Now that we’re almost a week into spring training and everyone has officially reported to camp, it’s time to take a look at some more “roster spot drama.”
The “roster spot drama” that I’m referring to today is that of the few spots allocated to the Reds bullpen. Just like the Reds starting rotation, there are a few guys that are locks but for those undecided spots, it’s going to be a pretty tight race.
Of those previous mentioned “locks,” I’d have to say they go to Francisco Cordero, Nick Masset and Aroldis Chapman.
I know many of you are clamoring that Cordero should no longer be the closer for the Reds and that Chapman should take over in his place. That is, without question, not going to happen. At least not before the season starts.
Let me remind you that Cordero – while undoubtedly more wild than most would like in 2010 – was still third in the NL with 40 saves. In fact, the 40 saves were the most Coco has had in a Reds uniform. Yes, I know he also blew eight saves last year, also his most in a Reds uniform, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s earned the closer role and he will start the season in said closer role.
Many of you might also be thinking that Chapman isn’t a lock for a bullpen spot in 2011, to which I would reply: he can through 100+ mph almost at will. There’s always a bullpen spot for that kind of speed. Furthermore, since the Reds have already declared that Chapman will be used as a reliever this year, there is no reason to send him back down to Louisville to start the season.
Last year, the Reds had visions of Chapman making the big league club as a starter and that’s why he started the year in Louisville as a starter. But with the Reds depth of starting pitchers, it just makes sense for Chapman to spend time as a reliever. That way he gets to experience the big leagues, work in pressure situations and develop his mechanics. There is no doubt that someday Chapman will be used as a starter. Until that day, why not get him time at the major league level in short appearances?
As for the rest of the bullpen, there are probably five open spots with eight guys competing for those spots.
The eight guys looking to have a monster spring to ensure a bullpen spot: Jose Arredondo, Bill Bray, Logan Ondrusek, Dontrelle Willis, Daniel Ray Herrera, Jared Burton, Jordan Smith and Carlos Fisher.
Now, onto the good part; who starts the year in the bullpen for the Reds.
I think Bray and Ondrusek are pretty set after both had impressive second halves to the 2010 season. Bray more so than Ondrusek simply because he’s a lefty and held left-handed hitters to a .107 average.
So that gives us five probable bullpen guys with three spots to go and six fighting for those spots.
Carlos Fisher has shown flashes of semi-brilliance but he’s too inexperienced and doesn’t have enough power or deceptiveness to stick in 2011.
So now we’re down to five candidates and three open spots.
I think this is the year Jared Burton returns to prominence. He’s been absent from the big league club for a year and a half but came back and pitched 3.1 innings in relief at the end of September and beginning of October. In those 3.1 innings, Burton didn’t even allow a hit.
Pencil Burton in for a bullpen spot. Two spots remain with four still in the hunt.
Because Jordan Smith and Jared Burton are nearly mirror images when it comes to pitching style/ability, I think Burton gets the nod and Smith gets sent to AAA for a little more seasoning in Louisville.
Still two spots but only three candidates left standing.
I just can’t fathom a scenario where Jose Arredondo doesn’t make the team. Well, I can, but that scenario is a gruesome one where he blows his arm out again and I’d rather not think about that. Back in 2008, Arredondo went 10-2 with a 1.62 ERA in relief for the Angels. If he even shows a quarter of that talent in spring training, he’ll get a spot.
That leaves us with two candidates vying for that last spot. Daniel Ray Herrera and Dontrelle Willis enter the bullpen octagon. Two men enter, one man…you get the point.
This is where my sentimental side takes hold of me and doesn’t let go. I want Willis to make the team. He had such promise, he’s been through a huge slump and he’s primed for a comeback. Pitching coach Bryan Price said he loves what Willis has shown him in camp. He’s even lost a lot of weight.
Don’t get me wrong, Danny Ray is good. But he’s probably not ever going to blow hitters away. Willis – if he can return to half the pitcher he once was – can blow even the best hitters away.
Yes, it’s probably a long shot for Willis to make the team, but wouldn’t it be a cool story if he did? And an even better story if he was really, really good.