Before the 2017 season, Steve declared this A Season for Sorting:

The Reds may or may not already have the pieces they need to be a contender in 2018 and beyond. No one has the answer to that. No one. If it turns out the Reds need more players, they’ll consider major trades or free agent signings. Perhaps they’ll package young pitching for hitting. Because, braindead cliche’s aside, you can have too much pitching relative to hitting in an organization.

But this isn’t the season for those moves. It’s time for sorting what we have.

Reds General Manager Dick Williams echoed those thoughts, when he said (in reference to the 2017 season): “This next year will really help us crystalize who goes where.

After this season, we’ll do a deep dive here at Redleg Nation to determine exactly what we’ve learned after all the sorting has been done. There are still five weeks left in the season, and there are plenty of questions that still need to be answered. But the 2018 picture is beginning to fill in a little, and there are some surprising developments.

Two weeks ago, I tweeted this little gem:

That’s probably still true. Luis Castillo (age 24) has been more than anyone expected after being called up from Double-A Pensacola at the end of June. His record is only 2-7 — I haven’t heard anyone mention that, surprisingly, which is an indication of how far we’ve come in analyzing pitchers — but his ERA is 3.26 over 13 starts. And it isn’t just his ERA; the advanced metrics all agree that Castillo has been outstanding. His ERA+ is 135. His xFIP: 3.65.

And check out this chart, which shows that Castillo has the highest average fastball velocity of any starter (minimum 50 innings pitched) in the entire major leagues, at 97.8 mph. He’s a potential ace of the staff.

So yeah, Castillo is still the best bet for the 2018 starting rotation. For most of the season, however, I think we’ve all been more than a little dismayed at the lack of progress demonstrated by this group of young starting pitchers, as a whole. But in the last couple of weeks, against all expectations, more youngsters have begun to stake a claim for 2018.

To wit:

Let’s look at some of the individuals:

Sal Romano
I was in the park for Romano’s big league debut back in April, which did not go well. He’s battled through injury and inconsistency, but lately Romano has clearly begun to settle in. He has pitched at least six innings in five of his six starts in August. In his last three outings, Romano has posted quality starts, tossing 20 innings with a 2.70 ERA as the Reds won all three.

Oh yeah, and if you check out the velocity chart above, you’ll see that Romano’s average fastball (96.1) is the 11th-highest in all of baseball.

He has stuff, but Romano is still a work in progress. His ceiling may be “#3 starter” but there is no question that he has earned his way into the conversation.

Tyler Mahle
Did you see Mahle’s big league debut last weekend? He ended up allowing 3 runs in five innings, but looked more poised than a 22 year-old rookie has any right to look. Of note, Mahle did walk four batters, and control has been a huge problem for almost all of these young pitchers. But I’m not worried about Mahle.

You see, Mahle has better command than nearly anyone else in the organization. Check out his minor league numbers.

Dayton (Low-A, 2015): 2.43 ERA, 135 strikeouts, 25 walks, 152 IP.
Daytona (High-A, 2016): 2.50 ERA, 76 strikeouts, 17 walks, 79.1 IP.
Pensacola (Double-A, 2016): 4.92 ERA, 65 strikeouts, 20 walks, 71.1 IP.
Pensacola (Double-A, 2017): 1.59 ERA, 87 strikeouts, 17 walks, 85 IP.
Louisville (Triple-A, 2017): 2.73 ERA, 51 strikeouts, 13 walks, 59.1 IP.

This is actually why I’m so high on both Castillo and Mahle. Those guys threw more strikes in the minors than any of their peers in this group. Sure, they’ve been a little inconsistent so far on the big league level in terms of throwing strikes. That’s what young pitchers do. I’m hopeful they’ll figure it out.

Mahle has shot up from Low-A to the big leagues in two years, based strictly on the fact that he’s been pretty well dominant every step of the way. I wouldn’t be surprised if he never went back to the minor leagues.

