The Reds current rotation consists of only two real prospects, and one of them, Rookie Davis, should probably be in the minor leagues. For all of the talk about a youth movement and figuring out the rotation of the future, the Reds seem content to fill innings with Band-Aids.

We may have expected one of Scott Feldman, Bronson Arroyo, or Tim Adelman to hold a spot in the rotation while others developed but not all three.

I have felt all along that they had a plan, and they likely do, but the contrast is stark between how previous management developed Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey and how the current group is using heralded youngsters Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson.

Cueto and Bailey were thrown in the deep end as young players and both struggled to keep their heads above water for two plus years before blossoming into effective starting pitchers. The Reds allowed them to sink to the depths before they learned to swim with the big fish.

Bailey made his debut as a 21-year-old in June of 2007 and was crowned the savior of the organization from day one. He came tumbling down from that throne with each walk, home run, and hard hit ball.  He bounced back and forth from the Reds to AAA from 2007-2009 and posted a 5.45 ERA, 4.85 xFIP, and 15% K% in 195 innings. Not once did he make a relief appearance, though.

Cueto started the 2008 season the Reds rotation and would start 61 games over the next two seasons. His numbers over that span are only slightly better than Bailey’s: 4.61 ERA, 4.41 xFIP, and a 19.2% K%. He also let up 53 home runs combined in 2008-2009. Cueto made zero relief appearances and was never sent back to the minor leagues.

The Reds of the Krivsky/Jocketty era were content to allow young pitchers to muddle through the difficulties of pitching against the best hitters in the world. While fans called for Bailey’s trade and Reds announcers proclaimed that Cueto would never get it, the Reds remained patient.

Bailey and Cueto both began their ascent in 2010 with Cueto eventually becoming one of the best pitchers in baseball. The Reds could have easily justified putting both in the bullpen as they limped through multiple seasons. With their talent, Bailey and Cueto would have likely succeeded in getting 3-6 outs at a time and may have become full-time relief pitchers.

But the Reds were adamant that their two youngsters were starters and allowed them to work through inconsistencies and poor performance in a rotation. That worked out pretty well for the franchise as Bailey and Cueto’s rise contributed heavily to the successful 2010-2013 run.

Now, the Reds again need young pitchers to reach their potential to open a new window of winning. Two names near the top of that list are Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson. Both were top 100 prospects on many prospect rankings going into 2016 with Stephenson the higher rated of the two, but Reed surpassed Stephenson this past off season according to Baseball America.

In spite of their 2016 struggles, many of us expected them to begin the season as starters for the Reds. We have countless examples of young pitchers laboring through several years of poor results before turning around their careers. Instead, the Reds put Reed and Stephenson into the MLB bullpen where they could work with Reds coaches but have limited impact on the team’s success.

This approach to developing starters is not new. Notably, the St. Louis Cardinals have used it several times to great avail. The insidious Adam Wainwright and his young comrade, Carlos Martinez, both spent full seasons in the bullpen before transitioning to starting roles.

Wainwright threw 75 innings exclusively out of the pen in 2006 before throwing 202 innings the next season as a starter. Martinez pitched mostly out of the bullpen in 2013 and 2014 before making 29 starts in 2015.

Maybe, the Reds are following a similar plan with Reed and Stephenson, though the Cardinals were throwing out better pitchers than Feldman, Adelman, and 40-year-old Arroyo in front of their youngsters. They could learn at the Major League level and return to starting after some success.

And yet, Bryan Price’s comments after Reed’s one disastrous start make it appear the Reds have lost faith in Reed as a long-term starter already (C. Trent Rosecrans reporting). The young lefthander “may” get another start but not for a while and would probably need to go to AAA to stretch out again before that start takes place.

Robert Stephenson seems even more buried in the bullpen and in fairness, the results haven’t been great. The Reds have shown no signs that he is starting anytime soon.

I’m not panicking, but we should be somewhat concerned. With the Band-Aids and underdeveloped Davis in the rotation, now seems like the perfect time to see if Reed and Stephenson can make progress as MLB starters. The Reds currently rank dead last in starting pitching ERA, WAR, and innings pitched. What do they have to lose?

The big question is whether they will get the Michael Lorenzen treatment if they dominate in the bullpen (as Reed initially has) or if they will transition back to starters. Lorenzen is now infamously stuck in the bullpen after being rushed to the majors as a starter. He made less than 30 total starts in the minors before his Reds debut while playing centerfield as a college player. Yikes.

The Reds quickly gave up on Lorenzen as a starter even after he developed better pitches, though Reds GM Dick Williams left the door open to Lorenzen’s return to the rotation.

