It was only a short time before my wife and I realized that our oldest son didn’t like to share. It was innate within him to hoard his toys, snacks, and other trinkets that he had deemed his own. When his younger brother became old enough to run and play as well, this problem was exacerbated.

My wife and I were determined to drive the selfishness from our son, and as with all traits that have hardened within young ones, that selfishness was a stubborn beast. We faced many a battle of wills with the oldest Carrington heir, but slowly, when asked to, he would share his plunder of snacks and toys with his sibling and cousins (an occasional snack for daddy as well).

Unfortunately, it often felt like one step forward and two steps back. He would rage at times, demanding we respect the property he was too young to purchase for or provide himself. Other times, he seemed more than willing to accommodate the desires of others.

During this last week, we were driving home from dinner at Chick fil-a, my oldest enjoying a rare treat: vanilla ice cream. Of his own accord, he began to offer bites to his brother in the car seat next to him. Together, they shared that ice cream. No screams of entitlement. No hoarding all that goodness to himself. My son freely gave up a special dessert to the delight of his brother.

As I watched this happen from the front seat, I couldn’t help but think of the progression is took to get here. It was hard at times. Painful others. And it certainly wasn’t linear.

And neither is pitching development.

The Reds began this season with high hopes for their young starters and why not? Several of them ended last year on high notes and seemed poised for another step up in their development. Robert Stephenson and Sal Romano both experienced some success with the Reds toward the end of last year, even if they often did it against weaker September lineups.

Tyler Mahle rocketed from AA to the Majors and up prospect lists in a flash. Luis Castillo had us salivating as each Soto-like changeup missed the bat of MLB hitters. On the other side of things, Cody Reed struggled mightily in 2017 and needed a resurgence to resurrect his career.

The rebuild depended on these arms and still does. The 2018 season was supposed to be the year several of them took big steps forward.

Well, a pitcher’s growth is often painful, and MLB batters are too merciless to care about a young blood’s psyche. As we wind down the 2018 season, let’s take stock of where these guys are in their development.

Luis Castillo

Castillo’s ERA currently sits at 4.83, but that’s somewhat misleading. His SIERA, the best of the ERA predictors, is 3.87, only 0.24 behind last year’s mark when he carved up the league. What gives? Castillo has let up much harder contact this season than in 2017 and seen his groundball rate drop significantly. Harder contact on more line drives and fly balls is no bueno. Matt Wilkes dove deep into the causes yesterday.

But Castillo’s changeup might be the best pitch in the system, and he strikes out plenty of batters. He’s also walking fewer people this season. As he matures, Castillo will find a way to limit the homerun ball that has plagued him thus far.

His perceived decline is probably the result of unfair expectations. He’s never pitched in AAA, and while his 2017 was drool-worthy, the league refused to hide witless in the corner. They adjusted, and Castillo has taken some lumps. But take heart: Castillo still has top of the rotation stuff and the ability to dominate like no other pitcher the Reds have.

Tyler Mahle

Mahle forced his way into the Opening Day roster with an excellent Spring Training. For roughly 100 innings, he acquitted himself quite well, posting an ERA of 3.66 and SIERA of 4.30 through July 6th. Then, the wheels fell off: Mahle let up 20 runs over 10.2 innings in his next four starts and earned a trip to Louisville.

A pitcher’s warts are often exposed in the Major Leagues. Opposing hitters feasted on Mahle’s secondary stuff, slugging well over .500 on both his changeup and slider. Mahle will need to refine both to take another step forward, and scouts think both show at least average potential.

Mahle is 23 and progressing as expected given that his calling card is command and not elite stuff. It is concerning that he seemed to wear down in July, but he certainly has the fastball command to challenge MLB hitters. Mahle moved sideways this year, and 2019 will be a big test.

Cody Reed

Reed was left for dead as 2018 began, at least 10th on the depth chart for starters in Spring Training. At AAA, he has revived a stock that once hit Enron levels by making some tweaks that have improved his command and deception. The strikeouts went up; the walks went down, and good times were had by all.

Reed still lets up quite a few hits, but with improved fastball command, his excellent slider is playing up. In a small sample of 19.1 innings (pre-Tuesday night start), the slider has held hitters to a .094 average, and Reed has 12 of his 16 strikeouts with the pitch.