Robert Stephenson
He may be the most frustrating of all the pitchers in the group, but I mentioned on twitter recently that even Stephenson seemed to be making progress. Until I read this piece by Lance McAlister, however, I didn’t realize how good he’d been in August. In four appearances (three starts), Stephenson is 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA and he’s holding opposing batters to a slash line of .182/.304/.258.

Sure, he’s still desperately trying to master the command of all his pitches — he’s walked 10 and struck out 21 in 18.1 innings this month — and the improvement we’ve seen has been in a tiny sample size. But I think it’s incontrovertible that we’ve seen some progress from Stephenson since he returned from the minor leagues (after an order from the Reds to throw strikes…or else). And here’s another fact: Stephenson has the best stuff of any of these guys. When he’s throwing strikes, he’s unhittable.

The best thing about these four guys: their ages.

Luis Castillo: 24
Robert Stephenson: 24
Sal Romano: 23
Tyler Mahle: 22

And let’s keep going…

Cody Reed: 24
Amir Garrett: 25
Rookie Davis: 24
Brandon Finnegan: 24
(Anthony DeSclafani: 27)

And what about the relievers?

Michael Lorenzen: 25
Ariel Hernandez: 25
Wandy Peralta: 25
(Raisel Iglesias: 27)

That’s a lot of young pitching with a ton of talent. Some of them have to work out, right?

In that “Sorting” piece linked above, Steve laid out very nicely the questions facing the Reds in regards to the starting rotation:

Homer Bailey, DeSclafani, Dan Straily and Brandon Finnegan have presumptive spots in the rotation. But Cody Reed, Amir Garrett, Robert Stephenson and Rookie Davis should get good looks facing major league pitching and could challenge for several of those slots. Beyond that list, the club still has to determine what roles Raisel Iglesias’ shoulder and Michael Lorenzen’s pitch portfolio will allow.

Straily, of course, was traded for Castillo. Huzzah! Bailey, Disco, and Finnegan have all demonstrated an ability to pitch effectively at the big league level, and an equal affinity for the disabled list. If any of those guys can return to form and remain healthy, it’s a huge boost to the 2018 rotation. You have to put them as “unknowns” right now.

And hope hasn’t been lost for the young guys who haven’t shown as much (or any) progress this season. I was as high as anyone on Cody Reed before this season; he’s just bursting with talent. Reed’s ERA is just 3.66 at Louisville, but he’s continuing to struggle with the strike zone. He did allow just one hit in three shutout innings in his last outing, and he didn’t walk a batter (21 strikes, 6 balls). Either Reed will put it all together or he won’t, but it’s not time to give up hope yet.

Rookie Davis made the Opening Day roster, and has suffered through injury and poor performance at times during the season. He’s healthy now, though, and beginning to perform effectively at Triple-A. For the season, Davis is 4-3 with a 4.17 ERA; in his last four starts, he has struck out 26 hitters and walked one. You would expect Reed and Davis to get an opportunity for more big league starts in September, especially since Castillo and Mahle are approaching their innings limits.

Amir Garrett…well, I don’t know what to say about Garrett. After his magnificent performance in the Reds rotation early in the year, he’s had a rough time. Garrett has to be injured, right? He has performed so well during his entire professional career, and was even dominant at times. Because I choose to be optimistic, I’m just going to assume that he’ll get healthy and be back to his old self by next spring.

Yes, the 2017 rotation has been an abject disaster in almost every way. But recently we’ve seen some real progress from some of the kids, all of whom are under the age of 25. I know I’ve been daydreaming about this all week, but is it possible that the Reds aren’t far from having an effective rotation?

Time will tell. I know I’ll be watching closely over the next five weeks, just to see who else gets sorted out…or in.

42 Responses

  1. PDunc

    There’s 15 pitchers currently in the Reds organization that I think could be productive members of the 2018 pitching staff. All of them, except Bailey, under 30 years old.

    • boilermaker_red09

      I know he will have a lot of rust to knock off, but hopefully jon moscot can come back and play a role eventually in 2018 as well.

