The Blue Wahoos are finally taking the field for 2015 — sort of.
The Reds will formally assign Minor League players to their respective teams in April. Until then, they’re suiting up for one of four training groups and embarking on a 17-game schedule.
Minor League pitchers and catchers reported to Goodyear on March 5, followed by position players on March 11. After preliminary workouts, teams are scrimmaging against other clubs of the same classification: future Louisville Bats against Triple-A teams, Pensacola against Double-A, and so on.
“I would say the last two weeks have been very encouraging for us,” Reds director of player development Jeff Graupe said. “We are still easing into playing our game schedule, but the players have come in well prepared and well-conditioned.”
Players who started the spring in the Reds camp are gradually moving to the Minor League fields. Others optioned to teams — at the moment, Juan Duran is the only such case for Pensacola — join the hundreds of other players who reported in March.
The Wahoos playing in Arizona won’t necessarily end up in Pensacola, but these games help the Reds find the best fit at each level.
“There is a healthy competition for roster spots,” Graupe notes.
Prospective Wahoos should get a good look at their first opponent of the season. The Double-A training group will face off against Milwaukee’s squad on April 2 and 4 before Opening Day in Pensacola on April 9.
March 18 at Birmingham Barons (White Sox)
March 19 vs Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Royals)
March 20 at Akron RubberDucks (Indians)
March 21 vs San Antonio Missions (Padres)
March 22 vs Akron RubberDucks
March 23 at Tulsa Drillers (Dodgers)
March 24: intersquad
March 25 at Birmingham Barons
March 26 at Mobile BayBears (Diamondbacks)
March 27 vs Tulsa Drillers
March 28 vs Birmingham Barons
March 29 vs Akron RubberDucks
March 30 at Akron RubberDucks
March 31 vs San Antonio Missions
April 1 vs Birmingham Barons
April 2 at Biloxi Shuckers (Brewers)
April 3 vs Birmingham Barons
April 4 vs Biloxi Shuckers
GOODYEAR, Ariz. — It may be his first Major League camp, but former Blue Wahoos starter Jon Moscot isn’t fazed.
In fact, he’s almost relaxed.
“In Minor League camp, there’s so many guys that it’s so hard to relax at any point,” Moscot said. “Not that there’s a chance to relax in big league camp, but the atmosphere is more relaxed. It’s a lot more of a team atmosphere. You feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.”
For two seasons, Moscot spent Spring Training competing for attention among 140 Minor League pitchers and catchers. Now, the Southern League All-Star is working under the supervision of the Cincinnati coaching staff. He’s already caught the eye of Reds manager Bryan Price.
“You look at Moscot and he’s got good velocity,” Price told MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon. “But what people talk about is his efficiency, his command, his ability to pitch inside, his ability to throw a quality breaking ball for a strike when behind in the count, maturity, a presence on the mound. When you talk about his attributes and what we like about him, it’s not about being a raw power guy. It’s about being a true pitcher. That quite often plays more than the overpowering velocity.”
Price cited Moscot as a possible middle relief option for the Reds. That role could acclimate him to a Major League starting job better than a stint in Triple-A Louisville.
“That’s something that I’m totally open to,” Moscot said. “I’d love to get to the Major Leagues, and however I can help the team, I’m happy to be there.
“I’ve pitched out of [the bullpen] before, a little bit in college, so I know how to handle that change. It’s definitely a little bit different.”
As he continues to develop his changeup and slider, Moscot is also adding a two-seam sinker to his arsenal.
“I started throwing a real sinker this offseason that I was kind of missing last year,” Moscot said. “I’d run a ball into a right-hander, but it wouldn’t have the depth that I would want to get a ground ball on a double-play situation on a consistent basis.”
Moscot appreciates the attention, but he sees it as a testament to the Reds’ pitching philosophy.
“I actually think that speaks more of a volume to what we try and do out here,” Moscot said. “You go out there with an idea of what you want to accomplish when you’re on the mound, and if you can execute your pitches, that’s what going to stand out. It’s not necessarily just wowing him with stuff, but having an idea of what you want to do and competing in the strike zone.”
The modern baseball experience is composed of two games — one on the field and another in the stands.
The Blue Wahoos released their promotional schedule Thursday, which is packed with season-long theme nights and performances from renowned acts like Myron Noodleman and the Fur Circus.
On some nights, your ticket earns more than a seat. Early birds will receive a giveaway at the gate on Fridays and other select dates. But among extras such as hats (April 10), shirts (June 19) and beach towels (July 10), other promotions stand out.
Even now, there are still plans in the works. You’ll see some special jerseys and a few famous first pitches. The Wahoos will announce those as the season progresses, and trust me, they’ll be worth the wait.
So without further ado, here are my eight favorite promotions of the new season.
Tribute to the ’90s Kid (April 29)
As a ’90s kid myself, I look forward to this walk down memory lane. BuzzFeed tells me that Walkmans and Beanie Babies were popular. I woke up early for Saturday morning cartoons and the Macarena, for better or worse, is burned into my memory.
There will be plenty of ’90s kids in the dugout, too. According to Baseball Reference, the average Southern League player was 24.5 years old in 2014. Most of them were in elementary school during this decade. They remember AOL and Captain Planet just as well as I do, maybe better.
Anchorman Night 2: The Legend Continues (May 6)
Baseball fans, assemble! The Wahoos are once again celebrating the uproariously funny Anchorman franchise.
Last season’s event featured local news figures in a variety of on-field events. WEAR’s Bob Solarski was crowned the Anchorman of the Night, so look for him to defend his title.
