A mantra proffered by nearly every major-league manager in history is: “Spring training will fool you. The sampling of games, at-bats and innings pitch is too small.”
The best example for the Cincinnati Reds occurred in 1983. In 1982, a big redhead named Jeff Jones hit 42 home runs and drove in 101 runs for Cedar Rapids in the Class A Midwest League.
During spring training of 1983 he tore it up, hit nearly .500. Against the better wishes of manager Russ Nixon, general manager Dick Wagner insisted Nixon not only keep him on the roster, but stick him in right field.
So Jones was in right field on opening day, 1983. He lasted 16 games, hitting .226 with 11 walks and 13 strikeouts in 58 plate appearances. By April 24, two weeks into the season, he was back in the minors, never to be seen in the majors again. He struck out 749 times in 894 minor-league games.
Then there was outfielder Dave Sappelt. He tore it up in the spring of 2011 and made the team. He hit .243 in 38 games with the Reds. After the season he was traded to the Chicago Cubs along with pitcher Travis Wood for relief pitcher Sean Marshall.
The Philadelphia Phillies released Sappelt in April of last season and he ended up playing the 2014 season in Mexico.
So, yes, spring training can fool you, as former manager Dusty Baker liked to say, “big time.”
But there has to be some basis for teams to judge young players and how they perform in spring training is a major part. But many spring phenomenons disappear quickly.
In the case of the 2015 Cincinnati Reds there is no question as to whom the starting eight will be.
The starting pitchers? The bullpen? The bench? Therein lies the dilemma.
The rotation starts with Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake and, when he is ready, Homer Bailey. And where does it end?
Even though he has won only two major-league games and appeared in 13, the Reds have seen enough of Anthony DeSclafani to plop him into the rotation.
For some reason the Reds decided quickly in spring training to take left-hander Tony Cingrani out of the rotation equation and place him in the bullpen. They talked about Cuban-born Raisel Iglesias as a bullpen inhabitant or a starter in the minors. But halfway through spring training they decided the 25-year-old right-hander is rotation material, even though he has zero major-league experience and zero minor-league experience. Well, it worked with Mike Leake, didn’t it?
Until Bailey comes back, probably the second week of the season, veteran Jason Marquis or veteran Paul Maholm will fill in. Both have been solid in spring training games.
The bullpen? The Reds certainly hope spring training isn’t indicative of what Blake Badenhop can do. They brought him in with high hopes that he could do pretty much anything in the bullpen. But in four appearances over 3 1/3 innings this spring he has given up 10 runs (nine earned) and 12 hits for a 24.30 earned-run average.
It appears the club will pull another surprise by keeping hard-thrower Michael Lorenzen in the bullpen. He was a starter in the minors, and the Reds still see the rotation in his future. But he has bullpen experience. At Cal State-Fullerton he played center field for eight innings and then came to the mound as the team’s closer.
The rest are familiar faces — Aroldis Chapman, Sam LeCure, Manny Parra and Jumbo Diaz. If Badenhop is kept, that leaves J.J. Hoover on the outside.
When spring training began, there were three givens on the bench — Skip Schumaker, Bryan Pena and Kristopher Negron. They brought in Brennan Boesch as a possible fourth or fifth outfielder, a left-hander with explosives in his bat. And he has shown everything the Reds needed to see. That leaves one bench spot, probably a battle between Jason Bourgeois and Chris Dominguez, both of whom have done some good things, although Dominquez shows a propensity for striking out.
So, with a week remaining before Opening Day, below is a non-educated guess as to how the 25-man roster will look. It’s a roster that could change quickly. Just ask Jeff Jones and Dave Sappelt.
STARTING EIGHT: C Devin Mesoraco, 1B Joey Votto, 2B Brandon Phillips, 3B Todd Frazier, SS Zack Cozart, LF Marlon Byrd, CF Billy Hamilton, RF Jay Bruce.
STARTING PITCHERS: Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Anthony DeSclafani, Raaisl Iglesias, Jason Marquis, with Homer Bailey replacing Marquis when ready.
BULLPEN: Aroldis Chapman Sam LeCure, Blake Badenhop, Manny Parra, Michael Lorenzen, Jumbo Diaz, Tony Cingrani.
BENCH: INF/OF Skip Schumaker, C/1B Brayan Pena, INF/OF Kristopher Negron, OF/1B Brennan Boesch, OF Jason Bourgeois.