Predicting the Cincinnati Reds’ Opening Day Bullpen

Mar 1, 2016; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Tony Cingrani (52) pitches during the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 1, 2016; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Tony Cingrani (52) pitches during the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Goodyear Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Arguably the biggest weakness of the 2015 Cincinnati Reds was the bullpen. Only two teams in baseball had more innings thrown by their relievers and the 3.96 ERA for the Reds’ relief corps was the fourth-worst mark in the National League.

As such, the group underwent its fair share of change in the offseason, with Burke Badenhop, Manny ParraSam LeCure, Collin Balester and Aroldis Chapman all moving on. This spring, there’s a wide-open competition for a place in the ‘pen and nearly 15 candidates vying for a spot.

Who will those pitchers be?

The locks

Tony Cingrani (26, LHP): After battling more shoulder trouble last year, Cingrani is healthy and firing on all cylinders. He has yet to allow a run and has struck out nine in six innings. He’ll need to keep working on his control, but as one of the few lefties in camp, he’s a sure bet to make the roster.

Jumbo Diaz (32, RHP): Diaz has been shaky, allowing four runs on eight hits through six frames. That said, his spot is likely safe after his promising performance in the second half of last season.

J.J. Hoover (28, RHP): Slated as the closer to start out the year, Hoover has allowed just one (unearned) run and two hits this spring. Whether he holds the ninth-inning role all season remains to be seen, as his high walk rate and decreased strikeout rate in 2015 leave reasons to be concerned.

Outside of the three pitchers above, it’s anyone’s guess right now as to who makes the Opening Day bullpen.

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Ahead of the pack

Dayan Diaz (27, RHP): An owner of impressive minor league numbers (2.05 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 9.3 K/9), Diaz is looking to break into the majors for the first time and is making a good case for doing so. The former farmhand of the Red Sox, Cubs and Astros has tossed 5.2 innings, giving up only one run and three hits. He has also struck out five against two walks.

Drew Hayes (28, RHP): Hayes is sitting nicely with a 0.00 ERA and has struck out seven in his five innings, right in line with his career rate of 9.8 per nine innings. He’s struggled with control throughout his minor league career (4.8 BB/9), but has largely showed good command this spring, with all three of his walks coming in one outing. If he can continue to command the strike zone and avoid more erratic appearances, he has a shot to make the 25-man roster.

A.J. Morris (29, RHP): An under-the-radar addition who spent last season in the Pirates organization, Morris has appeared in five games, allowing two runs (one earned) on three hits and three walks, while striking out five. The righty throws a sinking fastball that has resulted in a ground-ball rate of a whopping 59.7 percent in the minors since 2013. He also gets his fair share of strikeouts (7.2 K/9) and keeps his walks relatively low (2.8 BB/9). At the very least, he’ll serve as minor-league depth, but he could sneak his way onto the roster.

Chris O’Grady (25, LHP): Outside of one appearance in which he allowed five runs and recorded only one out, the Rule 5 draft pick from the Angels has been turning heads. Taking that outing out of the equation, he’s allowed just one unearned run, two hits and one walk in six innings, while punching out five. He’s the only lefty competing for a bullpen spot other than Cingrani, which may give him an additional edge in making the club. He will have to be offered back to his former team if he doesn’t stay on the 25-man roster the entire season.

Keyvius Sampson (25, RHP): Sampson missed a chunk of time with triceps tightness, but has recently returned to the mound. Aside from one outing in which he walked three, he’s been impressive thus far, allowing just two hits and striking out five in three innings. Unless Sampson falls apart or has a setback with his arm in the last two weeks, his chances of making the roster appear to be good.

Layne Somsen (26, RHP): Like Hayes, he has not allowed anyone to score this spring, allowing only two hits while punching out four. Somsen had some issues with walks in Triple-A Louisville last season (4.3 BB/9) and has walked four in six spring innings. The Reds seem to think highly of him, as they sent him to the Arizona Fall League in October to get additional work against some of the game’s top prospects.

Pedro Villarreal (27, RHP): The Reds brought Villarreal back on a minor-league contract after serving as the team’s long reliever in 2015. He’s been rock solid in spring ball, surrendering only one run and five hits in eight innings. At this point, he has to be the favorite to retain his role from last year.

Work to do

Blake Wood (30, RHP): Wood’s numbers have been far from inspiring. In seven innings, five runs (four earned) have crossed the plate on his watch. He’s also allowed nine hits, while walking four and striking out six. Wood could go either way as he hasn’t exactly dazzled to this point, though being the Reds’ only major league signing over the offseason may play in his favor.

Caleb Cotham (28, RHP): A piece in the Aroldis Chapman trade, Cotham seemed to have a good shot of making the bullpen after making his big-league debut with the Yankees last season. But he’s had a rough go of it in Arizona, allowing six runs and 10 hits in eight innings.

Ryan Mattheus (32, RHP): It wouldn’t be a complete shocker if Mattheus made the roster due to his veteran presence and familiarity with the team. If the Reds are truly committed to going young and with their best options, however, he’s not the guy. He has not pitched well in spring, either, allowing nine runs and 16 (!) hits in only seven frames.

J.C. Ramirez (27, RHP): The player on this list with the longest odds to make the roster is probably Ramirez. His performance has been rather lackluster in spring action, as he’s allowed a run in all but one appearance to the tune of an 8.44 ERA and 1.88 WHIP.

Next: What should the Reds do with Jose Peraza?


With an all-rookie rotation from the end of July on, the Reds sported an eight-man bullpen for a sizable portion of the 2015 season. The starting staff will be young once again this year, so the team may again go that route. For now, the prediction will be for a seven-man bullpen, with a potential eighth guy in parentheses.

J.J. Hoover, Tony Cingrani, Jumbo Diaz, Pedro Villarreal, Chris O’Grady, Keyvius Sampson, Blake Wood (Potential eighth man: Dayan Diaz)