What to watch for in Cincinnati Reds spring training: Pitchers Edition Doug Gray February 18, 2013 18 Comments As of today, all players should be in Arizona for spring training on both the position and pitching side of things. The Reds are coming off of an outstanding year that ended poorly and most of that team is returning. Due to that, there probably are only a few jobs up for grabs and it is probably not even open for any current minor leaguers to even take a single one that is open. Still, the small amount of playing time that they do get could lead to Dusty Baker or Bryan Price asking Walt Jocketty about them if a situation does arise later down the road when someone is needed. Here is a breakdown of the minor leaguers who are in big league spring training: Pitchers: Nick Christiani, Tony Cingrani, Carlos Contreras, Daniel Corcino, Wilkin De La Rosa, Justin Freeman, Ismael Guillon, Drew Hayes, Kyle Lotzkar, Curtis Partch, Josh Ravin, Chad Rogers and Pedro Villarreal. Pitchers are generally more fickle than hitters and you tend to go through more of them throughout a year due to injuries and sometimes a lack of performance. So the odds are, if we are going to see some guys called up this year, that is the group we are likely to see the most from. Let’s also note that my odds of seeing a player this year is before September, when some guys may get a call up but not really see much action. Nick Christiani (RHRP): While he is down the depth chart a little bit in terms of stuff compared to some other relievers, he is coming off of a season with an ERA of 3.34 in AAA. His peripherals weren’t good though, with just a few more strikeouts than walks and a high WHIP. He does get a lot of groundballs. If he wants to stay fresh in the minds of Price and Baker when they need to call someone up, he will need to miss some bats, limit his walks and keep the ball on the ground during the spring. Odds of seeing him this season: Slim Tony Cingrani could be among the first pitchers called up in 2013. Tony Cingrani (LHSP): Cingrani saw a small amount of time to end 2012 with the Reds. The Reds have already stated that he would work as a starter this spring. That means that he isn’t making the team out of spring training and will head to Louisville. But if a starter goes down, he could be the guy who gets the call. If a situation arises where they need a lefty out of the bullpen, he could also get that call. He needs to show an improved slider to be looked at as a starter. Odds of seeing him this season: Very good. Carlos Contreras (RHRP): Contreras spent 85% of his 2012 season in Low-A Dayton before a late call to High-A Bakersfield, so it may seem like a stretch to talk about him as seeing time in the Majors in 2013, but he will be given a chance to make the Double-A team out of spring training and is already on the 40-man roster. He has very good stuff and his numbers were strong last year. For him to garner interest in the spring from the big league guys though, he will need to show that he is mature enough to handle the pressure of the hitters given his limited experience against more advanced competition. Odds of seeing him this season: Below average. Daniel Corcino (RHSP): Corcino is right there with Cingrani as the guy who will be looked at if the Reds need a starter at some point during the season. There is a chance, particularly later in the year, that he may get a look as a reliever if the situation shows up and none of the relief prospects are standing out. He will need to show better control than he did last season if he wants to stay fresh on the mind of the decision makers, especially earlier in the year. Odds of seeing him this season: Good. Wilkin De La Rosa (LHRP): The big advantage that De La Rosa has over a lot of these guys is that he is a pure lefty reliever. While the Reds brought in a few veteran types to compete as lefty relievers. On a purely even talent level, he would find himself down the depth chart perhaps too far to see action this year, but his being a lefty gives him a chance. To keep his name fresh as the season goes along, being able to overmatch lefties in the spring is a must. Odds of seeing him this season: Below average. Justin Freeman (RHRP): Freeman is coming off of a strong 2012 season with Pensacola with a 2.91 ERA. His control is likely his biggest asset and his stuff, while solid enough to pitch in the Majors, isn’t going to wow anyone either. If he plans to keep his name in the