Down on the Farm / Minors

Dayton Dragons Preview Part 8 of 8 Relief Pitching

And the final preview, from our friend, Tom Nichols of the Dayton Dragons:

Relief Pitchers

Hands on Deck: James Allen, Brooks Pinckard, Erik Miller, Nick Fleece, Ryan Kemp, Kyle McMyne, Carlos Contreras, Dan Jensen, Jimmy Moran, El’Hajj Muhammad, additional candidates from among those profiled in the starting pitcher preview.

The 2011 Dayton Dragons club was strong in almost all areas, but the strongest element of the team might have been the quality and depth of the bullpen. The Dragons were 60-6 when leading at the end of the fifth inning. When leading after seven innings, they were 68-3. When leading after eight, they were 66-1. Those records were the best in the league at all three measuring points. How did it happen?

First of all, the Dragons had the best closer in the league and one of the best in all of Minor League Baseball in Drew Hayes. He posted 22 saves in 23 opportunities, finished with a 1.35 earned run average, and limited opposing batters to a combined average of .141. But besides Hayes, there was left-hander Blaine Howell (1.91 ERA, nine saves), and right-handers Daniel Wolford (7-1, 1.46) and Chad Rogers (6-4, 2.99 ERA). Jamie Walczak (2-0, 1.89 ERA) and Jason Braun (3.25 ERA) were in Dayton for less time, but they contributed too. If the Dragons had a lead, they had a stable of quality arms to get them to Hayes, and once Hayes took the mound, the game was all but over.

There are enough quality arms available for 2012 to give the Dragons reason to think that the bullpen could again be a strength. The makeup of the bullpen is always difficult to predict and often, someone will come out of nowhere to emerge in a key role, as Rogers did in 2011, when he entered the season as a virtual unknown coming off a junior college career that was followed by his much-discussed shark attack off the shores of Galveston, Texas. Seven names from this list likely will start the year with the Dragons.

James Allen was the closer with the Billings Mustangs last season and was previewed with the starting pitchers. At this writing, it is unknown what role he will fill with the Dragons. His numbers in Billings were quite similar to Hayes’ numbers in Dayton (1.26 ERA, .198 opponents’ batting average, walk to strikeout ratio of 5-39).

If Allen starts games, Brooks Pinckard might close them. Pinckard was an interesting two-way player at Baylor, where he played center field and pitched. The Cubs drafted Pinckard as an outfielder in 2010 but he did not sign. In 2011, he posted the second highest stolen base total in school history with 36 while batting .295. On the mound, he was used as both a starter and reliever, going 5-3 with a 3.57 ERA and three saves. Pinckard received an award that was voted upon by his teammates as “the individual who best exemplifies leadership, character and a team-first attitude.” The Reds drafted Pinckard in the 10th round as a pitcher. Ironically, Baseball America named Pinckard as the “fastest runner” among all Reds 2011 draftees, but his quality fastball that reaches the mid-90’s was most attractive to Cincinnati scouts. He was assigned to Billings and pitched in 28 games out of the bullpen, going 3-2 with a 3.62 ERA and 10 saves. Pinckard is reported to have a very good arm and now that he is concentrating strictly on pitching, he could show rapid gains.

Erik Miller is a native of Texas who played college baseball at TCU, the same school that once produced current Reds Field Coordinator Freddie Benavides, the supervisor of instruction in the Reds farm system. Miller pitched in 67 games over his three-year career at TCU and as a junior in 2011, went 7-7 with a 4.63 ERA and five saves. Miller had a great high school career in Texas, going 17-1 and earning the honor of 5A Player of the Year in his district. The Reds drafted Miller in the 31st round in 2011 and immediately liked his arm. He was assigned to Billings and showed incredible control, issuing just one walk in 31.1 innings (that is not a typo) while striking out 26. His final record was 3-0 with a 3.45 ERA.

Ryan Kemp played in the Atlantic 10 Conference at St. Joseph’s University, spending three seasons there as a relief pitcher after a great high school career in Baltimore. As a high school junior, Kemp was named the Baltimore City Player of the Year. At St. Joseph’s, he made 54 career appearances, all in relief. His best season came as a junior in 2011 when he pitched in 25 games as St. Joseph’s closer, notching four saves and posting a 3.14 ERA. He struck out 42 batters and walked just 12 in 28.2 innings. Kemp was drafted by the Reds in the 14th round last June. He made 18 appearances in the Reds organization, 16 of which came with Billings, where he went 3-1, 3.48. Kemp had some trouble throwing strikes at times during his college career (30 walks in 23 innings as a freshman) but improved as his career progressed (12 walks in 28.2 innings as a junior). His walked more batters than he would have liked at Billings (14 walks in 20.2 innings) but limited opponents to a .181 batting average. Kemp is a 21-year-old right-hander.