I hope one of the Wahoos follows in the footsteps of Travis Mattair. The infielder used the Channel 4 news team’s a cappella performance of “Afternoon Delight” as his walk-up music.
Bubba Watson bobblehead (May 16)
Two-time Masters champion. Blue Wahoos minority owner. And now, a bobblehead.
Bubba Watson will be immortalized as a bobblehead as the first 2,000 visitors on Golf Day will receive his likeness. As far as I can tell, this will be the first such figurine of Watson’s professional career. But will he be holding a golf club or baseball bat?
A guest appearance by Watson might not be in the cards, as the Wells Fargo Championship will be in full swing. Watson skipped the PGA Tour stop in 2014 but pledged a return to Charlotte this year.
Kazoo’s birthday celebration (June 9)
June 9? Really? Sorry for missing your birthday three years in a row, Kazoo.
This makes my list because of the unknown factor. Exactly how do mascots celebrate a birthday? I’ll bet he wins the daily race around the bases, but the rest is left up to the imagination.
Time Warp Night (July 1)
This promotion is a nod to Back to the Future Part II, the 1989 movie set in 2015 which involved a trip to 1955 to prevent changes to 1985. In the spirit of the film, you’ll drift into different decades during the game.
Let’s see what happens when the radar gun hits 88 mph. And if the Wahoos lose, we can all hop into a DeLorean and try again.
Battle of the Stars Night (Stardate -308530.89)
We’ve seen countless Star Wars nights in the past, but the Wahoos are going where no team has gone before. In a ballpark not so far away, the worlds of Star Wars and Star Trek will collide.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actually had a baseball-themed episode in 1998 entitled “Take Me Out to the Holosuite.” If the show is to be believed, we have 28 years to enjoy the sport before it dies out.
Who would win an actual battle between these two forces? I’d bet against the Trekkies. A lightsaber would knock any Vulcan dead as soon as they tried to execute the nerve pinch.
The date is July 13, for those who can’t convert from the Star Trek’s method of timekeeping.
Phone case giveaway (July 24)
Here’s a giveaway that puts the Wahoos in the palm of your hand.
We do everything on our phones. In fact, there’s at least a 60 percent chance that’s how you read the blog. Now, you can stick this magnetic wallet on the back of your phone and keep your money close, too.
Candy Land Night (August 19)
I don’t know how the team will translate this to baseball, but here’s a good excuse to eat as many sugary sweets as you want. I’m getting a cavity just thinking about it.
Think spring: Wahoos in Reds camp
Billy Hamilton, feeling more relaxed with his rookie season in the rear-view mirror, tuned up with Delino DeShields in Atlanta.
“I’m getting more strength work in, more conditioning work in and it’s been a blast so far,” Hamilton told Mark Sheldon. “I’ve been doing a lot of bunting and a lot of hitting, working on my jumps a lot more.”
In a Cincinnati Enquirer feature, DeShields talked about their offseason strategy:
Just getting [Hamilton] out of Mississippi and to get his mind back around baseball to get going was good. The main thing from the left side is to keep the ball out of the air so much. We went over some tape and looked at some things. That I think that is going to help him moving forward.
In 2014, Hamilton hit .061 on fly balls and .304 on ground balls. Evening out the swing and keeping the ball on the ground will allow Hamilton to do what he does best — run.
Tucker Barnhart had an eventful 2014, starting with Opening Day in Cincinnati and ending with his nerve-wracking proposal. The former Wahoos catcher may be third on the Reds’ depth chart, but he’s used his time on the bench to soak up knowledge.
“I took away a lot of things on how to prepare myself on a daily basis, with reading scouting reports and other things,” he said in early February. “That can only help me in the future.”
In his first Major League camp, Jesse Winker went toe-to-toe with Reds closer Aroldis Chapman. I can handle a bat, but I think all of my formal training would go out the window when Chapman dialed it up to triple digits.
Be Didi, not Derek
The Yankees are just asking Didi Gregorius to play shortstop.
Comparisons to his predecessor Derek Jeter will abound, but the former Wahoos infielder wants to write a new chapter.
“What Jeter did, nobody else is going to do that,” Gregorius says of his predecessor. “I’m just going to be me.”
General manager Brian Cashman sees a lot of upside in Gregorius, who was traded from Arizona in December. The main concern is his ability to swing against southpaws. He bats .262/.332/.411 in his career against right-handers compared to .184/.257/.233 from the other side. Gregorius is facing more left-handed pitching in practice to address the issue.
Gregorius also dished about life off the field with Haute Living, discussing his artwork, fashion and more. The origins of Sir Didi’s 2011 knighthood are also explained.
Gregorius is one of 10 former Wahoos in camp this spring. You can see the list of names by clicking here.
— Hook Line and Sinker (@wahoosblog) February 20, 2015
Our favorite golfer goes to Goodyear
Wahoos minority owner Bubba Watson stopped by Spring Training on Feb. 24 to see the players destined for Pensacola. But before he arrived, he pitched this idea to Billy Hamilton:
— bubba watson (@bubbawatson) February 23, 2015
The two-time Masters champion didn’t get his footrace — “He chickened out today,” Watson told reporters — but he left with a personalized jersey and signed bat.
— George Vogel (@vogel_wlwt) February 24, 2015
For Reds pitchers, high school never ends
“Lorenzen’s one of those guys who needs a little romancing, some candlelight, chit-chat – he’s not an easy date.”
C. Trent Rosecrans isn’t talking about courtship, though. It’s actually a clever piece on how pitchers choose their throwing partners in spring.
