The consensus among both those who run and follow the Reds seems nearly unanimous. The Reds can be playoff contenders as soon as 2019 if the team can make a significant improvement to the starting pitching rotation. Reds President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams has publicly declared he is looking to upgrade his starting pitching and ready to spend money and talent to secure one or more impact starters, perhaps as soon as the looming trade deadline.

But what if the price for impact starting pitching on the open market turns out to be greater than the Reds can or are willing to pay in dollars or talent? Are there current internal options for 2019 besides sitting back and hoping for health and improvement from the current group incumbents?

Two Strong Internal 2019 Rotation Addition Candidates

Michael  Lorenzen and Robert Stephenson are two pitchers who might be able to provide the kind of jump start the Reds rotation needs for 2019.  Both already have limited MLB starting experience; and, both have shown in their performances to date this season that they could be ready to step into a starting role and make an immediate  positive impact.

Working out of the Reds bullpen this year, Michael Lorenzen has compiled a better than league average ERA and FIP, no easy feat for a reliever who can see a season’s figures ballooned by a single meltdown performance. Lorenzen pitches like a starter, making use of his entire portfolio of pitches. He has mastered the art of pitching an inning, sitting in the dugout then going back out to the mound, twice pitching 4 innings and on two other occasions 3 innings to go along with seven other appearances of greater than a single inning.

The Reds felt Lorenzen was good enough as a starting pitcher prospect to spend the #38 overall pick in the June 2013 draft on him. 2019  could be the time they cash in on that choice. And of course Lorenzen as a starting pitcher would also pay the dividend of giving the Reds an additional quality bench player on the days between his starts.

In Robert Stephenson, the Reds have another prior first round draft choice (#27 overall in June 2011) lurking in the shadows. Despite compiling a league average range FIP of 4.22 and outstanding 3.30 ERA in 10 MLB starts from late July 2017 to the end of the 2017 season, Stephenson found himself consigned to AAA this spring following a poor showing in 2018 spring training. After a mediocre beginning to his AAA season, Stephenson has seemingly found his stride. In his last 14 starts through July 24, he has compiled an ERA/FIP of 3.09/3.53. Most importantly given Stephenson’s history, in this span, he has cut his walk rate to just under 10% while striking out 29.7% of the hitters he has faced. Throw in a WHIP of 1.14 and an HR/9 rate of less than 1; and, what is there not to like?

All that’s left to learn is how close Stephenson can come to matching these numbers at MLB. Based on his 2017 MLB starting experience it is not unreasonable to believe he could immediately emerge as at least a league average starter on the rise. The numbers say this is not a commodity currently found in the Reds 2018 rotation.

Are There Other Internal Rotation Options For 2019?

The answer here is probably not, at least at the season’s beginning. Amir Garrett has struggled trying to extend past an inning coming out of the Reds pen. Cody Reed has been unable to find consistency as a starter at AAA. Brandon Finnegan has converted to relieving at AAA and pitched inconsistently in that role. However one guy worth keeping a close eye on is Keury Mella, ranked #12 on the prospect list

Mella was seen as the original centerpiece in the same deal that also brought Adam Duvall to the Reds in return for Mike Leake. Duvall’s emergence at MLB has somewhat flipped that perspective; but, now  the 24 year old right hander appears to be on the rise and could eventually flip those perceptions back the other way. Mella who was recently promoted to AAA is on the Reds 40 man roster and in fact was called up over the weekend to serve as an emergency long man out of the Reds bullpen but has not seen action.  

Another pitcher to watch for perhaps as early as mid 2019 is right hander Tony Santillan, currently #4 on the RML prospect rankings linked above. Santillan was promoted to AA at about the same time Mella was moved up to AAA. Santillan (#49 overall pick June 2015), another rightie, is barely 21 years old; but, he blew through class A+ in half a season. If he can position himself to start 2019 at AAA, Santillan could conceivably make the big jump to MLB later in 2019. Or like Luis Castillo in 2017, Santillan might start 2019 in AA but get on a run and find himself promoted to MLB from AA.

The Wrap

Reds fans all  hope Dick Williams can deliver on his stated intent of upgrading the Reds starting pitching by bringing in a couple solid middle of the rotation or better starters for 2019. However should he be less than successful in these efforts, all need not be lost for the Reds in 2019. They appear to have two viable internal candidates who could step in from day 1 of 2019 and provide the same type of positive impact on the rotation and at least one other quality starting pitcher prospect who looks to be on path for a mid 2019 debut if needed. So, take a deep breath, sit back and dial into Twitter to see what happens between now and the trade deadline. That’s what I’ll be doing.

Data courtesy of and