By the time this article shows up next week, pitchers and catchers will have reported to spring training in Goodyear, Arizona. And how sweet it will be. Over the next few weeks I will look at a few spots where minor leaguers may be fighting for spots on the roster.
Today we will start out by looking at the fifth spot in the rotation. It would appear that the number one through four spots are locked up by Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan and Scott Feldman. The Reds have recently agreed to a deal with Bronson Arroyo, though I’m sure that anyone in the organization would much rather one of the young kids win the spot as it would show that they were more ready to handle the job.
There are three guys who would seem to have a real shot. Right hander Robert Stephenson and left handers Cody Reed and Amir Garrett. For team control reasons, it would seem that Garrett would have to clearly outperform the rest of the field to win the job. Keeping him down for even two weeks would give the organization another full year of control. Keeping him down for two months would likely give the team the opportunity of keeping him from being a Super 2 eligible player. With both Reed and Stephenson having big league action last season, they would both have to remain in the minor leagues for nearly half of the season to keep those same kinds of benefits.
What do they need to show in the spring to get the job?
We will start out with the player that I believe is the favorite heading into spring, Cody Reed. When it comes to the three players, Cody Reed’s time in Triple-A is significantly better than the other two. He has, easily, the lowest walk rate, and his strikeout rate is also the best of the group. It was the time in the big leagues that was a struggle last year for Reed. His walk rate jumped up, but his strikeout rate was still good. What really did him in was keeping the baseball in the ballpark – he allowed 12 home runs in 47.2 innings pitched. For Reed, that’s the biggest thing he’s going to need to work on.
Among pitchers with at least 40.0 innings pitched last year, his HR/FB rate was the worst in baseball at 28%. The league average tends to be around 11% – so he was nearly three times as likely to see a fly ball go over the fence as an average pitcher. That’s highly unlikely to continue simply because it doesn’t make sense to remain that high, but he’s going to need to actually show improvement there. Getting his walk rate down to where it was in the minor leagues would also help, but that was far from his biggest problem.
Robert Stephenson has arguably the best arm of anyone in the organization. When he’s at his best, he’s showing three plus pitches. Not many guys have two of those, much less three. Much like Cody Reed, he had problems keeping the baseball in the ballpark. He allowed nine homers in 37.0 innings in the big leagues, but it’s been the walk rate that’s been a real problem for him over the last three seasons. If he’s going to get a real chance out of spring training he’s going to need to show that he can throw strikes and do so consistently.
Amir Garrett is in a similar position as Stephenson. His walk rate in Triple-A jumped up over 4.0 batters per 9-innings pitched and his strikeout rate dropped down to 7.2. You’d like to see better rates in both categories. Given that he’s got the least amount of experience in Triple-A and none in the Majors, he’s going to have to really dominate if he’s going to take the job from either of the other two guys (or another option).
If we were handicapping these three players, the favorite would have to be Cody Reed. He’s the only one who didn’t have problems with the strikezone while in Triple-A. Robert Stephenson would come next in line, but with significantly lesser odds. His struggles with control in the past put him behind Reed here. Garrett’s service time and lack of experience compared to the others make him a big time long shot here.