  2. james garrett

    I have said it and still believe it if we can remain injury free this pitching staff will be very very good.In fact it will become a strength going forward and along with some higher obp postion players arriving we should be a very good team.The sorting must continue this year and next but we will get there.

  3. Mike Bittenbender

    How much of the August improvement can we tie to Barnhart working with these guys on a consistent basis? I love Mes but I think TB is better at calling a game / working with these pitchers

    • lwblogger2

      I think Tucker is the better receiver but I’m not so sure if he’s better at game calling. I’m also not so sure he handles the staff psyche better than Mes. There is a definite aura of leadership and control when Mes is behind the plate. Maybe it isn’t working for some of the young guys but I love his presence when he goes out and visits a pitcher who’s struggling.

  4. Scott Gennett

    With all those young guys in the pipeline, some injury-free luck and a new manager this team should be able to compete for a post-season spot in 2018.

  5. cfd3000

    It’s funny how the Reds success or lack has become this battle between old school thinking and new. Old school values home runs and RBi’s, new school values OBP with a slight preference for power over walks. The Reds won Mets game 1 by 14-4 in part because they have power and lost 2-0 in part because power is not the same as men on base. And looking at the season they have floundered largely because their starting prospects have “stuff” but not command and their ill chosen alternatives had, basically, neither.

    In my mind this is an organizational short coming. IF the Reds can identify and utilize hitters that get on base, they could have an excellent offense. Ironically Winker and Ervin and Senzel and Blandino all offer more power AND an ability to get on base than Hamilton and Peraza. I hate to say it, but it’s time to end the Hamilton experiment and use him as a defensive and base running specialist, or ship him to a team that will value his defense more than it’s worth to the Reds. Senzel, Winker, Ervin and Blandino will upgrade the offense by a lot over Hamilton, Peraza and Gennett against lefties.

    On the pitching side there is hope maybe even in spite of management decisions. Castillo, Romano, Mahle, Stephenson and a slowly recovering Bailey already form a promising rotation. Add in (healthy) Finnegan and DeSclafani, and perhaps a maturing Reed and Davis and there simply isn’t room for starts from the Wojo / Adleman / Arroyo / Bonilla / Feldman gang (though a tip of the cap is due Feldman for yeoman’s work in an injury and wildness crisis). Count me cautiously optimistic.

    • eric3287

      I think you hit the nail on the head when it comes to what the Reds value. They are paying more lip service to OBP, but what they truly value are speed and power. If you are above average in one of those two categories, the Reds will find a home for you.

      Winker right now (or before he was on the DL) provided more offensive value for the Reds than any other outfielder; but he didn’t do it with power, so he was relegated to 4th outfielder status. Blandino understands the strikezone about as well as anyone in the organization; he had a low BABIP, not huge power, so he stays in AAA. Blandino would be more valuable to the Reds roster right now than a guy like Kivlehan. Kivlehan’s OBP has been hovering at or below .300 for 2 months, but he is perceived to have more power, so he stays on the roster.

      • pinson343

        Blandino is better off playing every day. He might be part of the Reds future, KIvlehan is not. Pinch hitting is very difficult, and I’m glad the 2017 Reds finally had some power bats off the bench (him and Scooter, to start the season), something they hadn’t had since Javy Valentin.

        I believe the Reds recognize Winker’s value, and he is a starting OFer in 2018. Maybe I’ll be wrong, but you can’t judge by 2017 decisions. Making him a starter means trading Duvall or Schebler. Unless you feel the Reds should have done that before 2017 started, there isn’t really much to complain about. Trading Schebler would be nuts in any case. Duvall has gained in trade value this year, and sitting him for Winker would kill that value.

        I like Duvall but I guess/hope the Reds trade him in the off season, Winkler problem solved.

    • pinson343

      You’re talking about two games. On the season the Reds are 6th the NL in runs scored, on base percentage, and slugging pct. It would be nice to get better in all 3 categories, but the numbers do not support your argument.

