Amir Garrett isn't your typical rookie. The 6-foot-5 lefty played two years of college basketball at St. John's, where he was a decent player but realized he wasn't going to make the NBA. The Cincinnati Reds drafted Garrett in 2011, he turned full-time to baseball in 2014 and quickly climbed the prospect ranks thanks to a 90-95 fastball and a plus slider. While most teams like to keep their top prospects in the minors to start the season in order to save on service time (see the Cubs and Kris Bryant in 2015), Garrett earned a rotation job out of spring training and he has responded with two excellent starts to begin his major league career.
After six scoreless innings against the Cardinals in his debut, Garrett took a shutout into the seventh inning against the Pirates on Wednesday before David Freese hit a two-run homer. What impressed most were several changeups with some late fade, a pitch that hadn't graded out so well in scouting reports heading into spring training.
Garrett held batters to a .192 average in the minors last season, so he can be tough to hit, but command issues led some to believe he'd eventually end up in the bullpen. If the improvement on the changeup is real, however, he has a chance to develop into a big-time starter. So far, hitters are 0-for-6 in plate appearances ending with the changeup, and he has actually thrown it a few more times than his slider.
The Reds pounded out 15 hits in the 9-2 victory to improve to 7-2. The record is surprising, but this is an important sentiment as well:
Tonight's stars: Amir Garrett and Eugenio Suarez. Both 25 years old.— Redleg Nation (@redlegnation) April 13, 2017
This is why the 2017 Reds are more interesting than recent teams.
Last year's team included vets such as Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, players who contributed to some good Cincinnati teams but weren't going to be around for the next winning Reds team. This team includes a couple of veterans to help patch the rotation together in Scott Feldman and Bronson Arroyo, plus Joey Votto and Zack Cozart, but at least Reds fans can see if Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza can turn into a dynamic speed duo at the top of the order, whether Suarez continues to develop at the plate, and hope the young pitchers like Garrett and Brandon Finnegan establish themselves as rotation anchors.
At least the hockey playoffs are starting: And the Maple Leafs are actually in them! The Blue Jays fell to 1-7 after a 2-0 shutout loss to Chase Anderson and the Brewers. They've scored 23 runs in eight games and are hitting .190, and there are a bunch of other bad stats. But there's some good news for Toronto. Three teams have started 1-7 and made the playoffs: the 1974 Pirates, 1995 Reds and 2011 Rays. Of course, a bunch of other teams that started 1-7 didn't make the playoffs.
I thought we were already 1-7, so I'll take this as half a win.— Isaac (@IB_BlueJays) April 13, 2017
Let's talk about Byron Buxton: The 23-year-old center-fielder for the Minnesota Twins began the season hitting third. That lasted four games, in which Buxton went 1-for-18 with 11 strikeouts. Paul Molitor moved him down to the seventh spot, then eighth. On Wednesday, with Buxton 2-for-29 with 17 strikeouts, Molitor gave him a day off, which certainly seems like a good idea.
I guess what I don't understand is why Molitor wanted to hit him third in the first place. After opening the season with the Twins in 2016, Buxton struggled, was sent down, called back up, struggled again, went back down, then came back up in September and hit .287 with nine home runs, slugging .653 in the process. OK, that's a big month, and he homered off some excellent pitchers -- Jose Quintana, Kelvin Herrera, Danny Salazar, Justin Verlander, Chris Sale. That had to do wonders for Buxton's confidence considering he'd hit .199 with a 35 percent strikeout in his career up to that point.
Still, it was just one month and the kid struck out in 34 percent of his plate appearances. His control of the strike zone was still questionable and that's why I would have started Buxton out lower in the order instead of putting the pressure of hitting third on a young player who was unproven and still had obvious holes in his swing. Anyway, through these first seven games, he has lost all semblance of a good approach. His chase rate is 42 percent, which is Pablo Sandoval-esque. His swing-and-miss rate is 44 percent. Hopefully the day off will clear his mind. But don't turn him into a No. 3 hitter until you know he's ready.
Cubs get their rings: The best part of the ceremony was the Cubs bringing out fans to hand the rings to the players. Alas, there was no Steve Bartman sighting. Retired cult hero-slash-catcher David Ross seemed to receive the biggest ovation. He then threw out the first pitch and sang the seventh-inning stretch.
Quick thoughts: Zach Lee, the former Dodgers prospect, had a 6.14 ERA in the PCL last year. After a trade to Seattle, he went 0-9 for Tacoma. So of course the Padres started him at Coors Field and he pitched 5⅓ scoreless for his first career win. ... Vince Velasquez has great stuff, but command and consistency remains shaky, so while he has 17 strikeouts in nine innings, he has allowed nine runs. He may be a bullpen guy in the long run. ... More disaster for the Mariners, who led the Astros 5-0 before falling apart and dropping to 2-8. ... The Cards beat the Nats 6-1 behind Mike Leake, but I don't get the whole Matt Adams in left field thing. It's not like Adams' bat is that good where you're trying to force it into the lineup, and didn't the Cards stress all offseason and spring training that they were trying to improve the defense this year? ... Watched Matt Cain and while he allowed just one run in five-plus innings, he still scuffled at times (five hits, three walks) and the weather (windy, wet) was in his favor as well. So I still have doubts that he's a season-long answer in the rotation. ... Hey, the Rangers didn't blow a five-run lead! With Sam Dyson on a mental timeout and Matt Bush back in Dallas for tests on his shoulder, rookie Jose Leclerc entered in save situation in the eighth and got the final five outs.