After a break for a handful of weeks on the series, we’re back at taking a look at the state of the farm for the Cincinnati Reds and today we are focusing on the starting pitchers. As we head into 2023 there are three 2nd-year pitchers that seem locked into the rotation and they will likely be around for a few years at the very least, but that does mean there are two spots that are up for grabs now and potentially into the future.
Starting at the lowest level on the farm there was one pitcher who stood out in 2022 above the rest. Jose Montero was the only Dominican Summer League Reds pitcher who started all of his games. The now 19-year-old from Venezuela made 10 starts in the DSL and posted a 2.92 ERA while walking 11 and striking out 48 batters in 37.0 innings. He was then called up to the ACL Reds for one game before their season came to an end. Montero’s not among the organization’s Top 25 prospects, but he’s the top pitching prospect from their rookie level teams.
Moving up to full-season leagues, Daytona had three of the Reds Top 25 prospects in their rotation during the year. Chase Petty, the organization’s 9th rated prospect, spent the majority of his season in the Tortugas rotation. He pitched in 18 games there before moving up to High-A Dayton where he made seven starts to finish his season. In his 98.1 innings he posted a 3.48 ERA with 31 walks and 96 strikeouts to go along with a 55% ground ball rate. Petty did that while being one of the youngest pitchers in either of the leagues he was in during the year.
Julian Aguiar was in the rotation with Petty when the season began. While he was less heralded when the season began, Aguiar now ranks as the Reds #20 prospect after putting together a season where he posted a 3.46 ERA in 96.1 innings between Daytona and Dayton. In that time he struck out 113 batters and walked just 27. He’s got the stuff to remain in the rotation but he’ll need to show he can maintain that over a larger workload as he continues to move up the ladder.
The third guy from the Tortugas rotation we’re going to look at is Javi Rivera. Like Aguiar, he wasn’t as highly touted when the season began but by season’s end he had made his way onto Cincinnati’s Top 25 prospect list. Like the other guy that began in Daytona, Rivera split time between Daytona and Dayton. Rivera threw 93.0 innings with a 3.29 ERA while striking out 111 and walking just 25. With four solid offerings and good control he’s got a chance to remain a starting pitcher.
Jose Acuna began the year with the New York Mets organization, but was acquired by Cincinnati at the trade deadline. He pitched for the complex level Mets, the St. Lucie Mets, and the Daytona Tortugas in 2022. Between his three stops he made 10 starts and 5 relief appearances, posting a 2.91 ERA. He allowed just 39 hits in 65.0 innings, struck out 83, and he walked 22. There’s plenty of development that still needs to come, but the pieces are there for Acuna to remain in the rotation.
Christian Roa started out his season in Dayton and after a good first start, he struggled over his next seven games before turning things around in his next nine starts where he posted a 3.00 ERA. He walked too many batters in that stretch, but allowed just one home run over that time and that helped him keep runs off of the board. He would get three starts at the end of the year in Double-A with Chattanooga, giving up 2 runs on just 5 hits in 17.0 innings. Overall he posted a 3.56 ERA in 91.0 innings with 55 walks and 102 strikeouts.
Joe Boyle had one of the stranger years you’re ever going to see in 2022. After an injury kept him off of the mound for much of 2021, Boyle made 23 starts and threw 100.2 innings in 2022 between Dayton and Chattanooga. In that time he allowed just 46 hits and he struck out 153 batters. But he also walked 84. No one in the farm can match the stuff that Boyle brings to the table, but almost no one else has a walk rate like he does. It’s that walk rate that has to make massive improvements or he’ll quickly find himself in the bullpen.
Connor Phillips began his season in Dayton after being acquired near the end of spring training by the Reds from Seattle. He had a strong first half with the Dragons and was promoted up to Double-A to join the Lookouts for the second half. He battled consistency throwing strikes with Chattanooga, but was also among the youngest pitchers in the league (he was the 2nd youngest pitcher in the Southern League to make at least 10 starts). Between the two stops he posted a 3.78 ERA in 109.2 innings while striking out 150 batters. He did walk 66 batters, and that’s where he’ll need to improve moving forward. If he can, he’s got the stuff to profile as an above-average starting pitcher.