Basically, it’s the Sadie Hawkins dance all over again. One reliever describes the throwing relationship as a marriage. Another pitcher wants his teammates to fight over him. And of course, there’s cheating.
With so many cliches in Spring Training — “best shape of his life” chief among them — I thought this piece was refreshing and fairly funny.
Jesse Winker on the C Dot Show
Billy Hamilton steals bases. Jesse Winker hits home runs. The opposite is rarely true.
This is the basis of a bet between the Reds’ rising stars. Whoever performs better in their weaker category wins a pair of Jordans.
The anecdote, offered to C. Trent by Winker himself, is one of many great ones you’ll hear in the interview. The exchange begins at the 20:15 mark.
More prospect lists
Three more sites assessed the Reds’ prospects in February, certainly not the first and likely not the last before Opening Day.
FanGraphs’ Top 200 list was a bit of a misnomer. The first group was split into 142 ranked players and another 58 honorable mentions where it was pointless to try splitting hairs. Cincinnati was well-represented with 10 players, the second-most of any team.
By that standard, the Reds had seven ranked representatives. Robert Stephenson leads the group at No. 25 with fellows Wahoos Winker (No. 39) and Lorenzen (No. 88) behind him. Outfielder Yorman Rodriguez also received consideration.
On Baseball Prospectus, three Wahoos cracked the Top 101. Stephenson’s No. 16 ranking is his highest among several national lists. Winker and Lorenzen, unranked in 2014, jumped to No. 44 and No. 63, respectively.
John Sickels also named his top 20 Reds prospects. Stephenson and Winker earn elite rankings, which he explains at the top of his list. Sickels seems to embody a common dilemma as he laments how interchangeable the two prospects are.
Other news and notes
>> Biloxi may not be ready for baseball until June. As construction continues at MGM Park, the Shuckers are scrambling to move home games, including five nights in the franchise’s old stomping grounds of Huntsville. Benjamin Hill has the full story.
>> Building a Hall of Fame is hard. Building one in the Minors is harder. The Southern League elected their inaugural class in 2014 and encountered unique challenges. In his double-duty for MiLB.com, Hill pulled back the curtain and offered his ballot.
>> Cox subscribers can watch select Blue Wahoos games in June and July. Cox Sports Television is available on channel 319 and HD channel 1319 in Pensacola.
>> Doug Gray at RedsMinorLeagues.com likes Cincinnati’s spring signings. By acquiring veteran relievers, the Reds won’t be pressured into converting starting pitchers like Lorenzen and Stephenson.
>> Burke Badenhop is a good case study in why win-loss record and ERA aren’t everything, especially for relief pitchers. Badenhop likely won’t sniff the Minor Leagues this season, but his insight is relevant to every level of development.
>> Pete Rose sat down with the PNJ’s Bill Vilona to discuss reinstatement. It’s the same speech Rose has given over the last month, but Reds fans are keeping a close watch on the hit king with a new commissioner.
Bubba Watson introduced as minority owner
He’s known for pink clubs, green jackets, and now Blue Wahoos.
Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson announced his partnership with the team in a Jan. 19 press conference. His financial stake in the team was not disclosed.
Watson, a fairly frequent visitor to Pensacola Bayfront Stadium, was eager to get involved after watching his first game in 2012. “Ever since I went to my first Blue Wahoos game I have been a big fan of the team,” Watson said in a statement. “I wish Pensacola had a team like this when I was growing up.”
For fans outside Florida, Watson brings a very public face to the franchise. The Bagdad native has won seven PGA Tour titles since his professional debut in 2003.
“He is someone who people follow and connect with even if they don’t play golf,” owner Quint Studer told the Pensacola News Journal’s Bill Vilona. “There are very few athletes who connect with people beyond their sport and Bubba is one of those.”
Team officials welcome Watson at a public event, which was capped by a few memorable swings. First, he teed off where thousands of batters have stood and took a swing that none of them ever did:
— Hook Line and Sinker (@wahoosblog) January 20, 2015
Watson then tried his hand with a bat, digging in against Wahoos reliever Jamie Walczak:
As part of the partnership, the stadium’s restaurant and bar will be renamed Bubba’s Sand Trap. Foodies can also expect a new item on the menu: the Bubba Dub Grilled Cheese, a double-decker grilled cheese sandwich with hash browns at its center.
Watson will defend his title at Augusta on the same day the Wahoos open the 2015 season.
Baseball isn’t played by a clock, but Double-A and Triple-A games will use a stopwatch in 2015.
As the Associated Press reported and ESPN relayed, the pitch clock is coming to Minor League Baseball after a trial run in the AFL. Time limits on pitching changes and inning breaks will also be implemented.
Rule changes at the highest level would require approval from the players’ union, so the Majors won’t be on the clock until 2016 at the earliest.
Cincinnati’s calling for Jesse Winker
2014 was the year the world met Jesse Winker.
Granted, Reds fans have been watching the outfielder since his first-round selection in 2012. But Winker’s Futures Game appearance paired with a strong Arizona Fall League campaign has given him a higher profile.
Winker, invited to his first Major League camp this spring, is touted as the Reds’ long-term solution in left field. Speaking to Mark Sheldon, the prospect isn’t feeling much pressure in the face of sky-high expectations:
Asked if he felt pressure being “heir apparent” to be #reds LF in 2016, Jesse Winker said he felt none and is just trying to move up
— Mark Sheldon (@m_sheldon) January 25, 2015
Jonathan Mayo has a bold prediction for 2015: “I’m picking Reds outfielder Jesse Winker to walk away with the batting title.” Note his choice of words: Mayo not only expects Winker to claim the title, but to blow out any competition. Winker paced the AFL with a .338 clip and has a career average of .297 in three Minor League seasons.
