Today means euphoria for baseball fans like myself; returning to the radio for the first time since the early days of fall is Marty Brennaman’s call of Cincinnati Reds baseball… and not a minute too soon. 

The coming of baseball will always mean summer, as I spent many of my awkward-teenage nights at the edge of the Ohio River, inside the confides of Great American Ballpark. 

Cincinnati means a lot to me, so I’ve decided to devote at least one day a week to covering Reds and/or Bengals-related topics. 

When I woke up this morning to do my morning “What did Donald tweet?” search, I noticed several tweets from Cincinnati Enquirer writers C. Trent Rosecrans and Zach Buchanan, which reminded me that in a few short hours, the Reds would be playing their first game of Spring Training against the San Francisco Giants.

As of now, we don’t know the starting line-up; we probably won’t for some time. However, for the last few days, the pitching match-up has been set: Cincinnati will be starting Rookie Davis and San Francisco with Madison Bumgarner.

The pitching match-up may be the perfect metaphor for the difference in the states of the Giants’ and Reds’ organizations.

Rolling onto the mound for the Giants will be a homegrown, star left-hander with a pair of World Series rings, Madison Bumgarner.

Toeing the rubber for the Reds will be a 23-year-old rookie who was acquired as future talented in a trade with the New York Yankees just one winter ago, who by the way has yet to sniff a major league inning, Rookie Davis.

His name is literally Rookie (well, actually it’s William Theron Davis, but he’s got the life-long nickname factor).

Cincinnati has a number of players in similar shoes to Davis, some not-so-much like Davis, and some in-between (one thing’s for sure, they don’t have a Bumgarner).

Prior to the season, manager Bryan Price guaranteed that three guys would be in the starting rotation: Homer Bailey (psych, he’s hurt again), Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, and the late-winter addition, Scott Feldman. For the trio (we’ll include Bailey, too), the 2016 numbers were pretty solid.

Anthony DeSclafani (26): 9-5, 3.28 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 105 K’s, 105 IP

Brandon Finnegan (23): 10-11, 3.98 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 145 K’s, 172 IP

*Scott Feldman (34): 7-4, 3.97 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 56 K’s, 77 IP

Homer Bailey (30): 2-3, 6.65 ERA, 1.83 WHIP, 27 K’s, 23 IP

*most appearances came in relief

It’s the mixed-bag of arms competing for the 4th and 5th spots in the starting rotation that really start to get interesting.

Young talents like Robert Stephenson (R), Cody Reed (L), Amir Garrett (R), and Rookie Davis (R) represent the future of the Reds, as they’ve become the names local radio mouths have raved about year after year, getting to the point where the Cincinnati faithful have to wonder if they’ll ever actually be on a roster.

Stephenson was the longtime top-prospect in the Cincinnati Reds organization, seen as the can’t-miss ace of the future. Lately, his stock has dropped, as to begin the season he’s listed as the #4 prospect for the Reds and the #57 prospect in all of baseball.

Major league innings weren’t too friendly to Stephenson, the young pitcher celebrating his the 24th birthday today, in his 8-game tour of action. Finishing at 2-3, with an ERA of 6.08, 31 K’s and 19 BB’s didn’t do him a whole lot of favors.

The biggest issue for Stephenson is one that famously haunted a similar talent in future-Hall of Fame pitcher Roy Halladay; command.

If Stephenson can hit targets, he can be as good, frankly as dominant as any pitcher in the league going forward.

Cody Reed’s plight was similar, but the 23-year-old lefty has lost his “prospect” tag for good, after being listed as a top-5 prospect for the Royals, then Reds after a trade in 2015, for a number of years.

Reed’s 6-5 frame gives him a ton of mound presence, but he appears hesitant to attack batters at times, which might explain his forgettable 2016 campaign in which he posted an 0-7 record with a nasty 7.36 ERA, 43 K’s, and a 1.80 WHIP over 10 starts.

In Reed’s bag of tricks lies his greatest weapon; a slider that could knock the teeth off a cheap carnival game’s prize shelf. Mastering his slider can lead to a dominant career for Reed, but his 2016 plight will likely lead to hesitation from Reds management if 2017’s spring innings don’t go according to plan.

Lacking the same major league experience that displayed what Reed and Stephenson can do against the top-tier batters in baseball, Amir Garrett and Rookie Davis will have more to prove in spring innings.

The St. John’s basketball player turned #2 Cincinnati Reds left-handed pitching prospect, the #45 prospect in all of baseball provides an interesting option.

