To view all articles from the State of the Farm Series you can click here.

The rotation has been a strong point for the Cincinnati Reds for quite a while now, which is refreshing to say after a decade long stretch of maybe having one or two solid pitchers and three guys who probably wouldn’t start for any other team in the game. While the Reds rotation seems like a good bet to once again be an above-average one as long as the team doesn’t make some trades involving the starters. Things get tough after the 2015 season though when Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon are all scheduled to become free agents and leave the Reds with a whole lot of rotation spots to fill.

Louisville had a lot of movement in their rotation as guy came and went throughout the season. Josh Smith spent his entire year with the Bats though and made 27 starts with only his first appearance being a true relief appearance (he did come out of the bullpen to start behind several rehabbing big leaguers during the season). Smith started well, posting a 3.29 ERA through May, but he really struggled the rest of the way, posting a 5.63 ERA from June through the end of the year. David Holmberg started 18 games for the Bats but he was essentially two very different pitchers. He made two trips to the disabled list in April and May, posting an ERA of 10.50 in five starts. After coming back from the disabled list the second time he seemed like a different pitcher. He posted a 3.25 ERA the rest of the way for the Bats and eventually came up to pitch in September for the Reds, posting a 1.82 ERA in five games and 24.2 innings, though his peripherals weren’t nearly in line with his ERA.

Jon Moscot made three starts at the end of the season for Louisville after spending the rest of his season in Double-A Pensacola. For the season the right hander posted a 3.40 ERA in 166.2 innings between the two stops. He showed good control throughout the season, walking just 50 batters and striking out 120. The Pensacola rotation was led by Robert Stephenson’s 27 starts. The top prospect in the system didn’t have a smooth go of things in 2014 as he posted a 4.74 ERA in 136.2 innings. He led the league in strikeouts with 140 but he also led the league in walks with 74. He was the second youngest pitcher in the league to throw at least 60 innings. Daniel Corcino spent most of his season in Pensacola where he posted a 4.13 ERA in 143.2 innings. Corcino also got one start in Louisville and threw 18.2 innings for the Reds in late August and September where he had some ups and downs. Michael Lorenzen made 24 starts for the Blue Wahoos that accounted for 120.2 innings and a 1.13 ERA. He was a groundball machine on the year. The Reds limited his usage in the second half of the season to limit the former relief pitchers workload.

Ben Lively spent the second half of his season with Pensacola after dominating the first half with Bakersfield. Lively would toss 151.0 innings between the two stops with an organizational best 171 strikeouts to go with 52 walks. His time in Advanced-A was better than his time in Double-A, but he was good at both stops. Wandy Peralta led all Bakersfield starters with 28 starts. The left hander posted a 4.82 ERA in 142.0 innings (league ERA was 4.62), but he was much better on the road and away from the incredibly hitter friendly home Bakersfield stadium, posting a road ERA of 3.25 with just four home runs allowed in 74.2 innings. Drew Cisco led the Blaze in innings with 143.1 but he struggled, posting a 6.78 ERA on the season. Right hander Mike Dennhardt tossed 139.1 innings with a 4.52 ERA on the season, but he was up and down, alternating good months with not-so-good months but finished with a season best 3.25 ERA split for August.

Daniel Wright would make 18 starts for Bakersfield after making 10 appearances, mostly as a starter, for Dayton to start the year. In Dayton he would posted a 2.06 ERA in 43.2 innings before posting a 4.14 ERA in 108.2 innings for the Blaze.  On the season he would post a combined 3.54 ERA in 152.1 innings with 141 strikeouts and an incredibly low 22 walks. Ismael Guillon also started his season in Dayton where he started 13 games with a 3.17 ERA in 65.1 innings. Guillon moved to Bakersfield and really struggled as he posted a 6.79 ERA in 58.1 innings as his walk rate went up and his strikeout rate dropped off.

The Dayton pitching staff had three guys stick around for the entire season. Sal Romano led the way with 28 starts and 148.2 innings pitched. The right hander would post a 4.12 ERA with 42 walks and 128 strikeouts. He had some ups and downs during the year but easily put together the best season of his career. Left hander Amir Garrett made 27 starts that spanned 133.1 innings. He had a 3.64 ERA with 51 walks and 127 strikeouts and improved as the season went along, perhaps being the most improved player in the system. Nick Travieso was the third pitcher with Dayton from start to finish, making 26 starts and throwing 142.2 innings with a 3.03 ERA. The 20-year-old had 44 walks and 114 strikeouts. This entire group took a big step forward from 2013 to 2014.