Winker will likely start the season in Pensacola.
More prospect lists
As national outlets rank the Reds system, Winker and Robert Stephenson continue to draw national acclaim as Cincinnati’s top prospects.
ESPN.com’s Keith Law revealed his top 10 Reds prospects as part of the network’s subscription service. However, C. Trent Rosecrans shared the list, which includes five Wahoos. Winker and Stephenson lead the list with pitcher Michael Lorenzen ranked fourth. Outfielders Yorman Rodriguez and Kyle Waldrop close the list. In Law’s Top 100, Winker is ranked No. 40 overall with Stephenson not far behind at No. 49.
On Baseball America’s list, Stephenson holds the top spot with Cuban pitcher Raisel Iglesias pulling ahead of Winker. Lorenzen and Stephenson rank fourth and tenth, respectively. The Top 100 list, released in mid-February, pegs Stephenson at No. 23 and Winker (No. 47) oddly ahead of Iglesias (No. 58).
By J.J. Cooper’s estimation, fans could see Nick Travieso and Nick Howard, the Reds’ 2012 and 2014 first-round picks, suiting up for Pensacola this season.
The Reds’ best showing comes on the MLBPipeline.com list, at least in terms of quality if not depth. Stephenson, the list’s eighth-best right-handed pitcher and No. 24 prospect, is listed two spots ahead of Winker, the fourth-best outfielder.
For now, they are the only two Reds in the Top 100. The list is updated when prospects exceed their rookie status, so Stephenson and Winker will likely rank higher in May. Players like Lorenzen may sneak into the list’s bottom half.
Other news and notes
>> Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz will be enshrined in Cooperstown this summer. It’s the largest Hall of Fame class since 1955 and easily one of the most talented in recent memory. Johnson and Martinez were nearly unstoppable at the turn of the century.
>> The Reds announced 19 non-roster invitations to Spring Training. The list includes five former Wahoos: Stephenson, Winker, Lorenzen, pitcher Jon Moscot and outfielder Ryan LaMarre.
>> MLB.com’s Bernie Pleskoff highlighted Reds prospects on the cusp of impacting the big league team. He cites Tucker Barnhart, Daniel Corcino and Yorman Rodriguez as players to watch. However, Pleskoff cautions a 2015 debut “may be a bit too optimistic” for Winker.
>> After the longest season of his professional career, Billy Hamilton looks to build endurance for the 162-game grind. Refraining from winter ball, the Reds’ center fielder hit the weight room and trained with former Wahoos manager Delino DeShields.
Kelly next to steer the ship
The Blue Wahoos’ 2015 coaching staff is set: Pat Kelly will serve as Pensacola’s third manager in four years, while Jeff Fassero and Alex Pelaez return as the respective pitching and hitting coaches.
Don’t let the turnover concern you. Everybody can move up in the Minors, including skipper Delino DeShields. Leaving Pensacola with a franchise-best 119 wins in two seasons, DeShields continues his rapid rise through the Reds’ system with a promotion to Triple-A Louisville.
Kelly, 59, has seen professional baseball from every angle since 1973. A third-round selection of the California Angels out of high school, the catcher spent 13 seasons in the Minors and enjoyed a cup of coffee with Toronto in 1980. Since then, he has coached at every level of baseball, including a stint in Cincinnati as the Reds’ bench coach in 2007.
As one chapter of his career ended, another began. Kelly started his coaching career in 1983 as a pitching coach and made his managerial debut three years later in Charleston. Thus began a prolific coaching career across the Padres, Expos, Blue Jays, Braves and Reds systems.
This isn’t the first time Kelly has managed the Reds’ Double-A affiliate. He led the Chattanooga Lookouts in 1993 and 1994; one of his players, Kash Beauchamp, later coached the independent Pensacola Pelicans in 2006.
After serving as a scout for the Toronto and Atlanta organizations, Kelly became Cincinnati’s director of Florida on-field operations in 2007. He managed the Reds’ Gulf Coast League affiliate for three seasons before advancing to Lynchburg (2010) and Billings (2011-13). Kelly was the Pioneer League Manager of the Year in 2012.
Bakersfield owned the California League’s worst record in 2013 before Kelly took the reins. He turned the cellar dwellers into first-half champions while overseeing the stars that eventually reached Pensacola.
Kelly’s first downtown experience was brief. His second, a meet-and-greet with fans, was far more meaningful. The Florida native feels at home in Pensacola and, like the rest of us, can’t wait to open the season by the bay.
From Pensacola to pinstripes
What if I told you on Opening Day 2012 that Derek Jeter’s replacement was wearing a Wahoos uniform?
Shortstop Didi Gregorius headlined a three-team trade on Dec. 9 that sent the former Blue Wahoo to the Bronx. It’s the second major career move for the Reds product, who was dealt to Cleveland and flipped to Arizona after his 2012 debut.
Gregorius batted .278 in 81 games with Pensacola, earning All-Star honors at the midseason mark before a July promotion to Louisville. He became a regular producer with the Diamondbacks, earning a starting job in 2013 and winning it back in the second half of the 2014 season.
