- The Reds have released third baseman Taylor Sparks, according to Roster Roundup (Twitter link). Sparks was a second-round draft pick for Cincinnati in 2014, selected 58th overall out of UC Irvine. Heralded for his speed, athleticism, and third base glovework, Sparks didn’t generate consistent results at the plate over six seasons in the Reds’ farm system, with just a .217/.291/.389 slash line over 1940 career plate appearances in the minors.
- Lefty Zach Duke was placed on the injured list by the Reds due to a calf strain earlier today. Cincinnati will operate with a slightly shorter ’pen for at least a day or two, as they recalled infielder Josh VanMeter in his place. The Reds still have a pair of lefties in the bullpen in Amir Garrett and Wandy Peralta. For Duke, who inked a one-year deal worth $2MM this offseason, the trip to the IL could give him an opportunity for a mental breather on the heels of an ugly start to the year. Through 15 2/3 innings, the 36-year-old Duke has a 6.32 ERA with more walks (11) than strikeouts (9). Duke’s ground-ball rate, which sat at a hefty 59.4 percent in 2018, is down to 49 percent to begin the year.
The Mariners are “expected” to secure a deal with righty Anthony Bass, according to Jeff Passan of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The 31-year-old had been pitching in the Reds organization but is said to have triggered an opt-out clause.
Bass has seen sporadic MLB action in parts of seven seasons, compiling a 4.51 ERA in 299 1/3 total frames. He performed well last year in a 16-appearance stint with the Cubs but settled for a minors deal with the Reds.
After failing to win a MLB job in camp, Bass ended up at Triple-A Louisville to open the current campaign. Through 20 1/3 innings, he owns a 2.21 ERA with 19 strikeouts against six walks and 13 hits.
Whether the Mariners will bring Bass onto the MLB roster as part of the arrangement isn’t yet clear. Regardless, he seems well positioned to get a shot with a bullpen that has already hosted quite a few different hurlers at this early stage of the season.
Reds infielder Jose Iglesias has hired MVP Sports Group to represent him moving forward, per Mark Feinsand of MLB.com (Twitter link). He’d been represented by Magnus Sports since 2017 and was with the Boras Corporation prior to that.
Iglesias, 29, settled for a minor league contract this winter that already looks to have been a substantial bargain for Cincinnati. Through 153 plate appearances, Iglesias is hitting .295/.327/.425 with three homers, eight doubles, a triple and a stolen base. His glovework at shortstop has aligned with his terrific reputation, as Defensive Runs Saved already pegs him at +8 and he’s carrying a +2.5 Ultimate Zone Rating. As always, he’s proved to be a tough strikeout, punching out in only 13.7 percent of his plate appearances.
Iglesias will have another crack at the open market this coming offseason, assuming he doesn’t sign a longer-term pact with the Reds. Given his steady defense at shortstop, his age (29) and a respectable season at the plate in 2018 (.269/.310/.389), it was a surprise to see Iglesias take a minor league deal on a team that lacked a clear path to regular at-bats (although Scooter Gennett’s injury ultimately created that path). He’ll hope for a better outcome the next time around, and he’s off to a good start at ensuring that happens with his play so far.
- Reds outfielder Yasiel Puig is hoping to avoid an IL stint after suffering a sprained right shoulder Sunday, Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes. Puig incurred the injury against his former team, the Dodgers, on a leaping catch, though he doesn’t think it’ll lead to an absence from Cincinnati’s lineup. Regardless, Puig’s off to a rocky start in his first season outside of Los Angeles, having hit .206/.253/.358 (58 wRC+) in 178 plate appearances.
Right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne has opted out of his minor league contract with the Reds, MLBTR has learned. Despaigne inked the deal back in January, and would’ve earned $875K in guaranteed money had he reached Cincinnati’s Major League roster.
Over eight starts and 41 1/3 innings for Triple-A Louisville this season, Despaigne had posted a 3.92 ERA, 8.7 K/9, and 2.50 K/BB rate. Those numbers present a solid recovery from a very rough 2018 season that saw Despaigne post a 6.69 ERA over 39 frames for the Marlins and Angels, plus more shaky numbers in those two clubs’ respective farm systems.
Despaigne’s Louisville performance would surely have earned him a call-up in any other season in recent Reds history, though Cincinnati looks to finally be on track after years of pitching futility. Both the Reds’ rotation and bullpen rank solidly within the top ten in several league-wide statistical categories, leaving less opportunity for Despaigne to crack the roster. On the plus side, the 32-year-old probably shouldn’t have much trouble landing a contract elsewhere, given Despaigne’s good Triple-A numbers and the number of pitching-needy teams who can offer a clearer path to the Majors.
