Louisville Bats pitcher Jon Moscot could be on the cusp of joining the Reds’ ranks, Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty said Sunday.
Jocketty met with reporters before the Wahoos’ matinee game and addressed a number of topics, including player development and the state of the Reds. When asked how close Moscot was to making a Major League debut, Jocketty was optimistic.
“He is very close,” Jocketty said. “Actually, he didn’t have a great spring when he was in Major League camp, then finished off well and has really pitched well at Triple-A. We’ll watch his start [Monday] at Louisville and see how close he is, but I think he’s very close.”
The Reds’ rotation includes an mix of young prospects — Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen — as well as long-time fixtures Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. Moscot’s last three starts have overlapped with those of Jason Marquis, a 36-year-old journeyman who has struggled out of the gate with a 3-4 record and 6.46 ERA.
“We’re at a point where we’re probably going to be going younger in the near future, and that’s why our player development [and] scouting is so important,” Jocketty said. “This is really a pivotal point right here at Double-A.”
A non-roster invitee to Spring Training, Moscot is 6-0 with a 2.06 ERA in his first full taste of the International League. His six wins lead the International League and Reds organization, while his earned run average is third among both league pitchers and his Reds’ system counterparts. Moscot also ranks first among Reds Minor League pitchers in opposing average (.226) and second in WHIP (1.12).
In 31 games over parts of two seasons with the Wahoos, Moscot was 9-11 with a 3.14 ERA. He earned Southern League All-Star honors before making his Triple-A debut on August 18, 2014. In a limited Spring Training sample, Moscot made two appearances over three innings with no runs on three hits and a strikeout.
For those flummoxed by his slow start, Robert Stephenson showed he’s still fully deserving of the mantle of Cincinnati’s top prospect.
After laboring through a 43-pitch first inning, Stephenson went on to tie his career high with 11 strikeouts over 4.2 frames for the Blue Wahoos. Only two Jackson baserunners reached in Stephenson’s final 3.2 innings of work and neither advanced past second base.
“[Pitching coach Jeff] Fassero came out and told me to stay on top of my fastball,” said Stephenson, who is MLB.com’s No. 23 prospect. “Getting my hand on top of the ball helped me throw a lot more strikes.”
What became one of the most effective starts of Stephenson’s Double-A career looked like anything but as he surrendered a leadoff double and four walks. After the mound visit, Stephenson struck out Dan Paolini and Marcus Littlewood to set the tone for his record night.
“It seems like it’s taking me the first inning to kind of figure out the umpire’s strike zone,” Stephenson said. “As soon as I get it figured out, then things have been rolling pretty smoothly after that.”
The Generals scored two runs after Stephenson issued three straight walks, but he would go on to strike out 11 of the next 15 batters he faced. Stephenson found success by sticking to his much improved changeup and varying his curveball speeds.
“Mostly with breaking balls, I was trying to get ahead in the count with them,” Stephenson said. “Throwing the first pitch, [it was] kind of a little bit easier curveball. Then later in the counts, I threw a little bit harder down in the zone.”
The Generals knocked Stephenson out of a May 1 defeat with a six-run first, but the Wahoos’ starter exacted revenge as Jackson put only five balls into play. He left with two outs in the fifth after throwing 106 pitches, including 63 for strikes.
Stephenson finished with two earned runs on two hits, five walks and his career-best 11 strikeouts. Pitching to a 8.31 ERA through May 1, he has seen the mark drop in each of his last four starts. Since May 6, Stephenson is 2-1 with a 2.86 ERA and 24 strikeouts along with 18 walks. Opponents are batting .187 against Stephenson over that span.
Saturday’s effort ties the highwater strikeout mark he set with the Blue Wahoos in 2014 and sets a personal best as a starter. Pensacola fell 8-6 in 11 innings to Jackson as the Generals managed two late runs against reliever Kevin Shackelford. Outfielder Jesse Winker, the Reds’ No. 2 prospect, was 1-4 in his return to play for the first time since April 17. Kyle Waldrop knocked a pair of doubles while Zach Vincej added three hits for the Wahoos.
Once overshadowed by the cream of the Reds’ pitching crop, Tim Adleman is quietly becoming the Wahoos’ most effective starting option.
