"I'm impressed with his stuff," said Paul Bako, who caught Cueto on Friday and the right-hander's previous relief outing on Sunday. "I'm also impressed with his command and how effortless his delivery seems and how consistent it is. It appears he's never really out of control out there, which is pretty rare for a guy his age with as good of stuff as he has."Combined at Class A Sarasota, Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville in 2007, Cueto was 12-9 with a 3.07 ERA. In 161 1/3 innings, he struck out 170 batters compared to 34 walks. The Reds have several pitchers competing to fill the back three spots in the rotation this spring. Because he had logged just four Triple-A starts, indications before camp were that Cueto had an outside chance against the likes of Bailey, Matt Belisle, Jeremy Affeldt and Edinson Volquez. The odds appeared even longer once Josh Fogg signed as a free agent late last month. Not too long, perhaps. "I've seen a number of pitchers come through Double-A and spend very little time at Triple-A," Baker said. "Talking to a lot of scouts, they said Double-A might be a better competitive league than Triple-A. And he throws strikes. If you throw strikes with good stuff and if you can get your off-speed stuff over, you have a chance to win. Every time he gets hit a little bit, he's got another gear." Baker's first impression of Cueto in game action came against the Blue Jays on Sunday. The pitcher was hampered by the flu, but worked two perfect innings seemingly effortlessly. "He could have been skipped and didn't want to skip," Baker said. "I like that. He comes to play. It also means he wants to try and make this team. You can't make it on the bench or training room. I like the young man. He's quiet. He goes about his business. You can tell he's in real good company here. He's already around [closer Francisco] Cordero and Mario Soto." Generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, Cueto walks taller with confidence. He knows he'll be in the big leagues -- sooner than later. He firmly believes he has a good chance to go north with the Reds when camp breaks at the end of the month. "That's why we're here," Cueto said.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.