As a Reds prospect in 2012, Gregorius was named by Baseball America as the organization’s best defensive infielder and top infield arm. Plays like this one bolstered his résumé:
For fans who don’t remember Gregorius’ glovework, here’s how Richard Justice summarized his defense for MLB.com:
At times, he will dazzle. Beyond that, he’ll make the plays a starting Major League shortstop is supposed to make, and if you ask a dozen Major League managers what they want from that position, this is it.
Wahoos honored by Reds
Pitcher Ben Lively and outfielder Kyle Waldrop earned the Reds’ highest Minor League honors at Redsfest, the team’s major winter event.
Lively received the Sheldon “Chief” Bender Award as the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year. Between Pensacola and High-A Bakersfield, he led Reds’ Minor League players with 171 strikeouts while ranking second in ERA (3.04) and wins (13). Lively is the second Wahoo to claim this honor; Billy Hamilton was a two-time winner in 2011 and 2012.
Waldrop is the Minor League Hitter of the Year after leading the organization with a .338 average. His .359 clip topped the California League at the time of his promotion, punctuated by an MVP performance in the All-Star Game. The outfielder kept the pace in Pensacola with a .315 average, closing his breakout season with hits in 13 of his last 14 games (.441, 26-49).
Philly farm looks more Lively
As quickly as he came to Pensacola, Ben Lively was gone.
Lively was traded to Philadelphia for veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd just before the new year. General manager Walt Jocketty wasn’t happy to move him, but it was the cost of doing business:
It was tough to give up a young pitcher like Ben. We thought highly of him but we were dealing from a strength there and finally decided on Ben [to trade]. We hated to lose him but had a greater need for an outfielder and run producer.
The Reds are deep on the mound and in the outfield, but Lively’s impact on Pensacola will be missed. He lived the dream that starts in backyards across America but rarely comes to life, making seven starts in front of a hometown crowd.
In a Q&A with MiLB.com, Lively opened up about his second half in Pensacola. What did those home games feel like?
I could hear everybody. Every time I looked up, I always saw my group of friends right behind our dugout just screaming. And I’m like, ‘Oh, God.’ It was fun.
Best of luck with the Phillies, Ben.
Other news and notes
>> There were 19 no-hitters in Minor League Baseball in 2014. That seems like a high number for such a rare accomplishment, but remember there are hundreds of teams playing hundreds of games. Additionally, Donald Lutz‘s cycle was one of 20 in the Minors.
>> The Reds dealt two starting pitchers at the Winter Meetings, sending Alfredo Simon to Detroit and brief Wahoo Mat Latos to Miami for a handful of prospects. Right-hander Anthony DeSclafani, a former Jacksonville Sun, should have the most immediate impact in the Majors. In three games against Pensacola, DeSclafani was 1-1 with a 5.29 ERA.
>> With Latos and Simon out of the rotation, former Wahoos ace Tony Cingrani is a favorite to step in. An electric fastball pushed the southpaw through the Minors in just three seasons, but developing a more effective offspeed arsenal is crucial.
>> From Cespedes Family Barbecue: “Shaq Thompson, the most versatile college football player in the nation, had the worst statistical career in professional baseball history.” How bad? Try 0-39 with 37 strikeouts.
>> Pitcher Tim Crabbe was the first selection of the Rule 5 draft’s Triple-A phase, moving to the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. Crabbe pitched two seasons in Pensacola and earned Southern League All-Star honors in 2013.
Minor League Baseball hands out (imaginary) hardware
MiLB.com issued their end-of-year awards with analysis from Reds director of player development Jeff Graupe. Five Wahoos won at their position with seven mentioned among 12 possible positions. The list includes a utility player, left- and right-handed starting pitcher, and reliever.
Behind the plate, Ross Perez earned an honorable mention. Perez batted .355/.423/.535 from June until his Aug. 13 debut for Triple-A Louisville.
In the infield, Marquez Smith got the nod at first base after posting video game numbers for the Blaze. Smith led affiliated baseball with 131 RBIs while smashing 30 home runs at a .311 clip. Six years older than the average California League player, Graupe acknowledged a relative mismatch but valued Smith’s leadership ability on a young squad.
Third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean was recognized at the hot corner for his extra-base ability. He held down a Double-A starting role in just his second full season and should compete for the job in 2015. Juan Perez, who played three games for the Wahoos in 2012, is due for a more prominent position in Pensacola after two seasons in Bakersfield. The second baseman was more effective in his double-dip, tapping into some power with 13 home runs while showing more plate discipline.
Kyle Waldrop and Jesse Winker anchor the outfield, just as they did in lockstep from Bakersfield to Pensacola and Surprise, Ariz. for the Arizona Fall League. Waldrop enjoyed a breakout season while Winker turned heads and earned national acclaim at the Futures Game.
Ben Lively, untouchable in an offense-oriented California League, quickly adapted to Double-A and took a no-hitter into the eighth inning on July 31. Lively led the Reds organization with 171 strikeouts and at times held the Minor League Baseball lead in that category.
Mets’ deGrom steals Rookie of the Year Award from Hamilton
Lightning-in-a-bottle outfielder Billy Hamilton finished second in the Rookie of the Year race, receiving four of 32 first-place votes.
Hamilton tied for second in baseball with 56 stolen bases in 79 attempts, which set a Reds rookie record. In 40 games before the All-Star break, he batted .321 with a .351 on-base percentage and 38 thefts.
The second half wasn’t kind to the Reds or its leadoff hitter. Cincinnati, paced by Hamilton at a .200 clip, batted just .222 after the break. That’s where Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom enters the picture, ending his solid campaign with a 3-0 record and 1.32 ERA in his final five starts.
