Phillips Trade Stevens Returns to Reds
Offseason is not only a time for MLB teams to shore up active rosters, but everyone also works to add lower-profile personnel to bolster organizational depth. Many minor league journeymen change employers as they attempt to keep alive their dreams of playing in the major leagues. The Reds are no exception to putting veterans in place to be available should need arise.
The Reds have gotten attention for a flurry of personnel moves recently that will fill active roster spots in the upcoming season. In addition they, like all other teams, have brought in other players to provide depth in the organization. As of right now these players are expected to spend the season in the minors, but with the unpredictability of injuries, slumps, and the like, circumstances could present an opportunity for them to play key roles in 2013.
A few of the signees are no strangers to the organization. Services were retained from veteran farmhands Corky Miller, Kristopher Negron, and Denis Phipps. Miller is a 37 year old catcher with a reputation for strong defensive skills and a weak bat, though he did hit well at Louisville early in the 2012 season. The veteran is also a good man to have hanging signs for a couple of top pitching prospects expected to start the season in AAA. The 27 year-old Negron will return for his fourth season with the Bats where most of his action has been in the middle infield, but he did make his MLB debut last year in center field with the Reds while Drew Stubbs was injured. Phipps is a 27 year-old outfielder once considered a “fill-in” minor leaguer before a breakout season in 2011. Injuries compromised his 2012 campaign, but he saw action with the Reds after expansion call-ups.
Players departing from the organization include Mike Costanzo (if, to Wash), Jordan Smith (rp, to Mia), Chris Valaika (if, to Mia), and Dioner Navarro (c, to Cubs). All had seen action with the Reds in the past. Smith was a contributor out of the pen in early in the 2010 season but struggled at Louisville last season. Navarro hit well all season in AAA and landed a spot on the Reds’ 2012 post season roster. They probably would have like to have him again in 2013, but it’s no surprise that the veteran catcher preferred going somewhere with a better chance to make an opening day MLB roster.
Navarro’s job will go to Nevin Ashley who has yet to make his MLB debut at the age of 28. He was originally drafted out of Indiana St. by the Rays in the sixth round in 2006. After that he hit well in the lower levels of the Rays system but found the climb slower by the time he reached high A. The right-handed hitting catcher has spent parts of the last three seasons in AAA where he’s hit .226/.307 OB% over 268 plate appearances. Ashley’s 2012 season was shortened by a broken bone in his right hand which limited him to only 35 games after rehabbing over which he hit .245/.347 OB at Durham before the Rays designated him for assignment.
Replacing Valaika will be former Giant infielder Emmanuel Burriss. He entered the San Francisco organization out of Kent St. from a pick in the supplemental round of the 2006 draft. He has significant MLB experience with 800 plate appearances over 282 games while playing mostly in the middle infield. His best year was his 2008 rookie season when he hit .283/.357 OB% in 95 games. Over the past two seasons he’s hit a combined .209 in 119 games which led to him finding a new employer before his 28th birthday this month. He hit .281/.343 OB average in 172 games at the AAA level and with the departure of Didi Gregorius, Burriss figures to be the first middle infielder to get the call should Jason Donald falter.
To provide depth at the corner infield positions the Reds picked up veteran Mike Hessman who will turn 35 before opening day. Cincinnati will be his fourth MLB organization, the most recent being Houston. Hessman was originally drafted in the fifteenth round by the Braves in 1996 and has also seen MLB duty with the Tigers and Mets. He could be considered a lifetime minor leaguer and has never made more than 71 MLB plate appearances in a single season. Lifetime he’s hit .188/.272 OB in 250 PA . He’s played in over 1,000 AAA games and hit .240/.326 in them. Last season he batted .231 with 35 HR for AAA Oklahoma City. Before signing with the Astros he spent some time in a Japanese league and now he’ll replace Costanzo whom the Reds found in an independent league.
