"... the roster is thinned out, and a dozen or more players realize that their field of dreams is going to stay that way. The survivors begin to barnstorm their way back north." -- Cait Murphy, Crazy '08
Spring Training has taken on some inertia this week - and a backseat to the NCAA tournament. There's the sense that Reds and fans would prefer to speed through to Opening Day. Playing time has been a little lighter for the regulars, while cuts were held off until today and lacked the urgency of a team with crucial position battles that needs to take a hard look at its rising talent.
Players like Willie Harris, Denis Phipps and Todd Frazier (all LF-capable) have gotten among the most playing time and scrutiny. But there still isn't really a place for them on the Opening Day roster without an injury or surprise move (like optioning Chris Heisey or trading away the optionless-Juan Francisco).
Here's what we may or may not have learned:
- Chapman is making it interesting. Chapman faced 11 Padres on Wednesday, which - admittedly - isn't a lot. He was hit pretty hard in the first inning, but his numbers are mostly encouraging, especially from a control standpoint. He threw 9 of 12 non-contact pitches for strikes, walking none, with 2 Ks. He gave up a no-doubt home run to Andy Perrino (?), two hard-hit balls and a deep fly to go with 4 ground balls and a routine fly. Andromache has a great two-part series on Chapman and his potential to develop a Madsonian straight change-up. Before the end of the month, I don't think he's going to be able to start throwing it for strikes without just serving up meatballs, but I can't help but be encouraged by his results. I hope Wednesday's outing nudged him closer to starting in Louisville in April, were he'll not only get a chance to develop his change, but he'll also be able to see how much harder he can throw and still be in the zone. He's taking some off to throw strikes this spring.
- It might not be impossible for Homer Bailey to end up in the bullpen this season. It's murky waters, but Dusty Baker told Jim Bowden on Sirius XM today that Bailey, Chapman and Francis were all in competition for the fifth spot, elaborating that they have to find somewhere for Bailey and Chapman, since they're getting a lot of money (maybe this is the key to unlocking Baker - economic theory). The likeliest interpretation is that the Reds are just going to chuck Chapman in the bullpen again. But with Bailey having a miserable spring and no options, they could go a different way. I'm not sure Bailey in the bullpen and Chapman in the big league rotation on Opening Day is a better plan.
Jeff Francis needs a home. Francis is the wild card here. He can opt out in 10 days if he's not on the roster. He's a soft-tosser who had trouble coming back from injury in Kansas City, but he's having a good spring and arguably represents the Reds' only MLB-ready SP depth - unless you count Chapman. Should he at least be stashed in the bullpen?
- The first cuts are the shallowest. There weren't many surprises, except maybe Judy. Kris Negron, Neftali Soto and Josh Judy were optioned to Louisville. Didi Gregorius, Henry Rodriguez and Pedro Villarreal were optioned to Pensacola. Donald Lutz and Kyle Lotzkar were optioned to Bakersfield. C Tucker Barnhart, SP Nick Christiani, SP Daniel Corcino, C Brian Esposito, SP/RP Sean Gallagher, RP Donnie Joseph, SP Chad Reineke and SP/RP Brett Tomko were all reassigned to minor league camp.
Relievers are healing, but Bray still may not be ready.
Denis Phipps is having a Dave Sappelt Spring. There are plenty of differences between these two players. Phipps is significantly taller, for one thing. But both are outfielders who followed break-out seasons at Age 25 with spring training hitting sprees. Phipps is effectively blocked by Francisco, but the Reds' won't likely have a 5th OF on Opening Day. It's also never clear what Chris Heisey's job security is. If you're someone who likes routine and structure, don't apply for a job as a Fourth OF Type.
Drew Stubbs is trying really hard. He's having a great spring, for what it's worth. It's probably meaningless, given the competition and conditions in Arizona, but he's struck out "just" 22.7% of the time. If that translated to the regular season, it could make a big difference for Stubbs. Unless he just started grounding out a lot more. Bunting badly is a good way to do that, I've heard.
Position battles and projected Opening Day roster after the jump.
There hasn't been a lot of movement here, so this looks a lot like last week. I'm going to include injury projections, which say Madson and Masset return, but Bray starts the season on the DL, into the projected OD roster.
Position battle: Bullpen
- In (if healthy): Ryan Madson, Sean Marshall, Nick Masset, Bill Bray, Jose Arredondo, Logan Ondrusek
- Likely/last in: Sam LeCure
- Aroldis Chapman (to replace Bray, if injured)
- Clay Zavada (may replace Bray, if injured)
- Carlos Fisher
- Jordan Smith
- Andrew Brackman
- Clayton Tanner
Jeff Francis could jump any of the above is he's considered as a reliever, but he's still in the starter race. Things get more complicated is Homer Bailey's spot is up-in-the-air.
Position battle: Bench
4 spots (For accounting purposes, Ludwick, Hanigan and Mesoraco are considered starters)
Likely/last in: Chris Heisey, Juan Francisco
- Todd Frazier
- Denis Phipps
- Willie Harris
- Paul Janish
Projected Opening Day Roster
Players on the roster below are all projected to be healthy on Opening Day, whether they like it or not. As of today, I'm projecting Bill Bray to start the season on the DL.