As the spring grows shorter and the regular season draws near, the Cincinnati Reds continue to sharpen the picture of what the Louisville Bats' roster will look like.
Friday evening, the club optioned pitcher Curtis Partch and catcher Tucker Barnhart to join Louisville in minor league camp. Partch spent time with the Bats last season, while Barnhart will see the first Triple-A action of his career this year.
Boasting a big fastball that matches his big frame, Partch was a key late-inning option for Bats manager Jim Riggleman last season. The 6-foot-5 righty rejoins the Bats after a strong 2013 in which he made his Major League Debut for the Reds in June after climbing through the upper ranks of the Cincinnati system quickly.
Partch's season started with Double-A Pensacola, but he was called to Louisville late in April when early injuries forced movement within the organization. With the Bats, Partch posted an ERA of 4.13 in 28.1 innings and struck out 31 batters. He pitched in 14 games for Cincinnati, posting a 6.17 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 23.1 innings of work.
Likely to be on the other end of Partch's pitches this summer is the young Barnhart, who enters 2014 as the Reds' tenth-best prospect overall according to Baseball America. Heralded for his defense, Barnhart comes into the season as the best catcher in the Cincinnati chain for the third straight season. He was a Southern League All-Star with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos last season and in 2011 won Minor League Baseball's Rawlings Gold Glove award with the Class-A Dayton Dragons.
Barnhart's numbers at the plate may not stand out as much as his work behind it, but the 23-year-old has been consistent as a hitter nevertheless. His .260 batting average with Pensacola last year put him in the middle of the pack of qualifying hitters in the Southern League, and his career average is .262. Perhaps more promising to the Reds' brass is the way Barnhart bounced back from a rough 2012 in which he hit .200 in 41 games at Pensacola.
Both Partch and Barnhart currently sit on the Reds' 40-man roster as the beginning of the 2014 season nears. This year figures to be a critical one for both, as Partch will look to return to the big leagues while Barnhart appears to be on his way to becoming a polished Major League catcher. While the two are at different stages of their respective careers, both will be major cogs of a Bats team that will aim to improve upon their 2013 mark of 69-75.