      • Da bear

        A lot of those runs are scored while either ahead by a lot or behind by a lot of runs – LOW LEVERAGE scoring. Not to pick on Duvall (I like him) but he hit a three run homer in the 14-4 victory that didn’t do much for the W-L record. He also hit a 3 run bomb in Yankee stadium when the Reds trailed 9-2, yielding the final 9-5 scoring loss. 3 more inconsequential runs.

        Castillo has pitched lights out. What is the Reds W-L record in games he’s started? It isn’t as good as it should be. The hitting has been the opposite of clutch.

        Reds need more everyday day in day out hitting/getting on base, rather than living or starving on HRs sandwiched by numerous strikeouts.

      • greenmtred

        I think that you hit homers when you get the right pitch. I also think that all teams score runs when they’re way ahead and way behind: pitchers probably relax a bit when they aren’t pitching in a close game.

  6. IndyRedMan

    It was interesting last night w/Brantley and Joe Morgan talking about how pitchers keeping the ball down used to be the main objective, but now hitters across the board have lifts in their swing and just keeping the ball down isn’t enough! They were saying that if they’re looking low, then the high fastball could come back in vogue!

    That brings me back to Mr. Mahle. I like the kid a lot, but man does he love the high fastball! The whole “lowball” aspect might be why he gets so many swing-n-misses? He can still succeed even if he does give up 30+ HRs….just have to make the vast majority of them solo shots. Speaking of HRs allowed….Romano only 1 HR at Lville and 7 with the Reds. There’s a lot to like with him!

  7. IndyRedMan

    And here’s another fact: Stephenson has the best stuff of any of these guys. When he’s throwing strikes, he’s unhittable

    Better stuff then Castillo? Cmon man? I would give Bob Steve the nastiest slider of the group, but his fastball is straighter then straight! I would put him behind the other 3 plus Lorenzen.

    • Thomas Jefferson

      When on, Stephenson has missed a lot of bats in his professional career. Interestingly, Castillo has not had such a high strike out rate despite his velocity.

    • Chad Dotson

      4th highest whiff rate in the league, I believe. I think you underrate Stephenson’s stuff.

  8. WVRedlegs

    Wow. Great work Chad. Encouraging to say the least.
    Even with all of these young guys, the Reds are still missing something regarding the rotation.
    But a trade for a front line starter should still be priority #1 this winter. No free agent route, please. Players are starting to enter arbitration this winter on the position player side. Don’t waste another season (2018) sorting out more of the sorting. The 2018 season should be all about going from 73 wins to 88 wins, or more. Who knows how the Reds current pitching is going to shake out. Get someone to lead this group of young guns and everything will fall into place with the rotation, and the bullpen. But it might take some of the young pitching to acquire a legit top line starter. That’s OK as there is enough depth to absorb that type of prospect hit. That is the difference now when discussing another Latos-type of trade. The Reds have too much depth at certain positions. Thinning the herd is almost always a good thing.
    If your very opinionated minor league dude is correct and Garrett gets a 4th option year next year, that certainly helps both he and the Reds. Mahle, Garrett, Reed, and Davis all at AAA if some injury surfaces. That will also be a big help.
    The offense needs a couple of tweaks for 2018 and Senzel will be one of those tweaks. That other tweak may be just getting Winker and Ervin more playing time.
    There is reason for optimism for 2018. There is also a reason for concern that the Rebuild has been pushed back 1-2 years because of the lack of pitching development. Nip that in the bud by going out and getting a solid starting pitcher to lead this group, and everything falls into place.

    • brunsfam

      I like this post. A solid tier 1 starter to help Bailey & Barnhart mentor would make the Redlegs a serious contender in the NL Central.

    • Da bear

      There is no such thing as not enough depth. The reds aren’t the only team hit by injuries – Nationals have lost Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, been without Werth….many others for long stretches. Dodgers lost Gonzo….step up to the plate Mr. Bellinger. They didn’t have their shortstop or their third baseman for long stretches, too….and some guy named Kershaw for a month or two months. Their other left handed stud starter missed time too. Houston lost Keuchel and McHugh, Springer, most recently Correa for long stretches.

