The 2015 season was one that many Cincinnati Reds fans would like to soon forget. They finished with the second most losses in the Major Leagues and after July ended, were an absolute dumpster fire of a team. With that said, all wasn’t lost in the season. During 2015 several Reds rookies stepped up and showed some things worth noting, even in a lost season. Let’s take a look at the guys who came into the season as rookies but exhausted their rookie status by the end of the year and grade out how they performed and what the future could hold.
Anthony DeSclafani | RHP
It would be hard to argue that right handed starter Anthony DeSclafani wasn’t the Reds best rookie in the 2015 season. He threw 184.2 innings and posted a 4.05 ERA (with a 98 ERA+, which is roughly league average). His season was split up in weird ways. His first half ERA was better, 3.65 to 4.52, but his peripherals were MUCH stronger in the second half. Let’s take a quick look at the two halves:
His walk rate was more than cut in half and he upped his strikeout rate significantly. Those are very important signs to pay attention to moving forward. I noted some of the changes he worked on in the second half back in September and how well they were working. His BABIP in the second half jumped to .361, which likely explains the big rise in ERA despite his actually pitching better.
If the second half gains were real, or even close to it, we could be looking at a very strong starting pitcher. Here’s the list of the starting pitchers who had a walk rate lower than 6% and a strikeout rate over 21% in 2015:
Some of those guys are a real step ahead of DeSclafani, but the list speaks quite well for pitchers who miss bats and don’t walk guys. He improved throughout the season and put plenty of innings on his arm, making it through the entire season without a hiccup. It would be hard to grade his season out as anything but successful and he showed plenty along the way to believe he’s at least a middle of the rotation arm.
Michael Lorenzen | RHP
I’d imagine if the Reds had their way, Michael Lorenzen wouldn’t have spent too much time with the big league club in 2015. Unfortunately, injuries happen and they had to bring up someone to fill those innings out. Lorenzen was that guy despite having a total of 27 starts in his entire life under his belt.
With that lack of experience, it’s not surprising that the right hander had some struggles. Even earlier in the year when his ERA was solid, his peripherals were not and suggested regression was going to come. Eventually that regression did come and his ERA ballooned to 5.40. While his strikeout rate was a little lower than you’d like to see it, it was the home run rate and the high walk rate that were the real culprits for the struggle.
Lorenzen walked 57 batters in 113.1 innings and allowed 18 home runs. The home run rate was a bit of a surprise given that he had a 54% groundball rate the previous season in Double-A. That rate dropped to 41% in 2015 at the highest level. His home run per fly ball rate was also among the highest in the league (10th of 141 pitchers with at least 100 innings). Combine the two and you get big home run totals (the rates were nearly identical at home and on the road, so it wasn’t a GABP issue).
If there were some good things to take away from the season, the biggest would be that he threw 156.1 innings and should be ready to take the next step towards a full season workload in 2016. His velocity didn’t really waver as the season went along, suggesting that he was able to handle the workload from an arm standpoint. His fastball velocity ranked 27th among the 141 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings and his slider was above-average throughout the season. In the late improvements side of things, over his final eight appearances (four starts and four relief appearances) he walked just four batters and had 18 strikeouts in 22.2 innings.
Overall it was a season of struggle for Lorenzen, but he was pushed before he was ready and it showed. He’s got to improve his control if he’s going to find success in the big leagues as there’s just no way to be a quality pitcher while walking hitters as frequently as he did. There were some things to build on from 2015 though. The jury is still out on whether he can be a big league starter or not and I’d expect the 2016 season to be the year where the decision is ultimately made on that one by the Reds. With other starters coming up from behind and the lack of bullpen options, if he’s not able to get rolling as a starter the move could be made to push him to the bullpen where he can focus on the fastball and slider combination and worry less about the other two pitches.
Raisel Iglesias | RHP
The Reds spent a lot of money to bring Iglesias into the organization and they did so because they believed that he could be a starting pitcher. That thought went against what a large majority of the industry believed, but the Reds took the gamble and signed the then 24-year-old.
After a bit of a slow start in the big leagues, albeit one with flashes and good peripherals, things took a major step forward once August rolled around for Iglesias. From the beginning of the month until the end of the season the right hander posted a 3.13 ERA in 54.2 innings with 15 walks and 62 strikeouts. That included a three game run where he had 33 strikeouts.
Overall he posted a 4.15 ERA in 95.1 innings at the big league level and also tossed another 29.0 innings for Louisville. He missed some time with a trip to the disabled list for a non-arm related injury, but that worked out in the Reds favor as it allowed them to not worry about figuring out how to better manage his workload as the season progressed. With 114.1 total innings, Iglesias still hasn’t shown that he is ready to handle a full season workload, but that’s about the only thing he didn’t show in 2015. He was downright dominate at times, showing top of the rotation ability in spurts. His strikeout%-walk% of 19.2% ranked 16th in baseball among 148 pitchers with at least 90 innings pitched.
