Story and photos by Mark Carpenter –
Though cold weather has finally found its way into our area, for one day last week thoughts turned to warm summer nights at the ballpark, enjoying a game of major league baseball. The annual Cincinnati Reds Caravan made its way around the Tri-State and one of their stops was a Thursday morning visit to the downtown Conference Center in Maysville.
It was the East Tour of the Caravan that made the Maysville stop and the Reds contingent included: broadcasters Jim Kelch and Jeff Brantley, General Manager and President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams, pitcher Drew Storen, minor league catcher Chris Okey, Reds Hall of Famer Eric Davis; and mascot Rosie Red.
As always, optimism was the them of the morning though again this spring the Reds face many unanswered questions about various facets of their ball club. The Caravan stop opened with a question and answer period, and one of the topic immediately brought up was the rumored return of pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014.
“Bronson is one of the most players we’ve had in a long time,” said GM Williams. “He has interest in trying to pitch again and if he is healthy and can come into camp, I think he would be a real asset to have around our young guys. We have watched him pitch once and I think if he came back, he would come to our camp first.”
The Reds also recently bolstered their pitching staff with the signing of right hander Scott Feldman, who finished the 2016 season as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. “We look at Scott as a guy who wants to start for us,” said Williams. “He wants to start, he’s started in the past, but one of the valuable things about him is that he can start or pitch from the bullpen. We have depth in pitching, but it is young pitching and we just have to wait and see which guys step up and take roles and Scott gives us some flexibility there.
It’s no secret that in 2016, the Reds bullpen was nothing short of a disaster for most of the season and another recent addition, the right hander Storen, who returns to the National League and was signed to help remedy that issue.
“I am definitely more familiar with the hitters and ballparks in this league,” said Storen. “I am very excited to be with Cincinnati, growing up in this area and a Reds fan. It’s kind of cool.”
When it comes to the pitching staff, Brantley is blunt and to the point in his opinion that some of the pitchers in the Reds organization should by this time be tired of pitching in the minor leagues.
“I think that the Reds have put together a tremendous amount of young arms,” said the Reds broadcaster. “Sooner or later all of the talent, all of the development, all of the things that the Reds are putting forward to these young pitchers-there’s only so much the Reds can do. They can only teach so much but sooner or later these guys who had an opportunity last year have to decide how badly they want to pitch in the major leagues. The Reds want guys in the majors who want to be great.”
“We went into the offseason and we did have in mind the maturing of the pitching,” added Williams. “We knew there were good guys out there but it takes a little time for the market to settle so we just bided our time. We really wanted to find the right fit, the right people, the right deals, and the right guys to bring in. We worked on a lot of deals but not everything came to fruition. We were under the radar but now we are making some noise and we still have some things to do before we go to spring training.”
Another frequently bantered topic this offseason has been the status of second baseman Brandon Phillips and the Reds’ stockpile of talented middle infielders.
“We have guys who can play second and we have guys who can play short with Cozart, Brandon, Jose Peraza, and Dilson Herrera” said Williams. “It will be a good problem to have if we have four guys healthy and playing well. If that’s the problem, then we will have to allocate playing time and maybe some of the young guys will have to spend some time in AAA. Middle infield is pretty important to your defense and if I am going to have too much depth somewhere, it might as well be there.”
Williams was asked point blank about what Reds fans could expect realistically in 2017.
“Winning baseball, improvement from last year, an exciting young group of players who will be hungry, and if we stay healthy we will have a lot better showing this year and we will surprise some people. I think we are going to start to make some noise in a very tough division, but I think we are on the upswing.”