Cincinnati Reds spring training is barely starting – as I type this the position players haven’t even been required to show up yet – but manager David Bell has already announced the 5-man rotation. While injuries could change things, and I guess extremely poor performance could also be a factor, those guys seem to be locked in.

The bullpen, too, seems to be mostly full. Raisel Iglesias, Jared Hughes, David Hernandez, Amir Garrett, Zach Duke, and Michael Lorenzen seem to be locked in. With an 8-man bullpen, that leaves open two spots. But early in the year there may only be a 7-man bullpen given that Curt Casali is recovering from hip surgery and the team may want to see a third catcher on the roster early on just in case. Either way, spots will be limited among those that are available.

That leaves a whole lot of questions about how the team can and will use guys that have started in the past. Last season Sal Romano started the second most games for Cincinnati. Tyler Mahle made 23 starts. Cody Reed, Brandon Finnegan, Robert Stephenson, and Lucas Sims all started last year, too.  Among that group only Robert Stephenson can’t be optioned to the minor leagues.

All of those guys seem like they could be pitching this spring for a spot in the bullpen. But if they don’t make it they could wind up in Triple-A with Louisville. Among that group, it seems that Tyler Mahle is the least likely of the group that would be given a spot as a reliever unless he clearly outpitched everyone. He, unlike the others, has never pitched out of the bullpen.

No matter how the big league bullpen plays out, assuming that guys are healthy in the Major Leagues, the Bats rotation could be loaded. At least while it lasts. Right now it seems like the Triple-A rotation could have five of these guys:

That is two entire rotations worth of guys who all have done enough in their career to warrant a spot there if they aren’t on the Major League team to begin the season. If I had to bet, I’d put money on Romano and Reed among this group to win bullpen spots. But those spots aren’t guaranteed, either. And if not, I would expect them to be in the rotation in Louisville instead of in the bullpen there.

32 Responses

  1. James wright

    Good luck to all Reds baseball operations looks like this could be a great year

  2. cinvenfan

    I prefer Mahle, Reed, Romano and Stephenson starting in AAA in case of an injurie
    . It’ll be hard to pass Stephenson trough waivers, tho. Same with Simms.
    Next year some of those kids better be ready when Woods and Roark are probably gone.

  3. IndyRedsFan

    I have to believe that at least 1 or 2 of these guys are going to be included in a trade before the season starts. Just seems like too much “inventory” to be stacked up at the AAA level.


    • Colorado Red

      I would think so.
      Really like to see what Tony can do at AAA.
      But need a trade. Right now, I see Bob Steve in the pen.

  4. Albert Taylor

    I didn’t see Matt Wisler’s name on this list anywhere. I thought he pitched pretty well out of the bullpen late in the season. Also, if I’m not mistaken, he is out of options. Where do you see him fitting in?

    • Wes

      I think he makes the big league squad out of spring training as a relief option. Between him duke and Peralta I don’t see all 3 making all season and as I don’t see bobsteve making the team

  5. Wes

    As a starter Romero’s 1st inning era was as bad as any in majors. No clue how that translates into effective reliever ?? I’d let him start in Louisville and see if he can’t dominate.

    Bobsteve is toast. If he don’t come out on fire I’d be ready to cut him ASAP. Time to move on. Best for him too.

    Mahle is my ace in Louisville and I think finnegan, Mella, Romero, and reed round our rotation w the Cuban they signed being odd man out.

    Sims vlad and Santillan to AA.

    Jackson Stephens can pitch out of Louisville pen. Maybe sims too

  6. Justin

    If I’m Robert Stephenson, I’d set my sights on rocking back and letting that baby fly. At this point he’s auditioning for all MLB bullpens.

    I’m still holding out hope that Johnson can help him. That arm in our bullpen could really help. He could make a grab at an open closer role as Iglesias is said to move around, but he also has the obvious history that would allow for longer stretches.

    Doug I recall you writing about him in the bullpen. I feel like he had some good numbers when he was used as a semi regular bullpen guy but not as well when he had big breaks between pitching? Does anyone recall this?

