Kevin Towers was at it again on Tuesday as he shipped third base prospect Ryan Wheeler to the Colorado Rockies for reliever Matt Reynolds. While I was really hoping Wheeler would win the third base job this spring, it looks like this move sends a message to the team. Chris Johnson’s starting role will be his to lose in 2013 and Towers identified a weakness in the D’backs bullpen by acquiring a left-handed reliever- something the club previously didn’t have.
The 24 year old Wheeler was called up July 20th last season and remained with the club for the remainder of the season playing in 50 games. It appeared at the time of Wheeler’s call-up that we were going to see what the club’s fifth round draft pick in 2009 could do as an everyday player. However, just nine days after Wheeler’s call-up, Towers acquired third baseman Chris Johnson from the Astros and Wheeler’s playing time was diminished to that of a platoon player.
Generally, the rookie would start one or two games a week and pinch hit in late innings, never really taking off like he had in AAA Reno. After driving in 90 runs in 93 games and batting .351 with an on base percentage of .388 with the Reno Aces, Wheeler hit .239 with an OBP of .294 in 109 at bats at the big league level. Still, Wheeler has had an above average minor league career and showed a heck of a lot of promise for the D’backs organization. In his first season with the organization (2009) he was named position player of the year for the D’backs. He was named a Double-A all-star in 2011 as well as appearing in the Rising Stars game in the Arizona Fall League on the heels of his AA Mobile season. In 2012, before his call-up, Wheeler was again named a mid season all-star, this time at the AAA Reno level.
In adding a left-handed reliever to the bullpen, Towers completed yet another off season goal as the club was stuck with (insert expletive) Mike Zagurski as their lone lefty for most of 2012 and needed an upgrade. Reynolds finished 2012 with an ERA of 4.40, throwing 57 1/3 innings. It was the second straight year the 28 year old appeared in 70+ games and threw 50+ innings, tying him for the third most innings pitched by a left-handed reliever over the last two seasons. He’s not an overpowering lefty averaging right around the 90 mph mark with his fastball and big sweeping curveball that averages right around 80mph. For his career the 6’ 5” Tennessee native has averaged 8.4 K/9 innings.
When you look at Reynolds’ overall stats you won’t be impressed. His career ERA as a reliever sits a hair under 4 at 3.93. In 2012 he surrendered an average of 10.2 hits per 9 innings as well suggesting he struggles at times. He really struggled in the second half of 2012 posting a hideous 6.30 ERA and a 1.75 WHIP. Worth mentioning obviously is that he has played all three of his big league seasons at Coors Field which has seen inflated numbers historically. His home ERA this past season sat at 4.71 with his road ERA nearly a full run lower at 3.86. The young lefty has promise though and a change of scenery can do wonders for a player- see Aaron Hill.
The move by Towers seems to be similar to last off seasons move to ship unproven prospect Jarrod Parker to the Athletics in order to acquire a proven ‘innings eater’ in 24 year old Trevor Cahill. Both Parker and Wheeler had brilliant minor league careers but lacked the big league experience that Towers wants to ‘win now.’ Hopefully in Reynolds’ third full season- and first away from Coors Field- we will see an uptick in his performance and be the lefty reliever the club was searching for.
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