The midway point of spring training has come and gone, and some Cincinnati Reds players have begun to turn in what we could consider "breakout" performances.
It can be difficult to stand out among a group of players including former MVP Joey Votto, All Stars like Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, and Cy Young candidates like Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos. However, this group of players has done just that.
The team already made their first round of cuts. One player on this list, Billy Hamilton, is immune to that, as he's slated to be the team's everyday center fielder for the 2014 season.
The other two players—Neftali Soto and Brett Marshall—are likely to be sent to minor league camp at some point this spring. But, after surviving the first round of cuts, the duo will be given the opportunity to showcase their skills against a higher level of competition for a little while longer.
In an attempt to further familiarize you with them, and their accomplishments, we'll highlight the impressive showings of those three players, starting with Billy Hamilton.
Coming into spring training, concerns surrounding Billy Hamilton's ability to hit and get on base were at an all-time high as he was handed the keys to one of the National League's best lineups over the last four seasons.
Hamilton's performance this spring will have zero impact on whether or not he's the team's everyday starting center fielder. However, his mid-spring training numbers will go a long way toward alleviating some of the concerns surrounding his readiness for a starting job.
Over 22 spring at-bats, Hamilton boasts a .269/.387/.346 slash line with two doubles, three RBI, nine runs scored, a 3:5 K/BB ratio and six stolen bases. Though his numbers are impressive, it's important to note that, first, this is just spring training, and second, that Hamilton has faced a slightly lesser level of competition in comparison to some of his teammates.
Hamilton's also done a solid job of keeping the ball on the ground, and that can prove problematic for fielders looking to rush a play to get him out.
Billy Hamilton is insane.Not sure I've ever seen someone try to barehand a hit that hard like Hanley did in anticipation of B-Ham.— Paul Sporer (@sporer) March 13, 2014
The 23-year-old's OppQual—Baseball-Reference's measurement of opponent quality—rating for the spring clocks in at 8.7, slightly below the MLB level of 10, but higher than the 8.0 Triple-A level. Whether his quality of opponents faced is lower than MLB level is irrelevant though, as Hamilton has shown poise at the plate, the ability to work a count, bunt for a hit and draw a walk.
Don't kid yourself into thinking that Hamilton's numbers will seamlessly transition into the regular season. Steamer and ZiPS projections have Hamilton slashing .246/.301/.334 and .264/.319/.362, so it's best to temper expectations for the young speedster.
However, if his displayed ability to work counts and draw walks carries over even slightly into the regular season, Hamilton will exceed all expectations for his 2014 campaign.
Having been with the organization for seven seasons, Neftali Soto is a name that some fans may already be familiar with. However, over the last year or two, Soto has faded into prospect limbo as the team continues to find a position for him to play.
Soto could be a viable bench bat this season, but at just 25 years of age, the team is still looking for any way to keep him in an everyday lineup to avoid stunting his development.
Last season—his second full season at Triple-A Louisville—Soto had a decent season, slashing .271/.313/.414 with 15 home runs, 21 doubles, 61 RBI, 54 runs scored and a 103:26 K/BB ratio. Soto's been raking this spring, posting a .370/.370/.667 slash line with one home run, five doubles, two RBI and four runs scored.
Soto has yet to register a walk in his first 27 at-bats. However, he's also managed to keep from striking out to this point as well.
Over his the last two minor league seasons—2012 and 2013—Soto sports strikeout rates of 22.7 and 20.8 percent respectively, so to see him go 27 at-bats without registering a strikeout, while simultaneously maintaining a .300-plus batting average, is a great sign.
Soto has played all 13 of his games at first base this season. However, as Jamie Ramsey—The Reds' Assistant Director of Media Relations—noted last month, Soto is also seeing some work behind the plate during inter-squad workouts.
It should be noted that Neftali Soto is in #Reds camp this spring as a CATCHER.— Jamie Ramsey (@Jamieblog) February 14, 2014
It's not quite as exciting as Jamie makes it out to be, as Soto has caught in the past. Back in 2010, the Reds tried moving Soto behind the plate, but the experiment went south in a hurry.
In 10 games as a catcher, Soto allowed two passed balls, and managed to catch just one would-be baserunner, compared to 15 successful stolen bases—a six percent CS%.
According to team manager Bryan Price—via team beat writer John Fay—Soto could catch, but in emergency situations at the big league level.
I imagine there’s never been a manager who didn’t want that third catcher that you have some comfort with. So, if Neffy is with our club and he can do that in a pinch, think of what that does.
The idea is novel, but unless Soto can pick up a spot in the outfield at Louisville this season—which is somewhat unlikely given the team's minor league outfield situation, then he's likely showcasing himself as a trade chip.
Even if that's the case, Soto is having a solid spring.
Brett Marshall has bounced around quite a bit over the past four months. Back in December, the Yankees waived the 23-year-old, only to have him get picked up by the Chicago Cubs. Then, just under two months later, the Reds were able to claim Marshall off waivers from the Cubs.
Shortly after claiming Marshall, GM Walt Jocketty had this to say of the young starter—via MLB.com's Mark Sheldon.
I talked to him and he sounded like a good kid. We had good reports on him. He had one of the best changeups in the Yankees organization. He’s a sinkerballer with a good slider. He’s got a couple of [Minor League] options left.
The move makes sense for the Reds, who have very little big league-ready pitching depth in the minor leagues. Marshall's changeup and sinker would play very well in Great American Ball Park, so it's worth a flier—especially when the cost of the acquisition was DFA'ing middle-infielder Henry Rodriguez.
Marshall isn't a physically imposing guy, and stands in at 6'1" and 195 pounds, but he generates decent velocity through solid torque in his hips and chest. Take a look at Marshall's spring-training pitch velocities and usage rates, courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net.
Marshall's done a solid job of varying his pitches, displaying four pitches with usage rates over 10 percent, and a fifth—his curveball—hovering right around nine percent.
All of this has culminated in an impressive mid-spring stat line.
Marshall's walk rate is high, and in the regular season, 9.0 BB/9 would probably leave you looking for a new job. However, generally speaking, that hasn't been the case throughout his minor league career so it shouldn't be a concern moving forward.
Outside of his high walk rate, Marshall has been dominant this spring.
Which player will have a bigger 2014 season at their respective playing level?
His OppQual rating comes in at 8.5, putting him somewhere between the big league and minor league levels. Although Marshall has faced a below-MLB level pool of talent this spring, the opportunity to showcase his skills has resulted in a breakout campaign.
He'll likely slot in behind lefty David Holmberg as the team's second call-up if and when the need arises for a starting pitcher. But, should he continue to impress in big league camp, Marshall will greatly increase his chances of joining the team in a starting capacity this year.