SARASOTA, Fla. -- You can call it a cannon or a rifle. You could refer to as a Howitzer, and any other metaphor you'd like. Regardless, there could soon be a time when fans might seek a word to describe 24-year-old Jerry Gil's super throwing arm. Baseball insiders and scouts already have been raving for years. "He's got one of the best arms in the game, period," Reds assistant general manager Bob Miller said.
Miller was with the Diamondbacks front office from 1999 -- the year Gil was signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 17-year-old shortstop -- until he joined the Reds to work for GM Wayne Krivsky last year. It was partially on Miller's recommendation, and special assistant Gene Bennett's, that Cincinnati dealt for Gil in exchange for Minor League pitcher Abe Woody last October. Gil logged a brief period in the Major Leagues with Arizona in August 2004 and demonstrated some of his potential in a game against the Reds. "In Cincinnati on a relay in the bottom of the ninth," Miller recalled, "[Ryan] Freel hit a double to left-center field. [Luis] Terrero got the ball off the wall and threw to Gil. He jumped and did one of those [Derek] Jeter plays where you land and you throw and don't step. He just threw a laser to home and got [Jacob] Cruz out." A couple of years ago while Gil was fooling around in the D-backs bullpen, the radar gun offered more evidence of how powerful his arm was. "I threw one 96 miles per hour, just one pitch," Gil said. A right knee injury suffered while back in Double-A during 2005 required surgery, and Gil spent most of the season on the disabled list. In 2006, he was one of Arizona's final Spring Training cuts as the team began grooming former top draft pick Stephen Drew. The Diamondbacks wanted to take advantage of Gil's arm strength and began using him in the outfield for 100 games at Double-A Tennessee. He also saw action at second and third base. "It was good for me," Gil said. "Now instead of one position, I can play four or five. As long as I get a chance to swing my bat, I'll play anywhere." "He took to it and he's fast enough to play center field," Miller said. "To me, he's almost the perfect utility guy -- a guy that can give you plus defense in center field and shortstop." When he was growing up in San Pedro de Macoris, which has its place on the baseball map as a factory of Major League infielders, Gil was more interested in becoming a big-league pitcher. But his uncle, former Reds pitcher Josias Manzanillo, had other ideas.
"He always wanted me to play positions so I could hit," Gil said. "He said, 'I want you to be a hitter.'"The Reds would like Gil to smooth the rough edges offensively, and become more selective, but Uncle Josias' foresight about his nephew's hitting skills might have been correct. Gil displayed little power over most of his professional seasons -- until last season when the right-handed hitter connected for a career-high 26 homers for Tennessee, plus one more for Triple-A Tuscon. "He always had the power, but it wasn't in the game," Miller said. Gil felt that switching to the outfield helped him improve as a hitter. "It's not that I don't want to play infield anymore, I do," Gil said. "I just feel more comfortable in the outfield. When I'm in the infield, I have [to] move around, cut off [throws] and everything. But in the outfield, I stand over there and wait for the fly balls." This spring Gil has logged most of his playing time in center field for the Reds -- often as a late-inning replacement. Through eight games, he's batting .222 (4-for-18) with one home run and three RBIs. A replacement at shortstop on Friday vs. Cleveland, he was 0-for-2. Although he is on the 40-man roster, the battle for a roster spot out of camp carries longer odds for Gil. Cincinnati is already loaded with several veteran multi-position players like Freel, Juan Castro and non-roster invite Mark Bellhorn. If Gil doesn't make the 25-man roster, he'd likely be ticketed for Triple-A Louisville. However, Gil's versatility has left an impression on Reds manager Jerry Narron and could come in handy if the club has a need. "Just the short time I've seen him in the outfield, he looks like he has a chance to be an outstanding outfielder," Narron said. "He made the plays in the infield. Anytime, you've got a guy that can play well in the outfield or the infield, that's huge for you."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.