Cincinnati Reds 2016 Bullpen X-Factors


What does the Cincinnati Reds bullpen have in common over the last three offseasons? Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty has done nothing to improve it. They wonder why a bullpen that lost 31 games in 2014 would still lose 31 games in 2015 when Jocketty went out of his way to invest $4 million total in free agents Burke Badenhop and Kevin Gregg.

So how will the bullpen be any different for 2016?

Well, it all starts with three ways that you can improve depth: drafting, trading, and Rule 5 drafting. In addition to homegrown talent, Jocketty was able to add some arms creatively over the last year. The 2016 bullpen has a chance to be remarkably better because of Zack Weiss, Stephen Johnson, and Chris O’Grady.

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Let’s start with Reds 2013 draftee right-hander Weiss. This guy just put together a really nice 2015 campaign in which he pitched in 54 games, collecting 30 saves. But it just wasn’t the accumulation of 30 saves, it was how Weiss did it. Talk about a lock-down closer, 80 strikeouts against only 15 walks with a 1.98 ERA. That’s called domination. A lot of people will say, well that’s just the minors and it was over A+/AA. But what I have to tell you is that Weiss has four pitches he’s deadly with. Most relievers throw two to three pitches at the most well. Zack throws a 93-95 MPH fastball, mixes in a curve, can use his fourth pitch change-up if need be, and his “out” pitch is a sweeping slider! Look for Weiss to be used as closer if J.J. Hoover shows any signs of faltering in the role.

The next guy up for a shot in the remade bullpen is power righty Johnson, who came over from San Francisco in the Marlon Byrd trade. Johnson is a 6’5″ power arm who throws mid-90’s heat and has touched 100 MPH on the radar gun. He also packs an above average curveball that has flashes of being a “plus” pitch at times. I really hope Bryan Price can help Johnson with his command and release point/delivery because if they can harness his command, this could be a big league set-up man with outstanding stuff. At four levels of minor leagues, Johnson struck out 259 batters over 230 innings and only has allowed 180 hits. Between the AA farms for the Giants and Reds last year, he posted a 2.97 ERA with 79 K in 66 2/3 IP allowing 49 hits. The Reds might have found something in Johnson’s delivery because his walk rate was cut in half after the trade. Johnson has a HUGE arm and if he performs well in Spring Training, look for him to be getting those tough seventh & eighth inning outs in Cincinnati.

The last time the Reds took a pitcher in the Rule 5 draft and kept him all season was Jared Burton back in 2008. This year they picked Angels farmhand O’Grady, who’s a deceptive left hander and gets both sides of the plate out. One Angels executive fought to place O’Grady on the protected 40-man roster, but was unsuccessful to the Reds benefit. O’Grady doesn’t possess dominating stuff but just gets hitters out with a great cutter. For those of you know don’t know what a cutter is, Mariano Rivera made a Hall of Fame career off the cutter. O’Grady pitches down in the zone with a 91 MPH Fastball and keeps hitters off balance with an 85-87 MPH cutter that they can’t see coming. He also flashes a slider and on two-strike counts can throw a change-up in the zone that is a classic swing-and-miss pitch. Last season, O’Grady posted a 3.28 ERA with 57 K over 57 2/3 IP with a 1.06 WHIP. He is likely to be in the bullpen all year, so look for him to be a major contributor.

So with Weiss, Johnson, and O’Grady added to Hoover, Jumbo Diaz, Tony Cingrani, and free agent Blake Wood (3.53 ERA in AAA) in the bullpen. Caleb Cotham (2.21 ERA in AA/AAA), acquired in the Aroldis Chapman trade from the New York Yankees, provides an interesting option for the new-look Reds bullpen. No matter what anyone says, the bullpen is a key to this team being competitive. Throw in whatever starter doesn’t make the rotation out of Spring Training and there is high upside options for the 2016 bullpen to be the best it’s been in three years.