Andrew Abbott was comically good in Dayton over the first month of the season as he allowed two runs in 27.0 innings with just 7 walks and 40 strikeouts. That got him a promotion to Double-A Chattanooga. His first start there saw him strike out a season high 12 across 5.2 shutout innings, but then he struggled for the most part over the next three months before rounding out his season with three consecutive shutout performances that covered 16.0 innings. He posted a 3.81 between his two stops with 159 strikeouts and 48 walks in 118.0 innings. The lefty has solid-to-better stuff across the board and he throws strikes, so he’s got plenty of opportunity to remain a starter if he can just be a little more consistent.
Not many of the Reds top prospects saw time in Louisville in 2022 but Brandon Williamson was one who did. The lefty was a top 100 prospect in baseball entering the year, but his stuff took a step backwards at times during the season and he was inconsistent with his ability to throw strikes. After making 14 starts in Double-A with Chattanooga he moved up to Triple-A in the second half. He made another 13 starts with Louisville and improved his ERA, but his walk rate went up and was quite high, and his strikeout rate dropped off, too. Overall he posted a 4.11 ERA in 122.2 innings while walking 77 batters and picking up 123 strikeouts.
Levi Stoudt began the year in Double-A with the Mariners organization. He had some struggles in Arkansas, posting a 5.28 ERA and giving up 92 hits – 13 of which were home runs – in 87.0 innings. He didn’t walk many batters, and he did strike out 82 along the way before he was traded at the deadline to Cincinnati. The Reds had him make one start in Double-A Chattanooga before moving him to Triple-A Louisville where he made six starts before the season came to an end. With the Reds he posted a 2.63 ERA with 10 walks and 21 strikeouts in 24.0 innings. Overall his ERA was 4.70 on the season in his 111.0 innings. He’s got above-average stuff at times, but in 2022 it was quite inconsistent.
Lyon Richardson missed all of the 2022 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He was on the edge of the Reds Top 25 prospects following the 2021 season, but just missed. The righty pitched in instructional league as he continued to work his way back from the elbow injury. There’s some upside there as he’s found velocity he hasn’t shown in years, but he’s still got a lot to prove coming back from the injury.
Steven Hajjar missed plenty of time during the 2022 season. He began the year in Single-A Fort Myers with the Twins organization, but missed a month and a half in the middle of the year before returning in mid-July. He was then traded to Cincinnati at the deadline, making two starts for High-A Dayton in the first half of August. But after that second start he went to the injured list with shoulder impingement and he didn’t return from the injury. Between his two stops the 2021 2nd round pick posted a 3.02 ERA in his 50.2 innings pitched. Some of his stuff flashes above-average, but he’s been inconsistent with it. There’s starter upside here with three average or better offerings and a 4th pitch that is below-average, but he’s got to remain healthy and find a little more consistency.
There are a few high upside pitchers in the group, but all of them have some question marks surrounding them. Behind that group are a handful of guys who profile as back of the rotation types of guys.
B-. There is a little bit of depth here, but not a ton, either. The two highest upside pitchers have some real strides that they must make in throwing strikes. While there is some depth here, it’s the guys who can pitch in the top part of the rotation that are difference makers and that’s where there are some big question marks. The depth guys could certainly take steps forward with their stuff and find themselves in that discussion in the future but until that happens it’s not something you can count on.
Starting Pitcher Stats
You can see all of the State of the Farm series here.
It’s a reasonable grade. Since lodolo we haven’t really drafted the high upside pitcher at top of the draft. We’ve focused on the toolsy offensive players.
I seem to recall reading some hood reports on Levi stoudt and Steven hajar around the trade deadline that we’re encouraging. We need to draft some high upside pitching this year in 1st or 2nd round.
