Reds can be patient with young pitchers
By John Fay • firstname.lastname@example.org • February 24, 2010
GOODYEAR, Ariz. - A few years ago, Mike Leake and Travis Wood would have been much more than an afterthought when it came to the race for the starting rotation.
The Reds have long been a pitching challenged club. But this year - with the first four spots in the rotation set and some veteran candidates for the fifth spot - they can afford to be patient with their young prospects.
"I think you can afford to do it even if you don't have depth - for their sake," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "If it was determined they were ready, it would be no problem. But that's rare. They've got to go pitch."
Leake, the 22-year-old right-hander, was the club's No. 1 pick in last year's draft. His pro experience is limited to six games in the Arizona Fall League. He went 1-2 with a 1.37 ERA. Add that to the fact that he went 16-1 with a 1.71 ERA and seven complete games for Arizona State, and you get an idea of how polished he is.
"I don't think you're sticking your neck out by saying this kid is ready to compete at the higher levels of the minor leagues and challenge to be on a major league team quickly," pitching coach Bryan Price said. "In the same breath, you've got to say you've got to go out there and do it. There's a lot of guys you build up prematurely. That's unfair to him, a 21-year-old kid who is his first full season of professional baseball.
"I think he's a very polished kid and can pitch his way to force our hand."
Leake has the confidence to go with his record.
"The goal is to start as high as possible in the system," he said.
Leake's stuff is not overpowering. He pitches in the low 90s.
"I'm not nasty," he said. "But I'm able to throw it where I want it. Sometimes that's better than throwing hard. I'm able to pick apart hitters with my pitches."
Wood, the 23-year-old left-hander, had a breakthrough last year.
After he went a combined 7-13 with a 5.47 ERA in 2008 in stops at Single-A Sarasota and Double-A Chattanooga, he was 13-5 with a 1.77 ERA in stops at Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville.
"It was just a matter of going out there and knowing you deserve to be there," he said, "having conviction in your pitches and knowing the guys behind you are there to help you out."
He was named the Reds' minor of league pitcher of the year.
Wood, the club's second round pick in 2005 draft, added a cut fastball in 2008.
"I had been working on a cutter the year before," Wood said. "I went to work on it in offseason, and it ended up being a big help to me last year."
Wood, at 5-foot-11, 163 pounds, is not overpowering. The cutter gave him an out pitch.
"It typically helped me with righties," Wood said. "But I used it to lefties, too. Throwing it with conviction, knowing that you can throw your pitches for strikes helps."
Wood started last season at Carolina where he went 9-3 with a 1.21 ERA. He allowed 78 hits, 37 walks and struck out 103 in 119 innings. His success continued at Louisville - 4-2, a 3.14 ERA in eight starts.
"(The success at Triple-A) was a boost to my confidence," Wood said. "But it was different. The hitters are more experienced. You have to make your adjustments, knowing they're going to be more patient than the level below. You have to figure out where their point is to where you can still get them out."
Baker is getting his first look at Wood.
"The reports have been good about him," Baker said. "I had never seen him until here. People here like his stuff. I talked to him. He's been working out with (Cliff) Lee in Arkansas, which has got to be good for him."
Still, Baker lists the chances for Leake and Wood to make the club at "outside."
"Let's not get in too much of hurry to rush them up here," Baker said. "I've seen too many ruined by rushing them. I've seen a few make it, but not many. The No. 1 thing they have to get used to is pitching every fifth day for six months. It's not like college."