October 2012

Hamilton’s progress through system

On Monday afternoon, I had a story on Reds prospect Billy Hamilton and his feelings on the adjustment so far from shortstop to center field in the Arizona Fall League. Click here to read it.

One of the many questions that keeps popping up is why not promote Hamilton to the Majors right away for 2013 to be the leadoff hitter?

My response is rushing him could do more harm than help for his career. Leading off in Class A and only 50 games of Double-A against that level of pitching is far different than sending a 22-year-old to face Major League pitching. I don’t doubt that he will reach that level at some point, but it’s asking a lot to do it now. Add to the equation that he’s in the early stages of learning a new position.

Hamilton was the Reds’ 2nd round pick out of high school in 2009, so he’s had four full years on Minor League development. For comparison sake, here are other Reds position players who developed in the system:

Joey Votto was a 2nd round pick in 2002, and didn’t reach the Majors until Sept. 2007.

Drew Stubbs was a 1st round pick in 2006, was called up in August 2009.

Brandon Phillips was a 1st round pick by the Expos in 1999 and didn’t reach the Majors until being a September call-up by the Indians in 2002.

Devin Mesoraco was a 1st round pick in 2007 and made his debut in September, 2011. In his first full year in 2012, he struggled mightily at the plate.

Todd Frazier was a 1st round supplemental pick in 2007 and didn’t reach the Majors until 2011 and didn’t make a big impact until 2012.

Zack Cozart was a 2nd round pick in 2007 and reached the Majors in July 2011.

Jay Bruce was a 1st round in 2005 and was up relatively quicker than the others, by May 2008.

The majority of guys listed here spent 4-5 years in the Minors before getting that first promotion. Votto, especially, came to the Majors ready to hit rather than having to learn on the job. He improved from an adequate defense player to an excellent one by working hard while at the big league level.

I’m not saying Hamilton would definitely fail if he was rushed, but his odds of success would be better if the club waited and gave him the full time to develop. Most players need to experience failure in the Minors before reaching the Majors. It’s often a lot harder, and much more noticeable and noteworthy, when failure happens for the first time in the big leagues. Fans always want the next big prospect right now, but generally it’s been better when the organization has shown patience.

Reds in the AFL

If you’re curious about how Reds are faring in the Arizona Fall League right now, namely Billy Hamilton, click here.

*Hamilton, who is converting to the outfield, is batting .313 (5-for-16) with a .421 OBP and four steals. He does not have an extra base hit in his four games. He’s not the only one faring well for the Peoria squad, however.

1B/OF Donald Lutz is batting .480/.500/.640 (12-for-25) in six games with two RBIs.

SS Didi Gregorius is batting .321 (8-for-25) with three RBIs.

RHP Curtis Partch has a 2.45 ERA through three appearances, totalling 3 2/3 innings. The only earned run allowed came on a solo homer.

GM Walt Jocketty is currently out in Arizona having a look at the organization’s players.

2013 – Looking ahead

If you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, here is the link to my 2013 Reds outlook, which includes those eligible for arbitration and a look at the team position-by-position.

To expand a little bit — here is my priority list for what the Reds and GM Walt Jocketty need to do this off-season to improve the Reds. The good news is the Reds don’t have to go nuts with moves in the off-season. They have a strong nucleus and few holes to fill. But there is certainly room for improvement.

1. Find a leadoff hitter — This is the epitome of easier said than done. Jocketty has repeatedly tried to address this area since becoming GM. Willy Taveras and Corey Patterson are two examples of what didn’t work. Brandon Phillips worked in the past but wasn’t as successful there over the season’s final month. Michael Bourn (.274/.348/.391 in 2012) is an expected free agent, but I would imagine his price to be high. The Reds having Billy Hamilton still about a year or so away makes it tough to commit long term to a leadoff guy, but at the same time, Hamilton is very young and it’s a lot to automatically expect immediate success in the Majors at his age. Tough quandry indeed.

2. Get a run producer — Retaining Ryan Ludwick is part of this equation but why not look to add someone else that can fit in the middle of the order?

3. Figure out what to do with Aroldis Chapman — Is he a closer or a starter? Chapman notched 38 saves in 43 tries and has proven he can close, but could he be even more effective in the rotation? I think that is worth exploring. Whether the Reds re-sign Jonathan Broxton or Ryan Madson (who could need more time to rehab) or take a chance on someone like J.J. Hoover, or look to someone entirely different outside of the organization, the fact is others could fill the role and might be as successful at getting the final three outs (albeit not as exciting and with less ballpark electricity). If Chapman does not work as a starter, he could always return to closing.

