Francisco survives Reds' final 13 cuts

Francisco survives Reds' final 13 cuts

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Reds could have justified keeping players because of guaranteed contracts or veteran status, but they certainly did not take the easy way out on Friday.

A sweeping amount of final cuts came, and there were some stunners. For 13 players at Reds camp, it was Black Friday.

"That's why it was so hard with these decisions," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "We felt it was important to take the best club north to get off to a good start and establish itself. We looked at the matchups and stuff. We had a lot of agonizing over the moves."

Optioned to Triple-A Louisville were reliever Jared Burton, lefty starters Travis Wood, Aroldis Chapman and Matt Maloney and utility player Drew Sutton. Reassigned to Louisville were the following non-roster players: infielder Chris Burke, pitcher Justin Lehr and catcher Wilkin Castillo.

Veteran pitcher Kip Wells was released, while veteran infielder Aaron Miles and outfielder Wladimir Balentien were both told they wouldn't make the team. Both will be designated for assignment in an effort to make trades.

Cincinnati entered the day with 38 players in camp and needed a final 25-man roster by Sunday.

In a surprise, 22-year-old power-hitting corner infielder Juan Francisco earned a bench spot. Francisco will go north with non-roster outfielder Laynce Nix, shortstop Paul Janish and non-roster utility player Miguel Cairo. Cairo and Nix will take the 40-man roster spots currently occupied by Miles and Balentien.

With Burton demoted, young Logan Ondrusek got the final bullpen spot along with veterans Mike Lincoln and Micah Owings. The Reds will break camp with 11 pitchers and 14 position players on the roster.

Wood and Chapman lost the fifth starter's race to Mike Leake, who will skip the Minor Leagues altogether and debut in the Majors. Leake was the eighth overall pick in the 2009 Draft.

Chapman not making the team did not come as a surprise since the 22-year-old missed time with back spasms and didn't get enough innings to start the regular season. A Cuban defector who received maximum attention throughout camp, Chapman had a 1.69 ERA with seven walks and 15 strikeouts in five games, including one start.

"We felt, competition-wise, that's where he should be," Jocketty said of the decision to send Chapman to Louisville. "We just felt competition and environment, and so forth, were better. Plus, they've got some long bus rides in [Double-A] Carolina."

Burton came into camp seemingly a lock to make the bullpen, especially since he had some tenure. He debuted for Cincinnati in 2007 as a Rule 5 pick. But he struggled at times last season and was sent to Louisville twice.

That was compounded by the fact that Burton had options left and did not have a good camp with a 5.63 ERA and four home runs allowed in seven outings. Therefore, the nod went to Ondrusek, a 6-foot-8 right-hander who began last season in high Class A ball.

Ondrusek had great results all spring and 9 1/3 scoreless innings to force his way on to the 25-man roster.

"He's another guy that just rose through the organization last year and was dominating at every level," Jocketty said. "He was that way again this spring. He's very impressive and handles himself like a pro, even though he doesn't have a lot of experience."

"We want [Burton] to go back and get himself together," manager Dusty Baker said. "We're going to need this guy. We're trying to figure out what's going on."

Miles, who was acquired in the Feb. 1 Willy Taveras trade with the A's, was due to make $2.7 million in 2010 and the Reds will have to eat that salary if they can't move him. Set back early on by a fractured finger, Miles never got going and batted just .152 (5-for-33) this spring. He needed a good camp after hitting only .185 for the Cubs last season.

Balentien, who was acquired from the Mariners in July, was out of options and it would have been easier procedurally to keep him over Nix, who batted .273 (12-for-44) with four homers and 10 RBIs. Balentien also had a nice spring by batting .327 (16-for-49) with two home runs and four RBIs. Nix also played for the Reds last season.

There were six players vying for the final two backup infield spots that went to Cairo and Francisco.

"It was a little tense," a relieved Cairo said after he received word. "I didn't know I was going to make it. I'm very happy. This is special for me. I'm glad I will be a part of this team. We have a pretty good team."

Cairo didn't have great numbers while batting .214 (9-for-42), but brought intangibles. He also took many quality at-bats, which impressed the decision makers. Jocketty was also seeking additional veteran leadership.

"From my standpoint, he has a very important role on this club," Jocketty said. "He's an experienced bench guy who's been on championship clubs. He's been on the Yankees. He's been on the Phillies. He knows how to prepare and be ready for the situation he's going to be in."

Francisco is one of the organization's best power hitters and banged 27 homers and 93 RBIs for Louisville and Double-A Carolina last season. He also impressed during a September callup and batted .311 (14-for-45) with two homers and six RBIs this spring.

"He's a dangerous threat off the bench," Baker said. "With a combination of him and Nix and if [Jonny] Gomes isn't playing, I've got some guys that give me some thunder coming off of the bench. We're trying to break with the best club we can, especially early in the season."

Francisco is also a free-swinger who walked 24 times in the Minors last season compared to 115 strikeouts. Some of the players privately expressed surprise that he made the club instead of getting regular at-bats in Louisville. A natural third baseman, he is blocked by veteran Scott Rolen. Francisco can also play first base, where Joey Votto is established. Left field is also an option, but the Reds already have a crowded outfield.

Baker was not concerned about Francisco getting stale and pointed out that many players on the bench are coming off having 45-60 at-bats this spring.

"It's not like they're going to be sitting around for a month and then be asked to come off the bench," Baker said. "They're still relatively sharp from playing. [Francisco] came up and did a pretty good job for us in September, but that was after 500 at-bats. And he played winter ball this year. It's not like he has any long periods of being away from the ballpark."

The Reds will have one more transaction to make, but not until after the season starts. Leake will technically be assigned to the Minor League camp until a fifth starter is needed on April 11 vs. the Cubs. That means one more player must come off both the 25-man and 40-man rosters.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.