    • Colorado Red

      It might be better for him, to lose a mile or 2, and hit the strike zone.
      Walks for hammered him

    • Norwood Nate

      I actually feel that Stephenson should focus on working off his slider. It appears it’s his best pitch and, according to Brooks Baseball, is a real “worm eater”. He threw it more than any other pitch last season and had the most success with it. He also found some success with his curveball but simply didn’t throw it often at all. His FB is typically what gets him in trouble as he doesn’t locate it well and it also gets hit hard and often.

      I’d like to see what DJ can get out of him working primarily off his slider, mixing in more curveballs, and using the FB/changeup sparingly as a change of pace. Pitching from the bullpen would actually allow him to focus on his two best pitches and may end up rejuvenating his career.

      • Scott C

        I was thinking pretty much the same thing. I really like Stephenson’s movement on his ball and I think he could do well out of the pen if he gets steady work. Last year Price buried him in the back of the bullpen.
        I also like Romano in the pen. Like Stephenson he can concentrate on his two best pitches there and be nasty.

  7. Cguy

    Just guessing, but I see the Reds as keeping 1 guy like Despaigne or Adleman in the Bats rotation. Mahle, Reed, Finnegan (if healthy), Adleman, & Sims in Bats rotation. If Finnegan isn’t healthy, Mella or Romano get that 5th sp slot in Louisville. I say Matt Bowman should make the Reds OD bullpen, but with 2 options remaining, they may send him down & try to hold onto Wisler or R. Stephenson for a while longer.

  8. Steve BP

    I think Mahle is clearly your #6 starter and the first guy you call up from Louisville when injuries happen.

    I still think Cody Reed can develop into a #4 or 5 on a playoff level rotation, he needs his HR/FB rate to normalize and he did a nice job last year at the ML level.

  9. Vic

    Stephenson should be traded to Rockies for Ramel Tapia, both are out of options and Tapia could cover centerfield if Sensel can’t.

    • Bill

      Good idea; CF Dalton Pompey with the Blue Jays is similar (former top 100 prospect, out of options, and apparently blocked from making the team).

  10. Brad Legg

    Anyone with options should be pitching in Louisville. I hate that they are keeping 13 pitchers.

  11. Norwood Nate

    I personally feel that Romano is what he is unless/until he develops a usable third pitch. He’s had the most opportunities of all the young starters and has some of the poorest results as a starter with the Reds. I liked what I saw out of him last year when he came out of the bullpen. I think that is where he ends up and may as well begin focusing on that this year. I also would like to see Stephenson end up there because if he’s going to stick with the Reds, and we’re going to get some out of his talented arm, it’s also going to be out of the bullpen.

    I like Mahle and Reed as the top two options to step into the rotation if needed, and believe they should be working as starters in Louisville. Signing Duke makes it easier to keep Reed as a starter because he fills the second lefty role in the pen. I’d like to see Gutierrez moved up as he’s had a full season at AA. I’d like to see Santillan challenged as well, but would understand if the Reds kept him in AA to start the season. I also think the Reds should keep giving Sims starts to see what they have in him while he still has an option. If the 5th spot doesn’t go to Santillan, I can see a guy like Adelman or Despaigne get the last rotation spot.

    Guys like Finnegan, Stephens, and Mella are likely only to contribute from the bullpen, so I think their focus should be there. There’s just too many other options ahead of them at this point.

    • Bill

      All good points on the reasoning. I see pitching shaking out something like this:

      – Pitchers competing for the last 1-2 spots in the Reds bullpen and will go to the bullpen at Louisville bullpen if they don’t make the Reds opening day roster:
      1. R. Stephenson
      2. Wisler
      3. Romano
      4. Finnegan
      5. Peralta

      – Projected Louisville rotation:
      1. Mahle
      2. Reed
      3. Sims
      4. Gutierrez
      5. TBD … spot could go to Finnegan, Mella or Romano until the Reds are ready to promote Santillan

      – Longshots that most likely to end up in the Louisville bullpen:
      1. Mella
      2. Bowman
      3. Stephens
      4. Reyes

      I don’t really see a non-roster guy breaking through.

