Breaking Down the Non-Roster Invitees: Cincinnati Reds

AP Photo.

After the craziness that is the Cubs NRI list, Cincinnati’s looks quite tame. But there are plenty of players that intrigue in the Reds’ relatively small group.

Let’s look at Dontrelle Willis, a couple of top prospects, and some other guys worth looking at.

OF Danny Dorn–Dorn is 26, but he hit .302/.398/.545 in Triple-A last year, which makes him a potential solid MLB contributor. The lefty swinger should at least be a solid platoon player in the majors. He’s hurt by his rather iffy defensive reputation–he spent about 2/3 of his games at DH or first base last season. Dorn also struck out nearly 30% of the time, though he offsets that somewhat with a patient approach and a knack for drawing HBPs. He’s an interesting dark horse for the Cincinnati roster.

RHP Jerry Gil–Yes, this is the former severely OBP-challenged shortstop of the Diamondbacks, and no, he hasn’t taken the world by storm as a pitcher. Gil, who managed to make the big leagues as a position player in 2004 despite a career minor league OBP of .270, converted to pitching in 2008, and while he’s still just 28, there’s little reason to believe he’s much better throwing the baseball than hitting it. He’s walked more batters (148) than he’s struck out (126) in his minor league career, and owns a career 6.60 ERA and 1.97 WHIP. And the walks aren’t his only problem: Gil has allowed over ten hits per nine innings and 1.2 homers per nine. He does throw hard, but he’s had three years to gain some sort of traction, and there’s little evidence he’s ever going to throw enough strikes, let alone quality strikes, to make a big league roster. It’s curious that he’s here anyway: one wonders what the Reds see here.

OF Jeremy Hermida–My, how the mighty have fallen. I guess this is what happens when you hit .216/.268/.351. Let’s not forget that, even with that putrid line, Hermida’s a career .259/.335/.417 hitter who was a very solid starter in 2007 and just turned 27. His defense doesn’t help, though. Keeping him in a strict platoon role–he’s a career .267/.342/.432 hitter against RHPs–would be the first step to getting him productive. There’s enough here to make Hermida well worth the camp invite.

LHP Donnie Joseph–Joseph is one of the top relievers in the minors, a lefty with a wicked fastball/slider combination that racked up 113 strikeouts in 65 innings across three levels last year. He could help late in 2011, and is definitely a pitcher for Reds fans to watch. Heck, if he somehow managed to break camp with the team, I’d bet that the 23-year-old would do quite well right off the bat.

RHP Justin Lehr–After 148 1/3 innings of well-below-replacement level pitching, it’s probably safe to close the book on Lehr–he just doesn’t have the stuff or command to pitch in the big leagues. Last seen in the bigs in 2009, he was throwing an 84-87 mph fastball and pitching up in the zone and walking an above-average number of batters. That’s a pretty lethal combination. Lehr also posted a (not completely deserved, but still) 6.57 ERA in Triple-A last year. At 33 now, Lehr probably won’t ever throw another big league pitch, but he deserves lots of credit for his resilience.

C Devin Mesoraco–One of the big stories of Reds camp is going to be what to do with Mesoraco, a top prospect who crushed the ball at three levels last year, all the way up through Triple-A. The team already has veteran Ramon Hernandez and wildly underrated Ryan Hanigan around in the big leagues, so Mesoraco doesn’t have an easy way in–still, he’s almost certainly better than Hernandez is at this point. If Mesoraco crushes the ball in March, where will he be in April?

C Corky Miller–Somehow, Miller has played in 199 MLB games despite being a career .188/.270/.300 hitter. He did hit better than that in a 32-game stint with Cincy last year–.243/.282/.392–but it’s his defensive reputation that’s keeping him around, of course. Not that Miller is a world-beater defensively, but he is a solid receiver who’s gunned down a third of basestealers in his career. It’s worth noting that Miller does have some pop in his bat–he hit .276/.359/.448 in Triple-A last year, after all. There are honestly worse backup catchers than this 35-year-old, but he’s clearly fourth on the depth chart behind Hernandez, Hanigan, and Mesoraco.

OF Dave Sappelt–Sappelt came out of nowhere to post a .342/.395/.507 line last season, ripping 53 extra-base hits and swiping 25 bases (in 43 attempts, though). That pushed him, like Mesoraco, from High-A to Triple-A by season’s end, and unlike Mesoraco, Sappelt basically kept up his performance in Louisville. The 24-year-old probably will have to prove himself for a bit longer in Triple-A, but again, one wonders what would happen if he hits .375 and someone in the Jonny Gomes/Chris Heisey/Fred Lewis cadre implodes in March.

LHP Dontrelle Willis–Best of luck to the D-Train, who’s trying to come back from his well-publicized anxiety/control/whatever-in-the-world-you-want-to-call-it issues. Interestingly, his ERA, FIP, and xFIP all agreed–he deserved a 5.62 ERA last year in the majors between Detroit and Arizona. For someone in the midst of a complete implosion, that really isn’t all that awful, although a 47/56 K/BB is. The main problem, aside from all the other stuff, is that Willis throws an 88-mph fastball 75% of the time, and that just doesn’t really cut it unless the pitch is incredible. Back in his best days, he was throwing a 90-91 mph fastball 65% of the time. One wonders what Willis’ fastball/slider/deception combination could do as a strict lefty specialist, though–he’s never thrown much of a changeup, and it’s easy to see his delivery baffling lefties. Indeed, check out this split in 2010: 30/8 K/BB vs. LHB, 17/48 vs. RHB. How’s a 2.13/7.27 FIP split for you? Seriously, Reds…this needs to happen. A LOOGY role may not be what every baseball fan wants to see one of the game’s most fun pitchers doing, but I’d sure rather see him succeed there than nowhere at all.

Topics: Cincinnati Reds, Corky Miller, Danny Dorn, Dave Sappelt, Devin Mesoraco, Donnie Joseph, Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Hermida, Jerry Gil, Justin Lehr

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