Editor’s Note: I hope you will join me in welcoming Adam Taylor to the Redleg Nation family. Please make him feel welcome! — Chad Dotson
One name to watch in the battle for bullpen openings is Barrett Astin. Astin is a 25-year-old, right-handed pitcher and former third round pick out of Arkansas. He was acquired as a player to be named later during the 31 August 2014 trade of Jonathan Broxton to the Milwaukee Brewers. (History will remember this trade as the beginning of “The Closing of the Window.”) The salary dump allowed the Reds to shed Broxton’s nearly $11 million in future salary ($1 million for the rest of 2014 and the entire 10 million due in 2015). However, then general manager Walt Jocketty said the two players the Reds were receiving would “contribute in the next couple of years at the major league level.”
Fast forward to Pensacola, summer 2016. Barrett Astin produced a 2.26 ERA in 37 games and over 100 innings for Cincinnati’s AA affiliate. Over that period, including 11 starts, Astin also had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 96/25.
Could Astin help the Reds major league club in the bullpen? Known for throwing strikes and a 92-95 mph fastball, the 6’1” 225-lb Astin certainly looks the part of multi-inning reliever. The Reds added Astin to the 40-man roster this offseason, protecting him from the Rule 5 Draft. Apparently, his break-out campaign in the Florida pan-handle raised eye brows in the Reds organization.
So what’s the catch?
While Astin’s stats at AA-Pensacola last summer are impressive, 2016 was his second season spent at that level. In Astin’s first season in Pensacola, he pitched a rather unsightly 5.63 ERA in 76.2 innings, allowed more hits than innings pitched (85) and posted a pedestrian strikeout-to-walk ratio of 61/39. Astin’s 2015 performance offers context for his forward step in 2016. More perspective: Compare the 25-year-old Astin to Brandon Finnegan, who is 23 with nearly three years of Major League service time.
But just because Finnegan might be on a faster track, that doesn’t mean Astin can’t offer the Reds value in a different role. Perhaps 2016 was a quantum leap forward for Barrett Astin in his development. In addition to being named a Southern League Mid-Season All Star for his work in Pensacola, Astin was named a Rising Star for his performance as a member of the Peoria Javelinas of the Arizona Fall League. Appearing in 11 games in the desert against some of baseball’s brightest talents, Astin pitched to a 3.21 ERA over 14 innings, notching one save and holding opponents to a .255 batting average.
An organization in the stage of rebuilding that the Reds are at needs to be open to any and all potential talent. Sure, Barrett Astin could afford to spend some time in Triple-A Louisville. But considering he’s already 25 years old, the gain in development of a pitcher his age between Double-A and Triple-A might not be worth the toll on his arm. With about three weeks to Opening Day, Astin currently sports a 1.93 ERA. With an extended Spring Training due to the World Baseball Classic, Astin will have the opportunity to pitch himself into the 11th or 12th man on the pitching staff.
A 25-year-old, hard-throwing reliever who can miss bats, doesn’t walk batters, and can pitch multiple innings is the type of arm that can make a bad bullpen good, and a good bullpen great. A couple relievers like that (Austin Brice anyone?) could help Bryan Price run up a few more wins and keep his job.
Leading up to 3 April, Dick Williams, Bryan Price, and Mack Jenkins will continue sorting through the endless cast of arms vying for a spot on the white chalk that Monday afternoon. Should circumstances and performances dictate that he not be on the initial Opening Day roster, Astin will see high leverage situations in Louisville and be among the first calls for reinforcements.
It’s possible that the first player acquired in the rebuild process will be around to help open the window for the next good Reds team.