Now that Reed and Stephenson have struggled as starters, will they be relegated to the bullpen long-term before we figure out their potential? It seems more like a possibility as you watch the way they are used, especially as the current rotation continues to cause headaches and the two youngsters remain deep in the bowels of the bullpen.

Williams recently told our own Chad Dotson that the Reds did not want to give up on starters too early because of how important the rotation is to the success of a team. Because Williams was talking to a judge, I believe he was under oath, though I don’t understand our legal system completely.

Williams has impressed me thus far in his tenure, and if he truly believes what he says, the Reds will give Reed and Stephenson an extended look at some point. It’s a long season and the calendar just flipped to May, so I still expect them to.

But based on Williams comments about the importance of starters, I would have expected them to give Lorenzen a look as well and they likely won’t.  The contrast of development between past starters and Reed and Stephenson gives me pause as well. I don’t understand what current plan is, but I’m willing to give them some leeway for a bit. That rope is only so long before we should get majorly concerned.

Yes, the Reds have other young starters as well. However, Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, and Luis Castillo all need more time in the minors just as Lorenzen did and Bailey before him. The time for Reed and Stephenson is now. Let’s hope the Reds know what they are doing.

UPDATE: The Reds optioned Cody Reed to AAA today. I haven’t seen anything yet, but I expect him to start down there. Probably a good move to get him more innings and repetitions instead of going so long between appearances out of the MLB bullpen.




36 Responses

  1. reaganspad

    Feldman does not belong in our rotation. Of the 3, it should be Adleman, then Arroyo then, well anyone but Feldman.

    Stephenson should replace Feldman in the next start. Let Feldman be the swing man to eat up innings. I rather enjoy seeing if Stephenson will dial in the strike zone more than I do watching Feldman tease the black, but not really.

    He does not have the stuff to challenge hitters nor is he good enough to be close enough to not a strike that the batters will offer at pitches out of the zone forever.

    Shoot the Pirates are doing this the right way with 3 young starters in who all have the same issues. But look at the difference a week makes for their starter last night.

    Given our strategy, and with him only going 1 2/3 inning last time versus the Reds, he would be in the bullpen until he figured it out. It appears that he figured it out last night in the second inning, and from that point, he was a starter

    Move Stephenson to the rotation now or send him down.

    • tourniquette15

      100% agree. Feldman has been awful. arroyo has shown improvement but his stuff is so hot/cold and he tops out at 80-85 pitches, so that’s rough. But he has shown that he can be effective. Send Feldman to the pen, Arroyo to 5the, and let the young guys slug it out. Also, please throw Mahle to Louisville and a cup of coffee… Him learning from Bronson would be awesome!

  2. ScottyA

    If it has worked (learning in the bullpen and then becoming a starter) for the Cardinals, why can’t it work for the Reds with Reed and Stephenson?

    I think a year in the bullpen might be best especially for Reed, as I believe his issues are mainly mental. Stephenson, simply hasn’t been able to throw strikes and hit his locations consistently enough yet and that was a problem in the minors I believe.

    I don’t really have a strong opinion either way as their are cases of success using both strategies (starting and getting shelled or going to the bullpen to gain confidence and experience).

    • Nick Carrington

      The Old Cossack has hit on my concerns. I don’t have a problem with the Reds developing starters in the MLB bullpen, but it makes more sense when you have decent pitchers already in the rotation and you use the developing pitchers more regularly.

  3. Jim Walker

    …..why can’t it work for the Reds with Reed and Stephenson?

    Because as Doug illustrated above, the Reds don’t use them often enough or in situations that encourage growth.

    • ScottyA

      I respectfully disagree with both points (not used enough and used in situations that do not encourage growth), for the reasons I stated above. Reed is going on 75 innings pitched and Stephenson 81 innings pitched. So I think really the only question is should they be used as a starter or reliever this season, since their total innings are average or above average for a bullpen arm.

  4. sultanofswaff

    Stephenson’s demeanor was much more calm last night. That was a big step forward IMO. Aside from elevating his fastball too much, he was pretty sharp. Nice to see.

    • reaganspad

      Have to admit that Price has been spot on with Wandy. Maybe he is doing that pitcher whisperer thing for Stephenson as well.

      I think that he ( or Mack, or Ted) has made good progress with Cingrani as well.

      that said, what he got after pulling Stephenson last night should cause him to rethink babying the youngins.

  5. Tom R

    Do the Reds want to win or want to develop their young pitchers. I’m afraid that right now, we can’t have both. We need to get Reed and Stephenson a lot more work and just deal with the disaster pants that outings that are inevible.

