My hope is that Volquez blazes his way into the #3 spot this spring, and Bailey at least gets himself back on the elite prospect track with a string of solid starts on which to build.
As for Cueto, I'd love to see him in a set-up role coming out of spring training. Save Earl Weaver, you won't find a bigger proponent of breaking in starting pitchers (especially those smallish in build like Cueto) with a bullpen role as you promote them up the ladder. It takes pressure off the young pitcher at time when his psyche is ultra-fragile, eases him into the new level, spares him from a heavy workload that could be too much for his young, still developing arm, and allows the team to benefit by having a fireballer in the pen to upgrade over a lousy veteran patch.
We shall see how this all plays out, but the odds against all three making the team out of spring training are extremely low . . . especially with Dusty Baker as the new sheriff in town.
Yesterday, per Reds beatwriter John Fay, Dusty backed me up:
There's no question that Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez and Homer Bailey have three of the best arms in camp. They're being prepared as starters. So, if they don't make the rotation, do they start the year in the minors?
“Not necessarily," Dusty Baker said. "I come from the Dodger way. With young guys, the next best thing is long relief. It’s in between starting and relieving. It’s probably the less pressure on the staff because most of the time you’re coming in when you’re behind. We did it with Dave Burba in San Francisco, and he ended up winning nine, 10 games.
"Throw up zeros, so the offense can come back. You can’t let add on or trade runs. That’s where that guy is really important. If you’re not going to come back (and win games), you’re not going to win the pennant or the wild card. You need a guy who allows you to come back.”
Nolan Ryan, Johan Santana, Pedro Martinez, Don Gullett and Roy Oswalt are among the dominant starters who began their careers in the bullpen.
"A lot of young guys start out in long relief," Baker said. "If a guy’s not going to start, that’s the next best thing.”
This will make for interesting decisions at the end. The Reds owe Mike Stanton and Todd Coffey a lot of money. They're going to have to pay them regardless of whether they're on the team or not. Sounds like Baker would like to go with 11 or 12 best arms.
Go with the 11 or 12 best arms? The Dodger way? That's what I'm talkin' about, Dusty.
FYI, click here for youtube video of Johnny Cueto's intrasquad performance on 2/26/08.