If nothing else, Reed looks like a solid reliever. He still has an uphill climb to become a starter, but he didn’t appear to have any chance of reaching that potential coming into the season.

Sal Romano

Before the 2017 season, Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs wrote that Romano had good command and an above-average slider. He also wrote that Romano’s third pitch, the changeup, needed some serious work. Fast forward two seasons and nothing has changed. Big Sal has thrown his changeup less than 6% of the time this year, and hitters have an other worldly ISO of .318 against it. For the un-ISO inclined, that means they hit the changeup crazy hard.

Romano doesn’t strikeout many people, so he relies on soft contact to get outs. Even with a BABIP that is well below his minor league norms, Romano has posted a 5.35 ERA this year.

That third pitch makes a big difference, and it’s hard to see Romano remaining a starter unless the changeup improves quite a bit. He’s only 24, so there’s still time, but his fastball/slider combination likely plays well out of the bullpen right now, and because relievers are pitching more innings than ever, he might fit nicely into a multi-inning reliever role. His starting stock has fallen.

Robert Stephenson

Stephenson is exhausting. He strikes out lots of batters because his stuff is art in motion; he walks a lot of batters because he rarely locates the canvas on which to paint. He’s pitch seven full seasons now, and his extreme control problems continue to hinder his ability to get MLB hitters out.

The Reds don’t seem high on Stephenson. They kept him in AAA even as the Reds starting rotation worked hard to improve the fortunes of National League hitters. Their actions were justified when Stephenson walked twelve batters in 10.2 innings in his three starts.

Stephenson finds himself in a similar position as Reed last offseason. His window is closing and unless he takes drastic steps forward, the end of his Reds tenure is nigh.

What Does It All Mean?

These pitchers, between 23 and 25 years old, are still toddlers by MLB standards, trying to figure out what works and what’s good in their current situation.This year has been much messier than we wished, and the Reds have few sure things going forward. The setbacks are demoralizing, especially as we thirst for a contender in the Queen City once again.

One of the biggest questions facing the Reds is who deserves a longer rope in the learning process. If the Reds choose the wrong pitchers to invest starts in, they may doom the rebuild in its entirety.

By trading for Lucas Sims, The Reds have already added another arm to compete for a 2019 rotation spot. I assume they will add a veteran as well, though it’s hard to predict what ownership and the front office will do these days.

Still, the Reds need some of these arms to work out, and they would get a big boost if Anthony Desclafani can stay healthy. The path to pitching success is painful, and we should still expect a bumpy ride going forward; Let’s just hope those bumps are less jarring than this year’s.


24 Responses

  1. Nick Carrington

    What else do we have but those dreams? 🙂

  2. roger garrett

    I really liked the commitment made to Castillo,Romano and Mahle at the start of the season.It told me we are going to go with them and see but Mahle hit the wall and then this team went to a 6 man rotation when Harvey got here and now Romano is in the pen.So instead of next young guy up we now have Disco,Harvey,Homer,Castillo and I guess Reed for now.This is what happens when you don’t have a plan.Its foolish to think that Bob,Reed,Garrett,Mahle,Romano and even Lorenzen have even been given a chance yet we still run Harvey and Homer out with over 200 starts between them.Nick you said a pitcher’s growth is often painful but I would like to suggest its ALWAYS painful rather then often.It took year 4 before Cueto became Cueto and Homer was awful from 2007-2011 yet the Reds throw guys away after 20 starts or 18 or 30.Amazes me.

    • Nick Carrington

      Cueto was pretty good in year three, but you are right that he wasn’t a dominant guy until year 4. Homer was much better than his ERA in 2010-2011 based on SIERA and xFIP, but he was awful for several years before that.

      We are on the same page on giving more guys chances this year. I would have been a little quicker to look at guys who didn’t get extended (or any) chances this year.

    • Dave Roemerman

      I hate everything you just said…mainly because I think you are spot on with every single point. Probably the most likely 2019 rotation prediction I’ve seen (let’s hope you’re wrong on a few counts). Good write up in terms of analysis but horrible in terms of what we’d all like to see If that happens, I think ticket sales will stay down and we’re chasing 81 wins Sigh.