heads of the right people, he will need to continue to pound the strikezone, miss bats and show that he really belongs. Odds of seeing him this season: Below average. Ismael Guillon (LHSP): I will keep this rather short. There is almost no way that Guillon makes it to the Majors this year. He will begin his season in Dayton. Odds of seeing him this season: Very slim. Drew Hayes (RHRP): Hayes has quality stuff with his fastball and slider, but has been riddled with control issues in his career. The stuff will play, but if he wants to remain in contention to get called up after the season begins he will need to throw strikes and lots of them during the spring. Continuing to miss bats and get groundballs with the big club will also help keep his name fresh on the minds of those discussing who to bring up. His not being on the 40-man roster could keep him back. Odds of seeing him this season: Below average. Kyle Lotzkar remains a wild card because of his inability to stay healthy. Kyle Lotzkar (RHP): Lotzkar will likely be used again as a starter, but more and more people are starting to talk about him as a reliever. When he is healthy, he has very good stuff. He has struggled to stay healthy for his entire career though, so a move to the bullpen could help out. Limiting walks will be a key for Lotzkar if he gets a chance to show off his stuff this spring. The stuff is there, so his control in limited action this spring could be the make or break thing for him if the situation arises where a righty is needed. Odds of seeing him this season: If healthy, 50-50. Curtis Partch (RHRP): Partch made the move to the bullpen in 2012 after a terrible start to the year as a starter. He was dominant at times flashing a plus fastball along with his offspeed stuff. Consistency with his offspeed stuff has been an issue, but if he can show some consistency with it during the spring he could be among the first guys talked about if a bullpen need shows up. Odds of seeing him this season: Good. Josh Ravin (RHRP): The hardest thrower in the organization outside of Aroldis Chapman, Ravin has topped out at 101 MPH from the bullpen. He mixes in several other pitches as well, though his curveball is his go to pitch. Control has been the biggest drawback for Ravin in the past, though it was almost exclusively as a starter. He struggled with it as a reliever in the regular season, but showed solid control in the Arizona Fall League out of the bullpen. His pure arm strength will keep his name on the minds of Bakers, Price and others, but if he wants to really be given a true look, keeping the walk rate to a reasonable rate will be key. If he does this spring what he did in Arizona (13 strikeouts and 2 walks), he could be the first guy brought up. Odds of seeing him this season: 50-50 depending on the control and how it develops. Chad Rogers (RHP): Rogers worked as a starter in 2012 for the first time and had plenty of success. Still, he is viewed more as a reliever by most than a starter. He has the stuff to work as a starter at the back end of a rotation, but could probably be an impact 7th inning type of reliever. As a guy who will work as a starter in 2013, he has a hill to climb to jump ahead of some guys. Pounding the zone, getting ground balls like he usually does and strong performances when he does get into games may give him a chance to be seen later in the year. Odds of seeing him this season: Below average. Pedro Villarreal (RHP): Villarreal may work in either role in the minor leagues, but is much more likely to be a big league reliever. Out of the bullpen he has plenty of stuff to get the job done. He will be fighting for a spot to be called up against guys who likely have better stuff, but aren’t likely as polished. In the spring if he wants to stand out from the crowd and get noticed, he will need to show strong control and show good results when he is given the chance to pitch. Odds of seeing him this season: Good. Overall Thoughts The Reds don’t have a ton of spots open and I don’t see anyone with prospect eligibility remaining taking one of the bullpen spots that may be up for grabs with as many as nine veterans vying for six or seven spots as it is. Beyond one of the deeper bullpens in baseball is still plenty of intriguing arms to keep an eye on. Whether some of the fireballers can take another step forward to force their way in (Ravin/Partch), or one of the more polished pitchers puts together something real strong