Reds Pick Up Wladimir Balentien On The Cheap

The Mariners needed a roster spot to bring up top prospect outfielder
Michael Saunders, so they had designated for assignment their disappointing
outfielder Wladimir Balentien. Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, injuries to right fielder Jay Bruce and left fielder Chris Dickerson, and the Reds’ decision to not call up Drew Stubbs or Chris Heisey from Triple-A, left Cincinnati thin in the outfield. To pry Balentien loose from the Mariners, the Reds shipped righthanded reliever Robert Manuel to Seattle in a minor trade.

The Young
Balentien, 24 and out of options, has shown good power in the minor
leagues, but has also struggled with making contact and hasn’t yet put
it all together at the big league level. Over 819 Triple-A plate
appearances he hit .283/.359/.534, but over 434 big league trips to the
plate, he hit .209/.260/.359.

This will be Manuel’s third organizaton in his young career. He was signed by the Mets as an nondrafted free agent in 2005 as a shortstop who had just converted to pitching. He was then traded to Cincinnati for big league lefthander Dave Williams in 2006. Manuel bounced back and forth between the pen and the starting rotation until 2008, when his career took off with a permanent move to the pen. Manuel, 25, dominated the Double-A Southern League last year, going 5-3, 1.40 in 77 innings with 92 strikeouts. Those stats are somewhat baffling because his fastball sits between 85-87 mph, touching 89, and he doesn’t really have a dominant second pitch.

Manuel’s success seems to come from the late life on his fastball. It seems to jump away from opponents’ bats. He has a compact delivery that allows him to hide the ball which adds to his deception. He also throws a slider and a changeup, but neither is a plus offering.

Balentien ought to get enough at-bats in Cincinnati to make his case that he’s a
better hitter than his current major league line suggests. Just as significantly, he will
help provide power to a lineup that ranks 14th in the National League in slugging (.387). But Balentien will be yet another swing-first, ask questions later hitter in a lineup that also ranks 14th in the NL in on-base percentage (.313), which makes him likely more of a short-term fill-in than a long-term Cincinnati resident.

When scouts and players see Manuel throw, they don’t have a good explanation of why he’s effective, but he has shown that he can get batters out at the upper levels of the minor leagues. He doesn’t profile as more than a handy righthander to have in the pen, but he has a chance to fill that role inexpensively for the next couple of years.