You’ve likely already read or heard Lisalverto Bonilla will be the man starting on the mound Saturday night versus the Giants in place of Rookie Davis who was sent back to AAA.  Just who is Bonilla, how did he come to be a Red and what might we reasonably expect to see from him?

Bonilla’s long and winding road to the Reds

Lisalverto Bonilla, a not-quite-27 year old right handed pitcher, became a Red when Cincinnati claimed  him off  waivers in February from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Reds are Bonilla’s fifth MLB organization, adding another twist to the many in Bonilla’s career. The Dominican native signed with the Phillies in 2008 at the age of 18. After advancing as far as class A+ with the Phillies, in December of 2012 Bonilla was traded to the Texas Rangers. At the time he was traded, Bonilla was generally regarded a #10-15 level prospect in the Phillies system.

Bonilla reached MLB with the Rangers in September of 2014 at the age of 24. In 3 September starts Bonilla recorded an ERA of 2.12; but, his xFIP of 4.37 indicates he may have been more lucky than good. Following the season he was not seen as a Rangers top 20 prospect.

At this point fate intervened in the form of elbow woes. Bonilla underwent Tommy John Surgery and did not pitch at all in 2015. After spending the 2015 season on the Rangers disabled list, he was waived and landed with the Dodgers who succeeded in getting Bonilla off their 40 man roster without losing him.

In 2016 Bonilla pitched in the Dodgers minor league system. As noted by Doug Gray here, Bonilla seemed to gain traction as a starter at Class AA and AAA in the second half of the 2016 season. During a run of 13 starts over 75.2 innings, he compiled a 3.45 ERA striking out 76  and posting a  K/BB rate of 3.8. At the end of 2016, Bonilla became a minor league free agent and was signed to an MLB contract by the Pirates for 2017.  As recounted previously, Bonilla was later waived by the Pirates and claimed by the Reds.

With the Reds

Bonilla was never quite seriously in the mix for the Reds MLB starting rotation during spring training. In mid March, Bryan Price made it official. Bonilla would not make the Reds rotation; he was still seen as a possible Reds reliever. However when the final cuts came, Bonilla was sent back to AAA where he was used only as a starter. Bonilla made five AAA starts interrupted by a call up to the Reds bullpen after his second start. He made a single relief appearance with the Reds then was sent back to AAA and resumed his starting role.

Bonilla overall numbers as a starter at AAA this season do not shout out that he is ready for promotion to a major league rotation.  In 5 starts he has pitched 25.2 innings with a FIP of 5.24 and a WHIP of 1.75. A confirmed optimist would point out that his last two starts (1.91 FIP over 9.2 innings) were much better than his first three. However his strikeout, walk, and WHIP rates were all essentially the same as in the first three starts, suggesting luck may have come his way.

Let’s compare Bonilla’s AAA  numbers with the MLB numbers of Rookie Davis, the man he replaces in the rotation.

Lisalverto Bonilla 2017 AAA 5.24 2.10 3.16 9.47
Rookie Davis 2017 MLB 5.71 1.42 6.16 7.11

Two categories immediately jump out, BB/9 and HR/9. Bonilla may walk significantly fewer batters than Davis. However Bonilla’s HR/9 rate could balloon even more at MLB thus offsetting the fewer walks he may allow. Bonilla’s MLB relief appearance earlier this season comes to mind. In an otherwise excellent 5 inning stint versus the Cubs he allowed a 3 run home run which put a competitive game out reach for the Reds. The real story in the numbers though is that FIP indicates neither guy is really ready to be an MLB rotation starter.

Final Thought

Lisalverto Bonilla has been in professional baseball for nearly a decade. Prior to this year, the sum of his MLB experience with three organizations was 6 September appearances, including 3  starts, all which came 3 years ago. I wish Bonilla success; but his record indicates he is merely next man up to grab for the brass ring on the Reds starting pitching carrousel which goes round and round and round.

Stats, and historical data from Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, Retrosheet, MLB, RedsMinorLeagues

18 Responses

  1. reaganspad

    Well fortunately, it is the cavernous Pac Bell Park which may help somewhat on the HR’s.

    I would hate to see him have a start in Wrigley at the tail end of the trip with the wind blowing out

    We may milk a productive start in SF, then allow him to move back to AA and call up Amir for the following start.

