Spring Training 2011: 5 Hurlers To Watch In Cincinnati Reds Camp
By mid-February, most of us are securely wrapped in our winter cocoons. A multitude of wool coats clutter our closets, nights are spent wrapped in Snuggies (don’t hate) and the thought of getting up in the morning is like an icicle to the nads.
Then, just as we’re ready to give hibernation a shot (show me someone who says hibernation doesn’t sound awesome and I’ll show you a stone-cold liar), we’re reminded of the golden age of summer by one simple phrase: pitchers and catchers report.
When baseball fans hear those four words, it’s as if some bizarre baseball dog whistle pierces through the frigid still of the season, calling us to action. It’s as if a bat signal is lit in the night sky, gleaming triumphantly and reminding us the time has come. Baseball fanatics begin to cling to their Internet feeds, hungry for any nugget of intel from the Promised Lands down South.
Yep, every year, as the temperature slowly climbs and daylight invades our evening commute, America’s pastime begins to pervade our consciousness. For baseball fans, February is the beginning.
And, of course, for Reds fans it’s no different.
This winter, the talk in Cincinnati has been about sustaining a winner. Can they? Will they? What will stand in the way? With most of the roster returning, the Reds have only a select few question marks (the fourth and fifth starters will be selected from three candidates, the last bullpen and bench spots are up for grabs) and those issues have been discussed at length already.
However, while Cincinnati may not see much roster upheaval, their success in 2011 most certainly will depend on the continued development of several key youngsters, and a few new additions. So, to celebrate the pilgrimage of the Reds hurlers to Arizona, here are five pitchers (not named Chapman) whose progress should be monitored closely as Spring Training gets underway.
Of all the young, talented starting pitchers on the Reds roster, lefty Travis Wood might make the biggest splash in 2011.
Last season, Wood made his Reds debut in spot duty and then parlayed some success into a permanent spot in the rotation (the Volquez suspension and injuries to Aaron Harang and Homer Bailey didn’t hurt).
Wood’s shining moment came in July, when he battled Roy Halladay frame for frame, taking a perfect game into the ninth inning (yet somehow the Reds still ended up losing).
Reds management has made it clear that the first three spots in the 2011 rotation will be manned by Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto and Volquez, so Wood should join Mike Leake and Homer Bailey in a Spring Training dogfight for the final two.
I’d be hesitant to bet against him.
4. Dontrelle Willis
For some reason, the Willis signing was my favorite offseason move of the Reds. It might be because the Reds need another solid lefty in the bullpen after the departure of Arthur Rhodes. Or, it might be because Dontrelle showed such promising talent during his early years with the Marlins.
However, I am pretty sure my fondness for Willis comes from watching him as a rookie All-Star in 2003. Willis broke onto the scene as a care-free, hard-throwing lefty with a herky-jerky delivery and a never-ending smile. He was often shown horsing around with his dugout-mates between starts, bouncing around, giggling and chomping maniacally on sunflower seeds.
If Dontrelle can regain some of the magic he displayed with the Marlins, he could be the kind of personality the Reds bullpen needs, in tandem with Aroldis Chapman.
Though I’m not sure of Willis' shot at making the final roster, I’ll be honest: I’m rooting for the guy.
3. Homer Bailey
Like most Reds fans, I have a soft spot in my heart for Homer Bailey. Once touted as the savior of Cincinnati baseball (Cincinnati billboards proclaimed “He is Coming” shortly before Bailey’s first call up), to say the Homer Bailey saga has been a rollercoaster ride would be an understatement (not to mention a heinous cliché).
Since his first call to the big show in 2007, Bailey’s Major League stat lines have been as follows: 4-2, 5.76 ERA (2007), 0-6, 7.93 ERA (2008), 8-5, 4.53 ERA (2009), 4-3, 4.46 ERA (2010).
Show that to any Reds fan the day Bailey was drafted in the first round in 2005 and you’d probably walk away with puke on your shoes.
Homer Bailey’s ping-pong act between AAA and the Majors needs to stop now. He’s currently out of options, so if he cannot secure a spot in the rotation he’ll likely end up as the long man in the ‘pen. Speaking for everyone that has followed his story from day one, he has way too much talent for that.
2. Jose Arredondo
This could end up being a genius move by Walt Jocketty, in the vein of the Rolen-for-Encarnacion deal or the stealth-ninja signing of Aroldis Chapman.
Jocketty signed Arredondo in January of last year, with the understanding that the Reds would pay him as he rehabbed from Tommy John Surgery.
The hope? That Arredondo would return to his 2008 form, when he blew hitters away out of the bullpen for the Angels (10-2 record, 1.62 ERA) and, supposedly, the last time he was truly healthy.
Reports out of the Reds camp are that Arredondo has responded well to rehab, and hopes to compete for one of the few spots remaining in a crowded bullpen. If he is even a fraction of the pitcher he was when he was at his best, the Reds will have no choice but to make room.
1. Edinson Volquez
When Edinson Volquez came over from the Rangers in exchange for Josh Hamilton in December of 2007, I wasn’t happy. At the time, Hamilton looked every bit The Natural, and reports on Volquez were mixed, at best.
Amazingly, despite taking the mound every fifth night looking like some sort of hip-hop Muppet (his dreadlocks could barely be concealed under is flat-brimmed cap, at times hanging low enough to rest against a heavy gold chain) Volquez quickly turned himself into one of Cincinnati’s integral young building blocks.
Volquez went 17-6 in his first year as a Red, recording 206 strikeouts and posting a 3.21 ERA in an All-Star campaign. At that point, the Reds knew they had something. Then, seemingly just as quickly as Volquez had blossomed, his stock dropped through the floor as he sustained an injury that required Tommy John Surgery and then was slapped with a 50-game suspension for PED use.
The Reds began the 2010 season with hopes that Volquez would provide a similar boost at the All-Star break that some clubs get by acquiring a top tier free agent.
Not exactly. In 12 games, Volquez posted a 4.31 ERA and recorded only four wins, continuing a disappointing string of events for the young right-hander.
With a full offseason to heal and strengthen his power arm, the Reds expect Volquez to return to his 2008 form. As a fan, it’s hard to accept this as a given, especially when the last image we have of Volquez is him being raked across the coals by the Phillies in Game 1 of the NLDS.
The Reds have good depth in the starting pitching ranks, but a good spring out of Volquez would go a long way toward getting the Reds where they expect to go.