GOODYEAR, Ariz. - As the Cincinnati Reds' pitching staff starts to take shape over the final few weeks of spring training, the organization will also begin to assemble its stable of arms that will begin the year at triple-A with the Louisville Bats. One likely candidate to start the year near the top of the Bats' starting rotation is right-handed prospect Matt Klinker, who pitched brilliantly for Louisville during the last month of the 2009 season.
Aside from his solid numbers, Klinker is particularly intriguing to the Reds' organization because of a unique blend of size (six-foot-five, 220 pounds) and strikeout ability (112Ks in 108 innings during 2009). After starting this past season at high-A ball, Klinker steadily climbed the ladder until making his debut with Louisville in early August. In his first triple-A victory, Klinker fanned nine in seven-plus innings, proving to Bats' manager Rick Sweet that he could be a dependable starter as the team made its playoff push. Klinker's season was cut short just before the playoffs because of shoulder inflammation, but in five starts with the Bats, he posted a pair of victories to go with a 2.48 era.
As Klinker progressed through the farm system in 2009, his ERA actually dipped as he moved up in competition level. The 25-year-old's numbers were only pedestrian in Sarasota, but after nine starts in the sunshine state, he got a shot with double-A Carolina. Klinker was a beast in six starts with the Mudcats, netting three wins in six starts, along with an improved 2.95ERA, while also earning Southern League Pitcher of the Week honors in mid-July. With Klinker throwing so well in his first double-A action, the Reds brought him up to Louisville, where he continued to progress in just his second full year within the organization. In 29 innings with Louisville, opponents hit a paltry .204, with no one able to take him yard.
Hailing from Greenville, South Carolina, Klinker was selected by the Reds out of Furman University in the 15th round of the 2007 draft. While a member of the Paladins, the tall righty twice led the team in strikeouts and innings pitched, while also earning Southern Conference Player of the Week honors once during the 2007 campaign. Klinker showed a fraction of his potential in his first full professional season of 2008, when he ranked seventh in the farm system in terms of ERA (3.81) while splitting time between Dayton and Sarasota.
While Klinker's two-year numbers won't blow anyone away, the fact they have improved as he has moved up in competition has to make Walt Jocketty and the Reds' brass happy. This spring, Klinker has been working with the Bats' spring training squad, and in his last outing threw three scoreless innings and registered three punch outs. With his ideal size and ability to get people out, Klinker remains a viable option as a starting pitcher down the road for Cincinnati. At the advent of the 2010 season, however, Klinker will most likely be looking to pick up where he left off with the Bats last season, hopefully earning a spot on the front end of the Louisville starting rotation.
Jason Stella is a reporter for BatsBaseball.com
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.