The Cincinnati Reds have reportedly dealt Johnny Cueto to the Kansas City Royals for prospects Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed and John Lamb. All three are left handed pitchers that are currently in the minor leagues.
The Royals picked Finnegan with the 17th overall pick in the 2014 draft and before the season was over, he was in the big leagues and dominating in a small sample of time. He is the only player to ever pitch in the College World Series and the Major League Baseball World Series in the same year. He’s never made a start in the big leagues, but the 22-year-old has made 12 starts in the minor leagues with the Royals.
Scouting reports are split on whether or not he can start in the future or not. He’s got three pitches, but he’s had some struggles with control as well. In 2015 he’s walked 6.3 batters per 9 innings pitched at the minor league level in 27.0 innings and 4.8 batters per 9 innings in the big leagues over 24.1 innings this season.
Past reports have him as a starter, sitting in the Low 90’s, but as a reliever he’s averaged 95 MPH and topped out at 98 MPH this season. He also mixes in a slider that’s above-average and a change up that he hasn’t used too much since college, as most of his time has been spent relieving.
A second left handed pitcher in the deal, Cody Reed was selected in the 2nd round by the Kansas City Royals in 2013. After struggling in 2013 and 2014, Reed has broken out in the 2015 season. The 22-year-old had a 2.53 ERA between Advanced-A and Double-A over 96.0 innings with jus 26 walks and 84 strikeouts.
There were some past concerns about whether or not he was able to start because of his control problems. In 2015 those problems have been put behind him and more and more people are believing he’s a future starter, though some still believe he’s a future reliever. His fastball is in the 90-93 MPH range and he’s touched 96 this season. He will mix in an above-average slider and a change up.
The third left handed pitcher of the trade, John Lamb was the Royals 5th round pick in the 2008 season. He was a former top prospect, ranking inside the Top 20 overall for both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus after the 2010 season, but he underwent Tommy John surgery and it took him some time to regain his form as he fell down prospect lists.
Like Reed, Lamb has broken out in 2015. The 24-year-old has spend the entire year in Triple-A, posting a 2.67 ERA in the PCL. He cut his walk rate significantly from the year prior, though it just went back to career norms and he’s struck out more batters than innings pitched.
Lamb is now sitting in the low 90’s with his fastball and he’s touched 96, routinely hitting 95 in his starts. His curveball can flash itself as a good pitch but still struggles to find consistency. He’s also throwing a cutter/slider and a change up.
The Reds landed two of the Royals Top 10 guys, if you want to assume that Finnegan were eligible for prospect lists (which he’s barely not eligible for anymore). Cody Reed ranked as the Royals 9th best prospect in the Baseball America Midseason Update. They also grabbed a third arm of note with John Lamb who on that same midseason update was a player on the rise. With the strength of the Cincinnati Reds system being starting pitching, it’s strange to see them trading for three pitchers. The Reds do lack left handed pitching in the system, but for me, the only time a pitchers arm he throws with matters is if he’s a loogy, and if that’s what a guy is going to be, they aren’t important given that they throw 35-45 innings a season.
Brandon Finnegan absolutely, without question, must be tried as a starter by the Reds for this trade to be viewed as a success. Finnegan is the leading part in the deal and if he’s going to be used as a reliever, it’s a failure, regardless of how good he can actually be. If he eventually winds up in the bullpen, but is tried as a starter for a while first, then things change a little bit. But you have to at least give it a shot before going with him in the bullpen. The Reds have time to try it. They aren’t competing in 2015 or 2016. See what he can do if he’s given a chance to actually start.
Both Cody Reed and John Lamb look like they could be guys who fall into that #3-5 starter range depending on just how well things work out for them moving forward, but both guys also look like they could be relievers as well. There’s plenty of upside with this trade as the Reds could have just landed three starting pitchers that could help out as soon as the middle of 2016. But at the same time there’s a chance they just traded for three relievers. With prospects there’s always going to be some risk involved, and while Finnegan technically isn’t a prospect by definition, he is one for all intents and purposes. He’s a Major League arm, no question about it, but personally, I expected one guy to be a little more of a sure thing in a deal for Johnny Cueto.
Here are some notes from Fangraphs Kiley McDaniel:
Noted before season CIN doesn't mind taking what some teams call RP & trying to make SP (BFinnegan): AChapman, NHoward, MLorenzen, RIglesias
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) July 26, 2015
Scout I just talked to said Cody Reed is in 100-150 range for him in a minor league-wide list. He just missed my Royals Top 28 before season
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) July 26, 2015