  3. Scottya

    Good writeup on each individual pitcher’s season and expectations. The Luis Castillo season is deceivingly good (3.87 Sierra). However, If we do another year of SP sorting with Bob Steve, Sal Romano, Cody Reed, Tyler Mahle and Lucas Sims. We can expect another 85-90 loss season in 19′. I, like many other fans don’t want to wait any longer.

    After considering trades, I hope we move Sal, Reed and Stephenson to the bullpen. Keep Mahle and Sims (if he has options) in AAA for one more year of developing the off speed stuff and sign three starters in the offseason. If a starter gets hurt we go with Mahle or Sims or Sal if he begins to seriously improve his changeup in the bullpen.

    Lastly, it is my opinion that If we sign a top end starter, it would be foolish not to add another top end starter and a third low cost #4.

    There is a Japanese left hander available in the off-season that the reds should sign Yusei Kikuchi. See:

  4. Mike Adams

    Steve, I love the way you stated the Reds aren’t going to SPEND another year sorting, emphasis on “SPEND”.
    Some may disagree but it feels like the “sorting” of starting pitching in both 2017 and 2018 have accomplished little.
    The only thing the Reds have figured out is: some of these starting pitchers have not figured anything out–yet.

  5. Nick Carrington

    I think getting two pitchers is the best case scenario, but I think it more likely they will add one legitimate starter and maybe take a flyer on another veteran. They’ve got Castillo, Disco, and then we’ll see. I still feel good about Mahle and am curious about Sims, but if they add only one pitcher and Disco gets hurt again, things get murky.

  6. Scott C

    I have hated the treatment that Stephenson has received from the Reds, but I agree that perhaps the best thing for him and the Reds is for a trade. I do not see that they will get much for him since he is out of options. Call me disgruntled but that seems to be “the Reds Way.”

  7. Jack

    Is it me Nick or does it seem that other teams young pitchers come up and do well? The Cards seem to always have guys come up and pitch decent as well as say the Dodgers. How does our young guys compare to other teams young pitchers?

    • Nick Carrington

      I think there are some serious questions surrounding the Reds ability to develop pitchers, but I haven’t concluded anything on that front yet. Plenty of heralded young guys have struggled for other teams. Lucas Giolito was arguably the best pitching prospect in baseball two years ago.He’s got a 5.85 ERA in 152+ innings this year.

      Lucas Sims and Matt Wisler were both top 100 prospects at one time. Before being traded to the Reds, they both struggled quite a bit for the Braves.

      Tyler Glasnow was a top 30 prospect for the Pirates and pitched poorly enough to go to the bullpen for the Buccos before his trade to Tampa bay.

      There are lots of examples of guys having success early and others floundering. I just hope the Reds issues recently are more bad luck than coaching/strategy.

  8. Jack

    Another story I would like to see from any of you writers is which free agent pitchers to be are ground ball pitchers? We dont need more flyball pitchers here in GABP. I dont have the resources to find that out and you all have site after site where you pull this info out of. Would love to see who would be the best pitcher the Reds could go after . Thanks

    • Scottya

      Dallas Keuchal 58% Career Ground ball rate
      Brett Anderson: 57%
      Trevor Cahill: 55%
      Charlie Morton: 54%
      Garrett Richards: 53%
      Patrick Corbin: 49%
      Hyun-Jin Ryu: 48%
      Gio Gonzalez: 47%
      Clay Bucholz: 47%
      Nathan Eovaldi: 47%
      Lance Lynn: 45%
      Anibal Sanchez: 43%
      JA Happ: 40%
      Jeremy Hellickson: 39%

      After doing this, I’m no longer interested in signing JA Happ, unless it is a really cheap short term deal.

      Notice the top 4 play for the A’s and Astros.

  9. Mason Red

    I don’t see the Reds going after pitchers unless it’s Harvey or some other reclamation project. I think they are perfectly happy with the pitchers mentioned in the article above plus Homer who is here to stay. It’s the Reds Way.

  10. Nick Carrington

    Number 2 is especially painful.

