Even casual baseball fans might be aware of Brandon Finnegan’s story.

Drafted by the Royals with the 17th overall pick in the 2014 draft, Finnegan logged 27 innings at High-A and Double-A before Kansas City promoted the left-hander to the big leagues once the calendar hit September. Finnegan was immediately dominant pitching out of the Royals’ bullpen, striking out 10 over seven regular-season innings and posting an FIP of 0.70. In the playoffs, Finnegan struggled a bit, allowing seven earned runs over six innings. He also struck out four and unintentionally walked five while to becoming the first player in baseball history to pitch in the College World Series and World Series in the same year.

2015 has been less of a heart-warming story and more of a business-like grind for Finnegan, whose role shifted many times within the Royals’ organization.

The College Years

From 2012-14, Finnegan pitched at Texas Christian University. In 2012, he appeared in 23 games, making 11 starts. In 2013, he appeared in 16 games, making 15 starts. In 2014, he appeared in 17 games, all starts. Finnegan’s numbers were strong throughout his career, but he was particularly awesome in 2014 for a Horned Frog squad that reached the CWS: 105.2 innings, 2.04 ERA, 11.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9.

During his entire college career, Finnegan threw 247 innings, striking out 276, walking 94 and posting an ERA of 2.77. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The Jagged Development in 2015

Finnegan was yanked around by the Royals in 2015:

*After failing to make the Royals in Spring Training, Finnegan was optioned to the minors. He started for Double-A Northwest Arkansas on April 12 and 18.

*Finnegan was recalled from Double-A to the majors on April 24. Between April 28 and May 6, Finnegan pitched 6.2 innings, all in relief.

*On May 7, Finnegan was optioned to Triple-A Omaha. Between May 12 and May 22, Finnegan made one start and three relief appearances.

*Finnegan was promoted back to the big leagues on May 25. He was sent back to Omaha the next day after a three-inning relief appearance.

*From May 30 to June 9, Finnegan notched two starts and a relief appearance for Omaha. He was recalled to the majors on June 13.

*From June 17 through July 7, Finnegan pitched 14.2 innings for the Royals, all in relief. He was sent to Omaha on July 8, recalled on July 9, and then sent to Omaha on July 19.

*Finnegan appeared in relief for Omaha on July 22 and 25.

Finnegan has been sent down to the minors/promoted to the big leagues eight times since April. That’s no way to develop a top pitching prospect. I don’t blame the Royals at all, though. Kansas City is a win-now team with a legit chance at embarking on another deep postseason run. When that’s the case, the needs of the big-league club are put first and foremost (even more than usual) and the Royals had to do what they had to do, even if it meant messing with the development of one of their top young hurlers.

The 2015 Numbers

Level Innings K/9 BB/9 FIP Games/starts
Double-A 13.0 9.0 8.31 5.03 5/3
Triple-A 14.0 12.21 4.50 3.30 6/4
Majors 24.1 7.77 4.81 4.67 14/0

“Lots of strikeouts and lots of walks” is a familiar song and dance for a young power pitcher learning to harness his talent. One big thing to remember about Finnegan moving forward: not only has he never made a major-league start, he’s never gone further than four innings or thrown more than 62 pitches in any minor-league start. In the minors last season, Finnegan started five of the 13 games he appeared in. Reds fans will need to exhibit patience as Finnegan attempts to match reality with his potential in the coming year.

The Scouting Report

I’ll defer to the experts here from Baseball America:

Coming to the Reds, there is no reason he shouldn’t be given another chance to lengthen out into a starting role. Finnegan has the arsenal of a starting pitcher and while he is short, he has some present strength. If Finnegan moves back into a starting role, he needs to work on regaining the feel for his changeup. As a reliever, he’s largely junked the pitch but it was above-average at times when he was pitching as a starter in college. This year Finnegan has largely focused on using his 92-95 mph fastball and his slider which flashes above-average.


Finnegan sits 91-95 and hits 98 mph as a starter (sitting closer to the mid-90s in relief), relying on a slider that’s above average to plus (more consistently plus in relief) and a changeup that will flash above average at times, but it and his command will waver at times, as he’s still more of an aggressive thrower with big stuff than a true starter at this point.  The common comparisons are to Scott Kazmir and Billy Wagner and scouts have been using those two names to show the upside scenario (mid-rotation starter) and the more common outcome (shutdown lefty closer).

…and MLB.com:

Though he lacks size at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, (Finnegan) has a big fastball that can reach 98 mph. His low-80s slider gives him a solid second offering, and he also has an effective changeup.

Digesting all of that, we can arrive at this conclusion: Finnegan’s apparent floor is that of a late-inning stopper, which is obviously not the best use of his considerable talent when the potential for three plus pitches is there. Reds general manager Walt Jocketty is already on record saying the organization wants Finnegan to start.

The 22-year-old Finnegan could walk a similar path to the man he was traded for. Both Finnegan and Johnny Cueto are listed at 5-11 — which means each player is likely shorter than that — with stocky legs and power pitcher arsenals. Cueto eventually made himself great with a tireless work ethic and by seamlessly integrating his devastating stuff with model efficiency. Only time will tell if Finnegan can produce a similar story.

The Future

Finnegan — who is under club control through 2020 — has been sent to Triple-A Louisville to lengthen himself out and continue his maturation as a starter. It’s possible that if Finnegan really shows well at Louisville through August, he could net some spot starts for the Reds in September. The more likely scenario is that Finnegan remains at Triple-A for the rest of 2015 and competes for a rotation spot in Spring Training before being optioned to Louisville for additional seasoning. About a year from now, we should have a better idea of whether Finnegan’s development is trending in direction of his ceiling (front-of-the-rotation starter) or floor (late-inning stopper). Let’s hope for the former.