The Cincinnati Reds need someone to step into their rotation when the 2022 season begins. After placing Wade Miley on waivers and losing him to the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati is currently looking at the top three of their rotation being Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Tyler Mahle in some order. After that there could be a big competition in spring training for the final two spots between Vladimir Gutierrez, who made 22 starts with a 4.74 ERA last season with Cincinnati, Tony Santillan, who pitched mostly out of the bullpen with the Reds in 2021 where he had a 2.91 ERA, and prospects Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Graham Ashcraft, Riley O’Brien, and Reiver Sanmartin.
There is a lot of different looks in there. You’ve got very hard throwers in Hunter Greene and Graham Ashcraft. You’ve got guys with plenty of velocity in Tony Santillan and Nick Lodolo. And then you’ve got some guys who have solid velocity who rely a bit more on the full package and mixing and matching their stuff to get the job done in Vladimir Gutierrez, Riley O’Brien, and Reiver Sanmartin. It’s the latter of that last group who is currently pitching in the Dominican Winter League right now as he prepares to try and win a spot in the rotation when spring training rolls around.
To end the 2021 season it was Reiver Sanmartin that was called upon to finish out the big league season with Cincinnati. The 25-year-old lefty made two starts, both against Pittsburgh, in the final week of the season. Between the two starts he threw 11.2 innings and allowed 12 hits, two runs, walked just two batters, and he picked up 11 strikeouts.
That final stretch to end the season capped off a good season for the lefty. He began the year in Double-A Chattanooga, but after 18.0 innings on 1-run baseball he was sent to Triple-A where he made 14 starts and 7 relief appearances and threw 82.1 innings with a 3.94 ERA.
Now pitching in the Dominican Winter League for the Eastern Stars, Sanmartin has made six starts and he’s been rather dominant. The left-handed starter has given up just five earned runs in 26.0 innings (1.73 ERA) and hasn’t allowed a home run. Since the start of the year he’s now thrown 138.0 innings across Double-A, Triple-A, MLB, and the Dominican Winter League and allowed just six homers.
Much like his time in affiliated baseball this year, Reiver Sanmartin has been getting tons of ground balls in his time pitching down in the Dominican. The lefty has gotten grounders on 62% of the balls put in play against him in his 26.0 innings there. While pitching during the regular season here stateside he generated grounders at a rate of 54% between his three stops. To put that into perspective, the MLB ground ball rate on the year was just 43%.
In 2021 the big thing in baseball, as it has been for the last decade, is velocity. Everyone is throwing harder than ever before. If you don’t throw 95 or harder then you tend to be overlooked. You have to go out and prove yourself over and over again. Among the pitchers that seem to be vying for a spot int he Reds rotation next year, Reiver Sanmartin sticks out for his lack of velocity. While guys like Hunter Greene and Graham Aschraft can hit triple-digits with their fastball, Sanmartin didn’t even average 90 MPH in his two starts for Cincinnati this past year – he averaged just 89.4 MPH.
Perhaps not the favorite heading into spring to grab a spot, Reiver Sanmartin would give the rotation a very different look. He’s a soft-tossing (by today’s standards) lefty who has a deceptive delivery. But in some sense he is a bit like Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray (and the now departed Wade Miley) in that he gets plenty of ground balls. Castillo was among the best in all of baseball with a 57% ground ball rate last season, while Gray was at 47% – the first time in his entire career he was under 50%.