    “I’m up on a tight wire, one side ice and one is fire…”

    • David

      Two points well taken here. PacBell ball park and the SF Giants rather weak offensive line up. Bonilla does have a little ML experience. He was grabbed for a reason, because he might have “potential”. Sal Romano would have been re-called if he had been pitching and not on the DL, I’m sure.
      If he does well, then maybe he gets another start. If he does poorly, then he goes back down and may gets out-righted off the 40 man to make room for someone else (Tyler Mahle, please?), and nobody grabs him now. Not a win-win situation, but this is the season for sorting things out.
      It would be bitterly ironic if the Reds end up missing the playoffs (like a wildcard spot) by just a couple of games, and look back on sending Garrett down to maintain control as a regrettable move.

      • reaganspad

        More regrettable to me would be when the Reds make the playoffs and Amir is already reached his pitch limit and cannot pitch in October

  2. hof13

    Like Robin (in Lego Batman), Bonilla is 110% expendable. Rookie Davis shows promise for the future and based on what was said last night on the radio broadcast, he knows he needs to work on things at AAA. So even if the move is sideways at the moment, it has the potential to be a big positive in the long run. Who knows, maybe Bonilla, like Robin, can prove useful. Stranger things have happened.

  3. Geoff

    Why are they wasting time on these kind of pitchers? Bonilla is what he is. He has proven that he isn’t a viable major league starter. I would much rather see them start Stephenson or Castillo. Two arms with a future.

  4. David

    Yes, too true. But that will probably change in a couple of weeks, as
    1) Amir Garrett returns soon
    2) Homer Bailey may be back by the first week of June
    3) Where’s Finnigan? Just starting to throw on flat ground.
    4) Maybe Stephenson gets to slide into the rotation if he does well in his next few long relief outings (like maybe this Saturday in SF?).

  5. I-71_Exile

    I’m not sure that this differs from an other Reds starter.

  6. JB WV

    I’m optimistic that Feldman can go deep tonight, giving the pen plenty of ammo for tomorrow. I can’t see Bonilla going more than 3.


    Jimmy Haynes wasn’t available?

  8. big5ed

    I predict Bonilla will be expected to go one time through the order, then as long as he can thereafter, with the idea that Stephenson will also throw about 3 innings. Whoever looks better will get the start at Wrigley.

  9. bouwills

    I have no idea how Bonilla will fare Saturday night vs the Giants. I do know that Williams waiver wire pickups since last September include Gennett, Kivlehan, Alcantara, Guererro, Goeddel, & Bonilla. So at least he’s in good company. Anybody that Williams adds to the 40 man roster I’m willing to take a look or 2 at (especially in May). We won’t know if the Reds have handled their young pitching properly for a couple years , might as well enjoy the ride.

  10. james garrett

    I am enjoying the ride but every start that doesn’t go to Reed or Stephensen tells me they have given up on both.Hope they show me I am wrong but we really need to find out about these two guys and as our other guys return from injury fewer opportunities will be available.

  11. bouwills

    About 14 months ago it was fashionable to think the Reds future rotation would be bolstered by Iglesias, Lorenzen, DeSclafani, Stephenson, Reed, & Bailey. Actually most of the quality starting pitching since then was by Straily, Finnegan, DeSclafani, & Adleman. They’re finding out about a host of guys both starters & relievers. I haven’t seen them give up on anybody besides Lamb, Sampson, & a couple guys like that.

  12. Simon Cowell

    Bonilla is what well to call cannon fodder , spare parts, or left overs. Lower your expectations readers. He is only a temporary replacement. He is up because he was already on the 40 man and by all counts if the Reds need to add another player Bonilla would be the dfa casualty. In other words if the Red intend to win today expect to see 3 innings of Bonilla and 3 or 4 from Stephenson… That is if more than the potential version of Stephenson shows up.

    • bouwills

      I’m not sayin’ that Dick Williams is the reincarnation of Wayne Krivski, but Williams has more Krivski in him than Joketty ever did. A small market team needs that kind of resourcefulness & Williams is demonstrating quite a bit of it. Reds minor league system is the best it’s been since shortly after Wayne was let go & I believe Williams will make it even better.

      • Simon Cowell

        Agree. So far this year I have nothing bad to say about Price or Williams. Williams keeps this up he will win GM of the year. Do they have that award? Don’t even know but he should win it.