News broke this morning that Michael Lorenzen felt some discomfort in his elbow while throwing on the side and was shut down. He missed his last start after feeling some tenderness in his elbow and had his arm looked at by the team doctor with an ultrasound. Nothing was found, but after the most recent issue he is now scheduled for an MRI. At this stage of the spring, with the time that he’s missed already and likely to miss even if everything turns out to be ok, it’s unlikely that he’s going to be ready to begin the season in the rotation.
That leaves the Cincinnati Reds with a very iffy rotation of four pitchers right now: Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias, Brandon Finnegan and Jon Moscot. After that, it would seem that there are three guys still in contention for the final spot. Left hander Cody Reed and right handers Robert Stephenson and Tim Melville. The first two names are of big time prospects in the organization, while the latter is a former top prospect who the Reds signed on as a minor league free agent in the offseason. Reed and Melville, unlike Stephenson, are not on the 40-man roster. There of course is a fourth option, but it’s entirely unknown at this point. As the spring winds down teams will begin to put players on waivers and the Reds certainly could test those waters for a 5th starter if they choose.
Focusing on the three guys with the Reds currently, let’s get into the specifics. The Reds are going to very likely need a 5th starter to open the season. Each of the three options has a question or two about them. Let’s jump into a quick synopsis of what each move would mean.
The left hander has never thrown a pitch at the Triple-A level and has just under 80 innings above A-ball in his career. He dominated at the Double-A level in 2015, but the sample size was roughly half of a season. He’s certainly got the stuff and is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Reed is not on the 40-man roster, so if the team decides to go with him they would have to make a roster move. That won’t be a huge problem, but what does come into play is that it will start his free agency clock. Keeping him in the minor leagues for two weeks during the season would allow the team a full extra season of control down the line.
Melville came over as a minor league free agent after spending the 2015 season with the Triple-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers. The right hander didn’t have a great season in Triple-A, but he finished very strong as he seemed to make an adjustment later in the year that really helped turn things around in the final six weeks with his control. So far this spring that trend has continued as he has just one walk with five strikeouts in 5.0 innings pitched. Like Reed,he isn’t on the 40-man roster and there would need to be a roster move made to add him. Unlike Reed, Melville is 26-years-old and doesn’t really bring the same kind of worries of starting his free agency clock too soon.
The top prospect in the organization, Stephenson split the 2015 season between Double-A Pensacola and Triple-A Louisville. There were stretches of struggles and stretches of success at both levels as he battled with inconsistency. When he was on his game, he was dominant, but his struggles with the strikezone would cause problems at times. No one doubts his pure stuff, which is the best in the entire Reds system. Including a “B-game”, he’s walked just one batter with seven strikeouts in 7.0 innings his spring while allowing two runs. He’s performed well, particularly in the walk column where he’s had his issues over the last two seasons. He’s already on the 40-man roster, so the team wouldn’t need to make a roster move to bring him north with the team. However, the team would be starting his free agency clock with the move, when they could get an entire additional year of team control by keeping him in the minor leagues for a mere two weeks.
The Reds are running out of options with all of the injuries that are happening to the starting pitchers. Homer Bailey and John Lamb are out to begin the season and it’s looking very unlikely that Michael Lorenzen is going to be pitching in the first week of April as well. If the team believes that Lorenzen could be ready to pitch at some point early in the season, then there’s a chance they could go with one of the younger guys and option them back when Lorenzen is ready to take the mound again. Of course, you take the risk that the guy you choose is pitching lights out and you can’t send him down and lose that additional year of team control over a few weeks in what you are considering as an organization, a rebuilding year.
The other option would be to go with Tim Melville to start the season. The team wouldn’t be worried about starting the clock on a 26-year-old like they would a 22 or 23-year-old. He’s performed well in the spring so far, he has enough stuff that if he’s throwing strikes he’s a big leaguer and he’s also got the most Triple-A experience of the bunch. He’s never been on the 40-man roster, so he has three options remaining and if he has some struggles after a handful of starts, you can make a move at that point. It’s the safe play for the Reds and one that leaves them with the most options and sets them up the best for the future.