- The progress has been steady for Reds second baseman Scooter Gennett, as MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon reports. He’s still at least a week or two away from on-field activities; there’s good reason not to rush his return from a significant groin strain. Gennett indicates that he’s doing well with walking and jogging, but feels weakness and is still avoiding quick directional changes to avoid aggravating the injury.
SUNDAY: Cincinnati has announced VanMeter’s promotion. The club made room for him by optioning lefty Cody Reed.
VanMeter has made a case for a call-up by serving as one of the minors’ best hitters and the International League leader in OPS early this season. Thus far, the 24-year-old has slashed a remarkable .346/.432/.757 (191 wRC+) with 13 home runs, five stolen bases and 15 walks against 23 strikeouts in 126 plate appearances. The lefty-swinging VanMeter was also effective in his first Triple-A exposure last year, albeit with numbers that pale in comparison to this season’s eye-popping output, as he hit .253/.309/.464 (114 wRC+) with 11 homers and five steals across 362 PA.
Despite his excellence in 2019, no outlet ranks VanMeter among the Reds’ top farmhands. Back in January 2018, FanGraphs prospect guru Eric Longenhagen wrote that emerging as a versatile bench piece may be VanMeter’s “absolute ceiling” in the majors. VanMeter has played first, second and third this year alone, and has also garnered significant experience at shortstop and in the outfield since the Padres chose him in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. He later joined the Reds in a December 2016 trade for catcher Luis Torrens, who debuted in the majors in 2017 but is currently in Double-A.
Per a team release, the Reds have optioned OF Scott Schebler to Triple-A Louisville.
Schebler, 28, was recalled from Louisville in June 0f 2016 and had returned for just a single rehab assignment since. In north of 1,240 plate appearances over that span, the lefty’d put together a solid .248/.323/.457 (103 wRC+) line for the Reds with adequate defense at all three outfield spots. Even after the offseason acquisitions of Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig, and the eventual promotion of IF/OF Nick Senzel, Schebler figured to be in line for at least semi-regular playing time across the grass.
Despite a career-best 14.7% walk rate, though, the slugging lefty – who bashed 30 homers for Cincy in 2017 – was off to the worst start of his career, slashing .123/.253/.222 over the season’s first 95 plate appearances. A comically low .154 BABIP may be to blame, but his hard-hit rate had cratered to a career-worst 27.8%, and Schebler was striking out more than ever before.
He’ll try to right the ship with the Bats of Triple-A Louisville, but even a turnaround won’t guarantee a return to regular at-bats – Senzel will look to lock down center, Jesse Winker has again been solid in left, and the club has every intention of sending Puig out to right field on a daily basis.
Per a team release, the Reds have released outfielder Matt Kemp, who’d been nursing a broken rib on the 10-Day IL.
Kemp, 34, was off to a dreadful .200/.210/.283 start in 62 plate appearances after an offensive rebound in 2018. Acquired in December from Los Angeles with Alex Wood and Yasiel Puig, the three-time all-star figured to be the chief platoon option for either Jesse Winker or Scott Schebler in left field, with occasional spot starts against righties mixed in. The team’s promotion of Nick Senzel, coupled with the slow offensive start across the board, has ostensibly kindled an urgent spark within the win-now organization.
Playing in the last year of an 8-year, $160MM extension signed prior to the 2012 season, a contract that’s seen Kemp shipped across the country, back, and back again, the 2011 NL MVP runner-up has mostly disappointed in his stops after a 2015 trade to San Diego. The move, one of the most lopsided of the decade, sent the then-30-year-old, along with the bulk of his behemoth salary, south to San Diego in exchange for four discounted years of Yasmani Grandal and eventual big-leaguer Zach Eflin. Warning signs were already flashing – Kemp’s defense in the few years prior had been horrific, and the slugger had already been dealing with nagging injuries to his ankle and shoulder.
He predictably cratered in San Diego, who quickly severed ties in a bad-contract swap with Atlanta for the rights to Cuban Hector Olivera, an infielder who’d never suit up for the team. Kemp didn’t fare much better in Georgia – another salary swap after ’17 sent him back to Los Angeles, where he made what may well be his final encore performance, slashing an excellent .290/.338/.481 (122 wRC+) in 506 plate appearances for LA.
The 34-year-old will almost certainly catch on with another club – Cleveland, again, may be among his most impassioned suitors – but a couple more months like this, and the 13-year-vet’s career could be in serious jeopardy.