After one week, if you had told me that the Reds would be sitting atop the division, I think we can all agree that we would of course consider the first week a success. Part of the initial roster strategy involved a 13 man pitching staff, a four man bench, and a Rule 5 Draft Pick. As part of the week’s pleasant surprises, the work in progress pitching staff produced three team shut outs in six games. In addition, another positive aspect of the week has been the continued improvement and reintegration of catcher Devin Mesoraco into the organization. Playing at Double-AA Pensacola, Mesoraco has begun to regain the swing that led Walt Jocketty and Bob Castellini to invest four years and $28 million in the former first round pick. The return of the powerful, righty swinging Mesoraco would not only lengthen and provide a boost to the lineup, but would also provide some veteran leadership to a young and developing pitching staff.
Currently, second year man Tucker Barnhart and rookie, Rule 5 Draft Pick Stuart Turner are serving as the team’s catchers. When Mesoraco proves able to catch nine innings consistently coupled with a bat capable of handling major league pitching, the club will find itself with a roster dilemma. The primary decision that will have to be made centers on whether or not they keep 13 pitchers or 3 catchers. The issue at hand is that catcher Stuart Turner, as a Rule 5 Draft Pick, must remain in the big leagues all year or be offered back to his original team, in this case the Minnesota Twins, for half the price of what it took to select him. So while the $25,000 difference in the selection and return fees is typically seen as a drop in the bucket for most major league front offices, the loss of a 25 year old, strong defensive catcher with a third round SEC pedigree and a Johnny Bench Award on his resume is not a decision to make lightly. Take a look at Turner’s career stats to this point below:
After a strong spring battling it out with Rob Brantly, Turner has already begun to prove himself with the traits that caused the Reds to select him in the first place. Solid receiving skills coupled with a rifle right arm and a powerful bat have contributed to a solid, if not impressive, first week in the majors. The lingering question that Turner has to be asking himself – is it enough?
On the other side of the coin, the questions that Bryan Price and Dick Williams are asking themselves center around their confidence in the recovery of repaired shoulders and hip of Mesoraco and the continued development of the young pitchers currently at the major league level. With Mesoraco, not only is his health a concern, but so too is his level of productivity. At his best, Mesoraco’s power from the right side and leadership behind the plate could be just the missing piece to accelerate this stage of the Reds rebuild. However, a return of Turner to Minnesota coupled with yet another injury to Mesoraco would leave the team woefully shorthanded behind the plate and could in turn stunt the development of the young arms to which the future depends on. While there is catching talent in the lower levels of the minor leagues in the form of former second round pick Chris Okey at Advanced A Daytona and former first round pick Tyler Stephenson recovering from his own lost season due to injury with the Dragons just up Interstate 75 in Dayton, ready help at the highest levels of the system leaves alot to be desired.
As far as the pitching staff is concerned, the unorthodox method of keeping a 13 man pitching staff would seem to allow for a reduction to a more typical 12 man staff and allow for the extra bat on the bench. However, when you start to pick apart the make-up of the current 13 man staff, you’ll quickly realize there are soft spots a plenty. First, let’s take a look at the current rotation. Opening Day starter Scott Feldman, fresh off of an impressive 6 scoreless innings in St. Louis, spent most of last year between the Houston and Toronto bullpens. Brandon Finnegan, the current and only health lone holdover from last season, is a converted reliever himself and is still developing as a hopeful 200 inning rotation stalwart. Rookie Davis, one of the least heralded members of the rotation, just made his first major league start and stuttered to an abbreviated debut. The second rookie to begin the season in the rotation is Amir Garret. His impressive debut in St. Louis aside, the jury remains out on the talented, athletic left-hander and the growing pains that tend to follow even the most can’t miss prospects. Finally, the fifth man in the rotation is the fan favorite and long-time Red, Bronson Arroyo. Much like Mesoraco, Arroyo himself has missed much of the last two years due to injury and his return on Saturday, while sentimental provided more questions than answers.
So while some of the members of the rotation might cause you to pause when considering a change from a 13 to a 12 man staff, the strong work of the bullpen to this point might provide another perspective. The first week has shown a solid backend of Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, Drew Storen, Tony Cingrani, and Blake Wood. These five seem to be entrenched as Price’s trusted agents so far, but those in the bullpen with a less certain future include one-time top prospect Robert Stephenson, promising left hander Cody Reed, and fire-balling left hander Willy Peralta. As we look for a way to possibly keep Turner for the immediate future, it would seem that unless the composition of the rotation was changed (and to date it does not seem that a change is imminent) one of Stephenson, Reed, or Peralta would need to be sent down to Triple-A Louisville. Both Stephenson and Reed found limited action the first week, and when they did take the mound, both were rather shaky and struggled with their control. With both described by Price as having a future in the rotation, it would seem that one of either Stephenson or Reed could soon find themselves making the trip down Interstate 71 to gather more innings in Louisville.
If you’re Bryan Price and Dick Williams, what do you do?