Jackson Stephens began the season on the disabled list but would eventually head to Dayton and make 14 starts with a 4.81 ERA. His ERA was a little higher than it was the year before, but his overall numbers were quite similar. His stuff wasn’t quite the same though. Nick Howard made five starts for the team late in the season as the team decided to get things going on the reliever to starter transition. As a starter he posted a 4.18 ERA in 23.2 innings before heading to the Arizona Fall League where he’s continued his transition to starter.

Down in Billings the rotation was made up of mostly five guys with a handful of starts made by several others. Tyler Mahle led the Mustangs with 15 starts and 76.2 innings. The 19-year-old posted a 3.87 ERA with 15 walks and 71 strikeouts. Luke Moran tied him with 15 starts but threw 74.1 innings. He posted a 4.60 ERA with 12 walks and 60 strikeouts. Third round pick Wyatt Strahan made 14 starts but had his pitch count limited quite a bit more and threw 42.1 innings. The right hander had 12 walks and 40 strikeouts to go with a 2.76 ERA that was helped out by the fact that he didn’t allow a home run all season. Tejay Antone made 12 starts for Billings but also had three more appearances with the Arizona League Reds. He struggled on the season as he posted a 5.76 ERA in 54.2 innings with 18 walks and 34 strikeouts. Jeremy Kivel had 13 appearances for Billings and nine of those came as a starter. He started out strong, but then really struggled for a few weeks. The Reds then kept him off the mound for two weeks. He returned in early August and was dominant the rest of the way as he posted a 1.93 ERA down the stretch with five walks and 21 strikeouts in 14 innings.  Overall he posted a 5.31 ERA in 40.2 innings with 21 walks and 44 strikeouts but he finished very strong.

The Arizona League Reds only had two pitchers make a large part of their appearances as a starter. Mark Armstrong made 13 starts for the Reds while throwing 61.2 innings. The 19-year-old had 14 walks and 56 strikeouts while posting a 4.23 ERA. He struggled a bit early in the season but was very good down the stretch. Left hander Jacob Constante made nine starts and two relief appearances but only threw 33.0 innings with a 4.09 ERA. He had huge groundball rates to go with 11 walks and 31 strikeouts.

Overall Thoughts

The Reds are not hurting for starting pitching depth. There were plenty of big time prospects pitching in full season ball in Double-A and below with some solid options at all levels. The position is the deepest of any position on the farm and it’s not particularly close. The team has eight of their top 10 prospects that are starting pitchers. Beyond those eight there are more than a few guys who look like they could be quality big league starting pitchers. The team has big arms with some polish, big arms that are still raw and solid arms with plenty of polish throughout the system.

Grade: A

Top Pitcher Tools


Tool Top Player
Fastball Robert Stephenson/Michael Lorenzen
Curveball Robert Stephenson
Slider Michael Lorenzen
Change Up Ismael Guillon
Control Daniel Wright

In most of these categories you could probably go in a few directions, so much so that I actually did go with two guys for best fastball. Robert Stephenson certainly throws harder than the other starters in the system, but Michael Lorenzen throws hard in his own right and the movement his fastball has brings it up a level to match Stephenson. The best slider in the system could go quite a few ways and depending on who you ask you may get three or four different answers. Jeremy Kivel is right there with Lorenzen for the top slider in my opinion but I gave the nod to Lorenzen because his is more consistent. Ismael Guillon probably has the best change up in all of minor league baseball and no one in the Reds system really matches up there. Control may be able to be argued a down to a few guys. Tyler Mahle had good control on the season and Nick Travieso certainly impressed me, but Daniel Wright was just a step ahead of those two guys for me.


16 Responses

  1. Dale Pearl

    With such an abundance of starting pitching doesn’t show that the Reds are overly focused in one area? I get what they are trying to do but isn’t everyone else doing the same thing?

    In addition to that with so many high quality starters available it makes the conversation nonsensical to even discuss moving Chapman in as a starter. Just when he starts to get really good he would become a free agent so is there really any reason to even think about such a move? It isn’t like we have Chapman Jr. waiting in the wings either. And along that comment….

    Doesn’t it make some sense to convert some of our high quality starters to relief pitchers? Yeah it is true that middle relief and closers are a dime a dozen but the elite are just not out there. In that sense it would be logical to convert Cingrani, Axelrod, Holmberg, and maybe even Garrett or Inglesias into middle relief, setup men, and closers. As it is if all goes to plan neither of the names mentioned will ever see a day in the Reds starting rotation.

      • dale pearl

        That is in the back of my head as well. Seems to me that the immediate need is for the bullpen. I certainly can’t see any scenario out there where the Reds keep both Iglesias and Stephenson in as starters it just doesn’t add up to me. Two guys that can almost crack triple digits.

