"Boy oh boy, Cowboy..."
So says Thom Brennaman to "Cowboy" Jeff Brantley when things just aren't going right for the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds are my team, but I can't help but laugh in many of these instances, simply at Brennaman's sheer disgust with what's going on on the field. As many know, Thom wears his heart on his sleeve, to say the least. I remember fondly a particular David Holmberg start last year against the Braves – it was August 21.
Holmberg looked generally awful, giving up a home run to Andrelton Simmons in the first and then issuing three walks – including one with the bases loaded – in a five-run second inning. As each run for Atlanta crossed the plate, Thom grew increasingly repulsed and eventually apathetic to what was going on. Before long, he was (almost) completely ignoring the action and droning on about other things, solemnly tossing it to Jim Day in the stands when he felt like it and randomly offering up lunches with his dad for charity. "Who wants to eat lunch with a Hall of Famer?"
While Holmberg would return in September and finish the season on a high note (1.82 ERA over 24.2 innings), it didn't matter. He was dead to Thom. I'm exaggerating, of course, but that's the narrative I'll choose to remember.
Despite a strong showing in three appearances with the major league team this spring (two earned runs allowed, six strikeouts in seven innings), Holmberg was optioned to Triple-A Louisville on Monday, with the Reds settling on an Opening Day rotation consisting of Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Anthony DeSclafani, Jason Marquis and Raisel Iglesias. Either Marquis or Iglesias will likely get bumped upon the return of Homer Bailey (forearm), who is slated to pitch in a minor league game Sunday but expected miss at least one turn in the rotation to start the season.
Iglesias' stuff is nasty and the ceiling is certainly intriguing, high enough to put him firmly on my deep mixed radar. He was roughed up early Saturday, allowing four straight two-out hits in the first, including a three-run homer to Brett Lawrie, but battled back with two scoreless innings to end the outing. The Cuban defector has a 10:3 K:BB with nine hits allowed in 10.2 innings this spring. I was surprised he went for just $5 in the Triple Crown NL-only auction I took part in Wednesday, even with the long-term uncertainty regarding his role. I should have gone to $6. DeSclafani likely has he higher floor in fantasy this season.
Meanwhile, catcher Devin Mesoraco went for $21 in the auction. The concussion a couple weeks ago worried me, but I'm still very optimistic about Mesoraco this year. A big part of my holding off on bidding him up was just how the auction was going. I purchased Joey Votto at $18 and Nolan Arenado at $21 shortly before Mesoraco was put up for nomination and decided then not to pay top dollar for a catcher.
Jay Bruce went for the same price as Votto. For me, it's not close. Votto is the Reds' hitter to own this year. Followed by Todd Frazier, then Billy Hamilton, then Mesoraco, THEN Bruce. Look, Bruce could still hit .240 with 25 homers and 85 RBI and be highly useful, but I'm not betting on it. The shift got in his head last year and I think it will continue to keep his average at a level that is going to really hurt your fantasy team. He pounded ball into the dirt at a career-high rate last season (45.2% GB%), mostly right into the shift. Just look at his spray chart (via Brooks Baseball).
It could be a long season for Thom and I. Offensively, the Reds look pretty good on paper with Votto back, but the back of the rotation and bullpen especially have some serious question marks, and even if everything goes perfectly for them, it's still hard to expect they'll be better than the Pirates or Cardinals in the NL Central. The uncertainty regarding Cueto's future figures to loom over the Reds for the entire first half, and the rumors and buzz will only grow louder if they get off to a slow start. Cincinnati has very little depth, so even one or two key injuries could sink the team. Heck, we could see Brennan Boesch as a regular in left if 37-year-old Marlon Byrd goes down early. Thom would have fun with that.
Quick hitters from Saturday:
- Andrew McCutchen (lower body), who hasn't played in a spring game since March 12, is scheduled to going through baserunning drills Sunday. It would seem a return to action could happen early next week, but nothing's definite. He has said he could play through it if it were the regular season, but I'm keeping a close eye on this. The former MVP has logged just 12 at-bats so far this spring. I'm taking him No. 2 if I have the chance, but if he's not on the field by next weekend, I'm going to start getting nervous.
- With Orioles manager Buck Showalter not wanting to keep Matt Wieters on the active roster strictly to DH, the 28-year-old slugger is likely headed to the DL to start the year. X-rays on Wieters' surgically-repaired elbow were negative but he is dealing with tendinitis, putting a possible return date up in the air. This could create a nice profit margin for prospective owners if the price drops low enough, but there's a ton of downside.
- While taking part in conditioning drills Friday, Stephen Strasburg sprained his ankle, resulting in his scratch from his scheduled Grapefruit League outing Sunday. It's certainly not ideal, as Strasburg missed a major league spring start earlier this month due to an ingrown toenail, but there's been nothing to suggest the Nationals are concerned enough to order additional tests on the ankle. Thus, I'm not discounting the right-hander at all for now.
- Starlin Castro was scratched from Saturday's lineup with right groin tightness. His replacement, Addison Russell, hit his first home run of the spring. A groin issue at this stage of spring training is cause for some concern, but the team hasn't given any clues as to the severity of the injury, so again, I'm going to try not to overreact.
- Josmil Pinto was sent for concussion testing after being hit in the head by Adam Jones' backswing twice Saturday. I think Pinto has some sleeper potential this year, but if this injury does indeed prove to be a concussion, it would open the door for Eric Fryer or Chris Herrmann to at least close the gap in the competition for the backup job to start the year.
- Kyle Seager was scratched Saturday with mild oblique tightness but passed all his physical tests afterward, according to manager Lloyd McClendon. I recently gave Seager a modest bump (four spots) in my personal top-350. He's my No. 63 overall player.
Do you have a question or comment. Feel free to contact me on Twitter @claywlink.