Last spring, in an effort to keep Tyler Stephenson healthy following an extended stay on the injured list during the 2022 season, the Cincinnati Reds brought in two veteran catchers to share duties behind the dish. The Reds signed Curt Casali and Luke Maile to free agent contracts last offseason and planned to carry three catchers on the active roster.
The plan worked for about three weeks, but when it became obvious that Stephenson was a defensive liability at first base, the plan changed. Stephenson spent most of his time as the club's DH while Maile and Casali shared starts behind the plate. As the season progressed, Casali landed on the IL which allowed Stephenson and Maile split time donning the tools of ignorance.
On Tuesday, the Reds announced that both Daniel Vellojin and Matheu Nelson will be part of Major League spring training camp and will likely be in Goodyear, Arizona when pitchers and catchers arrive on February 14th.
Matheu Nelson & Daniel Vellojin will join Tyler Stephenson in Reds spring training
Of the two, Vellojin is the more major league-ready prospect. The 23-year-old has been in the Reds' minor league system for years, but has never graduated past Double-A. Last season, Vellojin struggled at the plate for the second year in a row and posted an OPS of just .620. But a career walk-rate above 16-percent and tremendous pull-power make Vellojin an intriguing prospect.
Nelson was the 35th-overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft and finally began to show that offensive upside he displayed during his final year at Florida State University. Nelson posted a 1.210 OPS with the Seminoles in 2021 and racked up 23 home runs for FSU. While splitting time between High-A Dayton and Double-A Chattanooga last season, Nelson hit .229/.340/.437 with 21 homers.
Both Vellojin and Nelson are seen as bat-first catchers. Intriguingly, the team's website lists Nelson as an outfielder; a position he's never played in the minor leagues nor in college. Austin Wynns, P.J. Higgins, and Michael Trautwein will all be in Major League spring training camp next month as well.
The assumption, of course, is that Tyler Stephenson will be the Cincinnati Reds primary backstop with Luke Maile likely receiving two or more starts at catcher per week. Having increased depth in camp certainly can't hurt, and if Vellojin or Nelson make a strong impression in Goodyear, they could enhance their standing within the organization ahead of the 2024 season.