Cincinnati Reds Sign Nate Jones, Plus a Bullpen Preview
Sep 14, 2018; Baltimore, MD, USA; Chicago White Sox pitcher Nate Jones (65) throws a pitch in the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
The Cincinnati Reds announced Wednesday that right-handed pitcher Nate Jones has signed with the team on a minor-league deal.
Jones, who has pitched for the Chicago White Sox for the last eight seasons, had a 3.48 earned run average in 13 games in 2019. The 34-year-old had right forearm surgery last May that ended his season early.
Looking prior to 2019, Jones appeared in 33 games in 2018 and pitched to an exact 3.00 ERA, but allowed 28 hits in 30 innings pitched. Jones last pitched more than 30 innings in 2016, where the righty faced 274 batters, struck out 80 of them and allowed just 48 to get a hit.
This signing brings something that the current players within the Cincinnati bullpen are accumulating: experience. Although Jones does not have any playoff pitching experience, he and the Reds may find themselves in the conversation come October.
He will have to prove that he can perform, first. So, which Cincinnati relievers do not have a non-guaranteed deal like this? Let’s take a look.
Prior to their departures, right-hander Jared Hughes and David Hernandez were staples in the bullpen. That duo carried a heavy load of relief just two seasons ago, shining while doing so as they threw a combined 142.2 innings and struck out a total of 124 batters.
With those two veterans no longer on the roster, other Reds relievers will be expected to step up.
Raisel Iglesias is one of those relievers who will be looked upon to have a much better 2020 season. Do not let his unappealing 3-12 record turn you away. Iglesias still whiffed 89 batters in his 67 innings of work. 19.6 percent of the hits he allowed were home runs, but Major League Baseball saw increased home run rates throughout the league.
Michael Lorenzen will be a beneficiary of an expanded role within the bullpen, even though he may not see time exclusively on the mound. Lorenzen boded a 156 ERA+ (which means he was 56 percent better than league average) and had 85 strikeouts and just 28 walks in 83.1 innings last season. His bat is his intriguing skill, leading to manager David Bell giving him time in the outfield and to showcase an impressive glove.
Offering an alternative, the left-handed Amir Garrett impresses with both his skillful pitching and his loyalty to his teammates. Garrett sat down 78 batters in 56 inning pitcher with a 3.21 ERA, although he issued 35 free passes as well. He should surpass 200 career innings pitched in 2020, and it will be interesting to see if the three-batter minimum rule will have an effect on when Garrett comes in to pitch.
Robert Stephenson has taken his opportunity to earn very strong consideration to be a reliable option in the pen. Still just 27 years old and drafted nearly a decade ago, Stephenson struggled in 2018 but bounced back the following season as he showed he can be a middle-relief option. He finished 16 games last season and had an 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings.
In terms of new faces, 24-year-old Joel Kuhnel rose through Cincinnati’s minor league system and made his MLB debut in August. Righties Tejay Antone and Ryan Hendrix were added to the 40-man roster recently, and they both rank as the 29th and 27th best Reds prospects, respectively, according to MLB Pipeline. 2019 first-round pick Nick Lodolo could also see time on the big-league team if he has yet to allow a walk in his professional career that spans 18.1 innings.
Major League Baseball has expanded roster size from 25 to 26 for the upcoming season, but will also limit the amount of pitchers teams can carry. The Cincinnati Reds have taken steps toward improving their roster with playoff aspirations, and their bullpen will be an important factor in determining how far — and successful — their season will be.