4. Upgrade the bench — When a pitcher (Silver Slugger candidate Mike Leake) is one of your better hitting options on the bench, you need  better production options from your bench. Look for a candidate that could push Todd Frazier at third base this spring and would be willing to play part time if Frazier won the job. Maybe seek someone that could compete for center field with Drew Stubbs both offensively and defensively.

The free agent market doesn’t open until after the World Series…so things will be quiet for another couple of weeks. But I do not expect this to be a very quiet winter for the Reds.

The good ol’ days?

Here is the list of Reds managers since their playoff berth in 1995:

Ray Knight 1996-97, 2003, 125-137 (.477)
Jack McKeon 1997-2000, 291-259 (.529)
Bob Boone 2001-03, 190-238 (.444)
Dave Miley 2003-05, 125-164 (.433)
Jerry Narron 2005-07, 157-179 (.467)
Pete Mackanin 2007, 41-39 (.513)

Dusty Baker 2008-present, 419-391 (.517)

The first six managers on the list combined for zero playoff berths. From 2001-09 there were nine-straight losing seasons. Baker did have three losing seasons, including 2008-09, but has two winning seasons and two division titles in the last three seasons. For the several people I’ve heard from who are not happy that Baker was re-signed on Monday, what nostalgia are you clinging to?

By the standard this franchise had set for nearly 15 years, Baker has done a better than decent job. Does he have shortcomings? Yes. Most managers do. I have yet to see a perfect manager, including the four who have teams still alive in the playoffs. Does Baker bear some of the responsiblity for the NLDS exit last week? Yes. Did he deserve to be let go after the exit? Not at all.

Be unhappy all you want about what happened in the playoffs, but rare is the time I’ve seen this many fans unhappy from a 97-65 season that was the second-best record in baseball…especially considering where the team came from in recent years.

Did anyone see this type of success happening back in 2004 or 2005? I’d guess not.

Baker signs two-year deal

The Reds and manager Dusty Baker on Monday have agreed to terms on a two-year contract extension through the 2014 season.

A press conference to announce the signing will be held at Great American Ball Park at 3 p.m. ET.

“In Dusty’s five seasons here he’s taken us to the Postseason twice and has proven he can lead our teams to championship-caliber play on the field,” Reds CEO Bob Castellini said in a statement. “He’s the right manager to continue the building process that will take us deeper and deeper into the playoffs in the future.”

There was no word yet on the status of Baker’s coaching staff…will have more later.

UPDATE: The entire coaching and medical staff has been retained. Deals for the coaches haven’t been done yet. Walt Jocketty expected that they would get two-year contracts.

Jocketty and Baker had a deal brewing even before the Reds’ exit from the postseason. His extension was not riding on the outcome of the NLDS.

“That’s why it didn’t take long,” Jocketty said. “We actually had one quick meeting on Friday and we discussed some things over the weekend and wrapped up this morning.”

Jocketty and Castellini spoke a lot of continuity.

“This is Dusty’s team,” Castellini said.

Baker spoke often of unfinished business in his wanting to return. He said he originally wanted a one-year deal but was offered two. He returns with higher expectations in 2013.

“We were all very saddened, from the players to myself, we wanted to go further,” Baker said. “We’re poised to go further in the future. We’re very excited about the prospects of what we have here to carry on what we’ve started.”

Link to my full story on MLB.com

Here is the press conference video:

Deflating end for Reds

After the Reds took a 2-0 NLDS lead in San Francisco, I brought a change of clothes to GABP for three-straight days just in case I got soaked during the clubhouse celebration.

Of course as we all know, those clothes never left the bag. I really didn’t see this coming when I flew back here on Monday. I didn’t expect a sweep, but I also didn’t expect the Reds to lose three in a row. That’s what happened in a 6-4 defeat. It was the six-run 5th by the Giants that was the big killer, especially Buster Posey’s grand slam.

A few thoughts:

*The Game 4 crowd was pretty muted. But the fans for Game 5 were all in and enthusiastic. Even when the Reds went down 6-0, the atmosphere was more energetic than it had been. And the fans stayed into it through rallies over the last four innings. Joey Votto could be seen applauding the fans from second base as Jay Bruce stood in for an epic 12-pitch at-bat in the ninth.

