by Matthias Ondracek
German reporter Matthias Ondracek recently spent a couple of weeks in Arizona for Major League Spring Training. Besides doing a couple of stories about Major League Baseball and German Minor Leaguer Donald Lutz, he also had the opportunity to do an interview with Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price. The 2015 season in the MLB is about to start. Let’s take a look ahead.
How happy are you with Spring Training?
Bryan Price: I’m very happy with our camp. Most important is, that we’re getting the reputations in that we need in all areas of our game. When you have a losing record you tend to hyperfocus on areas of the game where you didn’t excel. So it’s been a great camp. For the most part we stayed healthy and I’m looking forward to a great season.
You had a pretty tough first year as a manager last season. A lot of injuries, a lot things went against you. What makes you optimistic about this year?
Price: I think the first thing is, injuries can come in clusters. Last year was our year, where we were just being decimated by injuries. As were other teams and it really affected the outcome of their season. I’m optimistic, because I know we got a good team when we are healthy. I also know that we have more depth in the organization. We gonna have a better AAA team and better AAA prospects. In the second half of the last year we were pouring our players up from AA. As Donald Lutz, Daniel Corcino, Carlos Contreras, Yorman Rodriguez, all these guys came from AA to the big leagues, not from AAA. So our depth in AAA is gonna help us.
You brought a lot of players into Spring Training…
Price: …yes. We had a fair bit. The thing is – especially with pitching – nobody is stretched out, your starters aren’t going seven innings or more. They are going four or five innings. So you need the relief pitchers, you need the catchers to help out in the bullpen and things of that nature. We also wanted to get familiar with our players that could be considered bench players. As a bench player you have to be conditioned to come in and produce. And that’s something you have to learn. That’s very challenging. But Spring Training is not a bad place to start.
People talk about the NL Central being the best division in baseball. Who do you think is your main rival?
Price: I think everyone in the division feels like they have a chance to win the division. I think the Cubs have made the biggest changes. They have got some really young, top prospect players. Kris Bryant, their Third Baseman, has swung the bat really well in Cactus League. As well as all the young guys, Jorge Soler and some of the kids they brought up last year. They have improved their pitching staff in signing Jon Lester. So probably for the first time in the last few years, the Cubs are really excited.
The Cardinals have been kind of the class of the division, along with us and Pittsburgh over the last five years. And Milwaukee just fell out of it late last year. They have been pretty much towards the top of the division all year. So there is five teams right there, that all feel, they have a shot to win the division or make a wildcard run. And it’s exciting, it’s nice to be in a competitive division and right now we are not picked to finish in the top three, but we’ll see what happens.
— Matthias Ondracek (@TheOndracek) March 7, 2015
You send Donald Lutz down to AAA late in spring. Where do you see him at this point?
Price: Well. One thing with Donald is, we twice brought him up and had him come in as a bench player. And he had been an every day player in the Minor Leagues. It’s a very challenging role to fill as a young player. Come up and being used to play every day and then instead be asked to come in and pinch hit against the closer or one of the better relief pitchers on the opposing team. That’s not easy for anybody, but in particular for a young Minor League player. And we’ve done that the last two years and we’ve kind of deprived him somewhat of playing regularly. He was hitting .360 in AA when we called him up, but he didn’t play very much. To his credit, he keeps going down to Mexico and getting more at bats down there. And that’s a testament of tribute to his commitment of being great at this game.
I think he is a very athletic kid and a kid that has a chance to be very, very good. He certainly needs the experience, he certainly needs the at bats, but he plays hard, he plays hungry and we’re really excited to have him and what his future might entail for us.
What do you expect out of him?
Price: He could very easily be an everyday corner Outfielder. For many reasons. Number one, he plays the defensive position very well, he’s an excellent baserunner, he’s got a lot of power. And he’s relatively new to the game. He isn’t a kid that started like most kids at eight years old. He picked the game up late in his life. So some of the things that are more natural to players that started much earlier than Donald are coming later to him. However, he is learning and he is getting better. And I though last year hitting .360 in AA was a real testament of what type of hitter he can be. I’d like to see him play everyday. And maybe he has to play everyday in AAA and be the best hitter down there before he gets a chance to play everyday here for us. I think he has a chance to be a very good baseball player at the major league level.
So you definitely think he has a chance to make the team for a longterm?
Price: Oh yes. No doubt. I think he can. Now he’s gotta hit AAA pitching and he’s gotta show consistency. I think the hardest thing to do is the transition from being an everyday player in the Minor Leagues to an everyday player in the Major Leagues. And if that opportunity isn’t there, that makes it difficult. The other thing is, with the injuries we had last year, if he is really swinging the bat well in AAA gives him an opportunity to come up and be an everyday player. If somebody is there in an injury situation. And that is an opportunity I’d like him to get. Now I certainly don’t want anybody to get hurt, but I’d like to see him get a chance to play everyday at the big league level and valuate him that way.