CHIEF LOGAN STATE PARK — It seems like every time the Cincinnati Reds make their annual stop at Logan in recent years the wintry conditions are anything in the realm of baseball-like.
On a day when temperatures reached two below zero in the early morning hours and a week when up to six inches of snow fell on the Logan area the talk centered around the Cincinnati Reds Caravan which made a brief stop to the Chief Logan State Park Convention Center on Friday afternoon after a visit in Pikeville, Ky.
The featured attractions this year were new manager Bryan Price and starting pitcher Homer Bailey.
Also on hand were: broadcaster Jeff Piecoro; broadcaster and former pitcher Chris Welsh; 2013 Minor League Player of the Year and infielder Seth Mejias-Brean; Director of Player Development Jeff Graupe and mascot Mr. Red.
Price replaces Dusty Baker, who had been at the Reds’ helm for six years. The Reds were very good under Baker with three playoff appearances but failed to advance to the NLCS round. Last year, Cincinnati was 90-72 and third place in NL Central.
Reds’ fans grew tired of Baker and demanded change.
That’s exactly what they got with Price, the pitching coach under Baker who has never been a manager at any level.
With a few minor tweaks with an already talented roster, Cincinnati hopes Price is right in 2014. Price said he’s ready for the new challenge as manager.
“There was anxiety in the position as pitching coach,” Price said. “We have set a high bar and we have high expectations for ourselves. I don’t think that you ever go into the season without some anxiety. That’s one of the things that keeps you on top of your game. It keeps you focued on preparation and things of that nature. The best thing that we’ve done is surrounded ourselves with a great coaching staff. Those are guys who are great with communication and knowledge of the game. I’m really excited about this opportunity for certain.”
Many of the Reds are returning players and Cincy expects to have another big year.
“We’ve been in the post-season three out of the last four years,” Price said. “The pitching has been exceptional and we had another nice year defensively. We feel like we can extract more out of the lineup offensively. We didn’t make a ton of changes with our 25-man roster. You’ll see the pitching staff come back in tact minus Bronson Arroyo. We’ve also added a few players and some backups. We feel like we’re pretty set if we don’t have any injuries.”
Former minor league whiz and speedster Billy Hamilton is projected to leadoff and play in center field, replacing Shin-Soo Choo who was dealt to the Texas Rangers. Hamilton posted 395 steals in 502 minor league games. He debuted with the Reds last year and hit .368 with 13 stolen bases in 13 games.
Zack Cozart is expected to hit second and play shortstop.
Joey Votto is projected to hit third and play first.
Second baseman Brandon Phillips is the likely cleanup man.
Jay Bruce is then set to hit fifth and play in right.
Ryan Ludwick is the projected man to bat sixth and play in left.
Third baseman Todd Frazier and catcher Devin Mesoraco are expected to fill out the order.
The Reds have a new likely backup catcher with Brayan Pena, who comes from the Detroit Tigers.
Cincy’s expected starting rotation are right-handers Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bailey and Mike Leake and lefty Tony Cingrani.
Flame-throwing Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman is also slated to be the Reds’ closer once again.
The 27-year-old Bailey is 49-45 in his major league career with 705 strikeouts and a 4.25 ERA. He has pitched two no-hitters, including one last year against the San Francisco Giants.
Bailey became the third Reds pitcher, along with Jim Maloney and Johnny Vander Meer, to have more than one career no-hitter.
Ironically, one of Vander Meer’s no-hitters came in 1938 at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field in a victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Pitching that night for the Dodgers opposite Vander Meer was Logan County native Max Butcher, who grew up in the Man area. It was a historic night in Brooklyn as it was the first ever night game played at Ebbets. In attendance was baseball great and former Yankee slugger Babe Ruth.
Bailey was asked by a fan during the Logan event if he could pick off the speedy Hamilton at first base.
“I don’t think I could pick anyone off first,” Bailey joked. “Probably not.”
Bailey said he has a lot left in the tank.
“It seems like the last couple of years I’ve gotten a little bit better,” he said. “I think I’ve strived to get better and have continued to evolve.”
Mejias-Brean was asked at the Logan event if he will play third or first.