Adleman, 27, anchors a young rotation that includes two pitchers in their first Double-A campaign. He spent most his Reds organizational debut in the bullpen, but Adleman also made six starts in a star-studded cast that included Michael Lorenzen and Jon Moscot.
Opening the season as the Wahoos’ third starter, Adleman appreciates the certainty of his role. It also allows him to focus more on his pitching, specifically becoming more consistent with his offspeed pitches.
“That’s what allows you to get through a lineup two or three times is having something to complement your fastball,” Adleman said after a 3-2 loss to Mississippi on May 17. “We still throw a lot of two-seamers and try to locate that and get a lot of ground balls early in the count, but being able to show them something different, especially with the talent that you face at this level, this is the biggest thing that’s helped me get some innings and keep some of their guys at bay.”
Adleman takes no prisoners, pounding the strike zone as soon as he has an umpire pegged.
“The first couple of innings, [it’s about] trying to understand what he’s going to call, what’s he’s not going to call, and then continue to pitch to your strengths and be aggressive,” Adleman said. “Because if you nibble too much, then you get yourself in situations where you put the balls and strikes in their hands a little bit more as opposed to just going after the guys and make some quality pitches and let them get themselves out.”
Pitching coach Jeff Fassero points to Adleman’s maturity and advanced approach as a key to success.
“He pitches down and he pitches smart,” Fassero said. “He doesn’t panic, and that’s a big key for him. He understands that down is where it’s at, and he focuses on that all the time.”
Entering Friday’s game, Adleman’s 1.64 ERA leads Reds Minor League starters and ranks third among his Southern League counterparts. Still, he sees room for improvement.
“A couple of starts this season, I feel like I’ve been a little out of sync and just unable to get into a rhythm,” Adleman said. “With (the Braves), I felt mostly the opposite of that. I think them swinging a lot, hitting some early ground balls and putting some stuff into play helped me get some quick outs and settle in there earlier than I had been in the past starts.”
A lack of offensive support factors into his 1-3 record as the Wahoos have been held under two runs in four of his seven starts. However, Adleman sees the bats turning a corner and feels more confident that his lineup can back up a strong outing.
“Our guys have been swinging it pretty well recently,” Adleman said. “I think maybe there is a bit of a difference now than there was a couple months ago where we were scuffling a little bit and guys were maybe pressing too much.
“As far as on the mound from game to game personally, it’s the same approach, just try to limit them as much as possible and give them an opportunity at the end of the game, middle of the game, whatever the case may be, to be within a swing or two and just limit baserunners and do my best to keep their runs to a minimum.”
Since April 25, nobody in the Reds farm system has been hitting better than Kyle Waldrop.
That’s not hyperbole, either. Waldrop is batting .340 with 34 hits in his last 27 games, both of which pace the organization. Since then, he also leads hitters in extra-base hits (12), total bases (54), RBI (19) and slugging percentage (.540).
Looking at the Southern League, Waldrop is tied in hits over that span with Dario Pizzano, whose Jackson Generals come to town today for a five-game series. Waldrop also ranks third in total bases and fifth in slugging percentage with the sixth-best average on the circuit.
Despite hitting .190 in his first 13 games, Waldrop didn’t second-guess himself. His routine made him the first-half batting champion in Bakersfield and later the Reds Minor League Hitter of the Year, and that’s what he has pointed to as a reason for success.
“I’m just sticking to what I’ve been doing all year, just trying to stay relaxed, a little bit more comfortable at the plate now,” Waldrop said. “[I’m] putting good swings on balls and they’re falling, so that’s kind of been the difference.”
He played his 100th Double-A game during the Wahoos’ road trip to Jacksonville. Through the century mark, his line was .309/.347/.516 with 42 extra-base hits, 39 runs and 58 RBIs. For a jump that’s said to be the most difficult in baseball, Waldrop has taken it in stride.
“I keep it simple — see it, hit it,” Waldrop said. “I think sometimes you’ve got to be a little more patient with the pitchers. They’ll throw a pitch in any count, so [it’s] just staying patient and trying to sync balls up and putting good swings on balls.”
