During the Jim Bowden Era, circa 1990s, the Cincinnati Reds general manager would gather a menagerie of pitchers for spring training.
He would bring in pitchers coming off sore arms and surgeries, pitchers with gray whiskers, pitchers of dubious success. It was a throw-‘em-all-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks.
And sometime it worked for short spells, as it did with Pete Harnisch, Pete Schourek and Mike Morgan. Most did not — Denny Neagle, Joey Eischen, Mark Wohlers, Stan Belinda and many, many more.
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It may look as if the current personnel people, led by president of baseball operations Dick Williams and general manager Nick Krall, are doing the same thing. There are 32 pitchers in spring training camp, 24 on the 40-man roster. But there is a mammoth and major difference.
These are good arms. These are healthy arms. These are arms that can pitch the Reds out of The Last Place Blues.
Picking the 12 or 13 for the Opening Day roster is a hefty challenge and some hearts will be broken.
Let’s start with the easy part, the starting rotation: Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Alex Wood, Tanner Roark and Anthony DeSclafani. Behind those guys are 14 more staff candidates, all with major league experience.
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The obvious bullpenners are returnees Jared Hughes, David Hernandez, Raisel Iglesias, newly signed Zach Duke and Michael Lorenzen. Because there is talk that Lorenzen could also serve as an extra outfielder the Reds could go one more deep in the pitching staff.
After those 10 pitchers, there are probably two, maybe three, spots left and the team can choose from a variety pack of Wandy Peralta, Amir Garrett, Cody Reed, Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, Brandon Finnegan Lucas Sims and Matt Wisler.
Like Bowden, Williams and Krall are going for quantity. Unlike Bowden, Williams and Krall are going for quantity and quality.
Picking the position players is a much simpler task.
Before spring training began, newly acquired outfielder Matt Kemp scanned the roster and said, “This lineup may be the best offense in the league.”
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That comes from a guy who may not even be in it, even though his slash line last season was .290/.338/.481 with 21 home runs and 85 runs batted in. It all depends on whether the Reds prefer to play Jesse Winker in left field or Kemp in left field or put the two into a platoon situation. Either way, it gives the Reds potency off the bench.
The regulars are fairly easy, starting with Tucker Barnhart behind the plate. The Reds came close to acquiring Miami All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto in a deal that would have sent Barnhart and Jonathan India to the Marlins. But Miami wanted either Hunter Greene, Nick Senzel or Taylor Trammell in the trade instead of India and the deal died.
Barnhart is only one year removed from a Gold Glove, so he isn’t exactly a Brad Gulde, a Damon Berryhill or a Jeff Reed behind the plate. And he has shown more offense than he displayed last season.
Around the infield is a slam dunk with Joey Votto at first base, coming off a subpar year for him but an All-Star year for most, Scooter Gennett at second after two outstanding seasons, Jose Peraza at shortstop after a break-out offensive season and steady improvement on defense and Eugenio Suarez at third base, whom many baseball aficionados believe is the game’s most underrated and under-appreciated player.
Yasiel Puig is a top-of-the-ladder upgrade in the outfield. Center field? Scott Schebler? Nick Senzel? To be determined.
The extra players most likely will be infielder Alex Blandino, either Kemp or Winker (whomever isn’t playing), Curt Casali or Kyle Farmer as back-up catcher, Senzel as an all-purpose guy and Phillip Ervin as an extra outfielder.
This, of course, is all subject to change based on injuries, spring training performances and the whims of management.
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