in Louisville and brings his game up when needed (Freeman,Villarreal) or someone makes a little correction that takes them to a new level, there is plenty of intrigue from the minor leaguers who are in big league camp. None will probably head north with the team, but all have something that they could do to leave DustyBaker, Bryan Price and Walt Jocketty thinking about them when the time comes for someone to get the call once the season gets rolling. You can see the Position Players Edition here. 18 Responses Alan Horn February 18, 2013 Doug, there are more pitchers than we have spots for the bull pen. Do you see Hoover pitching at AAA because he has options? He is certainly ready and should have a spot on the Reds in my opinion. Do Ondrusek, Arrendondo and Simon have options remaining? At some point(barring injuries which are likely) Leake might have to move to the pen. Signing Parra contributed to the log jam but he is a lefty. Doug Gray February 18, 2013 Yeah, I expect Hoover in AAA despite being one of the 4-5 best reliever options we have. I believe Ondrusek has an option left, but Arredondo and Simon do not. The Duke February 18, 2013 The Reds may be in an odd situation of a contender willing to trade relievers at the deadline if the market for them is tight and can get a good return, even if it is just for prospects. Might be a solid way of building back up some SS and C depth along with the draft. Ron February 18, 2013 Nice little story on that Australian pitcher we signed recently: http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/sport/more-sport/adelaide-teen-pitcher-signs-contract-with-major-league-outfit-cincinnati-reds/story-fnducgor-1226579079939 The Duke February 18, 2013 So we likely won’t see him in game action until the 2014 AZL season starts by the sound of it. Doug Gray February 18, 2013 Yeah, that is what I would imagine as well. Terry M February 18, 2013 Nice article. Thanks… sultan of swaff February 18, 2013 Good article. Mitchell seems very driven. sultan of swaff February 18, 2013 I just believe that (in the absence of some startling spring training performances) Cingrani will be the first SP called up rather than Corcino. While it’s important to develop a third pitch, I’m not gonna downgrade Cingrani’s chances because of a show-me pitch he’ll throw maybe 15% of the time, when 85% of his repertoire is plus. Lotzkar–given his extreme flyball tendancies, using him in relief could be a tricky proposition. Yet, I’m down with the move if it ensures his continued health. His stuff should play up in the bullpen. Doug—How does Justin Freeman compare to, say, the relief pitching version of Sam LeCure? Doug Gray February 18, 2013 A starter typically needs three pitches because breaking balls work well against opposite side hitters, but not so much against same side hitters, while change ups work well against same side hitters, but not so much against opposite side hitters. While those aren’t perfectly accurate for everyone, they are for nearly everyone. Cingrani is incredibly likely to need to improve his slider if he wants to get lefties out at the Major League level. Freeman might throw a tad harder (LeCure didn’t average 90MPH last year on his fastball) and both guys have good sliders. But I think what separates LeCure from Freeman is that LeCure throws 4 pitches. Fastball, which he can locate, slider which is a very good pitch, a curveball that he throws almost as much as his slider which is also a very good pitch and a change up which has been a little below average. LeCure gets his work done with two above-average to plus breaking balls. Most guys don’t have that. Being able to go to both of them is probably why he has been as successful as he has despite a below-average fastball. Stock February 18, 2013 In an effort to try to figure out why pitchers are successful in the majors I decided to complete an analysis of Bartolo Colon. I could have completed my analysis on Justin Verlander but when you have 4 plus pitches there are many causes of success. I only used years from 2002 on because prior to 2002 fangraphs does not provide the information it has provided for years 2002+. Colon’s career can be divided into two segments. From 2002-2005 his fastball averaged 92.6 mph or better each year. Since 2005 his fastball has never averaged 92 mph. Since 2002 he has had 4 years where his FIP was < 3.85 (2002, 2005, 2011 and 2012). The other 6 years is was greater than 4.10. What separated Colon in these 4 quality years. 