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.

FanGraphs:

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.

55 Responses

  1. Kevin Michell

    Also, since he’s bounced around so much, here’s Finnegan’s walk splits, of a sort:

    April-May (AA, AAA, MLB): 6.83 BB/9
    June-present (AAA, MLB): 4.18 BB/9

  2. eric nyc

    I want to be excited about this guy, but if he has starting potential then I don’t understand why a SP-starved team like the Royals would continue to put him in the bullpen and eventually bundle him in a trade for a legitimate SP. He seems to have Tony Cingrani written all over him. One of these guys has to turn into even a back end SP for this trade to pan out. If we end up with a couple middle relievers it will be a bad return.

    • Kevin Michell

      Grant touched on this: KC’s a win-now team and they could either let Finnegan stretch out and develop undisturbed in the minors or use his MLB-ready stuff right away in the bullpen. His stuff is WAAAAYYYYY better than Cingrani’s.

      • eric nyc

        Then why keep sending him to AAA to work out of the bullpen? I understand keeping him on the ML roster in the pen if your’e in win-now mode, but they knew last year they needed starters and they still spent the whole offseason and most of this season basically jerking him around in and out of the bullpen. Even if you think you want to spot use him out of the ML bullpen, why not keep him starting when you send him down? The whole thing just feels off to me. It’s just a feeling but I don’t see him becoming a ML starter with the Reds. If he can become a viable 8th-9th inning reliever with 98 mph stuff I’ll take that, though.

      • Kevin Michell

        Oh, yeah, I see what you mean now. Might just be trying to have it both ways. I’m kind of surprised they didn’t commit to stretching him out this year, for sure. Maybe it has to do with them starting his service clock last year (although I’m horrible at remembering how pre-arb contracts and Super Two status stuff works).

        I don’t think a little under a year of it will mess his development up too much, though. I certainly hope not, at least.

      • eric nyc

        It’s not that I’m afraid they’ve screwed with his development, it’s that I think they saw he didn’t have starter potential and basically gave up on him in that role even though they were more desperate for starters than just about any team in baseball and already have an excellent bullpen. That should speak volumes. But again, if he turns into a legitimate stopper and not just a middle reliever I can live with that. I’m just not holding by breath to see him starting in the majors.

      • earmbrister

        I don’t think that the Royals drafted him in the first round (just a year ago) to be a reliever. Finnegan had shoulder problems in college, so his draft ranking fell a bit. That said, he was drafted in the middle of the first round, and was pitching for the Royals in the WS. His use as a reliever most likely had more to do with his immense talent and the Royals impatience to get him on their 25 man roster, than any worry that he couldn’t develop into a starter.

        He couldn’t stay on the ML roster this year cause he couldn’t consistently throw strikes. There is much of a demand for ML relievers who throw give up nearly 7 walks per 9.

      • earmbrister

        read ” there ISN’T much of a demand for ML relievers who give up nearly 7 walks per 9.”

      • ManuelT

        If that’s true, it makes me feel better about the trade.

    • RFM

      An obvious comparison is Chapman, a LHP who has been relegated to the bullpen because of a need for bullpen help on a contender. Practically everyone here has always wanted Chapman converted into a starter since the moment the Reds signed him. The Royals did something similar with Finnegan – just less consistent, more jerking him back and forth between roles than Chapman ever faced.

      I don’t know why anybody who was supportive of converting Chapman to the rotation after he established himself as a reliever would be skeptical of (or at least not open-minded about) stretching out a 22 year old who was starting in college only a year ago. Finnegan’s development as a starter has probably been delayed by the inconsistency pushed upon him (up and down between majors and minors, back and forth between bullpen and rotation), but at his age it certainly isn’t too old to for a fresh start, with an organization that is seriously committed to him as a starter, which the Reds are.

      I expect he’ll pitch in a few games for the Reds in September, but I look forward to seeing what Finnegan can do next year, with a real fresh start – reporting to spring training as a starter, and then presumably beginning the season in Louisville’s rotation. No question about his role, no distractions of job shifts. Just work on developing as a starter until he deserves a call-up to pitch out of the Reds’ rotation. Give it a year, see what happens.

