Winker, Stephenson among eight players moved

Winker, Stephenson among eight players moved

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The latest wave of Reds Spring Training cuts that sent out eight players didn't just feature their top two prospects in outfielder Jesse Winker and starting pitcher Robert Stephenson -- it also provided more clarity to some of the battles for open spots.

There are now 44 players left in camp. Of course, the roster needs to be at 25 players before Opening Day vs. the Phillies on April 4. Winker was re-assigned to Minor League camp, along with relievers Zack Weiss and Timothy Adleman and catcher Joe Hudson. Stephenson was optioned to Triple-A Louisville with pitcher Stephen Johnson and outfielder Kyle Waldrop.

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Left-handed pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, signed as a free agent to a Minor League deal shortly before Spring Training, was released.

Winker, 22, was 5-for-15 (.333) in seven games. The No. 1 prospect in the organization, according to MLBPipeline.com, has been dealing with a left hip flexor strain after an outfield collision last week. Winker came to camp hoping to compete for the vacancy in left field, but he was viewed as a long shot behind more experienced players like Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Yorman Rodriguez. Tyler Holt and Rule 5 pick Jake Cave are also in the mix.

Most likely, Winker will begin the 2016 season in Louisville.

"He was better than the league [at Double-A] in the second half, where he struggled in the first half," Reds manager Bryan Price said.

Stephenson, ranked as the No. 2 prospect, pitched well in his first two starts but was not as sharp in his last one. On Thursday vs. the Indians, he allowed six runs (five earned) and six hits over 2 1/3 innings.

For Stephenson to get on the short list of candidates for a promotion during the season, Price would like to see him demonstrate better fastball command.

"The games that were the most impressive -- against Cleveland in the 'B' game and the game against the Cubs in Mesa --- was the fact he was able to command the fastball down in the zone," Price said. "[Thursday] it was back up a bit, and he paid the price. He's got three above-average Major League pitches. The command of those three pitches will dictate when he gets to the big leagues.

"I'd be really disappointed if I didn't see him back here this year, not just as a September callup. It could be as a relief pitcher or as a starter, it wouldn't matter. Wherever he fits in best … he's got to be better than the league. It can't just be about potential. It has to be about how he plays."

The rotation locks are Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias and Alfredo Simon -- with the chances looking quite good for Brandon Finnegan and Jon Moscot. No. 3 prospect Cody Reed is still on the spring roster, battling for a spot either in the rotation or bullpen.

It appears that the Reds will carry seven relievers, with J.J. Hoover still the only lock. Price has been impressed with lefty Tony Cingrani and righty Dayan Diaz. Right-hander Layne Somsen has looked good and Jumbo Diaz pitched two scoreless innings on Thursday after a slow start to camp. Caleb Cotham worked two scoreless innings with four strikeouts on Wednesday. Pedro Villarreal has allowed one run in five appearances.

"There are some guys starting to settle in and elevate themselves out of the pack," Price said. "If you get off to a slow start, then all of a sudden there is more pressure to perform on the back end of Spring Training.

"There's a lot of guys that are really on the fence right now, because their performance hasn't been great. Without a period of Major League success to fall back on, it really does come down to how they compete here, and how we can visualize them pitching in the big leagues."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.