2002 and 2005 are 2 of the four years where his fastball was at least 92.6 MPH. Of these 4 years 2002 represented the year where Colon’s fastball was at 0.5 mph faster than the other 3. This separates 2002 from the other 3 years. Colon’s average fastball in 2005 matched 2003 and 2004. There are two areas where Colon’s 2005 did differentiate from 2003 and 2004. In 2005 he threw his Fastball and Slider 92% of the time. In 2002 he also threw his top 2 pitches 92% of the time. In 2003 and 2004 the threw his top 2 pitches 88% of the time. The fact that he focused on two pitches in 2005 isn’t the reason for Colon’s success in 2005 when compared to 2003 and 2004. The difference was throwing strikes. In 2005 he threw strikes 68% of the time (2206 out of 3248 pitches). In 2003 his thrown strike percentage was 65.5% and his FIP was 4.11. In 2004 he sat at 64%(FIP 4.97). In 2012 Colon threw his fastball 90% of the time. He threw his slider on average 1 time per inning and his changeup once every 2 innings. So if he pitched 6 innings he would throw (on average) 75 fastballs, 6 sliders and 3 changups. The reason he was so successful was because he threw 70% of his pitches for strikes. Colon can live with 2 pitches (you can even argue 1 pitch) as long as he can consistently throw those two pitches for strikes. I think this translates to Cingrani and Chapman. They can live on two pitches even if they start if they throw strikes. If Cingrani can produce the walk rates in Cincinnati that he produced at Billings and Bakersfield then he will be successful. I don’t care if he never throws a changeup, he will be successful. He threw strikes 69% of the time in his short stint with Cincinnati last September. Chapman’s ERA last year when he walked a batter was 2.08 vs. 0.92 when he didn’t walk a batter. Chapman thrown K% vs. ERA in his three years (2010 60.6%/2.03, 2011 59.4%/3.60 and 2012 63.9%/1.51) backs this up although innings are limited because he is a RP. My point is if Cingrani can throw strikes he doesn’t need a third pitch because throwing strikes is much more important than throwing a third pitch. A pitcher with 2 plus pitches that throws strikes 68% of the time provides more value than a pitcher with 2 plus pitches and one average pitch who throws strikes 64% of the time. Doug Gray February 18, 2013 Bartolo Colon is an extreme outlier. Last season he was the only pitcher over 81% with his fastball, and it was at 90%. Only two other guys were even at 75%. Only five total guys were even at 71%, including Colon. Of course that doesn’t include cutters or sinkers, which are often referred to as fastballs. Still, I am not sure that Colon can really tell us much given that he is basically the guy in his range. Throwing strikes is always the most important thing. But a lot more goes into it after that. Far too much to even begin to try and talk about in the comments section. Stock February 18, 2013 Colon may be an outlier but the current Colon is a great comp to Cingrani with a couple of exceptions: 1. Cingrani has a much better fastball and it must have more movement or deception than Colon’s because he gets a boatload more K’s than Colon ever did. 2. While Cingrani matched Colon’s ability to throw strikes while with the Reds last September he didn’t do it in the minors. If Cingrani can throw strikes as per his time at Bakersfield then 2. is eliminated. Item 1. probably makes up for the discrepancy in 2 at this point. Cingrani has done far better than Colon did in the minors and Colon was a top 20 prospect in back to back years. Of course if Cingrani is still a prospect next winter I fully expect him to break into the top 20 also. Just because Cingrani, Colon, Masterson, Detwiler, … are outliers now doesn’t mean they will be 5 years from now. Baseball evolves and as it evolves things change. 