Smith will be replaced by 29 year-old right-hander Kevin Whelan who pitched in a couple of games for the Yankees in 2011. Whelan is a veteran of eight minor league seasons since the Tigers picked him in the fourth round out of Texas A&M in 2005. He’s shown he can get the job done in the minors and has a three and a quarter ERA over almost 400 innings with 90 saves, including a mid-three in 100 AAA appearances where he saved 37.
Kanekoa Texeira was an extra pick-up by the Reds one year ago and had a good year coming out of the Louisville bullpen in 2012. He’s since been granted free agency and next year his innings could go to 29 year-old right-hander Jeff Stevens who is an interesting addition because it’s his second time around with the Reds after they selected him in the sixth round out of Loyola Marymount in 2005. Stevens has been a huge contributor to the Reds in an indirect way since he was traded to Cleveland for Brandon Phillips. Given the outcome of that transaction perhaps the Reds might like to deal him again. If they can get another all-star Stevens might have a case someday for selection into the Reds Hall of Fame even though he never played in a single game for them. He did pitch in 33 games for the Cubs with a six and a quarter ERA over 37 innings. During his career he’s kept a sub-four earnie over almost 200 AAA IP.
Louisville pitcher Chad Reineke was granted free agency after the season and since then the Reds picked up 28 year-old right-hander Jeff Marquez. He was once a high prospect in the Yankees organization after the Bombers picked him up with a supplemental first round selection in 2004. He’s made it to The Show for four appearances since then while spending most of his time as a starting pitcher at the AAA level where he’s been hit for a mid-five ERA over 400 innings.
Xavier Paul was a nice surprise after arriving in Cincinnati in the second half of this season and probably has the inside track on the fifth outfielder spot, but his flashy .300 average came in fewer than 100 plate appearances. The Reds are hoping further depth can be provided by Derrick Robinson who signed a minor league contract after spending the past six years with the Royals. The 25 year-old switch hitter batted .268/344 in a full AAA season at Omaha in 2012 and has yet to make his MLB debut.
The projected Reds pitching staff for 2013 is pretty well set with few questions. There had been mild speculation that they wanted to add another southpaw to the bullpen after losing Bill Bray to free agency and moving Aroldis Chapman into the rotation. There was a rumored interest in Mike Gonzalez before he inked a deal with Milwaukee and since then GM Walt Jocketty has made a statement of confidence in his current corps noting that many of them pitched better against left-handed hitters, a claim that can be backed up statistically. The Reds did keep Wilkin de la Rosa who will soon turn 28 and is coming off a solid season at their AA affiliate in Pensacola. They also picked up 28 year-old lefty Lee Hyde, a seven year minor leaguer, mainly with the Atlanta who drafted him out of Georgia Tech in the fourth round in 2006. He pitched most of last season with AA Trenton before the Yankees promoted him to AAA for a half dozen appearances. He’s got a mid-three ERA over 200 lifetime appearances, but AAA hitters have lit him up for a five.
Another spot in the Louisville pen figures to go to pick-up Jose Diaz, a 28 year-old right-hander and veteran of ten minor league seasons. He kept a mid-three ERA in 41 appearances while pitching out of the pen for Pittsburgh’s AAA Indianapolis affiliate last season. Overall he’s got a sub-three ERA over 266 minor-league games, but he never scratched the AAA level before 2011.
One departure from the lower level of the Reds organization was 6’10” right-hander Andrew Brackman who spent most of his time in Bakersfield last season. Believe it or not, the Reds actually get taller by replacing him with 7’1” Dutch reliever Loek van Mil. Last season the 28 year-old kept a sub-two ERA while pitching in 27 AA games for Cleveland’s organization before getting knocked around in a handful of AAA appearances.
There’s nothing really eye-popping on the resumes of any in the above list, but then again there is a reason they were available for minor league contracts. They are not strangers to getting paid to play and perhaps with a change of scenery a couple of them might be ready to take the next step. The 2013 Reds will be a tough roster to crack but the 2012 Louisville Bats had the worst record in the International League so there will be opportunity for these journeymen to prove their case as they try to keep alive their dream of being major league players.