Looking at these numbers, you would expect an epiphany or grand explanation to his success. Waldrop isn’t sharing his secrets, but the separation is in the preparation. When he’s not taking batting practice on the field with the team, he takes more swings in the batting cage.
“We have specific cage times and Al Pelaez, our hitting coach, does great with us trying to come up with things for us,” Waldrop said.
Plate discipline is certainly an issue, albeit a relatively easy fix. Waldrop has 39 strikeouts to 3 walks, but he’s had only two May games with multiple whiffs compared to six in April.
Manager Pat Kelly, whose lineups resemble the ones he used with Bakersfield in 2014, likes Waldrop’s ability to take the ball to all fields.
“He’s taking what they’re giving him,” Kelly said. “If they’re pitching him away, he’s taking the ball the other way or hitting balls up the middle. Then if they try to come inside, he’s able to turn. To me, he’s just using the whole field.”
Sampson has clear goals for 2015
Thursday’s starter Keyvius Sampson knows exactly what he needs to do to succeed this season.
“Fastball command,” he said without hesitation after his last outing, a 1-0 loss to Mississippi. “That’s big for me, fastball command. That’s the key for me to be able to help the team out in the big leagues, to be able to control my fastball. My curveball and changeup are there, but if you can’t control the fastball in and out, up and down, you won’t have too much success in the big leagues.”
Sampson was a late addition to the Wahoos’ roster, joining the team April 30 in Jackson. He’s not a product of a Reds’ draft, but he’s fitting in nicely after spending six seasons with the Padres organization.
“[The Reds are] very upfront about things,” Sampson said. “They tell you the plan and what they see for you. When I was down in extended [spring training], guys were always checking up on me, seeing how things were going.”
After hands-on work in Goodyear following an elbow injury, Sampson continues to work closely with the Wahoos’ coaching staff.
“Jeff Fassero has been working with me big time,” Sampson reports. “We’re trying to get to where I’m not falling off [the mound] as much.”
A solo home run in the first put a damper on an otherwise flawless outing, but Sampson’s start has been one of several strong efforts by the Wahoos’ rotation. Series May 11, the starters are 5-2 with a 1.98 ERA in 10 games (59.0 innings).
“Being able to control both sides of the plate helped me a lot [in] being able to control the inside and outside to keep the hitters off balance,” Sampson said.
Just because his fastball gets to the plate quickly doesn’t mean Robert Stephenson has to.
In a way, the same applies to Stephenson’s road to Cincinnati. Though the Reds are preparing for life after Johnny Cueto’s possible departure, there is still work to do before the team’s consensus top prospect takes his next developmental step.
After an up-and-down 2014 season, Stephenson returned to Pensacola to perfect his pitches. Stephenson has worked closely with pitching coach Jeff Fassero on the finer points of his throwing motion, returning to a two-seam grip on his changeup and focusing on pitching downhill. Their latest effort has been tempering Stephenson’s tempo.
“Just working with Fassero in the bullpen, I think we’ve got things pretty straightened up,” Stephenson said after Monday’s start, a 4-3 win over Mississippi. “The last [session], we were working on slowing down my tempo. I was a lot slower out there today, and it just helps me get in a better rhythm and on top of the ball and able to repeat my delivery.”
After being chased out of a six-run first inning on May 1, Stephenson at his request met with Fassero and Reds Minor League pitching coordinator Mark Riggins.
“He was willing to listen and willing to talk to us,” Fassero said. “He’s made a couple adjustments his last couple of starts. I think we’re on the right path with him, and he feels like he’s on the right path.”
Since that meeting, Stephenson has pitched to a 1-2 record and 2.60 ERA. Spare for a three-run home run in the third inning, Stephenson threw six strong innings with six hits, a pair of walks and five strikeouts.
“That was just the whole thing, two bloops and a blast, and it cost him three runs,” manager Pat Kelly said. “I was really pleased. I thought Robert threw a lot better today. I thought he created great angle, had the ball down in the zone and really made some good pitches.”