40 years ago people felt Reggie Jackson would never be a superstar because his K/BB ratio was 2. Last year 62% of the 143 qualified player had a K/BB ratio north of 2. A couple of years ago you said Juan Francisco had to bring his K/BB ratio under 3 because major leaguers just don’t exist with a ratio > 3. Last year 22% of the 143 qualified players had a K/BB ratio north of 3 and 7% had a K/BB ratio greater than 4. Because of this evolution, I think the next step is for pitchers who can take advantage of this approach. A pitcher with the ability to get strikeouts and maintain control is an appropriate counter to the swing for the fence hitters we have today. Bartolo Colon has figured out that you can win in this league with one pitch and control. The question is how many others will follow his lead. Cingrani led professional baseball in ERA last year. He must be doing something right. It is funny that everyone is gung ho about Chapman starting and Cingrani has so much more potential as a SP. Chapman wasn’t a great SP in Louisville. I am pumped that Chapman is going to be streached out to start and I think he will be a good SP. Chapman has 2 pitches and average to below average control. Cingrani, thus far, has 2 pitches and above average control. I understand the quality of Cingrani’s two pitches does not compare to Chapman’s. I just think his cotrol closes the gap. Doug Gray February 18, 2013 I am not entirely sure that Cingrani does have that much better of a fastball than Cingrani. Colon averaged 91.2 with his FB last year. When I was in Pensacola, Cingrani sat 90-91 MPH with his fastball. Colon averaged 10 strikeouts per 9 innings before he got called up. Not quite where Cingrani is at, but it was awful high. From 21-23, Colon posted a 2.42 ERA with 311 strikeouts in 271.2 innings. As for the K/BB ratio, I said you don’t have GOOD hitters over 3.00. And I still believe that. Guys who are providing positive value with their bats aren’t going over 3.00 over long periods of time. They never have. Chapman wasn’t great as a starter because he couldn’t throw strikes often enough. When he got guys to swing, they had no chance. Cingrani isn’t like that. Most guys aren’t. Cingrani has good fastball control. His walk rate in AA was poor though. He needs to fix that, but more advanced hitters were able to do things against him that the guys in the lower levels couldn’t. He needs to adjust back. And part of that is to work with his breaking ball more. wanderinredsfan February 19, 2013 You may have just caught Cingrani on a bad start. Cingrani’s FB registered 93mph consistently during his relief appearances for Cincy, while touching 94mph. (the pitch/fx data is at BrooksBaseball) Furthermore, he consistently hovered around 93-94mph in spring training, and during his stint in Bakersfield last year. Stock February 19, 2013 I didn’t say Colon stunk at age 21 and age 22, just that Cingrani was better. There is no disputing that. My Cingrani/Colon comp was meant to be the 2012 Colon and his FB is much slower than Cingrani’s at this point in his career but his control is on par or possibly even better than Cingrani’s now. There are plenty of good hitters who had a K/BB ratio north of 3 last year. Adam Jones, Trumbo, Morales, BJ Upton, Kendrick, Rios, Torii Hunter and Cory Hart. Many youngsters (which reinforces my evolution theory) had K/BB ratios greater than 3 (Viciedo, Desmond, Alcides Escobar, Montero, Moustaskas and Pedro Alvarez). Cingrani may not be able to hit 100 like Chapman but there must be something there. As a SP in the minors Cingrani struck out more per nine than Chapman has as a SP. As a RP in the majors Cingrani struck out more per nine than Chapman (I know only 5 innings but that is all the data we have). Again, this is not intended to dismiss the attempt to use Chapman as a SP. I am just trying to point out that a SP with good control can succeed in the majors with only 2 pitches. By good control I mean 2.5 BB/9. Another example. Justin Masterson has had one season where he had a BB/9 < 3.00. In 2011 his BB/9 was 2.7 and his ERA was 3.21. In his other 2 years as exclusively a SP (2010 3.7 BB/9 4.70 ERA and 2012 3.8 BB/9 4.93 ERA). Masterson has only 2 pitches. If he throws strikes, he is a good pitcher. If not, not so much. Cingrani will miss more bats than Masterson. Therefore, if he throws strikes he will win. There aren't a lot of examples out there but the ones there are all say the same thing. If Cingrani can produce the walk rates in Cincinnati that he produced at Billings and Bakersfield then he will be successful Alan Horn February 18, 2013 I too like Cingrani better at this point in time, but who knows for sure. The Reds should have room for both later on. You can never have too much pitching. Injuries are going to happen. MK February 18, 2013 Cingrani is over a year older than Corcino and is a lefty. But, that being said Cingrani should have a better handle on a third pitch by now. If it doesn’t happen this year I think he ends up in the pen. So in that regard I go with a slight nod to Corcino.