    • citizen54

      That’s why it was a bad idea to give Price a one year deal. You either get rid of him or give him a muti-year deal. I’ve been beating the start Stephenson and Reed drum since day one but I can still see that Price is trying to save his job right now so he is putting out veterans and guys like Davis who he feels might be better pitchers at this point so he can win some games. Developing Reed or Stephenson isn’t high on his priorities and that why they should have started the year in AAA. I say Williams gets some of the blame here for he and Price not being on the same page.

      • Chuck Schick

        Highly unlikely that Price and Williams aren’t on the same page. It’s pretty apparent that Price is being measured on improvement and development or they would’ve fired him after 2015. If they’re not on the same page then Williams can rectify that rather quickly. Managers on a 1 year deal don’t have any power.

      • Jim Walker

        Recently, I’ve been wondering if Price and Williams are still on exactly the same page. It is difficult for me to accept that any GM would want properties like Stephenson and Reed used so sporadically and essentially as mop up guys.

        If I’m Williams and I’ve put these guys on my MLB roster, I must have had an expectation they were going to be used in some manner that would develop them and assist me in evaluation for the future. That’s surely not happening.

        If they are really relievers now and are not trusted in MLB leverage situations, they should be sent to AAA to let them make the transition in leverage situations there then brought back up for a look later in the year. If they are still viewed long term as possible starters; same thing. Start them in MLB games or send them back to start in AAA.

        Williams must not want to send them down because he has had numerous chances; so, I have to believe he wants them used more. That would put the onus on Price.

      • Chuck Schick

        I’m not defending the usage of Reed and Stephenson. However, if Williams disagrees with Price he can just tell him to do “x”. He’s Price’s boss. Baseball may differ from the world world in some ways but it doesn’t differ in all ways.

      • citizen54

        If they are on the same page then why are Stephenson and Reed getting one or two innings every 5 games or so? How is that developing them? It’s fairly obvious Price is managing to win now, he’s not trying to develop the younger players. And it wouldn’t be the first time that a GM and manager weren’t on the same page especially considering Price isn’t William’s guy.

  6. JO (@ghettotrout1)

    I agree with Dougdirt not sure why Bryan Price is in love with Arroyo, Adelmen and Feldmen……. while giving the two youngsters hardly any innings…. truly baffeling.

    • Chuck Schick

      Do you actually believe that Dick Williams just blindly allows a guy with 5 months left on his contract to make key decisions that will impact the organization for years to come? No business actually works that way.

      • Jim Walker

        No but the GM could also be evaluating his mgr by leaving Reed and Stephenson at MLB all the while watching how Price handles the situation. Price could easily move a couple of the mentioned starters to the pen (Adleman/ Arroyo would be my guess) and see what happens with Reed and Stephenson starting. If things are not to Williams satisfaction there will probably be a CTJ meeting not much longer into the future.

      • citizen54

        I’m not trying to trash Price or management but I think the one year deal was a big mistake. Right now Price is in a tough spot. If he plays the youngsters, the Reds are probably going to lose 90 games and give the Reds an excuse to fire him. If he tries to win, the Reds might win 75-80 games, maybe enough to keep his job but Reed and Stephenson are going to be exactly where they are today.

        I don’t hate Price as a manager and would have been fine with a two year deal. I hope they do have a CTJ meeting as you suggested were they discuss the priorities, hopefully developing Reed and Stephenson, for this season because the way the season is heading, the Reds are going to be 75-87 with no questions answered by the end of the year.

  7. Tom R

    It is possible that Stephenson and Reed will move to the rotation at a point where it won’t raise their pitch counts too high. Dick Williams has said that some arms that are currently in the pen will move to the rotation and vice versa. I think that makes sense is the Reds stick with the plan. As good as Amir Garrett is, he can’t pitch every five days from now until the end of September. He’ll need to be shut down or moved to the pen at some point. I don’t know that Price is making those decisions – my guess is that he has some input but it’s Williams who is setting the strategy.

  8. IndyRedMan

    Its their team so they can keep running out Arroyo, Adleman, etc. and its also my $ so when I go to Cincinnati its not for baseball! There are always 12,000 or so fans at every game that disagree with me but I can live with that.

  9. another bob in nc

    Williams seems to impress everyone with his words. With his actions, if he’s truly in charge, not so much.

  10. Scott Carter

    I would go see a game in Cincinnati when I am there, since I live in Charlottesville, Va, that is not often, but I would not be happy if I traveled that distance to watch Feldman, Arroyo or Adleman pitch, evening the Reds won. I would be ecstatic to see Garrett, Reed, Lorenzen, or Stephenson pitch though even if the Reds lose that game. I don’t mind so much the “develop them in the bullpen” idea but that is not what is happening, they need to pitch. It is not like there aren’t any games that are already blow outs that they could come in and pitch 3 or 4 innings. the only reason I kept the TV on last night after Feldman threw batting practice for the Pirates in the fourth was that Stephenson came in. And he pitched relatively well.