“That’s the best he’s done all year,” Fassero concurred. “He left one [fastball] and it got hit for a home run, and other than that, he pitched down very well with his fastball, and that’s been a thing he hasn’t done since I’ve seen him last year. He’s fought to get it down, and last night it was down good. We’ve made a few adjustments in his delivery, he’s worked on making the adjustments and I think it’s paying off for him.”
Stephenson earned four of his strikeouts on the changeup, which he set up with his fastball. Controlling the bottom half of the strike zone has been a point of emphasis this season.
“If you can show it in the same location, then you throw that changeup after it, you can get some swings on it,” Stephenson explained.
Looking statistically, Stephenson has logged as many innings in his last three starts (17.1) as he did in his first four appearances. The even split provides a stark contrast that’s otherwise clouded by a 5.45 ERA.
|First 4 starts
(April 9-May 1)
|Last 3 starts
First, don’t let the pitch counts fool you: The first column includes his shortest start of the year at 36 pitches, while he threw a season-high 105 pitches on May 6.
Despite an uptick in his walk rate and a drop in his strikeout rate, Stephenson is missing more bats or at least more barrels. Per Baseball Reference, opponents’ line-drive rate has dipped from 26 percent to 19 percent, while the pop-up rate moved from 4 percent to 11 percent.
After Southern League hitters knocked 11 extra-base hits against Stephenson in his first four starts, he has allowed just three since May 6. Looking at the opposing batting average on balls in play, fewer are falling for hits. Hitters’ on-base percentage has also dropped from .392 to .347, even with an inordinate number of walks compared to his career average.
Stephenson has made one-fourth of his season’s starts and will have 20 games ahead of him barring an unexpected event. So far, the returns from his last few games are certainly promising.
It’s a question that’s been asked and answered since the Pensacola franchise revealed their name: Just what is a Blue Wahoo?
Well, it’s a fish. Saturday’s alternate jerseys should leave no doubt.
To open a 10-game homestand, the Wahoos are wearing jerseys inspired and designed by Guy Harvey. If you grew up along the Gulf Coast, you’ve either worn or seen someone wearing a shirt showcasing Harvey’s artwork. In his unique style, Harvey reimagined the Brandiose-designed concept as the real-life fighting fish for which the team is named.
This is the first jersey Harvey has had a hand in designing. The wahoo comes from an acrylic painting on canvas and was digitally rendered onto the fabric.
The Wahoos are wearing the second alternate jersey of the season and 11th in team history. Previous designs benefited the Andrews Institute Foundation’s Eagle Fund, joined the Duck Dynasty craze and recognized the team’s partnership with the Reds. Proceeds from Saturday’s auction will benefit the Pensacola Museum of Art.
My original plan was to rank the jerseys, but it doesn’t seem fair to call any of these designs the worst by means of a countdown. So I’ll place that
blame responsibility on your shoulders. Vote for your favorite alternate jerseys in the poll below.
The gallery includes contributions from Blue Wahoos photographers Gary McCracken, Michael Spooneybarger and Barrett McClean.
When Barry Larkin speaks about Pete Rose, he can’t help but smile.
After all, he’s talking about his childhood idol and the player he tried to emulate on Cincinnati’s sandlots.
“I wanted to be Pete Rose when I was growing up,” Larkin said Friday in Pensacola. “[If] there wasn’t a grass stain on top of my knees when I came home or grass stains on my chest, then I didn’t play hard enough.”
Granted, Larkin’s mother wasn’t a fan of our her son’s hardscrabble play.
“My mom didn’t like it too much,” Larkin said. “But hey, scrub a little harder, Mom.”
Rose holds the distinction of being the shortstop’s first Major League manager and providing Larkin with his first bat. Arriving at Riverfront Stadium less than an hour before his debut, Larkin lost his equipment in the rush.
“He asked me if I had any shoes or any bats, and I said no,” Larkin told USA Today in 2012. “He let me use his shoes and his bat, and in my first at-bat I get an RBI. After all the buzz, he said, ‘Congratulations on the first (RBI) of your career…now where’s my bat and where’s my shoes?'”
With the All-Star Game coming to Cincinnati, there’s a renewed focus on Rose’s future after a lifetime ban in 1989. New commissioner Rob Manfred will hear his case and already gave the Reds a green light on involving Rose in the festivities. But it sounds like Larkin has a plan of his own.
