Sunday afternoon saw the Cincinnati Reds send two of their top pitching prospects to the mound against the Chicago Cubs. Graham Ashcraft started the game for the Reds and he threw 3.0 innings. Hunter Greene came on in relief, pitching a shutout 5th inning.
We’re going to start out with Hunter Greene’s performance first. As a member of the 40-man roster he was locked out and was making his first appearance in a game on Sunday against Chicago. The first outing for Greene went quite well. He struck out former teammate Narciso Crook to begin the inning. The next batter grounded out to shortstop Matt McLain. Dixon Machado popped up to first base, but Colin Moran lost the ball in the sun and it landed on the dirt for an infield single. Greene then struck out Willson Contreras to end the inning and complete his outing for the day.
The 22-year-old righty faced four batters and threw 17 pitches in the inning. Had Moran not lost the ball in the sun he would have been out of the inning after 10 pitches, but he battled Willson Contreras in the final at-bat before coming out on top. Greene recorded his three outs in the inning on three different pitches. His first out came on a 101 MPH fastball that went by Narciso Crook’s bat. The ground out for the second out was off of a change up. Contreras was caught looking at a slider that caught the zone to end the inning.
While it was just one inning, Hunter Greene looked good. He looked ready to go. Greene was throwing strikes. He showed off three different pitches and got results with all of them. We’ll get to see him take the mound again on Saturday against the San Francisco Giants. In that game he’ll be the starter and is likely to get more than one inning of work.
Watching Graham Ashcraft
Unlike Hunter Greene, Graham Ashcraft is not on the 40-man roster. That meant that the Reds #5 prospect was able to participate in early minor league camp out in Goodyear that began just over a month ago. Because of that it’s allowed Ashcraft (and others who were there) to get more work in than players on the 40-man roster and – at least in theory – be a little bit ahead of those players. That’s probably why Ashcraft was able to throw 3.0 innings on Sunday.
Ashcraft, a 6′ 2″ and 240 lb. right-handed starter was making his first appearance in a game this spring. His first inning, much like the inning from Greene, went fairly well outside of a defensive miscue. Back-to-back groundouts were recorded on Nick Madrigal and Willson Contreras before Mike Moustakas bobbled a grounder that allowed Jason Heyward to reach on an error. Ashcraft rebounded by striking out Patrick Wisdom on a slider.
The second inning didn’t go nearly as well as the first. While Ashcraft got results in the first inning, he was missing his spots quite a bit during the inning. In the second those misses didn’t get better and led to some problems. After a leadoff single on a grounder up the middle, Ashcraft hit the next batter on the elbow. He also hit the next batter to load the bases. The righty struck Narciso Crook out for the first out. A grounder to Alejo Lopez at second base where he made a nice play resulted in the second out, but also in a run scoring. Another grounder to Lopez ended the inning and limited the damage to just one run. The third and final inning was a quick one that saw two fly outs and a ground out that required Ashcraft to throw 12 pitches to get through the inning, pushing him to 50 on the day.
There were some good things to see in the outing. If you had a chance to watch you could tell that the cut fastball thrown by Ashcraft has good movement to it. And while there was no displayed radar on the screen, the Cubs broadcasters noted he was sitting 97 consistently, and Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweeted out during the game that he had hit 100 MPH in the first inning. None of that is uncommon for Ashcraft who was doing the same stuff last season while with the High-A Dayton Dragons and Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts. You also got a chance to see his slider. While it was inconsistent in location on the day, it showed that hard, biting action. Another good sign was the amount of ground balls he generated during the game. That, too, is much like he’s always done. In his two minor league seasons he’s posted a ground ball rate of 57.4% (MLB average rate is 42%).
The control and command on the day was not great, particularly in the first two innings. He was missing with the fastball and the slider quite often, even when throwing strikes. That has not been a big issue for him in the minors. He has only walked 58 batters in his 164.2 minor league innings. Despite struggling with his control and command, Ashcraft was able to put together a solid outing.