Spring training isn’t set to begin for a few more months, and the Cincinnati Reds rotation is still a bit up in the air. There have been rumors that the Reds are listening for offers on just about anyone on the roster, including starting pitchers Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo. Even if those two pitchers remain on the roster and in the rotation, it seems that at least one spot is up for grabs at the back end of the rotation. Cincinnati seems to be looking at more than a few options to take over the spot, including José De León, Michael Lorenzen, Tejay Antone, or Jeff Hoffman.

Among those pitchers, José De León may be getting a bit of a head start on the competition. The right-handed pitcher is currently playing winter league baseball in Puerto Rico, and he’s been absolutely dominating the competition. On Sunday he made his third start of the year for Caguas and put together yet another brilliant start. De León allowed just one hit over 5.0 shutout innings that included two walks and seven strikeouts.

After the start on Sunday, José De León now has an ERA of 0.64 in 14.0 innings pitched where he’s allowed just four total hits, one earned run, he’s walked seven batters, and he’s now struck out 27 batters out of the 53 that he’s faced on the year. In the first start of the winter league season the right-hander walked four batters, but over the last two he’s walked just three batters and struck out 19.

Coming off of Tommy John surgery that cost him all of the 2018 season, José De León pitched mostly in Triple-A with the Tampa Bay Rays organization in 2019. His fastball velocity didn’t quite come all of the way back that year, but he was solid in his return to the mound as he posted a 3.51 ERA in 13 starts and 4 relief appearances with Durham that included 73 strikeouts in 51.1 innings. He did walk 27 batters in that span, though, showing a little bit of a higher walk rate than you would like to see.

Cincinnati traded for José De León following the 2019 season and when he came out in the spring before things were shut down, he was throwing harder than he had been in 2019 when he was sitting in the 89-92 MPH range and occasionally touching 94-95. In the spring there wasn’t a lot of time on the mound in games, but he was sitting in the mid-90’s with his fastball when he did get a chance to throw.

The Reds had the righty among the 60-man player pool during the 2020 season, but much of his time was spent at Prasco Park. He did join the big league club for five games. Two of them went well – on August 29th he struck out three batters in 1.2 perfect innings, and then on September 12th he pitched 2.0 shutout innings with a walk and two strikeouts. Three of them are one’s that he would probably prefer to forget ever happened – he allowed eight runs in 1.2 innings on August 6th, four runs in 0.2 innings on August 30th with both of those outings including four walks each, and walked the only two hitters he faced on September 14th.

Control was one of the big things that held back José De León when he was on the mound in the big leagues in 2020. When he was throwing strikes, he found success. But on the days when he couldn’t find the strikezone with any consistency, things didn’t go well in the slightest. The former top prospect for the Los Angeles Dodgers has always been known for a great change up – a pitch he still uses with tons of success. And now that his fastball velocity is back, and perhaps even faster than ever (he topped out at 98 MPH for Cincinnati in the big leagues this year), the stuff is certainly there.

He’s only made three starts in the winter in Puerto Rico, but no one down there has been able to touch his stuff. And in two of the three starts he’s shown plenty of control, too.

18 Responses

  1. Bill J

    Question, how many major league players has he faced in those 3 games?

  2. Bred

    He will be the ace of the rotation when Gray and Castillo are traded.

  3. RedBaron

    Good stuff Doug thanks, but I have a Q?….How good is the competition in the Puerto Rican Winter League? AAA? I scanned some rosters and didn’t recognize any names on teams. TIA

    • GreatRedLegsFan

      Sort of AAA+, or so it was until a few years ago.

    • Daytonnati

      Better than the broadcasting 🙂

      • Earmbrister

        What’s worse than watching golf on TV?

        Listening to it on the radio …

  4. Justin

    Everyone, including national baseball people, are talking about the Reds like they are in fire safe mode. How differently would we all be talking if their had been a minor league season? Having top pitching prospects at Prasco under the instruction of Brody et. al., with no eyes on them creates an interesting dynamic. Perhaps some combination of Lodolo, Greene, De Leon, Santillan, and Gutierrez made major strides. Maybe all the Gray and Castillo talk is prompted by these guys beating down the door.

