SARASOTA, Fla. – Johnny Cueto is this year’s Homer Bailey. He’s got the big arm. He’s got the great minor league stats.
But until he took the mound Monday for a bullpen session at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, a lot of people in camp had not seen him throw.
Cueto lived up to his scouting report. His motion is effortless but his fastball has good zip on it. He’s right around the plate with all of his pitches.
Cueto, a 22-year-old Dominican, is one of the five pitchers competing for the two open spots in the starting rotation.
“He’s definitely close,” Reds Hall of Famer Mario Soto said. “Look at what he did at Triple-A. It all depends on how fast the team wants to move with him. He could help the team now.”
Cueto started last year in Single-A Sarasota. He moved all the way up to Triple-A, and he got better as he moved to higher levels.
He was 4-5 with a 3.33 ERA at Sarasota, 6-3 and with a 3.10 ERA at Double-A Chattanooga and 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA at Triple-A Louisville.
It’s going to take a good camp for Cueto to win a spot. Bailey went 0-1 with a 19.54 ERA in three spring outings last year and got sent out early.
The same could happen to Cueto or he could pitch his way onto the Opening Day roster.
The Reds think enough of him that they refused to trade him this winter. He was reportedly the key to getting Joe Blanton from Oakland, but the Reds wouldn’t include him in a deal.
Rick Sweet, the manager at Louisville, raves about Cueto.
“He impressed me, very much so,” Sweet said. “He has very good stuff, and he has command of it. He’s young, so he gets a little emotional. But overall, this guy has a chance to be a very good pitcher.”
Between the minors and winter ball, Cueto was 16-10 with a 3.07 ERA. The year before, he went 15-3 with a 3.00 ERA.
“He’s a very good competitor,” Sweet said. “He knows how to win.”
The one concern with Cueto is his size. He’s 5-foot-10, 183 pounds – not the prototypical size for a right-handed starter.
But Soto, who was dominant at 6 feet, 185 pounds, doesn’t see that a problem.
“He’s strong,” Soto said. “That’s what you look for. He works hard at it.”
Cueto called catcher Alvin Colina over to interpret for an interview because he doesn’t speak English well.
“Only a little bit,” Cueto said.
Does he think he can make the team?
“Yes, I do,” he says.
What does he have to do to do that?
“Keep my pitches down in the strike zone,” he said. “I throw a lot of fastballs. Sometimes I elevate my pitches. I’ve got to keep the ball down.”
That’s classic pitcher-speak, which is fitting because even though he’s young Cueto is considered a pitcher not a thrower.
“He commands all three pitches,” Soto said. “Fastball, slider, change-up.”
Cueto is not overpowering on every pitch. But he can be.
“He has a tendency – he’ll be pitching along (then) all of the sudden a couple hits, maybe an error – he’s a got another notch that he can turn it up to,” Sweet said. “That’s something you don’t see.
“To me, that is what makes him so good is the discrepancy. When I say 88-92 (mph), he’ll pitch at that – not throw – and use all his pitches. Then he’ll turn it up at times. A lot of good pitchers in the big leagues can do that.”