Garrett confident he'll earn spot in rotation

Reds' young prospect eager to find role on mound in 2017

Garrett confident he'll earn spot in rotation

With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Reds squad each day this week. Today's topic: Who might surprise?

CINCINNATI -- When he played college basketball, Reds pitcher Amir Garrett didn't experience a March Madness of the NCAA Tournament in his two seasons with St. John's. Soon, Garrett will experience the baseball version of March Madness -- the battle for a roster spot and a place in the big league rotation.

Garrett is the Reds' top pitching prospect, No. 2 in the organization and No. 66 overall, according to MLBPipeline.com. But it would be a bit of a surprise if the left-hander emerges as the winner among a deep pool of candidates. He is competing against fellow prospects Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson and Sal Romano, plus Tim Adleman and Bronson Arroyo. Only Garrett and Romano lack any Major League experience from that group.

• Who might surprise for each club in 2017?

However, there is little question that, of that group, Garrett's stuff stands out -- and if anyone might surprise in Spring Training, it's likely to be him.

"I think Amir Garrett has checked off everything on his list," Reds manager Bryan Price said in December. "That's what we felt strongly about with Reed when he started in Triple-A. He went out and was better than the league. He checked off that Triple-A criteria. Is [Garrett] better than the league in Triple-A? Yes. However, I would love to see Reed and Stephenson just show up and look like Major Leaguers.

"I'm looking forward to [Garrett] coming in there and showing confidence on the mound and getting a much larger opportunity in big league camp than he's ever gotten before."

At 24 years old, Garrett has just a half-season of Triple-A experience. He went 2-5 with a 3.46 ERA and 1.167 WHIP in 12 games (11 starts) and 67 2/3 innings for Louisville. That came after he was 5-3 with a 1.75 ERA and 1.026 WHIP in 13 games, including 12 starts over 77 innings for Double-A Pensacola.

Garrett was given a seven-figure bonus when the Reds took a chance on him with their 22nd-round pick in the 2011 Draft. He was still playing basketball at the time and lacked baseball experience. After he focused full-time on baseball in 2014, however, he has moved up through Cincinnati's system quicker than many anticipated.

One reason for the express trajectory is that Garrett commands a fastball that can hit 96 mph, and with his 6-foot-5, 228-pound frame, it jumps on top of hitters quicker.

On the other hand, one reason the organization might slow things down is because of its track record. The club was deliberate about bringing along Reed and Stephenson last year. Part of that was motivated by not starting the free-agent clock too soon, but it was also about protecting them. Both prospects experienced struggles once in the Majors during 2016.

It would seem that Reed or Stephenson might have the inside track heading into camp. Both pitchers, along with Romano and Adleman, would also have a chance to make the team in bullpen roles should they not crack the rotation. Price didn't rule out that possibility for Garrett, but it seemed more likely he would either pitch in the big league rotation or Louisville's.

"I'm coming," Garrett said confidently in December. "They're not going to give it to me, so I'm going to come and take it. That's how it's been my whole career playing baseball. I will have to go in there and show what I've got. And I'm not going to lie down."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. 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.