Pitchers and catchers report. Oh what wonderful words those are. The Cincinnati Reds will open their gates up for pitchers and catchers in 10 days, as those guys need to report on February 13th. It seems that nearly every year a non-roster invite to spring training will wind up making the team. But this year that might be the toughest thing to do among the pitchers because of how the team looks as they head into things.
The roster rules are set for 2020. There will be 26-man rosters for the first time on an every day basis. But of those 26 players, teams are limited to having just 13 pitchers on the roster. They’re allowed fewer if they choose, but can’t have more. It feels safe that the Reds will go with 13. If we assume everyone remains healthy, which is a big assumption of course, there don’t appear to be many spots available.
The rotation is set. Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, and Wade Miley are going to be the starting five. The bullpen isn’t set, but there’s a handful of guys that are going to be locks. Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett, Pedro Strop and Robert Stephenson appear to be locked in.
That’s 10 pitchers that seem to be locked in. In the bullpen, there are also several higher profile arms that are out of options. Cody Reed, Sal Romano, and Lucas Sims are all out of options. It’s certainly possible that Cincinnati could just play the options game and those three guys make the bullpen and that’s that. It would fill up the pitching staff – assuming that everyone is healthy of course.
It is possible that the options may not come into play, though. But it would seem that you’re probably going to need to see someone clearly outperform one of Reed, Romano or Sims to grab a spot in the bullpen. Behind the guys with options is a group of guys that include Joel Kuhnel and Ryan Hendrix – two guys with fastballs that have touched triple digits and have plenty of success in the past. Matt Bowman has had plenty of success in the Major Leagues, including posting a 3.66 ERA last season in 27 games with Cincinnati. Jose De Leon is a former top prospect who racked up 74 strikeouts in 56.0 innings in the minor leagues last season while in the Tampa Bay organization.
Long story short: The 40-man roster has tons of competition for relatively few spots. The Reds have extended non-roster invites to nine pitchers so far this year. Below is a quick look at how/where each pitched last season:
There are some good performances on that chart. And there are some, uh, not so good ones, too. While there are nine players listed above, one of them realistically isn’t in spring training to pitch for a job on the big league staff. Nick Lodolo is going to be there, and he’s got the best pure stuff of anyone on the list. But he’s not going to get a job in the bullpen – he’s a starting pitcher and he’s going to be developed as a starting pitcher. So cross him off of the list for now. That leaves us with the other eight guys.
Nate Jones has had a good Major League career. He’s pitched in parts of eight seasons in the big leagues and has a career ERA of 3.12. From 2015-2019 his ERA was 2.67 for the Chicago White Sox. Unfortunately for Jones, he’s struggled to stay healthy and on the mound. Only twice in that span did he pitch in 20 games in a season. In the last three seasons he’s thrown 11.2, 30.0, and 10.1 innings in the Majors. When he’s been on the mound he’s been successful, but he’s barely been on the mound. If he’s healthy, the stuff has been there. But he’s also coming back from another surgery – he underwent flexor mass surgery in May of 2019. Who knows where his stuff will be coming back at age 34 from that?
Jesse Biddle was pretty good in 2018 in his rookie season with Atlanta. Pitching out of the Braves bullpen he posted a 3.11 ERA in 63.2 innings with 31 walks and 67 strikeouts. But last season was a disaster for the lefty, who walked nearly as many hitters as he struck out between three teams in the Major Leagues after being traded and then later put on waivers. He ultimately wound up posting an 8.36 ERA. If the Biddle that showed up in 2018 is in Goodyear in 2020, that’s a guy who could win a spot.
Alex Powers has flat out dominated at the Double-A and Triple-A levels the last two years. His stuff doesn’t stand out, but he’s done nothing but get results at the highest levels of the minor leagues. He’s thrown 91.2 innings and posted a 1.96 ERA to go with 29 walks and 121 strikeouts. Powers has no big league experience, unlike everyone else on the list except his 2018 and 2019 teammate Vladimir Gutierrez. That may or may not work against him.
Brooks Raley has been pitching, and having success at that, in Korea for the last half-decade. That success has come as a starter. If he’s going to find a job on the Reds roster this year, though, at least at the beginning of the season, it seems it’s going to have to come as a reliever. As a starter he was working in the 87-91 MPH range last season with a good 12-6 curve in the mid-to-upper 70’s. It could be interesting to see if that velocity picks up in the bullpen. There’s also a chance that he could be more of a “depth” option in Triple-A as rotation insurance.
Ultimately, there are some guys in the non-roster pool that have something to keep an eye on. But it’s going to be tough for them to break through given just where the Cincinnati Reds are at. They’ve got depth and plenty of it. Toss in that some of those guys on the depth chart are out of options and have big time arms and things are really working against this group to head to Cincinnati in late March.