By the time this article shows up next week, pitchers and catchers will have reported to spring training in Goodyear, Arizona. And how sweet it will be. Over the next few weeks I will look at a few spots where minor leaguers may be fighting for spots on the roster.

Today we will start out by looking at the fifth spot in the rotation. It would appear that the number one through four spots are locked up by Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan and Scott Feldman. The Reds have recently agreed to a deal with Bronson Arroyo, though I’m sure that anyone in the organization would much rather one of the young kids win the spot as it would show that they were more ready to handle the job.

The Players

There are three guys who would seem to have a real shot. Right hander Robert Stephenson and left handers Cody Reed and Amir Garrett. For team control reasons, it would seem that Garrett would have to clearly outperform the rest of the field to win the job. Keeping him down for even two weeks would give the organization another full year of control. Keeping him down for two months would likely give the team the opportunity of keeping him from being a Super 2 eligible player. With both Reed and Stephenson having big league action last season, they would both have to remain in the minor leagues for nearly half of the season to keep those same kinds of benefits.

What do they need to show in the spring to get the job?

We will start out with the player that I believe is the favorite heading into spring, Cody Reed. When it comes to the three players, Cody Reed’s time in Triple-A is significantly better than the other two. He has, easily, the lowest walk rate, and his strikeout rate is also the best of the group. It was the time in the big leagues that was a struggle last year for Reed. His walk rate jumped up, but his strikeout rate was still good. What really did him in was keeping the baseball in the ballpark – he allowed 12 home runs in 47.2 innings pitched. For Reed, that’s the biggest thing he’s going to need to work on.

Among pitchers with at least 40.0 innings pitched last year, his HR/FB rate was the worst in baseball at 28%. The league average tends to be around 11% – so he was nearly three times as likely to see a fly ball go over the fence as an average pitcher. That’s highly unlikely to continue simply because it doesn’t make sense to remain that high, but he’s going to need to actually show improvement there. Getting his walk rate down to where it was in the minor leagues would also help, but that was far from his biggest problem.

Robert Stephenson has arguably the best arm of anyone in the organization. When he’s at his best, he’s showing three plus pitches. Not many guys have two of those, much less three. Much like Cody Reed, he had problems keeping the baseball in the ballpark. He allowed nine homers in 37.0 innings in the big leagues, but it’s been the walk rate that’s been a real problem for him over the last three seasons. If he’s going to get a real chance out of spring training he’s going to need to show that he can throw strikes and do so consistently.

Amir Garrett is in a similar position as Stephenson. His walk rate in Triple-A jumped up over 4.0 batters per 9-innings pitched and his strikeout rate dropped down to 7.2. You’d like to see better rates in both categories. Given that he’s got the least amount of experience in Triple-A and none in the Majors, he’s going to have to really dominate if he’s going to take the job from either of the other two guys (or another option).

If we were handicapping these three players, the favorite would have to be Cody Reed. He’s the only one who didn’t have problems with the strikezone while in Triple-A. Robert Stephenson would come next in line, but with significantly lesser odds. His struggles with control in the past put him behind Reed here. Garrett’s service time and lack of experience compared to the others make him a big time long shot here.

14 Responses

  1. Steve

    I guess you’re not too high on Adleman. Is he in the bullpen or pitching in Louisville? No scenario of 2 of Reed, Stephenson or Garrett making the starting 5 and Feldman to the bullpen? I’m hoping for Reed and Stephenson to pitch so well in ST that they both make the rotation. Garrett to begin the season in Louisville for control year purposes.

    • GreatRedLegsFan

      That’s the ideal scenario

  2. PDunc

    Based on service time considerations, injuries and innings limits I suspect that we will see all 7 pitchers mentioned in the article make starts this season.

  3. Jason Linden

    One of the things that needs to be acknowledged with Garrett is that he tends to have periodic “blow out” starts that drag down his numbers. LOTS of his walks come in these starts. But he’ll often have a month (or close to it) of excellent starts between them. The bad starts happen when he gets mechanically out of whack and it has been clearly expressed to me that he is VERY coachable and quick to correct his problems.

    Stephenson, on the other hand, has the exact same control issues every start.

    This is why I continue to rank Garrett on a level above Stephenson and his ceiling above Reed.

  4. Jason Linden

    The small sample really, really matters. Really a lot. With Reed,e specially because his ML numbers are completely divergent from his MiLB numbers. As Patrick points out, a home run rate like that is literally impossible over the long term. It’d be like a player with an OBP of .600. Sure, it can happen in short bursts, but not over the long haul.