      • Doug Gray

        Stephenson is out of options. So is Wisler. They probably aren’t going to be around the organization if they don’t make the Reds bullpen.

      • Bill

        Absolutely … didn’t want to repeat a point made in your article and could have made that more clear. I really don’t see them making through waivers either.

  12. Krozley

    Wouldn’t surprise me if Stephenson ends up on the 60 day DL for most of the year. He is already dealing with shoulder issues and they can hide him for the year with an occasional rehab stint in Louisville or maybe a big league spot if some trades happen in July. Then he would have an audition for next year over the last couple months. I see Wisler and Finnegan taking those last two bullpen spots. Mahle and Reed are the first two starters up if someone gets injured. Plenty of options to rotate those last two bullpen spots throughout the year.

  13. Tampa Red

    I can’t help but go back to the 2016 Finnegan. The guy that made 31 starts and pitched 172 innings of quality big league baseball at 23 years old. That’s guys “probably” gone, but I’d put him in the SP rotation in Louisville and give him a dozen or so starts and then reevaluate. I hope that happens.

    But really what I’m most struck by about that list is that for the first time in a very long time, the Reds have some legitimate starting pitching depth to fall back on when the inevitable oblique strain or sore elbow happens. No more Asher W’s and Lisalverto B’s and Deck M’s.

    • Wes

      Idk if it’s legitimate but they surely have depth. Totally agree w finnegan. He was also the centerpiece of the Cueto trade so he’s a top prospect w a proven track record and still young. He’s heads and shoulders above reed, bobsteve, Romero and others. On the same level as mahle. Sometimes it takes a while to get back to form. I’d rather bet on taking a while to get back vs never being in form like bobsteve, Reed, Romano

      • Doug Gray

        He hasn’t been good at any level since 2016. His stuff was massively behind all of those guys last year. If Finnegan is going to be ahead, or even on par with anyone you listed, he’s going to have to go out and show it. There’s zero reason that heading into the spring he should be on the same level as far as roster odds as any of them.

      • Bill

        One thing that gives me a little more optimism for Finnegan is from the ST pictures posted on, he looks leaner than he did last year. If he is in better physical condition this spring (core and legs), he could regain his form. There was never any mention of his shoulders bothering him last season. Perhaps the time he spent with shoulder rehab impacted his ability to condition the rest of his body affecting his performance last year. And make no mistake, he was awful last year.

  14. RedFuture

    I can’t see them keeping any pitcher on the staff who has options this year. It sounds ominous that Robert Stephenson is dealing with the same shoulder injury that sidelined him at the end of last year. Otherwise I hope he gets one of the two remaining spots. The other will probably go to Reed or Finnegan to favor an LH pitcher in the pen. Louisville better run away with the International League crown this year with the pitching staff they will have!

    • MuddyCleats

      Tend to agree w/ u on BobSteve, kid just doesn’t seem able to make the adjustments necessary. Reminds me of Jack Armstrong, Brett Tomko, Homer to a lesser extent. Typical strong arm, strong headed – FB predominant – type pitcher who has a hard time developing/maturing into a PITCHER. Reds have had a ton of them over the years. Depth is good due 2 injury and likelihood some of the BP pieces regress fm last season and the probability that the one yr players will b traded at some pt this season. Reality is, few if any of them have shown the consistency needed to b an effective ML SP…..most of them need additional time in AAA! Here’s hoping they mature & are ready when the Fire Sale takes place.

  15. The Rage

    They will be fighting for the 5th rotation spot. Disco is toast. He was hurting at the end of last year fwiw. He has a grade 2 sprain and is on borrowed time.

    • CP

      Is there evidence behind this, that Disco is still dealing with and not healed from his grade 2 sprain? Far as I knew he is healed and more than a year removed from that injury….