Eno Sarris of The Athletic picked 10 young pitchers around Major League Baseball that could be poised to break out in 2023 and the Cincinnati Reds rotation had two of his picks. Hunter Greene and Graham Ashcraft both show up on the list.

For Hunter Greene we really started to see what he’s capable of once August began last season. He missed time down the stretch on the injured list, but he made five starts from August 1st through the end of the season and allowed just two earned runs while striking out 45 batters with just 7 walks in 29.0 innings. That’s a 0.62 ERA  and a 0.69 WHIP for those keeping track at home. Batters managed to hit just .131/.225/.182 against him during that stretch.

Now it’s probably just as likely that Elvis returns on a UFO that Hunter Greene can go out and do that all season. Baseball’s never seen anything close to that over the course of a full year and while Greene has a huge upside, not even he is in the Steve Nebraska territory.

While Greene’s late season stats tell us that we may have already seen the break out start, Sarris looks into what helped lead to that break out and why it could continue. He notes that Greene began to miss the middle of the zone with his fastball more, hitting the top of the zone more frequently as the year went on. When you get a guy with big stuff who begins to command it better (rather than just control it – throwing strikes versus throwing strikes where you want them), good things tend to happen.

Another thing that Sarris didn’t mention but could come into play is Greene’s work this offseason on his change up. The young right-handed starter spoke about his focus this offseason on improving the pitch. As I wrote about last week, the pitch started to look different down the stretch last year even through he didn’t throw it any more frequently. Using the pitch a little more often could help change a batters approach a little bit against him and could result in Greene finding more success.

As for Graham Ashcraft, his season was a little bit of the opposite of Hunter Greene’s. There were some ups-and-downs along the way, but after his start on August 19th he had a 3.97 ERA. But he then missed the next five weeks on the injured list. When he came back he made three starts and struggled. He allowed 16 earned runs in 12.0 innings and saw his ERA jump up to 4.89 as the season came to an end.

Ashcraft is one of the best starters in baseball when it comes to generating ground balls. And one of the biggest reasons for that is his cutter and sinker, both of which get tons of grounders. Sarris notes that a third offering could be the key for a real break out for Ashcraft. When speaking with the media last week, Ashcraft noted that initially in the winter he was going to work more on a third pitch but that after speaking with pitching coach Derek Johnson that the better plan would be to work on being more consistent with his slider which would vary in both shape and velocity throughout the season.

Last season Ashcraft threw his cutter, sinker, slider, and every so often he’d bring out a change up (12 of them all season). And until those final three starts he found plenty of success with that repertoire. We’ll have to keep an eye on whether it keeps working as it had now that there’s a better book on him with a season under his belt. But perhaps a more consistent slider – one that already rated out well – can help him take that next step.

17 Responses

  1. AMDG

    WIthout known the qualifications they used to define a breakout candidate, I’m a bit surprised they placed Ashcraft ahead of Lodolo. Unless they consider Lodolo has already broken out?

    • Reaganspad

      I thought that Ashcraft was our best starter before he went on the list

      • AMDG

        Ashcraft was fantastic over his first 4 starts.

        But over the next 12 starts (before he went on the list) he was very mediocre, with a 4.93 ERA and hitters hitting 0.300 against him.

        And, of course, he was abysmal after he came back from the list, with that 12.00 ERA and allowing a 0.353 batting average.

        Lodolo went the opposite direction. He had a rough 5.81 ERA after his first 6 starts, but cruised to a 2.92 ERA over his final 13 starts.

      • Doug Gray

        Ashcraft had a bumpy road for 3 weeks in June where he had an 8.55 ERA in 4 starts. The 8 starts that followed that stretch, from the start of July until he went on the IL saw him throw 49.1 innings with a 3.47 ERA.

  2. MBS

    It’s nice to see someone show Ashcraft some love. I picked Lodolo as my best starter for 23. I’m also getting excited about the new coming out about Williamson. If his stuff is back, and he’s been able to add another quality pitch, that could be huge.

  3. GreatRedLegsFan

    Looks like starting rotation is lining-up with Lodolo, Greene, Williamson and Ashcraft, with Overton and Cessa fighting for the last spot. Weaver is ticketed for BP and Dunn for IL.

  4. Optimist

    If things begin to work out this season, they’ll be in the hilarious situation of an excellent rotation in a ballpark built for offense. A staff with one ace, 4 or 5 Mahles, and even only a slightly below average bullpen, is plenty good to get a wild card spot.

    Still, though I’m an optimist, it’s the Reds management, and the injury time.

  5. Doc

    I would consider Bob Gibson’s late sixties season when he finished with an ERA of something like 1.12 as a season that was pretty close to the dominance of Greene’s last five starts, especially considering that Gibson finished most of his starts and, therefore, pitched through the dreaded third time, and even some of the fourth time through the lineup. Greene averaged barely over five innings per start in his dominant stretch.

  6. LDS

    Greene could do it. Elvis was arriving by balloon over Michigan. He didn’t make it.

    • doofus

      I stayed at the same hotel that Elvis stayed at in Waikiki. However, he arrived by chopper because the resort had a landing pad.

  7. DaveCT

    You get the feeling that Hunter Greene can do anything he puts his mind to doing.

  8. DaveCT

    In the 21-22 offseason, Ashcraft was reportedly thought of as a bullpen piece as much as a starter, and he now is targeted as a breakout candidate for starting in the ML’s

  9. PTBNL

    Doug, were you quoting Mongo when you wrote this?:

    “biggest reasons for that is cutter and sinker”

    • Doug Gray

      No. Just typing faster than my brain works (which is slow and not well these days)

  10. Mike

    My fear is that all 3 have good to great years but this offense – as currently constructed – won’t provide sufficient support. What will Reds mgmt do? Probably nothing and we’ll see a prime year of each starter wasted.

    • Rob

      Not wasted. Each of the 3 would move another year closer to their mega payday.