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Dragons 2011 Preview: The Bullpen

March 31, 2011
Breaking Down the 2011 Bullpen

Part 8 of 8 in the Dragons 2011 Positional Preview

Today we look at the relief pitchers.

Hands on deck: Blaine Howell, Drew Hayes, Pat Doyle, Tim Crabbe, Daniel Wolford, Jamie Walczak, Jason Braun, Porfirio Martinez.

When new Dragons manager Delino DeShields was in Dayton in February, he commented that one of the strengths of his Billings team in 2010 was the bullpen. That could be good news for Dragons fans since almost everyone from that Billings bullpen will be in Dayton in 2011.

The Dragons found out just how important the bullpen is to the overall success of the team in 2010. After the promotions of Donnie Joseph and Chase Ware to Lynchburg late in the first half, the Dragons were left without a dependable closer, and that absence cost the club mightily as they endured 26 blown saves over the course of the season. The arrival of Doug Salinas in the closer role late in the year stabilized the entire ballclub, and after Salinas left for Lynchburg, Blaine Howell came up from Billings and provided a solid effort as the Dragons began turning late-inning leads into victories, something they had not been able to do up to that point. If DeShields' bullpen group from Billings can do the job in Dayton in 2011, the club will be substantially improved based on that progression alone.

Seven of the names from the following group should make their way to Dayton for opening day:

Blaine Howell is a left-hander with an interesting background. He was drafted and signed by the Reds in 2008 out of Pensacola Junior College. Howell is a native of North Carolina who started his college career at Brigham Young, but after the death of his father, he transferred back east to be closer to home. Howell had begun a Mormon mission while at BYU and after the 2008 baseball season ended, he resumed the mission. His commitment caused him to miss the entire 2009 season and spring training in 2010. Once he got back on the mound last summer, he was impressive. With a fastball over 90 m.p.h., Howell appeared in nine games with Billings and posted a 1.53 ERA. He was promoted to Dayton and went five-for-five in save situations, posting a 2.08 ERA in 13 games. Overall in 2010, Howell appeared in 22 games totaling 35 innings. He allowed just 26 hits and 10 walks with 28 strikeouts, finishing with an ERA of 1.80. He impressed Dragons pitching coach Tony Fossas, who believes that Howell can eventually pitch in the big leagues.

Drew Hayes was drafted by the Reds in the 11th round in 2010 out of Vanderbilt University. As a high school senior, Hayes hit the daily double. In the fall of 2005, he was named Tennessee's Mr. Football when he set the state record in passing yardage. In the spring of 2006, he was honored as the state's player of the year in baseball when he led his team to a state championship. Last spring at Vanderbilt, Hayes went 6-0 with a 3.91 ERA in 24 games. After signing with the Reds, he appeared in 14 games out of the Billings bullpen and pitched very well. His ERA going into his final game was 1.35. He had one bad inning, allowing as many runs in that single frame as he had all season to that point, and finished with a 2.42 ERA. Still, Hayes allowed just 13 hits in 22.1 innings while striking out 25. Some observers felt that Hayes was a bit worn down late last summer, as is often the case with college draftees in their first year, and that he will throw even better in 2011. If that is the case, the sky is the limit.

Pat Doyle was the Reds 24th round draft pick in 2010 out of Missouri State University, where he had once been a teammate of former Dragons pitcher Scott Carroll. Doyle also pitched out of the Billings bullpen last summer and his numbers were solid. He went 4-0 with a 2.84 ERA in 18 games. He struck out 39 batters and walked only nine in 31.2 innings.

Tim Crabbe was the Reds 14th round draft pick in 2009 out of Westmont College in California. Crabbe spent much of last season in the Dragons starting rotation and at times, was very good. Other times, he struggled to throw strikes, finishing the year with 55 walks in 82.1 innings. His final record was 3-7 with a 4.26 ERA. The Reds hope Crabbe can build on the things he did well in 2010. His fastball at times clocked in at 93-95 miles per hour. A move to the bullpen in 2011 could lead to big things for Crabbe.

Daniel Wolford was a 14th round draft pick by the Reds in 2010 out of the University of California-Berkeley. Wolford had not enjoyed a lot of success with the Golden Bears, posting a 6.64 ERA over a three-year career, but the Reds really liked his arm and potential. When Wolford got to Billings, he showed some cause for optimism. Over his first eight professional outings, all in relief, he allowed just four earned runs, posting a 2.04 ERA. He had a couple of rough outings late in the season and finished with a 2-2 record and a 4.85 ERA. Some pitching coaches say that the best measure of a pitcher's overall stuff in rookie ball is his strikeout total, and Wolford notched 42 strikeouts in just 29.2 innings. He will get an opportunity to continue to progress in 2011.

Jamie Walczak was an all-conference outfielder at Mercyhurst College who impressed the Reds as a pitcher at a try-out, prompting Cincinnati to draft Walczak in the 15th round in 2009 despite very little experience on the mound. Walczak certainly shows potential, consistently topping 90 mph with his fastball and showing excellent movement. He struggled with consistency with the Dragons in 2010, appearing in 18 games and posting a 1-3 record with a 6.14 ERA. Some feel that Walczak is a sleeping giant as a prospect who could put things together in a hurry with more experience. He is battling for a spot in the Dayton bullpen for 2011.

Jason Braun was selected by the Reds in the 29th round in 2009 out of Corban College in Oregon. Braun, who could earn the "nice guy" award on any team he plays for, joined the Dragons part-way through the 2010 season and appeared in 35 games out of the bullpen, going 2-2 with a 5.26 ERA. Braun showed signs of brilliance with the Dragons last season but would follow two excellent outings with a poor one. He hopes the extra year of experience will lead to more consistency in 2011.

Porfirio Martinez was signed by the Reds as an international free agent as a 17 year old in 2007. Martinez turned the corner in 2010 at Billings, posting a 1.67 ERA in 20 games out of the bullpen to go along with a 3-2 record. He struck out 29 batters in 27 innings. He throws hard and is in contention for a roster spot for the Dragons.