GOODYEAR, Arizona -- Among the Reds' young pitching prospects, Amir Garrett is the trendy pick to make the team's starting rotation.
That’s probably because Garrett, the 24-year-old left-hander, did not come to the big leagues and struggle last year like the Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson did.
Garrett is one of many competing for the two open spots in the rotation. He relishes the shot.
“I’ve got a big opportunity ahead of me,” Garrett said. “I’m going to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way. I’m going to work hard. I’m going to do what I do: Go out there and have fun and play the game I love.”
Reds manager Bryan Price has talked a lot about how the difference between success and failure for young pitchers comes from confidence and competitiveness.
“My impression on him is largely based on the people who are around him most,” Price said. “That’s the pitching coach and the manager that have had him. Everyone raves about his competitiveness and his will.”
Danny Darwin, Garrett’s pitching coach at Pensacola, testified to that.
“He’s very competitive in everything he does -- on and off the field,” Darwin said. “That’s the kind of guys you like. He’s very coachable. He wants to learn.”
Garrett is older than Reed and Stephenson, albeit less experienced. That’s because Garrett played college basketball -- first at St. John’s then at Cal State-Northridge -- during his first two years in the minors.
The Reds thought enough of Garrett to sign him for $1 million after picking him in the 22nd round in 2011, knowing he was going to play basketball. He gave up basketball after 2013. His career has taken off since.
“Basketball’s an experience I’ll never forget,” he said. “I cherish those moments I had as a basketball player. Who knows what would have happened it I had just played baseball? But we can’t go back and change that. Just go forward and continue to grown. But, of course, I look back and say ‘dang, what if I had just played baseball.’ Everybody does that. I’m fine now. I’m OK with that.”
He says he doesn’t even get the itch to play as March Madness approaches.
“I don’t even watch a lot of basketball to be honest,” he said. “A few years ago, I would have been ‘dang, Madness is coming around.'”
He’s also given up playing.
“I can’t go out and get my shots,” he said. “I can’t jump like I used to. The only time I play is on the video games.”
Garrett still has the basketball player's build at 6-foot-5, 228 pounds and he’s extremely athletic with a pitcher’s arm.
His fastball gets up to 96. He also has an above-average slider. He throws a change-up, but it is his least consistent pitch.
Garrett was the Reds' minor league pitcher of the year the last two years. He was 5-3 with a 1.75 ERA at Double-A Pensacola last year. He was 2-5 with 3.46 ERA at Triple-A Louisville after getting promoted.
He struck out 139, walked 59 and allowed only 99 hits in 144 2/3 innings. The only knock on him is consistency with the his command. He had 31 walks 67 2/3 innings at Triple-A.
“He matured a lot last year,” Darwin said. “He got more consistent with the change-up. He got confidence in himself for one. All that combined made him a complete pitcher. He’s still got work to do with the change-up.”
Darwin added that Garrett has the make-up and the build to be successful.
Garrett was pleased with the progress he made last year.
“I got to Triple-A, that was big,” he said. “I was pleased with how my year went. I had a pretty successful year. I’m ready to move on. Go out and work hard and try to earn a spot. Just come out here and act like I belong. That’s basically the main thing.”
Garrett will get a hard look this spring.
“The stuff goes without saying,” Price said. “He’s already got good stuff. The competitiveness is what allows for success I believe. Everyone who’s had him raves about him. He’s going to get a great opportunity in spring training to show us that.”