The Cincinnati Reds have signed left-handed pitcher Jacob Heatherly to a minor league deal for 2024 and that deal includes an invitation to big league spring training. Heatherly, who was drafted by Cincinnati in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft, has spent his entire career with the organization but has missed a large majority of the time since turning pro.

The decision to re-sign Jacob Heatherly is an interesting one and gives us some insight as to where the club stands on him. Heatherly would need to be added to the 40-man roster in order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft next month. The team would not have had to re-sign him if they instead opted to simply add him to the 40-man roster before he would have become a free agent. They chose to not do that, saving a 40-man roster spot for now. This chain reaction of decisions likely tells us that the club will leave him exposed for the Rule 5 draft and take their chances that no one will select him.

As noted above, Heatherly was selected in 2017’s draft. That year he threw 39.2 innings. The next year he threw 38.2 innings. Between 2019, 2020 (there was no season), 2021, and 2022 he threw a combined 17.1 innings. The lefty was healthy in 2023 for the first time in a very long time and he spent time at three different levels. Much of his time was spent in Single-A Daytona where the 25-year-old made 27 relief appearances with a 2.78 ERA. He then moved up to High-A Dayton and pitched in seven more games, posting a 2.70 ERA. His season would come to an end with two appearances at the end of the year with Double-A Chattanooga where he allowed a run in 4.0 innings.

In total, Heatherly posted a 2.72 ERA in 53.0 innings pitched – all in relief. He only allowed 26 hits and just one home run during the season. He also missed a ton of bats as he struck out 91 hitters during the season. All of that is the good side of his resume. But the lefty struggled to throw strikes with consistency and walked 53 batters – that’s a batter per inning. That’s been the story for his career – plenty of strikeouts and a ton of walks. You can see his career stats here.

When it comes to stuff, Jacob Heatherly has plenty of it. While it’s not elite-level stuff, it’s plenty good enough to pitch at a high level in the big leagues. This season his fastball averaged 95.1 MPH, which is well above-average for a lefty, and he topped out at 98 MPH.

Heatherly throws his fastball a ton. During his time with Daytona, where we have public pitch tracking data, he threw his fastball 74% of the time. He mixed in his curveball 21% of the time, and his change up about 5% of the time.

The invite to spring training isn’t likely going to result in him making the team. His track record of struggling to throw strikes is too long for a few weeks in spring training to overcome (or it should be), but a good performance there could keep him in the minds of everyone. And if he goes back to Chattanooga and performs well there then he could simply be a call away.

8 Responses

  1. MK

    I think he will be gone in Rule V Draft. This is disappointing.

    • Jason Franklin

      What makes it disappointing? Do you see something intriguing in him that will make him valuable to other teams? Or are you worried because this signing was just a filler signing?

    • Old Big Ed

      His injury history would probably deter another team from investing a year’s salary (and a roster spot) to a guy who walks a hitter per inning, especially one who has pitched a total of 4 innings above A ball. Maybe some team like the A’s take a stab.

      Last year, only 15 guys were picked in the Rule V draft. Ryan Noda, a 27-year-old corner guy, was taken by the A’s from the Dodgers and had 2.3 bWAR. Blake Sabol, whom the Reds drafted but whose contract was immediately sold to the Giants, had a decent but somewhat Fairchildian year. The best pitcher was Kevin Kelly, who came from the Guardians via the Rockies to Tampa, and had a good season there. Kelly, though, had excelled at AA-AAA in 2022, with much better control than Heatherly.

    • Kinsm

      He could have signed with any club yesterday to a big league deal – as he was a minor league free agent – avoiding the upcoming Rule 5 draft. Instead he chose to re-sign with the Reds to a new minor league deal. I’d say there’s close to zero chance he’s plucked.

  2. doofus

    Hard throwing lefty will help some team next year or two.

  3. Mike W

    I understand the concern about his walk ratio, but I also see an RP with a 2.7 ERA wherever and whenever he pitched. Why wouldn’t we keep a lefty that has done that? Heck, just a hunch, but I bet a bullpen of RP’s with a 2.7 ERA would take us to the World Series!

    • BK

      He has just 17.1 innings combined between High A and AA. Projecting that his 2.7 ERA in that tiny sample size will translate to something similar in the majors is quite an optimistic stretch. That said, I could see him moving quickly through the system this year, given his age. He did make progress, but he still has a few more steps to take before he’s major league ready.

    • Jason Franklin

      Mike: interesting question about bullpens and Era.

      According to them there stats, Arizona had a bullpen ERA of 4.22 and Texas had one of 4.77

      The interesting part is that the Redlegs had an era of 4.11 last year (as a bullpen).