      Tony Cingrani is a one or two pitch pitcher who has resisted any changes pushed upon him by the Reds. At best he’s still the same pitcher today as he was the day he was called up (at worst he’s gotten worse, as the numbers indicate). The Reds have publicly stressed his need to develop secondary pitches, but Cingrani has seemingly put forth zero effort. That unwillingness to make changes or adjustments is why Cingrani now risks losing his rotation spot for good. Brandon Finnegan was fast-tracked to the majors because pretty much directly out of college he was able to get batters out. The similarity I see between Cingrani and Finnegan is that both need to make changes to be successful starters – Cingrani has refused, while Finnegan hasn’t really been given an opportunity.

      • eric nyc

        The difference being that during the entire era we’ve been calling for Chapman to move to the rotation we’ve had a pretty stacked rotation. Cueto/Latos/Bailey/Arroyo/Leake, etc. You could argue this year there was an opening, but we clearly gave up on even considering it at least 2-3 years ago when we had no real need for another starter whereas the Royals have been desperate for starters pretty much since they traded Grienke. You’d think if anything that would be a franchise that would be digging for any scrap of starting potential in its pitchers and instead they seemingly gave up on Finnegan in that role at a very early age and with no apparent rationale except their inside knowledge of him as a player. I hope I’m wrong.

      • eric nyc

        Not to mention Chapman had blossomed into the best reliever in baseball in that time so there was at least SOME reason to keep him in that role, while Finnegan has been put there basically because he seems to have major league stuff but hasn’t really established any kind of dominance in the role. I think it’s a pretty weak comparison both between players and organizations.

      • RFM

        What I mean by that is that we see Chapman’s relegation to the bullpen as a bad decision or misuse of resources. I’m curious why Finnegan, who was seemingly treated somewhat similarly by with the Royals (just worse), is seen as an indication that some secretive information possessed by the Royals or some well-thought-out-plan suggesting that becoming starting pitcher is beyond Finnegan’s ability.

        Finnegan is 22, about the same age as Lorenzen, Stephenson. In other words really really young. He’s not been asked to follow any sort of linear path since being drafted, and I look forward to seeing how he handles it with the Reds.

  3. Vanessa Galagnara

    With the Reds having so much starting pitching depth why would they even bother to stretch him out and work him into a starting role? Am I wrong in stating that our weakness at the big league level is in the bullpen? What am I missing here?

    • eric nyc

      Well our rotation just got a LOT weaker in the last 24 hours. Right now who’s your 2016 Opening Day starter? DeSclafani? That’s a little scary. Even if by some miracle it was Home rBailey that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Hopefully we’re not done dealing by a long shot. I don’t know if any of these guys looks like a potential #1, but we need to find one at some point soon if we want to contend by 2017.

      • IndyRedMan

        Edison Volquez was the Royals #1 or #2 before Johnny so I wouldn’t say you have to have a Cy Young candidate to get in the playoffs but winning the WS could be a different matter.

      • eric nyc

        You need someone to win it all. No one has won a WS in the last decade without at least one bonafide ace, and most have 2. Wainright, Carpenter, Pappelbon, Bumgarner, Holliday, Sabathia, on and on and on. Yeah, the Royals made it last year but they obviously saw they couldn’t win it all without a guy like Cueto.

    • BigRedMachine

      I think what Kevin is saying that Finnegan’s ceiling is high enough that if he hits it he could be the the #2/#3 starter behind Bailey. Assuming Bailey recovers and is healthy of course.

      Other potential starters that get pushed from the rotation by Finnegan could move to the bullpen.

      • Kevin Michell

        Although I would say something very much like that, this is Grant’s article after all and I cannot in good conscience take credit 🙂

        But yeah, exactly that. Let’s play a game called “Pick Your 2017 Rotation”

        Bailey
        Stephenson
        Disco
        Lorenzen
        Stephenson
        Finnegan
        Iglesias
        Garrett
        Moscot
        Romano
        Travieso
        Lamb
        Crawford
        Mahle
        Howard
        Reed
        Antone

        And maybe a couple of those guys are bullpen arms, too.