    Reed had some issues, sure. But he also had a lot of bad luck. It happens.

    Stephenson’s issues have a long track record. He needs to walk fewer people. This has been a known issues since he was drafted and it hasn’t improved.

  5. Jason Linden

    Or, put more simply, xFIP is a much, much better predictor of future ERA than ERA is (I know, it’s counter-intuitive, but the studies are pretty solid here), this is especially true in pitchers with relatively little MLB time. Reed’s xFIP was 4.20 last year. Not great, but certainly not a disaster.

  6. Jeremy Conley

    Good article Doug. I think the three pitchers discussed will really tell the story of the rebuild in a lot of ways. Yes the Reds need a lot of pieces, but you cannot compete for a Division, let alone a World Series, with zero elite pitching, and right now that’s where the Reds are.

    If two of those guys can become top of the rotation starters (or someone else in the system, they seem the most likely but I still wouldn’t rule out Iglesias) the Reds will be in business. If not, this rebuild/reboot probably will stall out at some point short of real contention.

    Put another way, the difference between a rotation like this:


    and a rotation like this:


    is probably at least 15 wins, if not more.

  7. David

    I understand what statistics mean. I also actually watched a lot of games that Cody Reed pitched in.
    His location in the strike zone is not good. He throws a lot of pitches in the upper part of the zone, He gets a lot of swings and misses, and he also gives up some hard contact when hitters put the bat on the ball on those pitches up in the zone.
    He has a good slider…at times. Other times, his slider just spins up there and gets hammered. It wasn’t just the home runs. He gave up a LOT of hard hit balls for outs in his starts.

    He worked fast, which may be good. But I think he wanted to maintain a rhythm in pitching, and was not concentrating hard enough on actual execution of his pitches. Hence fast balls in the good hitting area, and sliders that did not always move well. What was successful with a majority of hitters in AAA was getting hammered in the Majors.

    I really don’t know what the prognosis for Reed is. Will his control and location be better? If his pitch location does not improve, I would expect a lot of the same that occurred last summer. This was not just a case of bad luck and small sample size.

  8. reaganspad

    Reed looked very very very hitable last year.

    I agree with Jesse above; would love to know what these guys have been doing in the offseason to make a difference in 2017.

    If you were Dan Stailey in 2016 you saw your career hanging by a thread and headed out to Seattle to improve your offerings.

    If you were Tony Cingrani in 2017 you saw your career hanging by a thread and headed out to Seattle to improve your offerings.

    I see 3 guys listed in this article that probably should have booked some time in the Emerald City as well

  9. big5ed

    I read somewhere last year that from a scout’s point of view, Reed had an arm slot and delivery that made it very easy for a right-handed hitter to see and time. (He yielded a .782 OPS v. LH and a 1.022 v. RH.)

    After seeing that, I watched Madison Bumgarner in the playoffs. He is also 6’5″ and has an almost identical arm slot as Reed. But Bumgarner reaches far with his glove hand to obscure his left hand. Reed, from video, doesn’t use his glove hand very consistently at all, sometimes keeping it pretty close to his body, and keeping it low out of the stretch. Now, I will concede that I am no pitching coach, and that Reed is unlikely to be Bumgarner, but it does point out that Reed probably just has some mechanical things that got away from him in the majors last year. It probably wouldn’t hurt him to study Bumgarner’s mechanics, even if I’m way off base.

    I can see Garrett being held back 2-3 weeks for years-of-control purposes, but if he is ready, I’d forget the Super-2 issue. First, we don’t even know if that will still be the rule in 6 years. Second, though, if he’s real good, he’s going to get his money, anyway. If he’s league-average, it doesn’t matter. If he’s ready, stick him out there on the bump and don’t play arbitration games with him.

  10. reaganspad

    Bonds? Probably more like 9. He did not miss hitting strikes and his zone was so small with his stardom and the armor that he wore.

    There would not be much statistical variance in the scenario with Bonds

    Chose another player and your point will be made

  11. D Ray White

    Reds could’ve drafted a guy with higher upside (Giolito), albeit with TJ concerns, but didn’t. The Nats snagged Giolito 1 pick after Reds took Travieso.

  12. Dewey Roberts

    Thank Uncle Walt for those drafts. He had the same luck with the Cardinals!

  13. bmblue

    I’d rather the reds give stephenson and absolute crack at it this season and see if he figures it out. He has so much potential, they should see if he can put it together in the big leagues. They wont be contending anyway. If he cant get it together over 2-3 months, then Reed and Garret next men up.