“I’m just here to play. I really don’t know the timeline,” he said. “I’m just getting ready for spring training. Hopefully, I can be utilized more at third base which is my main position. I’m going to work hard and see where it goes.”
Graupe talked about the state of the Reds’ minor league system.
“Our of the strengths is our starting pitching led by Robert Stevenson which is a name that a lot of people have gotten to know,” he said. “We have some good players. Every year in the draft we always look for good people up the middle. I feel like we are much deeper in the minor leagues than we have been over the last couple of years. We’re going in the right direction.”
The Reds suffered some injuries last year but are looking to get fully healthy by Opening Day, Price said.
“We finished the year with Ryan Ludwick playing in left field,” Price said. “He was healthy but not in mid-season form. Physically, he’s great. We just had a strength and conditioning coach down in the Dominican (Republic) checking on Johnny Cueto. He checked out really good. We also saw Chapman in south Florida and he’s looking good. (Johnathan) Broxton and (Sean) Marshall should also be back at full speed. Broxton did have some issues with the interior side of his elbow that has not fully recovered but his surgery was good and he should be ready by at least the middle of April.”
Price said Chapman will most likely stay in the Cincy bullpen.
“It’s a common question but it’s one of those polarizing questions. I’m on the flip-side as far as how to use him,” Price said. “He was a young left-handed pitcher with a starter’s background in Cuba and started in Triple-A and in 2010 in the minors when we first signed him. But then we put him back in the bullpen for us and did a nice job. We just felt that we were in need of a left-hander for short relief. Inevitably that transitioned into a closer’s role. After one more year of seeing him evolve into the type of pitcher that can really shut down a game in the ninth inning and getting to know his temperament and makeup and where he is best suited, my feeling is that he settles a lot better in the bullpen.
“To have him throw 6-8 innings every fifth day … we know that he can do it but we also know that he can close. I think that you’ll see him throw more in 2014.”
As far as the NL Central race in concerned, Price said he thinks the Milwaukee Brewers have improved.
“Certainly Milwaukee has enhanced their ballclub,” Price said. “They just signed Garza. They are a club with Braun coming back and if they are healthy they will be like us they will be a better club. They have a chance to rebound where they have been the last couple of years. In 2011, they had a heck of a club. I really don’t know if any of the teams are that much better if they can stay healthy. If we stay healthy I think we could be the best club.”
Over the last few years, the Cincinnati Reds have hosted Logan, West Virginia Day. They will do so again this summer with the Aug. 10 game at Great American Ballpark against the Miami Marlins. The group Mercy Me will also perform that night after the game. It will also be Faith Night at the ballyard.
Tickets for the game can be purchased at the Reds website or through the Logan Chamber of Commerce.
The Reds’ pitchers and catchers are to report to spring training Feb. 14 at their winter camp in Goodyear, Ariz. The full squad is to report on Feb. 19.
Cincy’s first Cactus League game is Feb. 26 against the in-state Cleveland Indians. It’s the first of a three-game set.
The regular season opener is March 31 at home against the NL champion St. Louis Cardinals, who lost to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series last year. It’s the first of a three-game set with the Cardinals. Game 2 is April 2nd with the final game of the series set for April 3.
The Reds will have interleague series with the world champion Red Sox, May 6-7 at Boston and Aug. 12-13 at home.
Cincinnati will also host the Tampa Bay Rays of the American League April 11-13, the AL’s Toronto Blue Jays June 20-22 and the rival Indians Aug. 6-7. The Reds will also play at Cleveland Aug. 4-5, go to New York to face the Yankees on July 18-20 and to later on to Baltimore Sept. 2-4 to face the Orioles of the American League.
The Cincinnati Reds Caravan began this week at Great American Ballpark and split into four tours. A total of 17 stops in five states were planned with additional stops in Evansville, Ind., and Nashville, Tenn.
The stop through Logan was the East tour, which was to snake its way through Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee.
After the short visit at Logan, the tour was headed to Charleston on Friday night.
“As our fan base continues to grow, we are expanding the Caravan to visit every corner of Reds Country,” said Phil Castellini, Reds Chief Operating Officer. “Our player, coaches, broadcasters and Reds personnel look forward to these four days every year as our official kick off to the new season of Reds baseball. It’s amazing to experience the welcome we receive from our loyal fans at every stop along the way.”