In addition to stolen bases, Hamilton led National League rookies in RBIs, multi-hit games, runs, hits, total bases, doubles and extra-base hits. He ranked among rookie leaders in 15 statistical categories.
To paraphrase from FanGraphs, Hamilton ran like crazy but wasn’t successful like crazy. Hamilton isn’t going to convert every stolen base opportunity, but he’s already changing the game as opponents try to outfox him. That means a faster break to the plate, a more deceptive delivery or a more precise throw from the catcher.
This was the first time since Johnny Bench’s debut in 1968 that the Reds leaned on a rookie as heavily as Hamilton. The speedster played 152 games, including 136 starts, and it’s possible the long season just caught up with him.
The best news is that things get better. We’ll see the result of Hamilton’s offseason improvements in short order.
Saying goodbye to a fan favorite
I am very excited to announce that I am now a member of the Atlanta Braves! I am very excited about my new opportunity!
— Travis Moose Mattair (@mooser3226) November 20, 2014
Through two seasons with the Wahoos, Travis Mattair holds franchise leads in home runs (26) and runs batted in (126) while ranking third in hits (228) and games played (263).
The record books remember Mattair well, but fans will remember him even more fondly. He quickly earned a following as fans embraced his childhood nickname of Moose. The moniker, given for his large head at birth, rang through the stadium before each at-bat.
Players like Mattair — the ones who throw foul balls to kids and sign autographs until their hand cramps — are a special breed. One of the most genuine people you could hope to meet, his positive attitude can keep him in baseball as long as he wants.
Should Atlanta assign Mattair to Mississippi, Pensacola fans could watch him play as early as May 6.
Introducing the Shuck dynasty
Milwaukee’s new Double-A affiliate has a name: the Biloxi Shuckers.
The name, one of more than 4,000 submissions in a fan contest, is a tribute to the local seafood industry and a throwback to the original “Seafood Capital of the World.”
The oyster logo is described as “tenacious” and “best served with cocktail sauce” (kidding). Team colors, which embrace a beach theme, include Gulf Blue, Sand, Coral and Black.
Shuckers beat out Beacon, Blackjacks, Mullets, Schooners and Shrimpers after roughly 60,000 votes were sorted. Coincidentally, Mullets was a finalist in Pensacola’s team-naming contest. Maybe we can officially eliminate the name after its third strike?
Baseball America on former Dragon Jesse Winker after Arizona Fall League season: “…he’ll someday win a major league batting title.”
— Dayton Dragons (@DragonsBaseball) November 19, 2014
Other news and notes
>> Jim Riggleman, the first manager in franchise history, was tapped as the Reds’ third-base coach. After a falling out with the Washington Nationals in 2011, Riggleman’s Major League future was presumed dead. He’s now back on a big-league staff after three years in the Minors, including two seasons managing Triple-A Louisville.
>> Infielder Rey Navarro will break into a new organization and a new tax bracket, signing a one-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles. The deal comes with a 40-man roster spot and $75,000 guaranteed. The Southern League All-Star earned a June 20 promotion to Louisville, where he batted .296 in 65 games. From May 23 to July 8, Navarro worked a 39-game on-base streak; his 23-game run in Pensacola ranks second in franchise history.
>> Exactly how fast is the fast track for Winker? Cincinnati Reds GM Walt Jocketty notes Winker “is quite a ways away” from an everyday role in Cincinnati. Expect him to open the 2015 season in Pensacola, but a September call-up is not out of the question.
Winker breaks loose in Arizona Fall League
Jesse Winker couldn’t sit still.
After sustaining a partially torn tendon in his right wrist, the Reds shelved the outfield prospect in July. But to his credit, Winker stayed the course, following the team on road trips and soaking up knowledge from the bench.
Winker was one of nine Reds prospects shipped to the prestigious Arizona Fall League. When he arrived, he promptly made up for lost time. Winker doubled in his first at-bat and left the yard in his next.
The outfielder earned Player of the Week honors to open the fall season, batting .455 (5-11) with three extra-base hits, a league-leading seven RBI, four walks and four runs. Teammate Kyle Waldrop was right on his tail, nearly hitting for the cycle on Oct. 10 and closing the week at .533 (8-15). He followed up that feat with another near cycle on Oct. 15, missing only a home run.
A calf cramp kept Winker out of the Fall Stars Game, but Waldrop stepped in for the West Division squad.
What’s most noteworthy for Waldrop is his position: He split time equally between first base and the outfield. Waldrop played just six games at first base in the regular season, including two in Pensacola. Moving forward, the Reds want him to get more reps at the position. Corner infielder Seth Mejias-Brean also saw time at first.
Neither Waldrop nor Winker had two hitless games in a row, combining for 13 multi-hit efforts. The former strung together a seven-game hitting streak to close the year, while the latter was ranked the sixth-best prospect of the AFL.
Don’t see the video? Follow this link instead.
Reds pitching prospects paced the staff with four wins and three saves. All five representatives registered an ERA below the team’s average of 4.89. Raisel Iglesias, a June acquisition and Cuban defector, allowed no runs on one hit in seven appearances. 2014 first-round pick Nick Howard, fresh out of the University of Virginia, finished 2-1 with a 4.43 earned run average and started the Fall Stars Game.
Wahoos relievers Carlos Gonzalez and Ben Klimesh closed the season on scoreless innings streaks of 3.2 and 5.1 frames, respectively. Ryan Dennick, who pitched parts of two seasons with Pensacola, scattered one run in seven appearances.
The Saguaros, managed by Blue Wahoos skipper Delino DeShields, finished 16-15-1.