      Expect injuries; need depth to withstand those times.

  9. sultanofswaff

    I agree with the thrust of this article. Still, that doesn’t preclude me from seriously looking to acquire a controllable starter and leveraging a Reed/Garrett/Finnegan/Davis/Vlad Gutierrez plus a few prospects in the 5-20 range to make it happen.

    I would gently take issue with the notion that Finnegan is an established starter. Or let’s just say he’s far down the pecking order for me. His walk rate last year is unsustainable and his only start this year did nothing to put it to rest.

    • IndyRedMan

      Post AS break last year for Brandon Finnegan….13 starts w/70 ip and a 2.93 era!! I still believe in him if his health holds up? I think it was Straily that helped him w/the changeup and he took off last year!

    • Chad Dotson

      He’s had some success but yeah, “established” is probably too strong a word. But he’s also younger than any of these guys, other than Mahle.

  10. boilermaker_red09

    I know he is going to have a lot of rust to knock off but I hope Jon moscot can eventually play a role for the 2018 reds as well.

  11. lwblogger2

    Well we haven’t come too, too far in analyzing pitchers from my take yesterday at the game. Two different guys in my section lamented about the Reds not being able to hit a guy who was “Three and Eight!!”… They were emphatic about it. I pointed out that in his last 3 starts he had gone 17 innings and given up only 6 runs. Said I was surprised they weren’t hitting him but that he’d been throwing pretty well lately… They couldn’t get past the “Three and Eight!!!”

    • pinson343

      Yes and Hal McCoy lamented the other day about the 1-7 Pirates lefty shutting down the Reds. He couldn’t get over 1-7. Actually, that was not surprising – the Reds have had some trouble against LHed starters and the pitcher is decent and improving.

      Writers like McCoy influence the way a lot of fans think, he should retire.

  12. Tom

    Defense – near top of MLB – may tail off a bit losing Cozart.

    Offense – top 25% of MLB – may tail off a bit losing Cozart but Winker and Ervin might produce a boost. Joey Votto is quicky becoming the best batting coach in MLB with his work with Cozart and Suarez (Billy, not so much).

    Bullpen – Currently exhausted but performed well earlier in the year. We can buy bullpen arms. Iglesias is top-notch.

    Starting Rotation – worst in MLB but with 15 potential starters next year and with 4 young pitchers maturing quickly. That enough for some rotational strength and trade bait.

    We might have the makings of a run over the next few years.

  13. pinson343

    A lot of complaining about the Reds “low OBP”. Actually they’re 6th in the NL, same as with runs scored and slugging pct.

    But I believe I’m with the consensus here about one big off-season move. Trade Duvall (who has impressed with his power and defense) and make Winker the everyday guy in LF. With 3 the current crowded situation in the corner OF positions, either Winker sits or one of the other two loses trade value.

    You HAVE to trade one of them, unless you think one is likely to get hurt. Trading Schebler or Winker would be patently insane, for one thing that haven’t even approached their full trade value. Duvall’s trade value has peaked and he’s 29.

    • CP

      If you could package Duvall with some minor league depth pieces and get a reliable SP with some years (2-3) of control that can be a 2 or 3 in the rotation, then that will serve to help with two areas of need for the Reds. 1. More experience and reliability in the rotation next year. 2. Open up the outfield for Scheblar, Hamilton, and Winker.

      I still hate the idea of not have Duval, but if you can get the right return for him, I would be open to it…

      • Bill Lack

        I understand the belief that Schebler’s value is low, but who’s to say it’s going to get better? If I were going to trade one of the three outfielders, it’d be in order 1) Hamilton 2) Schebler 3) Duvall. Of course that’s all dependent on what they’d bring. I’m not a fan of Hamilton’s never have been, he simply doesn’t hit well enough and his value on defense/base running for me isn’t enough to go through arbitration, etc with him.

