Over the 2008 and '09 seasons, 17 former Dragons players reached the Major Leagues, marking the highest total over back-to-back seasons to date. Most of those players came from the 2006 and '07 Dragons clubs, including outfielders Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs, shortstop Paul Janish, and starting pitcher Johnny Cueto.
In September of 2009, the Reds called up an unheralded but talented left-handed relief pitcher that had starred in Dayton two years earlier. He represented one of the organization's great bargains at the time; a player who was signed for not much more than the cost of a plane ticket, but progressed through the farm system to become a big league pitcher. Pedro Viola became the 37th Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues.
Viola, a native of the Dominican Republic, originally signed as an outfielder with the San Francisco Giants, but he was released before he ever played a game. A Reds scout in the Dominican felt Viola deserved a second chance, but liked him more as a pitcher. While most Latin American prospects sign professionally by the age of 18, Viola was now 22 years old. And while top prospects from the Dominican in recent years have commanded signing bonuses in excess of $1 million, Viola, according to Baseball America, signed with the Reds in 2006 for the comparably paltry sum of $1,000. The risk on the team side was minimal, and a great value for a player that would one day pitch at Great American Ball Park.
Viola joined the Dragons in 2007 and immediately showed that he possessed one of the best arms among all left-handers in the farm system. Viola became part of a talented and deep Dragons bullpen that also featured future Major Leaguer Marcos Mateo as well as fellow left-hander Lee Tabor and right-handers Ramon Geronimo and Jose Rojas. How good was that bullpen early in 2007, when the Dragons began the year by going 23-4? The season began on April 5, but Geronimo did not allow an earned run until May 15, and Rojas did not surrender one until April 28. Viola, meanwhile, allowed just one earned run over his first six outings, piling up strikeouts in the process. His best outing came on May 4 at Fifth Third Field against Kane County when he fired three and one-third no-hit innings and struck out seven to earn his first victory.
By mid-season, Viola was on his way to the Midwest League All-Star Game. With the Dragons, he was 3-1 with two saves and a 1.87 earned run average. Opposing batters were hitting just .190 against him, and he had struck out 49 in 43.1 innings. It was enough to move Viola on to Sarasota for a short stint there, and then to Double-A Chattanooga to finish the season. At the end of 2007, Viola's first year in the United States as a pitcher, one that saw him work at three different levels on the Reds farm chain, his ERA stood at 1.42 in 46 relief appearances. He struck out 94 batters in 82.1 innings.
Following the season, Viola was assigned to the Arizona Fall League and pitched in the league's Rising Stars Showcase Game. Baseball America ranked Viola as the # 15 prospect in the entire Reds organization and # 2 among all left-handed pitchers, citing his 92-95 mph fastball. It was a huge first full season for a guy who had been out of baseball on his 21st birthday.
Viola spent the entire 2008 season back at Chattanooga and went to Triple-A Louisville for 2009. On September 2, he was called to the big leagues by the Reds. Six days later, he made his Major League debut against Colorado. He allowed a home run to the very first batter he faced as a big league pitcher, Eric Young Jr., but he did not allow another run over the remainder of that outing and the three more that followed. Viola appeared in nine games for the 2009 Reds, limiting left-handed hitters to a 1 for 13 performance against him. He totaled seven innings of work, allowing four runs.
Viola started the 2010 season back at Louisville. But less than one week into the season, the Reds needed a spot on their 40-man roster for starting pitcher Mike Leake. Viola was designated for assignment and his contract was claimed off waivers by the Baltimore Orioles. Viola spent most of 2010, '11, and '12 in the Orioles' Minor League system, but he also appeared in a total of six big league games with Baltimore. Last month, Viola signed a 2013 contract with the Oakland Athletics organization, the same club that recently signed former Dragon and Reds pitcher Carlos Fisher.
Viola, now 29 years old, has appeared in 15 Major League games and another 278 Minor League contests over seven seasons. His accomplishments are quite notable for a player once released before he ever played a game and then returned to professional baseball at a new position. He was the 37th Dragons player to reach the Major Leagues. Next up: Justin Turner.
Click Here for Pedro Viola's Major League Statistics, photos, and video clips.
Click Here for Pedro Viola's Minor League Statistics
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.