Don’t see the video? Follow this link instead.
MLB looks to improve pace of play
The Arizona Fall League is a Petri dish of sorts, replicating an All-Star environment by giving prospects a chance to play against high-level competition. In the same way, Major League Baseball often uses the AFL as an experimental league.
Salt River was the setting of initiatives that aimed to quicken the game’s pace. The seven-man committee proposed the use of a clock to place limits on time between pitches and inning breaks.
The length of a game is indeed creeping up, at least at the highest level. The average game reached the three-hour mark in 2012 with a bump to 3.13 hours in 2014. Double-A times are also trending upward, from 2.71 to 2.85 since 2005. (You can tinker with seven levels’ worth of data here.)
Note that time and pace are a little different. You can’t put a limit on how many relief pitchers a team is allowed to use. However, the committee mandated a 2:30 break during pitching changes.
Some of these changes make sense, like swapping the four-pitch ordeal of an intentional walk into a signal from the dugout. Charging rule violators with balls or strikes for infractions, on the other hand, seems absurd to me. Pitchers have 20 seconds to throw the next pitch, which is a little faster than the league trend of 23 seconds.
Do those seconds really count? Maybe not all the time. But the pitcher’s greatest impact is his control over the game, and these changes give more power to an unthinking timer.
I’m still on the fence about these. Enforcing existing rules (like Rule 8.04) could be just as effective as installing clocks in 30 stadiums. But while I don’t feel the time pass in the press box, most of the audience exists outside the ballpark. That’s where improving the pace of the game will be most impactful.
There’s no place like home
Pensacola Bayfront Stadium was ranked by Stadium Journey as the second-best ballpark in Minor League Baseball.
“Pensacola Bayfront Stadium provides a setting that is hard to replicate at any level of any sport in the United States,” Justin Sutton raves in his review. Parkview Field, the home of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, topped the list.
Other Reds affiliates drew high marks, with Dayton’s Fifth Third Field ranking 12th and Louisville Slugger Field finishing 30th among 160 parks.
The list was seeded based on the FANFARE score, which measures food and beverages, atmosphere, neighborhood, fans, access, return on investment and extras.
The first of the prospect lists: Doug Gray
For fans who can’t be in five places at once, national prospect lists are one of the best gauges of talent within an organization. There’s plenty of overlap and usually a consensus top pick, but it’s always fascinating to see how different people evaluate the same group of players.
Granted, past results are not indicative of future performance. Jay Bruce, considered baseball’s top prospect after crushing three levels in 2007, became a two-time All-Star. Chris Valaika, meanwhile, couldn’t translate Minor League success into a consistent starting job.
With that in mind, Reds minor league guru Doug Gray issued his list with Robert Stephenson and Winker at the top. Michael Lorenzen ranks third with pitching prospect Nick Travieso and outfielder Yorman Rodriguez rounding out the top five. Travieso will likely start the season in Daytona, but he could easily join Pensacola in June if he puts together a strong campaign in the Florida State League.
The list evolved during the winter after a few transactions, but the Wahoos are still well-represented.
Other news and notes
>> Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton was named a Gold Glove finalist in his rookie season. Hamilton made the move to the outfield in late 2012, first in Pensacola batting practices and later in the Arizona Fall League. He undoubtedly had the athleticism to patrol the outfield but used his 2013 campaign in Louisville to learn the nuances of the position.
>> The Hardball Times did the math so we didn’t have to, and their findings are startling. Using Sportvision’s PITCHf/x system, they found the Major League strike zone has expanded by over 40 square inches in the last five seasons.
>> Three Wahoos, all pitchers, cracked Baseball America’s list of the top 20 Southern League prospects. Stephenson leads the group at No. 4, followed by Lorenzen (#12) and Ben Lively (#20). Cubs phenoms Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, a Pensacola native, topped the list.
>> Baseball America also attempted to quantify defensive ability behind the plate. Reds prospects fared well by their calculations, based primarily on passed balls and baserunners caught stealing. Tucker Barnhart ranked eighth in Triple-A, while brief Wahoos backstop Yovan Gonzalez is seventh among High-A catchers.
>> Pulling double-duty for Redleg Nation, Doug Gray evaluated 54 Minor League hitters to find what made them effective. Having a proportional strikeout-to-walk ratio is a good start.
>> Pedro Villarreal, the Wahoos’ 2012 Opening Day starter, fought back in 2014 after losing his 40-man roster spot. Mark Sheldon caught up with him to discuss his journey back to Cincinnati. He has been effective out of the bullpen, making 12 relief appearances after an Aug. 21 call-up.
How do you summarize an offseason’s worth of news, long after it’s all been reported? Not gracefully, I’ll tell you that.
Last season, I crammed six months of headlines into 1,500 words at the expense of detail. Here’s a better option: one post a day to sum up every month since the final pitch of the 2014 season and ease you into the new year. By the time this blog is dusted off, March will be upon us and we’ll be back to relevant news. As always, you can follow the conversation in real-time on Twitter.
So if you were living under a rock in September, here’s what you missed.
For some, the show goes on
Cincinnati’s second half included a few unforgettable nights for a handful of prospects.
Outfielder Yorman Rodriguez made his Major League debut on Sept. 4, starting in right field and grounding into a force out in his first at-bat. He recorded his first hit on Sept. 14 against Milwaukee.
In 11 games, Rodriguez batted .222 in 27 at-bats, including a .400 average on balls in play. His aggressive approach at the plate caught the eye of Reds manager Bryan Price, who used the call-up to gauge Rodriguez’s progress in development.
