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.

24 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

  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.

    • 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.

  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.

    • Chad Dotson

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  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. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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. 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.