  11. james garrett

    I don’t get it with Reed or Stephensen at all.I can live with them getting hammered from time to time and they will just like Bailey and Cueto.I don’t care if we win or lose but I am tired of watching Feldman,Bronson and Adleman getting hammered.Tell me how that helps the young guys or the team at all.Price can’t possibly being measured on wins and losses and also be measured with developing young pitchers.The warm bodies would not start on any other major league team and you could argue that none of them would even be in the big leagues.Good grief we can get the same performance from anybody on the roster because none of them give you more then 4 or 5 innings on average.Let the young guys pitch.

    • Playtowin

      Reed and Stephenson stink. They are throwers not pitchers. Cueto was much better. Bailey though no where near as good as Cueto is much better than Reed and Stephenson.

      • tourniquette15

        People said the same about them, especially Bailey. Let them develop, and learn. Every bad experience is a pissed off guy away from a great outing the next night. And Bryan is great at that.

  12. Classic Liberal (@Conservative58)

    A couple of issues – 1 – Reds could extend Price at any time – now, next weds. afternoon, the all star break, whenever. Seems the only reason not to is $$$$. 2 – OTOH, they also have more SP prospects than mentioned above – add in the AAA guys, and apparently Mahle and Hernandez at AA, and they could get to an 8-9 man rotation. It could take some juggling with the rules and rosters, and so forth, but if they went all in on development, they’d have plenty of arms to schedule. The hesitancy is baffling, as is the lack of use which Doug G. explained – they cannot seem to decide if they have too many or too few arms.

  13. Simon Cowell

    Sounds like you are already majorly concerned. Let us say Williams rides Garrett Davis Lorenzen Reed and Stephenson as his starting 5 what then? All of them are still learning and developing. All of them are experiencing high pitch counts. Looks toe like all 5 would reach their physical pitch and innings limit sometime in July. Then what who do we roll out there for the rest of the year? Who do we put in the bullpen to replace them. Stephenson has never shown a control of the strike zone in the minors or the majors so if you ask me he hasn’t done a single thing to earn a start…. He isn’t developing. Davis…. I have no idea what they are looking for but they must think his secondary pitches are almost there. Reed…. Stunk last year and stinks this year again maybe they think is is his nerves and maybe needs to mature more. Lorenzen…. I personally love his relief role I wouldn’t change how he is used just one bit. When Garrett gets shut down who will replace him when Bailey and Disco remain sidelined. We will probably see Corky Romano for a stretch but I would rather the Reds stay with their current plan than to dip into the younglings at AA. No concerns just high drama from Reds fans who think they know more than the professionals who are actually paid to develop, strategize, and integrate new talent.

      • Simon Cowell

        End of July… Come on Nick you are to critical to soon.

      • Nick Carrington


        Simon, thanks for reading. I think you misunderstood the post if you believe it was critical. I did point out that the Reds are developing Reed and Stephenson in a way that we’ve rarely seen in the past and that contrasts with the way they developed Cueto and Bailey. It’s different than the way Maddux, Glavine, and Kershaw were developed. It’s even different from the way the Cardinals used the bullpen to develop starters. I said they likely have a plan and that I’m willing to wait it out, but their current usage of those two pitchers is objectively odd. Odd isn’t necessary bad, and while I prefer they do something different, I didn’t intend for the post to be critical as well much as explaining my (and others) confusion.

        In terms of innings limits, the math suggests Stephenson and Reed could pitch the rest of the season and be fine. See Steve’s post above.

  14. DavidTurner49

    Well said Nick. Price’s strength is developing pitchers. Let’s see him develop Stephenson, Reed, and Lorenzen. Let the kids play.

  15. tourniquette15

    I actually like how Price is managing the team. He wants to see who can do what, and he’s being much more aggressive, and progressive, with his usage of everyone. He’s finally allowed to do what he feels is best. Personally, give the guy 2 more months. We’ll know a lot more with a bit of time.

  16. Scotly50

    Why in the world would anyone advocate Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson to continue pitching at this level. They both are getting hammered when they throw it over the plate. If you want to watch development players; drive to Louisville. Thats where they belong.

    They BOTH need to be in AAA until they prove they have the stuff to get Major League hitters out. Minor league hitters swing at ball off the plate and help them out. Major League hitters do not swing at pitches off the plate.