Southpaw Ryan Dennick, who pitched parts of two seasons in Pensacola, debuted on Sept. 2 and retired Caleb Joseph for his first strikeout.
Pitchers Carlos Contreras and Daniel Corcino, who saw limited time out of the bullpen in August, returned for tune-ups. Contreras was used primarily in late-inning relief, while Corcino made three starts and held opponents to a .197 average in September.
The trip to Great American Ball Park was not the year’s first for catcher Tucker Barnhart or outfielder Donald Lutz, who also earned promotions.
Read about Redus’ record
Billings is the backdrop of one of baseball’s unbreakable records, an accomplishment that hasn’t been remotely challenged in three decades.
Outfielder Gary Redus enjoyed modest success as a Major League journeyman, suiting up for five teams in his 13-year career. But his rookie campaign as a Mustang was his most noteworthy as Redus registered a .462 batting average in 1978.
Billings Gazette sports editor Jeff Welsch’s profile of Redus includes the moment when the young prospect realized how well he was hitting. This excerpt comes from a meeting between Redus and a calculator-wielding team official:
What, they wondered, must he do to ensure hitting .300? Given that he was well above an astonishing .400, they took another view: How many consecutive outs could he make and still stay above baseball’s gold standard? Twenty? Thirty? Perhaps even – gasp – Fifty?
The number crunching finally stopped at 100.
The actual number is 137, or roughly a month’s worth of games. Redus could have ended the season 0-for-39 and maintained an average above .400.
Speaking of the unthinkable, the Mustangs featured an in-game promotion that involved 15 minutes of free beer after home runs.
On the move
The Chattanooga Lookouts are excited to announce the organization has signed a 4 year player development contract with the Minnesota Twins.
— Chattanooga Lookouts (@ChattLookouts) September 17, 2014
The upcoming Southern League season will be characterized by new scenery, starting with the Lookouts’ parent club.
Since 2007, the same 10 Major League teams had a presence in the league. That changes in April as Minnesota Twins prospects take the field for Chattanooga. Two of the Twins’ top prospects are slated to start in Double-A, including outfield phenom Byron Buxton.
The Dodgers, fixtures in the Southern League for the last 14 seasons, moved their affiliation to Tulsa, Okla.
On a side note, I’m curious to see how the uniforms reflect the affiliation change. The old threads included some Dodger influences, from blue script across the chest to red numbers on the front of the jersey.
Join us in welcoming our new affiliate (2015-16), the Seattle @Mariners – we’re beyond thrilled! Press release coming shortly.
— Bakersfield Blaze (@BakoBlaze) September 19, 2014
There’s no bad blood between the Reds and Blaze, but as the Mariners director of player development Chris Gwynn notes, the switch “produced a series of moves that made a lot of sense for Bakersfield, Cincinnati and Seattle.” Chief among them is proximity, at least between Sam Lynn Stadium and Safeco Field.
Blaze players will still advance to the Southern League, though the road now runs through Jackson, Tenn.
— Daytona Tortugas (@daytonatortugas) September 18, 2014
So prospects will move from Dayton to Daytona? No, that won’t be confusing at all.
This move is a smart one for the Reds, who can shuffle the deck without the hassle of cross-country travel. A hop, skip and jump on the interstate system is much less hectic than flights between both coasts.
If the need arises, new players can also join the Wahoos during road trips to Jacksonville. Pensacola will make treks to Bragan Field in May and August.
Other news and notes
>> Former Blue Wahoos hitting coach Dick Schofield coached Billings to a Pioneer League championship in his first year as a manager. The title is the Mustangs’ first since 2003 and ninth in 42 seasons as a Reds affiliate.
>> The Jacksonville Suns swept the Chattanooga Lookouts in three games to claim the Southern League crown, the South Division’s ninth in 10 seasons. Including the playoffs, Jacksonville won 16 of their last 17 games to close the season.
>> For the second consecutive season, Ray Sayre earned Groundskeeper of the Year honors. The Southern League’s managers and umpires decide the winner.
>> On the business side, Bill Vilona of the Pensacola News Journal cites the team’s success in the stands. The Wahoos will surpass 1 million fans in May.
>> Though Michael Lorenzen started 24 games for Pensacola in 2014, MLB.com columnist Bernie Pleskoff sees the former Cal State Fullerton closer as a reliever.
Ross Perez is enjoying a record season with the Blue Wahoos.
After winning out the starting job in May, the catcher caught fire at the plate to the tune of a .335 average over 71 games. From a franchise-best six RBI on June 13 to the longest hitting streak of his professional career, the Reds organizational newcomer has benefitted from the change of scenery. Ross Perez has loved Pensacola, and the city has loved him back.
Before Friday’s game, a player married to the game for nine years asked the love of his life to marry him. These photos tell a better story than I ever could:
Smirna Flores thought she was just throwing a ceremonial first pitch to her boyfriend. But Perez, who had a hidden ball in his glove, had other plans. Opening the modified ball to reveal an elaborate ring, he popped the question to thunderous applause and an enthusiastic yes.
Flores played matchmaker on May 19 when Perez was reunited with his father Santiago. It was the first time his father saw him play professionally. This time, the longtime couple shared the occasion with the Flores family, including his mother and aunt.
In a season of phenomenal numbers, the two top highlights of his year won’t be found in any record books. In fact, his personal-best 13-game hitting streak came to an end last night.
Now, Ross starts a far more important streak: the first day in blissful union with his fiancée.
Special thanks to team photographer Michael Spooneybarger for these unforgettable photos.