubs can too.
This truly is a great day for Reds fans, but an even greater day for baseball.
For more sports coverage from Reed Domer-Shank, or for his daily picks against the spread (free!), visit his blog: J O U R N E Y M E N . You can also follow Reed on Twitter: @ReedDS20, or contact him directly at Reed.Domershank@gmail.com.