“I actually called Pete about possibly doing something with him during the All-Star Game in Cincinnati,” Larkin said. “Pete’s reaction was – Pete was so touched that I would think of him. I mean, I have so much respect for him.”
Larkin isn’t the objective voice required to pass judgment on Rose’s future involvement in baseball, but he’s making his voice heard regardless.
“I’m very hopeful for a reinstatement, but my vote doesn’t really count,” Larkin said. “When I did my Hall of Fame speech, I didn’t ask Major League Baseball if it was okay for me to mention Pete, because guess what? Pete was my first Major League manager, and he was the guy that gave me an opportunity.”
Rose, baseball’s hit king with 4,256 hits in 24 seasons, including 19 years and the record-setting single with his hometown Reds, was hit with a lifetime suspension after betting on baseball as the Cincinnati manager.
“I certainly don’t condone betting or whatever it was that he did,” Larkin said. “But I don’t condemn him either because Pete is a great man. Pete is a great baseball mind.”
Rose has taken his talents to the broadcast booth, joining FOX Sports 1 as a baseball analyst Monday. But just as Larkin takes a permanent role within the Reds organization, he wonders what kind of impact his former manager could have had.
“I feel like Pete could have over these years that he’s been suspended from the game, Pete could have helped so many people in this game from the hitting perspective or just how to play the game the right way,” Larkin said. “I’m a discipline or descendent of his brand of baseball. I know I played it the right way because I had those type of influences early in my career.”
Just call him Walk-Off Winker.
For the fourth time in a Blue Wahoos uniform, Jesse Winker factored into a walk-off victory. This time, it was a first-pitch single against Stephen Perakslis that gave Pensacola a 5-4 victory over the Tennessee Smokies.
“That’s always a situation as a player that you want to be in, no matter if you are 10-for-10 or 0-for-10,” Winker told reporters Thursday. “Whenever you go up with a chance to win the game…that is honestly the best feeling in baseball.”
The single gives Winker hits in seven of his last eight games and extends his on-base streak to 11 games. Winker, the Reds’ No. 2 prospect, is batting .256 (10-39) with a .375 on-base percentage since April 27. He has a double, one triple, five RBIs and seven runs over that span.
“It goes back to when you were a kid in the front yard,” Winker continued. “I remember you didn’t hit a home run in the first inning, it was always the bottom of the ninth, the bottom of the 15th. Those are the moments you live for.
“As a player, no matter what has happened up until that point in the game or the season, it doesn’t matter. When game is a on the line and it comes down to you, that what’s it all about.”
Thursday’s victory is the first walk-off for Pensacola since August 14, 2014, when Devin Lohman‘s sacrifice fly drove in Travis Mattair to beat the Mobile BayBears 2-1 in 11 innings. It is the third time this season that the Wahoos produced the winning run in their final at-bat.
Winker provided game-winning hits on back-to-back nights for Pensacola in 2014. A 15th-inning single sealed a 4-3 marathon win on July 2 and his walk-off home run the next day was the first in franchise history.
He also scored the winning run on June 22, 2014, when Mattair’s double clinched a 4-3 victory over the Huntsville Stars.
Second baseman Ryan Wright tied his season high with three hits, all singles, and extended his hitting streak to nine games. Starter Daniel Wright overcame a four-run first inning and struck out 10 batters over six innings. Jacob Johnson earned his first Double-A win with three scoreless innings.
Pensacola has two leadoff hitters, but one of them doesn’t know it yet.
“You only get to lead off one time,” Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelly said. “Other than the first inning, that No. 9 hitter ends up being a leadoff guy or a table setter for the middle of the lineup.”
So far, that table setter has been outfielder Beau Amaral. He batted ninth in the order four times in Jackson and hit ahead of the pitcher on Tuesday, a 4-3 win over Tennessee. But in a perfect world, Amaral is batting first in the Wahoos’ order.
“It’s really important for our offense to have him in that leadoff spot,” Kelly said. “We don’t really have a true leadoff man other than him, just like we don’t have a true center fielder. He brings so much to the table defensively, and we need to get him on track offensively so we can put him in that 1 slot. The lineup kinds of flows a lot better when he’s there.”
