Daniel Corcino heads the group of starting pitchers in the farm system. He had a breakout season in 2011 where his stats finally matched up with his scouting reports. He has long been compared to Reds #1 Johnny Cueto because of their similar mechanics, profiles and stuff. His numbers hadn’t quite stacked up well before this past season, but he posted a 3.42 ERA with 156 strikeouts and 34 walks in 139.1 innings pitched for the Dayton Dragons this year. He has top end stuff, with a 91-94 MPH fastball that can touch 96-97 MPH every now and again to go along with an above-average to plus breaking ball and a change up. He throws strikes with all of his pitches and has clean mechanics that resemble Cueto before he began turning his back toward home plate this past season. While he is still likely 2-3 years away, he has a high upside arm and already is showing good polish.
Robert Stephenson comes in second on the list and many would argue that he should be first. The Reds took him with their first round pick in this past draft and for good reason. He has good size at 6’2″ and 190 pounds to go along with potentially plus raw stuff. He didn’t pitch during the season because he signed late, so we can really only go on scouting reports. The reports have his fastball in the 92-94 MPH range and has touched 98 MPH to go along with a potentially plus curveball that is inconsistent at this point in time and a change up that lacks behind the other two pitches.
Kyle Lotzkar has seemingly been around forever, but he has yet to put together a full season despite being drafted in 2007. He has had multiple arm injuries and missed time this season with another arm issue as well as a hamstring injury. With all of that said, he has worked to redo his mechanics and I like what I see as he now resembles an orthodox throwing motion rather than the scary “injury waiting to happen” pitcher he used to resemble. His stuff is still strong with a low 90’s fastball that can touch 95 and a very good breaking ball to go with a change up. He put up solid peripherals in Dayton this year and his ERA got better as the season went along. He is another guy who is still likely years away, but if he can stay healthy he has what it takes to be a quality Major League pitcher.
Tony Cingrani was another draftee from this season and there are still some questions about whether or not he will remain a starting pitcher, but for the time being he is a starter. He put up dominating numbers for Billings this season with a 1.75 ERA and 80 strikeouts against just 6 walks in 51.1 innings pitched. His strikeout per 9 innings of 14.0 is the highest rate for pitchers with at least 50 innings in the Pioneer League since Sid Fernandez in 1981. He has two very good pitches with a fastball that works 92-95 MPH and touches 98 as a lefty and a strong slider in the low to mid 80’s. His third pitch is what may keep him from becoming a starter over the long haul, but as a lefty with two above-average to plus pitches as a foundation he will probably be given plenty of time to develop his third pitch.
JC Sulbaran had a very up and down season for the Bakersfield Blaze, which I discussed yesterday. When he struggles with his control, he seems to get hit around quite a bit but when he has his control he resembles a very dominating arm who has tons of potential. It is tough to get a read on the numbers because of the California League hitting environment being so friendly, but from a peripherals standpoint he has some things to like with lots of strikeouts and overall his walk rate was not too bad. If he can hone in the walk rate a little more, he could be a guy who really takes a big step forward as his above-average fastball and plus breaking ball can really dominate lineups.
After that group of guys I think that there is a little bit of a gap before we get to the next group of guys that includes Pedro Villarreal, Tim Crabbe, Josh Smith, Josh Ravin, Daniel Renken and Ismael Guillon. Villarreal has two above-average pitches with his fastball and slider and he shows solid control of his pitches, but he has always given up his fair share of hits. Tim Crabbe also has two above-average pitches with a fastball and a slider and he really put up strong numbers for Bakersfield this past season with a 3.41 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 111 innings with 46 walks. His development of a third pitch will either make or break his chances as a starter. Josh Smith profiles more as a back end of the rotation guy if he doesn’t make the transition to the bullpen where he profiles a little better. Still, as the Reds pitcher of the year where he came off a season with Dayton where he broke the franchise record for strikeouts in a season with 166 and just 33 walks is impressive as can be and deserves to at least be mentioned here. Josh Ravin has the pure stuff to be a strong starting pitcher with a fastball that was working 93-95 consistently when I saw him late in the season and touched 97. He also has a strong curveball that he can use as an out pitch and a change up. He is sound mechanically in terms of being clean. His struggles with control can be seen when looking at his numbers and when he struggles to throw strikes, he does not fair well. When he has his control though, he can be a dominating pitcher. Daniel Renken is similar to Josh Smith, in that they both dominated in Dayton with outstanding numbers, but likely profiles as a back end of the rotation guy or a solid reliever because of his stuff. He put up a 3.52 ERA between Dayton and Bakersfield with 165 strikeouts and 52 walks in 143.1 innings pitched. His fastball works in the 89-90 MPH range, but could work stronger in the bullpen. Ismael Guillon is more in line with Josh Ravin than the other guys. Like Ravin, he has strong stuff, but he really struggled with his control in the 2011 season where he had 46 walks and 61 strikeouts in 63 innings. When he is throwing strikes, he can get guys out but when he struggles with his control he gets hit around which explains his 6.57 ERA and 78 hits allowed during the season. The potential is still there with his arm because he has the stuff, but he needs to exhibit much better control as he moves up or he may find himself transitioning to a reliever.
I would give this group a B- grade. There is some strong potential in this group with a potentially Top 100 prospect in Daniel Corcino, but aside from him, there is a whole bunch of unknown and question marks. Even though there are guys with top end potential, none of them have put up the big numbers just yet or have developed that third pitch that will keep them as starters. Beyond the guys mentioned, I am not sure there is much depth either and most of these guys are below the AA level, leaving a big gap between the Reds and most of these guys.