  11. roger garrett

    I would be shocked if the Reds continue any kind of sort next year.Mainly because they don’t know how to do it.Homer,Disco and Castillo will be 3 of the starters.I will guess and say they will go out and get one starter and maybe pick one of the group left over for the last spot.Its past time to fish or cut bait.Need to package some of these young starters with a proven position player and get that starter I mentioned.Anybody not named Suarez is available and throw in Iggy if it gets it done.We have holes but the pitching has to get better.

  12. roger garrett

    Please a new manager and please no more of Billy as a starter.I would do back flips,which I could never do,if I never saw another bunt or read a box score that showed Billy leading off and getting 5 at bats in a game.That can’t be too much to ask.

  13. D Ray White

    It could be argued that they haven’t sorted yet. In other words, they’ve botched the sort job.

  14. Corky Miller

    #1 – Free agent pitchers are not coming to Cincy.  Unless it’s a last resort, which is how they  get a Scott Feldman, there is no way a pitcher wants to come to this ballpark, with this defense behind them, unless it’s a major overpay.

    #2 – It’s the exact opposite for hitters. Hitters will look at Cincy as a good spot to rebuild their value.  The Reds can get decent hitters to put up numbers at GABP. Gennett, Suarez,  Duvall, Ludwick are examples of guys who came here and exceeded expectations.

    So in my opinion, they first require a complete change in draft philosophy. Draft pitchers. High end power arms.  College pitchers first. Kyle Wright over Hunter Greene – for example.

    That’s not going to help the next few years.

    So until then,  I see three options:
    1. Trade for someone’s problem contact and hope for a rebirth.  Sonny Gray? Alex Cobb?

    2.  Go all in on the Tampa plan.  Bullpen the game from the first inning on. This team has 10-12 AAAA arms that have at best two pitches.  Make sure hitters only see them one time through the order, two at the very most. Start one of your top relievers against top 3 hitters to start the game. Mix and match guys. Collecting multi inning FA relievers is possible.

    3. Stick with what you have. Likely not going to win next year, so hope at least two of these minor league pitchers steps up. Right now you have Castillo,  Disco,  and pray for rain. I don’t see this as an option, but it’s the most probable.

  15. redlegs64

    Fine piece Nick.

    H4V, that’s a smart summary.

    #4 just baffles me. Brian Price was all about this philosophy.
    Is that really a sound approach to long-term pitcher development? We have 4 weeks and a handful of practice games to “make the team”? Is this junior-varsity baseball?

    With his performance the final 2 months of 2017, Robert Stephenson deserved to be a ML starter for at least 2-3 months in 2018. Don’t try to tell me Brandon Finnegan “beat out” Stephenson. That guy looked unprepared to pitch – period! Even the try-out was rigged!

    I think Tyler Mahle will become an effective ML pitcher but he is on a different timeline than Stephenson and should have started the year at AAA.

    Despite his pitching coach background, Brian Price was unwilling to commit to LT development. So here we sit a year later with backwards & sideways moves. Again because the Reds were unwilling to fire an ineffective manager until things got too bad to ignore.

    • Redlegs64

      btw – Stephenson’s AAA performance in 2018 also makes him a worthy candidate for 2019. For some reason, on a site where LT data is emphasized, Stephenson’s 2018 AAA numbers don’t seem to get him included in most poster’s 2019 starting rotation.

      & I understand the frustration with walks – but the kid needs time to work through that. He’ll get there just as he showed in late 2017 and 2018.

  16. Nick Carrington

    Batters fouling off so many two-strike pitches can be a sign of a problem: lack of a good put-away pitch. We’ve seen that at the MLB level this season with both Lorenzen and Romano. Both get to two strikes a good amount; neither has been able to consistently put away hitters. Lorenzen’s BB% would be a point or two lower if he could recapture the put-away curve he had the last two years. Romano’s lack of a third pitch has made him too predictable with two strikes.

  17. Ryan

    Does anyone have any statistics to support how Reed’s change up rates out? Reed’s slider seems to be a nasty pitch, and he seems to have improved his fastball command (something that Stephenson still lacks). My concern with Reed though is the lack of velocity differential between his pitches. It seems like everything he throws is hard between 87-94 mph. I don’t have any data to support it but I feel like this is why Reed gives up so many hits because he struggles to keep hitters off balance. Thoughts?