Kelly used a different lineup every night against the American League-affiliated Generals, putting Juan Perez at the top of the order in the last five games. Even with a hitless effort Tuesday, Perez is batting .302 in his last 17 games, good for the second-best mark on the team since April 17.
“The way the lineup flows, that 9 spot is hitting in front of the guy that generally you would have as a 2 hitter,” Kelly said. “I think Juan would be a great number-two hitter. We had [second baseman Ryan] Wright leading off for a few days, he’s basically a number-two hitter.”
Amaral, held to five hits in his first 16 games, has doubled that number in his last four games. With hits in five of his last seven games, he has a .269 average and a .368 mark on balls in play since April 28.
“Three hits [on Saturday] was a great sign,” Kelly said. “Hit a couple of balls sharply to left center field, which is another good sign for him. I think sometimes he’s so conscious of hitting the ball to left field. Little guys that bat at the top of the lineup get pounded in a lot of times, and he’s very capable of turning on those balls and spreading out the defense a little bit.”
Weiss added from Daytona
Daytona Tortugas closer Zack Weiss has earned a promotion to Pensacola after nine games. When he pitches, he will make his Double-A debut.
Weiss is the fifth member of the Reds’ 2013 draft class to reach Pensacola, joining the Wahoos after a dominant start in Daytona. He allowed just three baserunners in 11.2 scoreless innings for the Tortugas.
“Zach is extremely aggressive with his fastball-slider combo,” Reds director of player development Jeff Graupe said. “He commands both pitches and has the ability to mix efficiently.”
Weiss’ .056 opposing average was the lowest among Florida State League relievers. His 22 strikeouts ties for fifth among Reds Minor League pitchers and leads relievers.
The sixth-round selection out of UCLA doesn’t see any drastic changes from his approach with Dayton in 2014, but he’s created situations more conducive for his slider.
“I wouldn’t say anything has really changed [from last season],” Weiss told Doug Gray of RedsMinorLeagues.com. “I’ve been throwing a little harder but I’ve been ahead in a lot of counts which has allowed me to get to my slider in good leverage counts.”
In all, Weiss faced 37 batters and allowed just two hits and a walk. The key has been a late-moving fastball, which he throws comfortably between 91 and 93 mph, and a better feel for his pitches.
“My command has definitely been better this year,” Weiss continued. “As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to get better feel for my body. But also I’ve been better mentally. [I’m] trusting my stuff and trying to attack hitters over the plate early in counts instead of trying to throw perfect pitches and falling behind.”
Weiss spent the 2014 season with the Dayton Dragons, pitching to a 2-4 record and 2.42 ERA. His 80 strikeouts over 63.1 innings ranked third among Dragons relievers and was the fifth-best rate over nine innings in the Midwest League (11.37).
A College World Series champion with UCLA in 2013, Weiss shared the Bruins’ dugout with Blue Wahoos outfielder Beau Amaral in 2011 and 2012. He made 22 starts in 82 appearances for the Bruins, but he pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in his junior season as the eighth-inning setup man.
In a corresponding move, Ben Klimesh has been promoted to Louisville. In nine games, Klimesh was 0-0 with a 1.69 ERA and five saves in six tries. The Wahoos’ closer scattered six hits over 10.2 innings and missed bats with a .167 average. His marquee pitch is a splitter, which helped him rack up a season-high four strikeouts in Tuesday’s six-out save.
The first month of the season is in the books. Pensacola played 20 games of a 140-game schedule, or one-seventh of the regular season. At which point do small sample sizes point to larger trends?
Ever the optimist, I think we still have a way to go. As long as the kids are still in school, we can’t take these numbers too seriously.
The Bats, Blue Wahoos, Tortugas and Dragons combined for a 38-44 record in April. Louisville, as usual, will be the Reds’ best direct pipeline, though starters like Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen may not be Bats for long. Pensacola is still chasing the Southern League South Division, but the offense has warmed up substantially. The first month in Tortugas history was spent at the top of the Florida State League, while Dayton boasts the best Minor League mark in a notable pitching category.
Here are the highlights among Reds Minor League affiliates for the month of April.
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