        Mine: Bailey/Stephenson/Finnegan/Lorenzen/Iglesias

      • Nick Carrington

        Tough to argue with your selections. I’m big on Garrett. He’s such a great athlete. The Reds should be able to find five solid starters out of that group and a few bullpen guys. Might have some trade assets as well.

      • wizeman

        No way Bailey ready in April. Descalfini will be part of it. Moscot no slouch and Lamb will be in equation.
        Wonder how we will acquire a bat? Will be for young pitching in the off season.

      • reaganspad

        Sampson may also be in this list by then

      • Nick Carrington

        Kevin said 2017 rotation. If Bailey isn’t ready by April of 2017, his career is probably in jeopardy.

      • Tom Gray

        Bailey probably probably not back until mid 2016. TJ recovery usually takes 12 months.

      • Dan

        Let’s not forget about Lamb who they just acquired also. He was a top LH prospect a couple years ago and seems to be figuring it out in AAA this year.

    • Fish

      You can never have enough starting pitching. Hopefully the Reds’ front office is realistic and they know they won’t compete this year or next year, maybe not 2017. If you have a pitcher who can pitch to 3.5 ERA in 200 innings or 2.5 ERA in 60 innings, you are always better off using them as a starter. If he doesn’t have the stamina to start or gets really beat up, you can move him to the bullpen later.

      Thinking like you mentioned is what got Aroldis Chapman stuck as a reliever. He might not have been a good starter, but you never know.

    • liptonian

      I think what you’re missing is the team control until 2020. It would be very nearsighted (especially for a losing team) to not develop someone who’s value starting for 3+ years would be much higher than someone pitching 65-85 innings a year for 5 years.

  4. IndyRedMan

    When you have a lefty throwing mid to high 90s then give him a chance to start. I know the 102 mph lefties only get sporadic use but that’s not really the best approach.

  5. Tom Gray

    I like his potential but see him as bullpen LHP more than SP. Just me, not the facts. The Reds will know how to use him best.

    • lwblogger2

      Well, that’s exactly what he is right now so you’re correct in hitting what he is right now. I can see a starter there. The slider is the real deal and if he can find the change again, he’s got 3 really nice offerings from the left side. Where I have concern is the nature of his delivery. He has a violent, high-stress delivery.

      • Tom Gray

        As silly as this may sound, there aren’t that many 5-11 SP in MLB. Some (to be sure) but not many. The SP are often a few inches over 6 ft tall.

      • lwblogger2

        This is true. There aren’t many minor-league or even independent ball pitchers that are 5’11” and honestly, Finnegan is probably shorter than that… There are some though. Cueto is listed at 5’11” too. Mike Leake is listed at 5’10”. Oswalt was listed at 6’0″. Tim Lincecum, Bartolo Colon, and Chris Medlen are under 6′. So, I’ll agree that he’d have a better chance if he was taller, I won’t ding him too hard for his stature.

      • earmbrister

        Pedro Martinez was 5’11” and all he did was have a HOF career. Some people have lamented Finnegan’s violent throwing motion and predicted future injury. My Mets season ticket holder employee and I looked at Pedro’s throwing motion, and yes, it was pretty violent. Hence, the premium velocity that was generated from such a short pitcher.

        I really like this trade. We got 3 lefties, 2 of which will start in AAA, with the other starting in AA. And of the 3, it’s quite possible that all 3 will make the ML roster, with either 1 or 2 being starters.

      • Tom Reed

        I remember a lefthander by the name of Bobby Shantz who was 5ft.6in. and went 24-7 in 1952 for the Philadelphia Athletics.

  6. WVRedlegs

    Finnegan was drafted two spots ahead of the Reds 1st round pick, Nick Howard. Maybe Finnegan can ease the pain from the bust that Howard has become. The roll of the dice on Howard came up snake eyes for the Reds. The Reds have a bunch of first rounders floating around on the DL this summer, Howard, Crawford and Trevieso.
    Before the draft last year, Finnegan was drawing some comparisons to Roy Oswalt, even though their handedness is different. That is a nice comp.

