Monday, February 18, 2002

SULLIVAN: Reds camp

Plight of longshots all in stall

By Tim Sullivan
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SARASOTA, Fla. — The Cincinnati Reds' caste system is a casters system. Established players get permanent lockers for spring training. Star players sometimes get two. Non-roster invitees are usually assigned to rollaway dressing stalls that can disappear as quickly as a dream. Unofficially, this shiftable space is known in the Reds' clubhouse as “Survivor Island.” For most, the chance of escape is virtually non-existent.

        “Nothing's impossible,” Trever Miller said Sunday afternoon. “Obviously, I'm going to have to do really well in camp and other people are going to have to underachieve.”

        Miller is one of 37 pitchers who will be evaluated this spring by the pitching-poor Reds, a casting call as wide and urgent as was Hollywood's search for Scarlett O'Hara.

        But while the home team is hard-pressed for adequate arms, the pecking order is plain. Though he has pitched in 105 big-league ballgames, Trever Miller's slim prospects are underscored by the wheels beneath his locker and the unpromising jersey No.83.

        If he gets into a game, it is likely to be a cameo appearance rather than an authentic audition. Baseball is a bottom-line business, and roster size remains inelastic.

        “I'm from Alabama, and we don't do math,” reliever Scott Sullivan said. “But if there are eight spots (committed), that means there are 29 guys competing for two spots. The law of averages says somebody's going to be left out.”

        The law of diminishing returns says 37 pitchers are too many; that each inning a fringe pitcher works in spring training is one inning less that's available to the bona-fide big-leaguers. But as ballplayers have gained more leverage in collective bargaining, a spring training invitation has ceased to be seen as a privilege and become a bargaining chip.

        Of the 37 pitchers who will participate in the Reds' camp, 19 are non-roster invitees. Some of them accepted less money from the Reds than they might have made with another organization for the guarantee of a shot at spring training.

        This helps explain why the cost-conscious Reds annually stage one of baseball's largest camps. The expense of bringing an extra player to camp is negligible — roughly $90 per day in per diem — and the potential returns are enormous. One overlooked diamond can justify a lot of digging.

        “We're always looking for the guy who no one expected to be here,” Reds pitching coach Don Gullett said.

        Danger develops if you spend so much time studying third-tier talent that you neglect the core of your ballclub. Reds general manager Jim Bowden thinks the ideal spring training camp would consist of between 48 and 52 players. Because the Reds will ultimately have 70 players in Sarasota, workouts might be a little unwieldy.

        For those players on the fringe, workouts may have to serve as a surrogate for games.

        “There's a lot more pressure,” Trever Miller said of Cincinnati's cattle call. “Every outing is going to be very important. If you struggle one time, you're probably going to be put at the back.“

        If you struggle twice, you had better keep an eye on your locker.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456 or e-mail:


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