The Reds knew that Amir Garrett was always going to be a very expensive gamble.
Signed for $1 million as a 22nd-round pick in 2011, Garrett hardly played baseball in high school. His high school in his senior year didn't even have a baseball team. He was, however, one of the better basketball players in his high school class, and committed to play at St. John's.
But he did participate in some baseball workouts for teams, showing enough promise to intrigue despite velocity that varied by eight-to-10 mph from pitch to pitch because of his raw delivery.
The Reds saw a lefthander with easy athleticism and potentially premium velocity. So they signed Garrett to a two-sport deal. Playing two sports, Garrett would always remain a raw thrower with potential but little refinement. But if he ever dropped basketball to focus on baseball full-time, the Reds believed he had the chance to be a whole lot more.
The day the Reds had hoped for has arrived. Garrett had decided to give up basketball to focus on baseball full-time. Instead of leaving low Class A Dayton to start class at Cal-State Northridge where he was expected to begin his junior season this fall, Garrett will remain in Dayton trying to pitch the Dragons to a Midwest League title.
— SwaggyAg (@Amir_Garrett) August 7, 2014
Until this year, Garrett had only spent enough time in baseball to realize how far he had to go. He didn't attend spring training in either 2012 or 2013, arriving after classes ended. He'd work out briefly in extended spring training, then join a club for a little over a month before heading back to school.
Garrett threw only 20 innings in 2012. He stuck around a little longer in 2013, but still threw only 58 innings. Without a chance to participate in spring training or the postseason instructional league, it was hard for Garrett to learn to repeat his delivery, something that was already going to be difficult for a 6-foot-5 lefthander with long arms and legs and little mound time.
Because he was transferring to Cal State Northridge, Garrett was able to make it to spring training this year and he's been part of Dayton's rotation all season.
Given a chance to take his turn every five days and to work with the coaching staff on refining his delivery in spring training, Garrett has taken significant steps forward this year. He posted a 6.16 ERA in April with a .357 average against. He improved to a 4.30 ERA in May with a .243 average against. Since then he's posted an ERA under 3.00 and a batting average against under .200 in June, July and August.
He hasn't allowed more than two runs in any of his last eight starts and he's struck out 19 while walking two and allowing seven hits in his last 16 innings.
"It's the delivery and mechanics, repeating it and becoming comfortable with it,” Reds farm director Jeff Graupe said. “The biggest factor to me, he knew he had a short window before. He's such an intense competitor that he wasn't going to allow himself to be beat without his best stuff. Being in a rotation, knowing he'd be out there every fifth day, he's had a chance to use his slider. It's turned into a really good pitch. The open-endedness of not having to go back has allowed him to flourish.”
Garrett now sits at 92-94 mph, touching 96 and he pairs it with a slider that flashes plus on a more consistent basis. His changeup needs to improve but he's taken massive steps forward in the past four months.
"He went through struggles in April, but the more he's been out there, he's been as good as anyone," Graupe said. "He's so athletic that he can make adjustments quicker than most tall and rangy pitchers."
A scout for an opposing team who has seen him this year said Garrett’s current two-pitch mix could be enough to make him a big league situational lefty, but with his athleticism and competitiveness, he projects as a potential starter if he’s focusing on baseball full-time.
The Reds never asked Garrett to give up basketball—they signed him to a two-sport deal, so this was the arrangement they agreed to and they didn’t want to overstep the bounds. But they are thrilled to see that he's come to that decision on his own.
"He was really outstanding. He was an adult throughout the entire process. He was honest with us the entire time," Graupe said.