    • Billy

      Given Guillon’s option situation, he would appear to be a bullpen candidate. I would hope they make that transition this offseason.

      Do any of you have any insight into what starters and relievers do differently to prepare? I get that there may be mental differences (e.g., being prepared to pitch every day, entering the game with no notice), but are there actually physical differences? I wouldn’t think that it would be any big deal at all to take someone who has been starting all season long and tell him to give you an inning or two of relief. (Having a reliever start would obviously be more of an issue.)

      • MK

        Billy did you ever do a burnout in a weight training routine? You lift until you are completely exhausted and can no longer lift your arms. Then you take a couple days off to recover.

        As an analogy a starters off season would be similar to burnout workouts three days a week while a reliever would use a lighter weight higher rep workout five days.

        Of course their workouts would include weights, throwing, running etc.

      • Billy

        No, MK, I never did weights, which may explain why I didn’t really pitch beyond high school. :-) To me, pitching was pitching. Of course I probably never threw more than about 75 mph, and I never really got sore. I couldn’t really understand how other guys would need days to recover. I was just fine throwing the day after a start. I guess I was a reliever faking it as a starter.

      • Billy

        MK, I’ve got some more questions for you (or anyone else)…

        Are higher velocities (and the corresponding better results) a result of the different training regimen used by relievers? Have training regimens for starters and relievers become more distinct over the years?

        What would you expect if a starter trained the same way a reliever did, but then went out and pitched as a starter every fifth day? Maybe even more interesting, what would happen if you trained everyone as relievers, and then sent only your best pitchers to the mound in 1-3 inning stints every 2-3 days? Would they be throwing harder?

      • MK

        Really did not mean to imply the different things in their workouts are different. They would all dothe same sorts of things. As an example both might run 10 miles in a week. Difference is starters do it in three days relievers in five.

        As far as velocity if there are two pitchers that can throw 96 max the one that throws 15 pitches can throw more at maximum velocity than the one throwing 100 pitches.

    • tct

      Starters are more valuable than relievers. They cost more and they have more trade value. Good starters are harder to find than relievers and a starter’s production is more predictable, with relievers being very volatile from year to year, due in some part to the small sample size.

      It’s easy to put a starting pitcher in the bullpen. But to turn a reliever into a starter often requires building up innings and pitch counts, and mastering a new pitch.

      So, the most sensible thing to do is to use your best minor league arms as starters until they prove that they can’t do it. They have more value that way. Also, if you put a guy like Garett in the pen in high A ball, by the time he gets to the majors you may have filled your bullpen and are short of starters. You can find good relievers every year in the free agent pool, waiver wire, minor league free agents, or through trades. That’s how the reds got Simon, Parra, Jumbo, and Hoover.

    • Doug Gray

      Trade excess starters in the minors for quality relief pitching that’s already in the Majors. Get more than one thing in return. Don’t just waste the value of a starter by turning him into a reliever.

      As for Chapman, he should have been tried as a starter 4 years ago. Now it’s all too late.

  2. WVRon

    How does the Reds’ stable of minor league starters match up against other systems?

    • Doug Gray

      I can’t say with 100% accuracy since I don’t follow the rest of the teams as in depth, but I can’t imagine many teams have the kind of depth the Reds do. Eventually the national writers will do their work and talk to the right people about the Reds pitchers and figure that out. So far it would seem that they haven’t been doing that given some of the reports we have seen on them.

  3. jim t

    Douq off topic but I just want to Thank you for the excellent job you do running your site. Waking up after watching the Bengals lastnight it is imparatrive to my mental health to have some other sports news to dive into. thanks again.

  4. sultan of swaff

    If trading Chapman is off the table, it’s this pool of talent from which I would trade to upgrade SS in Cincinnati.

    Guys like Howard/Garrett/Romano/Travieso still need at least 2 more years in the minors. We could package a pair and still not take an appreciable hit since we’d replace these guys in next year’s draft.

    • Doug Gray

      You can’t package Howard in anything unless it’s as a PTBNL. He can’t be traded until he’s a year from his signing date.

  5. Alan Horn

    The sticking point is we have plenty of starting pitching options at AA and below as well as a lessor number of hitters, but we need some hitting this season(all in season).
    I would trade a current starter for a one year hitter or sign a FA. Either way we have the huge pool of young starters to pick from in 2016 when they will be needed. We can cherry pick the best ones at that time to go along with the starters we keep(which could be very few of what we now have). By not keeping most of our current starters in 2016, we save a ton of money, get the draft picks and let our abundance on starters in the minors work to our advantage. The affronts to that small market survival strategy is the Votto and Bailey contracts, but it would probably still work out well.