Reds in AFL: Motivated Blandino out to hone craft
The 2014 MLB Draft has proven to be a good one in terms of college bats. No. 4 pick Kyle Schwarber helped the Cubs reach the National League Championship Series. No. 10 selection Michael Conforto is currently playing in the World Series with the Mets. Trea Turner (No. 13) didn't make the postseason, but he did reach the big leagues with the Nationals.
Alex Blandino, Cincinnati's No. 7 prospect, isn't quite there, yet. The No. 29 pick of the Reds had a solid first full season, hitting well in the Class A Advanced Florida State League and earning a promotion up to Double-A. He sees what his Draft classmates did this season and it serves as motivation.
"I got to know them a bit in college and summer ball," Blandino said. "They're great guys. It makes me happy to see them do well and it also gives me a little boost of confidence because I know I can play with them. Seeing them do pretty impressive things at the Major League level gives me a little boost of confidence to get there, hopefully in the next year or two. It's exciting for me and for them, both."
To that end, Blandino is getting extra work in with the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League. The Stanford product has played all but 12 of his games as a professional at shortstop. This fall, however, he's focusing on playing second base, which could very well be his permanent home moving forward.
"I go out there and wherever my name is in the lineup, it's good with me," Blandino said. "I grew up playing short, had plenty of time at both second and third, so it's not really too much of a struggle to go over there. I'm enjoying the transition, at least in the Fall League, and moving forward, if it's either there or short, that works for me."
In addition to the game time -- Blandino played five games at second in the AFL's opening week and a half -- he's gotten a ton of pregame reps as well, taking full advantage of the low key setting to work on his craft and getting more accustomed to being on the right side of second base.
"I think the only big difference is the turn, obviously," Blandino said. "You have to come the other way and throw across your body a little bit, but it's a pretty natural transition as an infielder, from short to third or even second, it's not too bad at all."
Blandino struggled when he first moved up to Double-A, though he finished well, with three three-hit games in September. His time in the AFL should help him make the necessary adjustments to the upper levels and he seems clear on what he needs to do in order to master them in order to join Schwarber and Conforto.
"You notice it's a cleaner game, pitching, defense, the pace of play is better, pitchers locate a little better than in the lower levels," Blandino said about Double-A. "It's more polished. The more you go up, it's the same thing. Just being consistent on a daily basis is what the big league club is looking for and it's what I'm going to keep on working on."
Reds hitters in the Fall League
• Chad Wallach, C -- Wallach split time between catching and first base in the Florida State League during his first season with the Reds after coming over in last December's Mat Latos deal. He's working on his receiving behind the plate and his offensive approach at it this fall.
• Phillip Ervin, OF -- The 2015 season wasn't a great one for the 2013 first-round pick, but he did show signs of the tools that made him a high pick out of Samford. Ervin is continuing to work on improving his strikeout-to-walk ratio this fall while using the whole field more consistently. With 30 steals in each of the last two seasons, the Reds want Ervin to stay aggressive on the basepaths.
Reds pitchers in the Fall League
• Stephen Johnson, RHP -- Johnson joined the Reds in August as the return from the Giants in the Marlon Byrd deal, appearing in just six games in Double-A. Johnson has a big arm that could fit in the back end of a bullpen and he continues to work on refining his command.
• Layne Somsen, RHP -- A senior sign in 2013 who is now already 26, Somsen reached Triple-A in 2015. But he also missed nearly two months with a fractured toe. He's making up for that lost Triple-A time in Arizona while working on attacking hitters more with his fastball-curveball mix.
• Nick Travieso, RHP -- The 2012 first-rounder pitched well in the Florida State League, but a wrist injury from a comebacker suffered in June kept him out until early August. The right-hander is making up for lost innings as well as prepping for the jump to Double-A with Peoria.
• Zack Weiss, RHP -- The reliever tied for second in the Minor Leagues with 30 saves, most coming in the Double-A Southern League. His time in the AFL allows him to get more experience late in games against more advanced hitters.