His minor-league numbers have been downright devastating, and at 24, the lefty provides a lot of optimism for the team going forward.

Garrett has posted a 7-8 record, but was stifling with a 2.55 ERA, 132 K’s, .192 AVG, and 1.17 WHIP between his 144.2 innings in AA-Pensacola and AAA-Louisville in 2016. Garrett has the tools to win any given start, but with time, could prove to be a dominant arm in the MLB.

While Rookie Davis, who starts today against Madison Bumgarner, doesn’t get the same praise as Stephenson, Reed, or Garrett, the Reds’ #9 prospect does come with an arsenal of tools that could prove valuable on the Opening Day roster.

Davis is strong in his fastball and his pitches have good movement, but he does lack a sort-of put-away pitch that many successful pitchers use as their vice grip.

The former-Yankee prospect posted a 10-5 record in minor league innings between AA-Pensacola and AAA-Louisville last season, finishing with a sturdy 3.82 ERA, 77 K’s and 1.30 WHIP. However, he found much more success at the AA-level, which raised some red flags on his pro-ball resume.

Perhaps more of a bullpen candidate, Davis is another one of these guys the Reds will have to evaluate, as this spring will be a good gauge on what he’ll be able to offer against big league hitting going forward.

Then, there’s the journeymen tag on guys like Bronson Arroyo (R) and Tim Adleman (R), who have big league experience, but their innings in the pros, at late, have been chaffed by injury or generally unexciting.

Once heralded in Cincinnati for his, what’s a word for just generally being a solid starting pitcher, presence and grit, Arroyo spent the middle/prime years of his career with the Reds, but departed after an 8-year stay, for a 2-yr/$23.5 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Arroyo’s talented never came into fruition in Arizona, as Tommy John Surgery would shelf him for consecutive seasons, but was bothered again by the elbow again in 2016, dealing with elbow soreness while in the Washington Nationals minor-league system.

The right-handed Bronson Arroyo turns 40 today and neither the pitcher or the club know how much or what Arroyo might be able to contribute to the staff following his injury issues. However, his career is what stands out to team management.

The duration of his career has been met with very respectable numbers. The 2006 All-Star and 2010 Gold Glover has posted a career 145-131 record, 4.19 ERA, 1526 K’s, 1.29 WHIP, and averages an impressive 208 innings-per-season.

Meanwhile the 29-year-old right-hander Tim Adleman has yet to enjoy the major league success of his college Arroyo.

Adleman spent prior seasons in the Baltimore Orioles organization, but then moved to a career in semi-professional baseball, playing stints with the Lincoln Saltdogs, El Paso Diablos, and New Jersey Jackals before the Reds scooped him from the bunch.

2016 had its ups and downs for Adleman, and it reflects in his numbers, which all come out to very average, considering his position. In 69.2 innings, Adleman posted a 4-4 record, with a 4.00 ERA, 47 K’s, 20 BB’s, and a 1.20 WHIP ratio.

Adleman is certainly a contender for the rotation, but his 2017 regular season will be dramatically impacted by what he can show in spring.

With such a mix, there’s even a third subgroup of what could be referred to as your underdogs, Sal Romero (R) and Lisalverto Bonilla (R), who will be looking for a good spring season to push them onto the 25-man roster.

MLB.com ranks the 23-year-old righty Sal Romero the 19th-best prospect in the Reds organization. With a plus-fastball, Romero overpowered 144 hitters for strikeouts last season in the Reds AA-Affliate Pensacola.

While Romero pitched to an unimpressive record of 6-11, his 3.52 ERA and 1.22 WHIP certainly give the righty an extra edge.

Bonilla’s route to Cincinnati is much less of a sure thing, at least by way of the rotation.

In a mid-February wave claim, the Reds acquired the 26-year-old right-hander from the Texas Rangers, who spent some of last season as a starting arm at the Major League-level. Over 20.2 IP, Lisalverto Bonilla maintained a 3.05 ERA, with 17 K’s and 12 BB’s, finishing without a loss at 3-0.

Now, if you’re counting along at home, that’s eight guys competing for two spots; 75% of them aren’t starting the season in the rotation.

Just as a note, some of these guys have a good shot of landing in the bullpen, which would probably still be good news for their career.

A betting man would assume that the last two spots will land on the names REED and STEPHENSON, just based on resume and prowess alone.

With so many names in the mix, however, it’s really going to depend on the spring workload put-out by some of these lesser names.

 

 

 

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