    • reaganspad

      3 plus pitches, 98 mph and left handed? You have to give that guy some starts.

      Otherwise in 3 years we will have our new Chapman and several what if posts.

      Of course I will use this opportunity to say that Chapman should be starting now. stretch him out and he might be our opening day starter in 2016

    • wizeman

      way too early to say howard is a bust. you just don’t forget how to pitch. it’s physical.

      • lwblogger2

        I agree. Not ready to give up on Howard. I think he’s been hiding that injury and he’s been sore all along.

  7. Playtowin

    Finnegan provides hope. He will show what he is. It will be great trade if he is good enough to be a #2 starter.

  8. preacherj

    “The common comparisons are to Scott Kazmir and Billy Wagner”

    Yes, please.

    I also would like to add to the mantra of “you can’t have too much starting pitching”….IF everyone stays healthy and IF everyone pitches to potential, then there is a definite impact bat coming in return for someone.

  9. Redlegg

    One year of pro ball and you are a “bust”. Come on.

    • earmbrister

      Chris Carpenter had a rough start to his ML career … Shame is, the Cards stuck with him and he became an ace.

  10. ohiojimw

    A team cannot have too much pitching but it does need to have enough position players to field a team.

    I understand the Reds taking the most/ best talent available just as they would do in the draft. However it would seem like there is going to be some serious dealing, perhaps augmented by a midlevel FA signing or two to fill out the Reds position player roster for 2016.

  11. ProspectCincy

    Cingrani 2013-2014 to a T. Not saying their the same pitcher, but their organizations have treated them identically.

    Will the Reds move him into the rotation immediately after Leake is traded?

    • lwblogger2

      I don’t think so because he hasn’t been stretched out much. I don’t think they want a guy making 4-inning starts and throwing under 80 pitches in the MLB rotation this year. Earliest we see him in the rotation in my opinion is next year… I think Lamb is the better bet to see in the rotation sometime this season.

  12. UglyStrike

    I saw the Cody Reid kid last year when he was with the Legends in Lexington. He looked exactly like he is. A young player that is facing talent as good/better than he is for the first time. He was actually having to learn how to pitch instead of just throw. When on his pitches looked really good. (Sneaky movement for SO’s) IF he develops the mental side I think we will be pleasantly surprised.

  13. Indy Red Man

    Finnegan is as close to Cueto….or Bartolo Colon from the belly perspective. Now utilizing the arm talent is the question?

  14. Jeremy Conley

    I am not that high on Finnegan. I like the trade because I like the other guys too, and Finnegan may be fine, but he’s not that exciting to me.

    First off, remember that “above average” and “plus” are scouting industry terms that have different meanings. There’s a big gap between a change up that flashes above average at times, and a plus pitch. It seems like what he’s really got is a plus fastball, an above average slider, and an average change up that he’s stopped using. And control issues. And a small frame with a max effort delivery. And almost no minor league track record.

    That’s a lot of caveats for a guy with one plus pitch.

    • earmbrister

      JC — Did you find Mike Leake “exciting” when he went to MLB without any real time in the minors? I dunno about other fans, but when a guy is the first ever to pitch in the College WS and the MLB WS in the same year I don’t need a dose of caffeine to take notice.

      As for caveats, you’re making a big deal out of Finnegan not having 3 fully developed pitches at age 22. He stopped using the change up because he was being used as a reliever. There are numerous smaller pitchers with max effort deliveries starting with HOFr Pedro Martinez. And lastly, it’s almost a given that a 22 yr old flamethrower would have control issues. That’s why baseball players almost always play several seasons in minor league ball: to hone their craft. I’m looking forward to seeing Finnegan in MLB; I don’t expect it too
      take very long.

      Sorry if I got too excited, lol, but we got a lot in return for a couple of months of Johnny C.

  15. Westwood Eagle

    If your FLOOR is “Shut down Lefty Closer”, and you’re compared to Billy Wagner, I’ll take it.