[This report was submitted by loyal Nation member and super Reds fan John Rohrig, who attends caravan events every year. Lots of great information. Thanks, John!]
The 2017 edition of the Cincinnati Reds Caravan (East Tour) came to town Friday evening. On this year’s circuit was Reds broadcaster Jim Kelch — who emceed the event — Reds General Manager Dick Williams, new Reds pitcher Drew Storen, Reds broadcaster Jeff Brantley, Reds great Eric Davis, and 2016 2nd round draft pick C Chris Okey.An enthusiastic, but smaller than usual, crowd greeted the Reds warmly. Jim Kelch introduced each participant to the crowd, and then did away with the Q & A session and asked the participants questions that they had heard throughout the day at their other stops. Not much of anything new was discussed, but a few updates were given. A few quick items from each participants questions:
Catcher Chris Okey: This being his first Reds Caravan, he has been soaking up the conversations between the others. He said the usual things, about wanting to report to spring training in great shape, doing whatever the club asks of him, and wanting to work hard at his craft. He is kind of built like a catcher: not tall, but stout.
Reds pitcher Drew Storen: The reason he signed with the Reds was to have the opportunity to close or pitch the late innings. He is happy to pitch in whatever role the Reds have for him, but he does want to close out games. He says he throws four pitches and he feels like having more of a starter’s arsenal gives him an advantage on the mound. He likes his fastball, and admittedly said he didn’t throw like Chapman, but liked to pinpoint it and to set up his change-up. He also said he likes to throw his change-up, which must be music to the ears of Reds manager Bryan Price. He said he was just eager to get to spring training and win a spot in the bullpen.
Reds GM Dick Williams: Williams was asked about the Brandon Phillips situation right off the bat, but Williams very diplomatically answered this by saying the Reds were fortunate to have four quality middle infielders, two veterans and two young up-and-comers.
He said Devin Mesoraco went through his workouts a couple of weeks ago and that Devin reported he was fine afterwards. Williams said the next step is to get Mesoraco into spring training and working with the pitchers. If there are no setbacks, the next step would to get him into some game situations and then some game time to see how he responds. It is just a wait and see situation now, but there was the sound of optimism. There wasn’t any mention of Matt Weiters, but the way Williams sounded about Mesoraco, it doesn’t seem very likely that the Reds are in on Weiters.
Next up Williams discussed Homer Bailey. This where the optimism left Williams’ voice. Nothing was said specifically, but there was some concern in his voice. When Kelch first asked for the update on Bailey, Williams paused for a few seconds with a long ummmm, while he gathered his thoughts. He did say that Bailey had his workouts earlier in the off-season, had thrown off a mound, and was now doing his off-season workouts. This is where that little bit of concern creeps in. He said that Bailey reported that he has been experiencing some soreness in his arm, but then said that should be expected since Homer has been out so long. He did say that with Mesoraco and Bailey, if they get both back healthy and near their 2014 form, that it would be like picking up 2 quality free agents. However, it just sounds like Homer Bailey isn’t out of the woods yet concerning his elbow.
When Kelch asked Williams about the rumors of Bronson Arroyo and a possible return to the Reds, it was received with warm applause from the audience. He said that Arroyo was in and they are interested to see if Bronson can still pitch. He said that Arroyo would be a positive influence on the younger pitchers and he hoped they might work something out. With that said, look for Arroyo to be in the Reds spring training camp in some form or fashion. It most likely won’t be on a major league contract, but more a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. It’ll be good to have Bronson back, but it’ll be up to Bronson and his arm to be on the 25-man roster when the Reds break camp. Maybe there is a cause and effect relationship between the soreness in Bailey’s arm and the Reds interest in Arroyo. Stay tuned.Former Red Eric Davis: Davis was asked about the hitting in the minors, but responded that he didn’t really want to single any one player out. He said there is a good group of hitters in the system and then went ahead and singled a few out. He said many were in the lower minors and, aside from Nick Senzel, he liked Aristides Aquino and Shed Long. He also mentioned Gavin LaValley, who was a lineman in football in high school, according to Davis, and had lost a lot of weight, maybe 70 pounds, to play baseball. Davis said that LaValley has exceptional bat speed.
Then Davis paid a huge compliment to Nick Senzel and Chris Okey. I guess Eric was doing some coaching with the Dayton Dragons team this past year. He said the first half of their season was very discouraging with the bad record Dayton had amassed. But he said it all changed when Nick Senzel and Chris Okey came to Dayton. He said the locker room atmosphere and the team chemistry changed immediately upon their arrivals, and he thought they would be future leaders of the Reds. That was really nice to hear.
Reds broadcaster Jeff Brantley: Brantley said that the pitching really needs to take a step or two forward this coming year for the Reds and the re-build to progress. He is optimistic the Reds will have a much better bullpen and that a couple of the young starters will emerge in 2017.
Plenty of reasons for optimism for the Reds in 2017. There are also plenty of reasons to lather up that optimism in a good dose of caution, too. The Reds had a bad first half last year and responded with a respectable second half. If the Reds first half this year is worse than last year’s second half, there might be reason for concern. But if the Reds first half this year is as good or better than that second half, that will bode well for the re-build. It is going to be a very interesting spring training and 2017 season. We are just going to have to wait to see how it all plays out. Pitchers and catchers report in just over two weeks, so it won’t be long.