The low walk rate and high strikeout rates were both on the above-average side, with his strikeout rate bordering on elite level. There’s still a lot to prove for Iglesias, particularly that he can maintain his stuff over 180+ innings in a season, but he showed a whole heck of a lot in 2015 that gives the look that perhaps the Reds could have a top of the rotation kind of pitcher on their hands in the near future.
Tucker Barnhart | Catcher
Much like Michael Lorenzen, the Reds probably would have preferred to have Tucker Barnhart remain in the minor leagues for a majority of the season. Instead, injuries led to his call up earlier than planned and he moved into the backup/platoon role with Brayan Pena behind the plate.
Barnhart at the plate got a majority of his playing time as a left handed hitter against right handed pitching. That was likely by design. As a switch hitter, Barnhart has always been a far better hitter from his natural left side and that was no different in the Major Leagues in 2015. He hit .269/.339/.360 as a left hander and just .178/.255/.178 as a right hander.
Behind the plate he stood out for his pitch framing according to StatCorner’s framing stats for the 2015 season. Out of the 62 catchers with at least 2000 pitches caught in the 2015 season, Barnhart had the 10th best rate of balls turned into strikes. He also threw out 29% of attempted base stealers on the season.
Defensively he’s above-average and from the left side of the plate he shows quality offense for a catcher. He’s always struggled from the right side of the plate, last posting an OPS over .450 from the right side of the plate in 2011 when he was in Low-A, and even that season saw him hit .209/.275/.253. Perhaps it could be time to just stick with batting from the left side of the plate full time and see if there’s an improvement. Still, as a catcher he showed solid offense overall and he’s providing quality defense. He may be blocked at the position, but he probably earned the backup spot for the 2016 season on the big league club.
Ivan De Jesus Jr. | Infielder
Ivan De Jesus Jr. is a former top prospect from his time with the Dodgers, once a Top 100 prospect in baseball. Despite performing well, he never really got much of a chance in the big leagues, entering the season with just 80 career plate appearances at the Major League level despite a career .301/.362/.413 line in Triple-A.
That all changed in 2015 when the Reds finally gave him a chance in June. He played in a utility role, moving around the infield mostly, but also saw some time in the outfield. He more than held his own at the plate for the first three months, hitting .264/.348/.393 over the course of 158 plate appearances with 17 walks and 35 strikeouts. September was a big struggle though as his plate discipline fell apart, walking just twice with 20 strikeouts in 64 plate appearances. That led to a .197/.219/.328 line down the stretch. Overall he had a solid line for a utility player, hitting .244/.311/.373.
His season with the Reds was good enough that it may have given him a leg up on the competition for super utility player heading into the 2016 season. His ability to play everywhere on the infield except catcher as well as the corner outfield spots if needed give him tons of flexibility.
Keyvius Sampson | RHP
After being a waiver claim in January, the Cincinnati Reds sent Keyvius Sampson to Double-A to start the year. He was promoted to Triple-A in June and had some ups-and-downs over the next two months, but got the call to the big leagues on July 30th and spent the rest of his season with the big league club.
His debut was a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts against the Pirates, but he then made a start three days later. He was solid through his first four appearances, posting a 3.18 ERA in 17.0 innings with seven walks and 15 strikeouts. From that point forward though, things were a bit of a struggle as he posted an 8.15 ERA over the final nine games with 19 walks and 27 strikeouts in 35.1 innings pitched.
His struggles with throwing strikes consistently plagued him in the minors and caught up to him in the Major Leagues as well. He’s struggled with the strikezone for his entire career, so it wasn’t a surprise to see it happen at the big league level. Overall he posted a 6.54 ERA in 52.1 innings pitched for the Reds. It wasn’t a good rookie season and while he will be just 25-years-old next season, with his history of control problems it may be time to push him into the bullpen role and see if he can improve things a little bit by focusing on just two pitches instead of four.
David Holmberg | LHP
The left handed starter had spent time with the Reds in the previous two seasons, but only made eight total appearances that spanned 33.2 innings. Once again he saw limited action, making six starts for the Reds and the results were along the same lines as the previous two seasons. In 28.1 innings pitched he posted a 7.62 ERA with 16 walks and 15 strikeouts while allowing 10 home runs.
In his big league career he’s walked more batters than he’s struck out and allowed 18 home runs in 62.0 innings. To be blunt, he’s gotten rocked at just about every turn in the big leagues. Opponents have hit .289/.390/.548 off of him in his Major League career and there aren’t any good signs to really look at for possible future improvements.
He’s a left handed pitcher with below-average velocity on his fastball, two hittable breaking balls and a hittable change up. He’s struggled to get batters to swing and miss since he was in A-ball and his walk rate has nearly doubled since then as well.
Maybe a move to the bullpen would allow his stuff to play up some and let him focus on two pitches instead of five or six. As a lefty, he will always get chances, but perhaps now is the time to take that chance to see how he can perform out of the bullpen as the results for three years running out of the rotation have been less than desirable with no real positive signs of improvement.