As I type this on Monday night at 9:30pm we have been handed the rosters for the Dayton Dragons, Daytona Tortugas and Pensacola Blue Wahoos. Only the Louisville Bats have yet to release their official opening day roster, though until the games begin on Thursday evening things could still be fluid. Even without the Triple-A roster for the Bats we can take a look at some of the most surprising roster assignments that we do know about.
The right handed reliever isn’t an overpowering fireballer, but he’s got a ton of movement and deception and he’s coming off of a season with the Dayton Dragons where he posted a 2.35 ERA in 65.0 innings with 28 walks and 84 strikeouts. That’s on top of his 2013 season where he had a 2.91 ERA in 65.0 innings with 33 walks and 72 strikeouts, also for Dayton. The Reds are sending him back to Dayton for a third season when he’s got a career 2.63 ERA with 156 strikeouts in 130.0 innings at the level. He will be 22-years-old this season, so he’s got age on his side, but what else does he need to do in order to get promoted?
The Cincinnati Reds 2014 Minor League Player of the Year hit .338/.385/.516 last season as he split his season between Bakersfield and Pensacola. With the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos in 66 games the outfielder hit .315/.359/.517 with 17 doubles, three triples and eight homers. It seemed like he was a lock to move up to Triple-A after being added to the 40-man roster in the offseason, but he’s back in Double-A and at least for now, he’s being listed as a first baseman on the roster. He did spend some time between first and the corner outfield spots in both the Arizona Fall League and in spring training with the big league club.
This isn’t a complete surprise after Tanner Rahier got suspended, but with how much Sparks struggled at times in 2014 the jump could be a massive one. After being drafted in the second round last year the Reds sent Sparks to Billings where he hit .232/.350/.490 with seven doubles, seven triples, 10 homers and 14 steals in 15 attempts. His average stands out as low and there’s a reason for it: He struck out 84 times in 240 plate appearances, good for a strikeout rate of 35%. It was even worse down the stretch as he struck out in 49 of his final 119 plate appearances of the season (41.1%). Sparks is a human tool shed. He can hit the ball a mile. He’s got a big arm and good potential with the glove. He can really run. But he struck out enough last year to make Javier Baez blush. It’s a very aggressive promotion for the Reds to skip Sparks over Dayton after the struggles he had in Billings last year, even if a spot was opened up with the Rahier incident.
After getting time in the big league rotation last season in September and finding some success, it seemed that Daniel Corcino was maybe back to finding a little bit of something he once lost. He was optioned to the minor leagues early in the spring, but the surprise came when he was listed as a reliever in Double-A Pensacola. Corcino posted a 3.01 ERA as a starter at the level in 2012 and after a season in Louisville where he struggled, he headed back there in 2014 where he posted a 4.14 ERA. Corcino hasn’t been a reliever since he was an 18-year-old closer in 2009 with the Billings Mustangs. The move back to the bullpen isn’t as surprising as his being sent to Pensacola instead of Louisville.
If you watched the Reds during the spring or followed along closely you probably saw the name Luis Gonzalez pop up a few times and unless you follow my work closely, you probably had no clue who he was. The now 20-year-old shortstop may have landed the assignment in Dayton due to an injury to Cory Thompson late in the spring, but he was pushing for a roster spot before that happened from what I was hearing. He spent his entire 2014 season playing for the Arizona League Reds where he hit .277/.292/.362 with just two walks and 22 strikeouts in 99 plate appearances. His strikeout-to-walk rate was very poor, in limited action, at the lowest level of the minors that are in the United States. Jumping up to full season ball usually doesn’t go smoothly for players with that kind of track record. Gonzalez is a defensive maestro, but his bat may be a big work in progress if last season is an indication of anything.
An unknown guy to most, but someone to keep in the back of your mind to watch as a toolsy player who has been under the radar. He was drafted in 2013 as a 17-year-old college player and hit .255/.313/.423 last season in Arizona as an 18-year-old. There was talk of him making the jump to Dayton early in the spring, but that seemed to quiet as it got closer to the end, then he showed up on the roster. Injuries could have opened a spot for him, but as a toolsy player he may not give the roster spot back if he performs early on. He will be the youngest guy on the Dragons team and with no experience at Billings it could be viewed as an aggressive push.
The minor league season will get underway on Thursday. Louisville and Dayton will both kick things off at 6:35pm EST. The Daytona Tortugas will debut as a Cincinnati Reds affiliate at 7:05pm EST and the Pensacola Blue Wahoos wrap things up with a 7:30PM EST start (6:30 local time). Only the Dayton Dragons are opening up on the road.