  14. pinson343

    Now to the main point, which is not as controversial (I think) as it would have been a short time ago: GO FOR IT IN 2018 !!! The position players are ready as a group, Votto’s not getting younger, and we’re feeling so much better about the pitching that I don’t think I need to add anything there.

    But I’ve been happy to hear from Dick Williams that he’s looking to trade for a high quality starting pitcher. In the off-season between 2011 and 2012, the Reds traded for Mat Latos, who was huge for the 97 win 2012 team and was the ace for the 2013 team, with Cueto injured.

    Duvall, whom I like, needs to be traded anyway (argued above). The team with the right pitcher might not be interested in him, but in any case some prospects have to go. That’s always painful, but now’s the time. Just please don’t even think about trading Schebler or Winker.

    • Chad Dotson

      I agree with this, Pinson. Though I love Duvall, he probably has the most value as an asset. Trade him.

      And trade Scooter while you’re at it.

      • pinson343

        Trading Scooter makes complete sense. Talk about peak value. Suarez should stay and Scooter should not block Senzel. That makes Scotter a bench player, and the Reds could at this point get better than a bench player in return for him.

    • PDunc

      If you think Ervin and Winker are going to be ready for the big league club next season than either Duvall or Schebler need traded.
      2 things that should influence which outfielder is moved:

      1) Left or right handed. Duvall bats right handed, hits lefties better than righties but not a huge split (career 109 wRC+ vs left and 102 vs right). Schebler bats left handed, has a career 89 wRC+ vs left and 110 vs right.

      2) Can Phil Ervin or Schebler play a reasonable center field defensively? Someone needs to be able to back up Hamilton in center. If Ervin cannot than that increases Schebler’s value to the Reds.

      Both of those questions lead somewhat back to Billy Hamilton. He has a career 59 wRC+ against left handed pitching, and a 74 wRC+ against right handers. The split is even more pronounce this season with a 31 against lefties and 75 against right handers. If the Reds could find someone to play good centerfield defense and be above average offensively than I’d happily trade, release or bench Hamilton. But for now, for me, his numbers against right-handed pitching plus his defensive value keeps him starting in CF against right-handed starting pitchers. I would sit him against lefties and avoid any plate appearances vs. left handed pitching if at all possible.

      The decision on the outfield needs to be made keeping in mind that someone who can play a decent centerfield and hit left handed pitching is needed.

  15. pinson343

    If the Reds do trade Duvall, that makes Suarez all the more valuable, as the Reds are presumably going to lose Cozart. You probably don’t want to lose all 3 of those RHed bats. I don’t have a problem with that: keeo Suarez, he doesn’t necessarily block Senzel.

  16. pinson343

    A big and obvious thing – let Ervin compete with Hamilton for CF in 2018, if you don’t trade Hamilton. Hamilton’s numbers batting RHed are just ridiculous – .218/.238/282. Willie Taveras, in comparison, hit .240/.275/.285 in his dismal season with the Reds.

    A contending team cannot have someone hitting at that level (and leading off !) in the lineup, so at the least sit him down against LHed pitching.

    I believe his defense and base running alone give him trade value, especially for an AL team that can bat him 9th, as a “second leadoff” guy.

    • pinson343

      PS I’m still a fan of BHam, believe it or not, and it’s painful for me to talk about him in this way. But the Reds need to go for it in 2018. Billy could possibly help, by being platooned (only batting LHed) and batting 8th, and a valuable pinch runner/defensive substitute off the bench. It depends on what Ervin shows.

  17. pinson343

    I agree with Chad about Garrett. He has multiple dominating starts in the major leagues, and it doesn’t surprise anyone with the way he’d been pitching, and then suddenly falls off a cliff ?

    The decline in performance coincided with his hip injury. It’s either still bothering him now, or else he developed some bad habits while pitching hurt and now he’s having trouble shaking them. Either way, a loss of rhythm and confidence. He’ll be back.