    We were operating with 3 number 1 starters (Bauer/Gray/Castillo) and 1 number 2 (Mahle, who certainly pitched like a number 2). If a couple of the guys listed above provide 4.00 era seasons but we improved the offense through trade, I think that would be an interesting shift that could still be as successful as the 2020 club makeup.

  5. LDS

    Our perennial optimism as Reds fans is starting to feel like Charlie Brown kicking the football with Lucy.

  6. Doc

    Thinking a little outside the proverbial conventional box, why do we develop prospects and then when they are showing signs of being successful, trade them for unproven prospects of whatever level before we ever fully realize any benefit from the guys we developed? If you think of it, that model would say that as soon as the next crop of good prospects are ready to produce, they get traded. The cycle repeats and all we ever have are prospects on the cusp of producing who are traded away as soon as they produce.

    Maybe an alternative way would be to identify players who are good and demonstrating production, and locking them up through their arbitration years, and maybe one or two more, then letting them walk. The very best of them could be given a QO to net a high draft pick return, but for the majority of them the Reds would get the benefit of the production, and have 6-8 years to develop the replacement. If a replacement develops and is the better player, then trade the guy he replaces, but not until the replacement has proven his mettle at MLB level. A couple of examples:

    Suarez was signed to a mutually agreed contract that bought out his arbitration years. His production has been good (I’m not debating his pros and cons in this exercise). If the Reds keep him to contract’s completion and then he opts for free agency, they have had a pretty good deal and would have gotten their money’s worth. But if they trade him now, they would not have gotten their money’s worth, and what they get in return is a crapshoot.

    Take Castillo as an example. He is highly thought of, but what have the Reds realized in production from their development investment? Not much. However, what if they were to sign him for a equivalent deal to Suarez? They would then get 3-4 years of probable solid production at the top of their rotation. When the contract ends and he is ready for the open market, make a QO, wish him well, and have his replacement ready to step in. No trade of a potential staff ace that the Reds developed before he produces big time, and especially not for unproven quantities.

    Of course, this model assumes:
    1. Ability to identify talent at the front end of the draft.
    2. Ability to develop that talent.
    3. Ability to handle multiple mutually beneficial deals concurrently
    4. Ability to resist Homer Bailey, Joey Votto type deals that hamper the model.
    5. Willingness to hire, and pay to keep, the best staff money can buy.

    I guess I’m moving towards find them, develop them, benefit from them, then wish them well when they move on, rather than the model of find them, develop them, and move them before you gained any real benefit, and start again with the next crop.

  7. Alex

    I am starting to think the Reds pitching dept believe that they can build and mold any pitcher to be Bauer – Lite. Antone is a great example…. which is why Castillo and Gray are available. They will just plug and play.

  8. west larry

    If the reds trade both Grey and Castillo, they better get a bushelful of top 50 prospects, hopefully all under 24 years of age. Losing Bauer, Castillo and Grey would make their starting five pretty iffy.

    • CatcherJFP08

      It will make the ENTIRE TEAM pretty iffy…..

  9. JayTheRed

    The media needs to quit with this person is being shopped. Every player on the team is being shopped, stop making it seem like news. If something happens then boom write your article stop trying to make news when there is no news to report. Now if you have an inside track on something that is about to happen please feel free to report it. In every article I have read about these potential trades they all state the same thing. Nothing is close currently and don’t expect anything to come out of it at this point. How about stop reporting on nothing. Every team every year should be talking about each others players. Until there is something with substance to it. Like a headline Deal close. then quit telling people the obvious.

    I really do hope that none of these guys go that are being shopped according to these articles. I wouldn’t mind losing maybe one of them for a nice patch of prospects but if we are not signing Bauer, which it sounds like we have a .001 chance of doing then just wait for them to actually do something.