Kyle McMyne is a pitcher drafted on potential despite not having enjoyed a lot of past success. McMyne was a fourth round draft pick by the Reds in 2011 out of Villanova University. He features a fastball that reaches 96 miles per hour and showed steady improvement in college. He went 4-8 with a 4.75 ERA in 14 starts as a junior with Villanova in 2011, striking out 94 (highest total by a Villanova pitcher in more than 50 years) in 77.2 innings for a team that struggled to a 20-32 record (7-20 in the Big East). After turning pro, McMyne went to Billings and made 10 starts, going 1-1 with an ERA of 8.00. He did show flashes of brilliance that he hopes to build upon in 2012. He threw five shutout innings in a start on August 7, and struck out eight over five innings in a start on August 18. Some scouts feel McMyne will thrive as a reliever where he is better able to take advantage of his fastball that will rank among the best in the Midwest League in 2012. McMyne is a 22-year-old right-hander.

Carlos Contreras was signed by the Reds as a 17-year old from the Dominican Republic in 2008. He has spent four seasons in the Reds organization and pitched at Billings in 2011. With the Mustangs, Contreras made 18 relief appearances, going 2-1, 5.00. He struck out 38 in 36 innings. He had two rough outings late in the season that drove up his ERA from 3.77 on August 16 to its final mark. Contreras is right-handed, but interestingly, lefties hit just .176 against him last season while right-handed batters hit .310. He is 21 years old.

Dan Jensen is a Centerville native who played college baseball at the University of Cincinnati. After a great 2007 season at Centerville High School, Jensen played one year at Sinclair Community College and then transferred to the University of Cincinnati. He spent three years at UC and was a starter as a junior and senior. In the spring of 2011, Jensen made 15 starts, going 4-5 with a 3.11 ERA. He was drafted in the 20th round by the Reds last June and assigned to Billings, where he went 1-2, 6.39 in 13 games (two starts). He also made an emergency start at Bakersfield and pitched well, going six innings and allowing just three hits and one run. Jensen showed good control with Billings last season, allowing just 10 walks in 31 innings while striking out 24 and surrendering 42 hits. Jensen, a 6’7” right-hander, is in a late battle with several other pitchers for a spot in the Dayton bullpen. He is 22 years old.

Jimmy Moran is the son of a longtime major league scout. He spent two years at the University of South Florida, primarily pitching out of the bullpen. In the spring of 2011, he was 4-1 with a 3.91 ERA in 20 relief appearances at USF. He was drafted by the Reds in the 18th round last June and made 19 appearances out of the bullpen with the Goodyear Reds, going 1-1, 3.54. He recorded 26 strikeouts in 20.1 innings. He also pitched in two games with Billings as a reliever. He is 21 years old and throws from the right side.

El’Hajj Muhammad is a New Jersey native who was a very late draft pick by the Reds in 2010 when he was selected in the 49th (next to last) round. Muhammad played junior college baseball at County College of Morris. After turning pro in ’10, Muhammad put up some very encouraging numbers when he posted a 1.38 ERA in 32.2 innings with the Goodyear Reds, striking out 44 and allowing only 24 hits. Last season, he moved up to Billings and was 2-2, 4.70 in 19 games out of the bullpen. He again struck out more than a batter per inning with 45 K’s in 44 frames. Relief numbers based in short-season leagues can be misleading as one or two bad outings, sometimes influenced by a bad break beyond the pitcher’s control, can have an oversized effect on an ERA. Muhammad does have some encouraging numbers in his favor that show he was at his best when the pressure was on. With runners in scoring position and two outs, the most decisive game situation in baseball, Muhammad limited batters to a .174 average. Muhammad is still only 20 years old and is right-handed.

Nick Fleece played four years of college baseball at Texas A&M, converting full-time to pitcher from the outfield after his sophomore season. Fleece had an outstanding senior season in 2011 as the Aggies advanced to the College World Series and were ranked for a time as the #5 team in the country. He went 7-1 with a 1.41 ERA in 36 games with three saves and pitched in both CWS games that Texas A&M appeared in. He showed excellent control, walking just 10 batters in 44.2 innings, and over his career with the Aggies, he walked only 25 in 111 innings. Fleece was a tremendous two-way high school player. He hit .515 with 15 home runs as a high school senior and was named by Baseball America as the #15 prospect in the state of Texas. He was drafted by the Reds in 2011 in the 13th round, but after heavy use during the spring, he was held to just three innings at Billings. Fleece is a 23-year-old right-hander and like Kemp, he has been groomed as a reliever. Fleece has missed time in spring training with an injury and may not start the year with the club.

Additionally, some of the candidates profiled yesterday for the Dragons starting rotation could wind up in the bullpen picture.

This preview was used in its entirety with the permission of Tom Nichols of the Dayton Dragons.