To put it charitably, performances this spring by those bubble players with a legitimate chance to break camp with the team have been uneven - though the shape of the bubble itself has been a moving target. Fred Lewis - whose spot seemed relatively secure coming into camp - may have played himself into the bubble, while Mike Leake was a bubble player who made the rotation in the wake of Cueto's injury, but has pitched as though he's curious what it's like to slum it in the minor leagues. Then there's Dontrelle Willis. And Jared Burton. And Sam Lecure.
John Fay brought to our attention the Arizona Factor, which was mentioned also last spring during the inaugural season at Goodyear. Dusty Baker lists "lighter air affecting breaking balls," harder infields and clear skies that "make it harder to read flyballs" as its ravages. The run environments in Arizona vs. Florida would seem to bear this out. Still, the team is going to have to weigh the relative performances on the field - along with, hopefully, a look at the Man in Full - to figure out who gets the remaining spots on the Opening Day roster.
In order to make sense out of the senseless, here's my quick and dirty, lumped-together power ranking of the Battle for the Final Three (Four?) Spots.
- There are only three spots in play right now (two bullpen, one bench OR, less likely: two bench, one bullpen), though Mike Leake's spot in the rotation could be precarious with another shelling in his final spring start
- Logan Ondrusek has made the team, leaving only 2 (possibly one) spot left in the bullpen
- Chris Heisey has made the team, leaving one opening on the bench (most likely a left-handed outfielder)
1. Mike Leake
Roster spot: 5th starter
Why he's in: He's already by tagged to make the start on April 9 (against the Diamondbacks) and has been stretching out as a starter all spring. While baseball is certainly an art of "What have you done for me lately," Leake was the ace of the first 1/3 of 2010.
Why he's not: Arizona effect notwithstanding (Leake did pitch in Arizona for three years before coming to Cincinnati) Leake's pitched terribly this spring, even walking more hitters than usual. And he hasn't been terribly effective since last year's All Star Break. He's never visited the minor leagues, so he could stand to at least get a tune-up down there.
2. Matt Maloney
Roster spot: Long reliever, 5th starter
Why he's in: He's pitched pretty well this spring, striking out 9 in 12 innings. The inevitable "career minor leaguer" tag gets unfairly thrown at Maloney, despite the fact that he's acquitted himself well in 9 big league spot starts. His minor league resume suggests, at least, a serviceable 5th starter.
Why he's not: Maloney's gotten 12 innings (Bailey is at 13.2), but he hasn't been leading off games and stretching out the same way the starters have. So he's really only in the conversation to be a long reliever. Willis seems to have had more favor in that role most of the spring. And with the rotation shuffling, the Reds may want to have Maloney starting, just a call away in Louisville.
Roster spot: Back-up OF, left-handed bench bat
Why he's in: He has the pedigree as a former #4 overall ranked prospect by Baseball America (2006) and put up some respectable numbers in Florida. His spring has been torrid, to the tune of a 1.155 OPS. He can offer similar defense and splits to Fred Lewis. Hermida also has five years MLB service, so he could decide to refuse an optional assignment - in which case, the Reds lose him if they don't add him to the Opening Day roster.
Why he's not: He's on a minor league contract and has options. If he were to accept an optional assignment, the Reds wouldn't have to worry about losing Lewis to waivers. His recent history in the majors inspires less confidence that he would be a successful (possible) platoon partner for Gomes. And Fred Lewis offers superior speed and, arguably, an edge defensively in left field.
4. Fred Lewis
Roster spot: Back-up OF, left-handed bench bat
Why he's in: He's on a guaranteed contract, ostensibly brought in to make some starts in left-field against right-handed pitching and potentially lead-off. He's also out of options, which means the Reds will have to expose him to waivers if they don't put him on the Opening Day roster. His career .280/.354/.442 line against lefties would seem to be a decent foil for Gomes, while his defense and speed would be attractive to have in the lineup.
Why he's not: There's been almost no indication Lewis is being considered to share time in left field, let alone be used as a regular lead-off hitter. His spring stats have been dismal. The Reds could try their luck sneaking him through waivers at the end of spring, when other teams' rosters are set.
5. Jared Burton
Roster spot: Middle relief
Why he's in: He looked very solid at the start of spring and has still yet to walk a batter, striking out 8 in 9 innings pitched. Much of the damage done to him could be the result of irregular defenses and Arizona Effects. He was a bullpen stalwart in '07 and '08 and there was evidence to suggest he'd recovered from injuries and begun to return to form toward the end of '10.
Why he's not: By the measure of hittability, he hasn't looked as good this spring as the rest of the bullpen competition. He also pitched only 3.1 innings in the bigs last year.
Also receiving votes:
6. Dontrelle Willis
7. Sam LeCure
10. Chris Valaika