“The crowd was fantastic,” Votto said. “I was very, very impressed with how supportive they were. I’m really proud of being a Cincinnati Red. I’m very proud we have an excellent, supportive fan base. We just need to give them some wins, play deep in the playoffs and win a World Series here. And the support will increase ten-fold, I’m sure.”

*Bruce on his at-bat in the 9th:

“Sergio has a lot of sink on his ball, so I was just making sure to get something out over the plate, and I did,” Bruce said. “He gave me some pitches I could handle. To be honest with you, the at-bat shouldn’t have lasted that long, in my opinion. He made his pitches, he didn’t give in. It was a long at-bat, but I wouldn’t really call it a ‘good’ one, in my opinion. Good ones end differently.”

Some video clips from Dusty Baker on the game, and his future:

And why the double steal try in the 6th:

*I’m sure many of you are pretty honked off about the way things went down the last three days. But when you have time, we at MLB.com put together a lot of stories worth reading. I hope you can check it out when things have calmed down for you.

Game story — infamy in postseason for Reds

Latos takes the blame

Opportunity knocked, Reds did not answer

There will also be a story on Baker and the players discussing his future.

*Stay with me all off-season. I will be here to cover it all winter on MLB.com/Reds.com/Mark My Word and Twitter.

10/11 NLDS Game 5 lineup

Reds lineup vs. Giants

Phillips 4
Cozart 6
Votto 3
Ludwick 7
Bruce 9
Rolen 5
Hanigan 2
Stubbs 8
Latos 1

*Asked about going to his lineup from Games 1-3, Dusty Baker said:

“That’s what got us here.”

*Worth repeating that teams with a 2-0 Division Series lead have advanced 38 of 42 times. NL teams are 21-for-21 in advancing.

*Only once has a division series had the road team win all the games. It happened in the 2010 ALDS when the Rangers bested the Rays in five games. But that was a 2-2-1 format, not this year’s 2-3 format.

*The Reds have not lost three in a row at home this season.

10/10 NLDS Game 4

Reds lineup vs Giants

Phillips 4
Cozart 6
Votto 3
Ludwick 7
Bruce 9
Frazier 5
Navarro 2
Stubbs 8
Leake 1

Leake replaces Cueto

The Reds revealed Wednesday morning that they’ve received approval from MLB to replace Johnny Cueto on the NLDS roster with Mike Leake. It will be Leake who takes the ball for Game 4 this afternoon.

“We finally just got approval from MLB,” general manager Walt Jocketty said.

If the Reds advance, Cueto will not be eligible to pitch in the NLCS

“It was a very, very tough decision,” Jocketty said. “But our medical staff felt, at best, that Johnny might be able to pitch one game in the next series if we get there. So we thought the importance of today’s game and the rest of the series vs. the one game next time outweighed that. It’s a tough thing to have a potential Cy Young guy out of your rotation.”

Leake has been preparing for this type of contigency since he was left off of the NLDS roster. Also, the Reds have a rested bullpen from the last two solid outings from the starters.

“This guy stays ready,” manager Dusty Baker said. “We just have to adjust. It’s quite a blow. … It’s not all doom and gloom.”

Also — if the Reds need to play Game 5, Mat Latos will start.

More to come soon on MLB.com…

Game 3 lost, who for Game 4?

The Reds wanted to avoid the issue of who might pitch Game 4 by winning Game 3. That did not happen with a 2-1 loss in 10 innings to the Giants on Tuesday. It was all lined up for Cincinnati. Homer Bailey was sensation with one-hit, one-run baseball over seven innings. He took a no-hitter into the sixth.

But a big chance in the bottom of the first yielded only one run and a passed ball by Ryan Hanigan and error by Scott Rolen in the 10th scored the go-ahead run. You can read all about it on MLB.com/Reds.com — we’ve got it covered.

Click here for my game story.

We also have some video…

The Reds have not named a Game 4 starter, other than that Dusty Baker expected either Mat Latos or Mike Leake. Obviously, if it’s Leake, Johnny Cueto is coming off of the roster.

During an interview with MLB Network, Bailey tipped the Reds’ hand by saying it would be Leake.

Here is Baker below, talking about Bailey’s performance:

And here is Baker talking about the tough loss:

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