Stoudt’s upside was enough for the Reds to Rule 5 protect him. That there tells me the Reds like what they see. I don’t know if it means as a future SP or RP, but they do like him.
He should have been here as a starter. Not sure what happened other than a big ole brain fart. I’ll go back in and edit this to add him.
What I’m watching for is where everybody begins the year. I think the rotation is going to be Greene/Lodolo/Ashcraft for sure. Gut feeling tells me the Reds liked what they saw from Cessa to close 2022. I think #4 spot is his. #5 spot feels like a battle between Weaver/Dunn/Stoudt/Williamson/Overton. Knowing the Reds tendency on things, it feels like it’s Weaver’s job to lose, being the “veteran guy”.
That leaves Williamson and Stoudt in AAA. Overton and Dunn could be bullpen dudes or starting depth in Louisville. Phillips/Abbott are knocking on the AAA door, as well.
Roa probably starts back in AA, but his 3 starts there to close out 2022 were solid, so he may knock on AAA’s door soon, too. He’d be joining Boyle, Bonnin, Benschoter.
Dayton will probably have Rivera, Aguiar, Petty, Hajjar, Cooper.
Daytona is looking at Acuna, Hubbart, Huggins.
Lyon Richardson will slide in somewhere. Jacob Heatherly had tommy john in September of 21, so hopefully he’s healthy and can pursue his professional career.
I’m certain I’ve forgotten some folks, but, still. As is, each rotation doesn’t look as awful as in some years. Nice to see AAA won’t be veteran dudes trying to resurrect a career (Nicolino/McGuire/etc).
Lyon Richardson has made the statement that he wouldn’t be starting below AA so I would expect him in Chattanooga
Lyon will start where he is told. He has been disappointing to this point so by my way of thinking he gets a third opening day in Dayton.
Dang, forgot to at least mention Richardson. Still, until we see him back on the mound and throwing multiple innings against live hitters, he’s not moving the needle much on the overall grade. Before the injury his stuff simply wasn’t all that impressive. His velocity had started to come back after disappearing following high school, but his secondaries were so-so, too. He was throwing strikes, and you could hope that the velo would pick up some more. In instructs, in limited action, the velo did indeed show up like it hasn’t at any point in his pro career. That’s a good thing to see. But he wasn’t being asked to throw 5+ innings, either. How’s that going to play when he is? Definitely not someone to write off and is for sure someone to follow and keep an eye on – but he’s also not a Top 25 guy for me right now and has a lot to show moving forward.
I didn’t see a B- coming. I thought Doug would be a C at best. There is a lot to like with the youngest arms. Hopefully a AA or AAA pitcher separates themselves from the rest of the pack this year. Fingers crossed it’s Abbott.
Is it common for BB rates to increase as pitchers move up, e.g., intimidated by better hitters and start nibbling? Or is it something in the pitching program? While some of these pitchers seem to have some upside, it does still raise the question of how the Reds become competitive in the 2024-2025 seasons.
Walk rates do go up, in general, at each level – but the increase is very small on the whole. And obviously it doesn’t apply to every player as some guys will improve and others will go in the opposite direction. It really depends on the pitcher and why their walk rate was where it was at the lower level. A guy with a real good breaking ball could struggle with his walk rate at higher levels if he’s unable to make it look like a strike out of his hand often, but at the lower levels that guy may not have that issue because more hitters are undisciplined/unable to determine the pitch quickly enough. Likewise, a guy who can locate his fastball could put up good walk rates in the lower levels, but if there’s not a secondary there that’s any good, as he moves up that kind of thing could lead to a higher walk rate because he can’t focus on just locating the fastball and the iffy secondaries can be exploited by better hitters and that could lead to his nibbling. Flip side of course is that with more experience some guys simply get better with their mechanics and clean up issues that were leading to some control problems.
A few items here.
Doug – is the B- at all weighted to the Reds history? By that, This seems like a pretty good group if compared to the past 10-20 years of Reds MiLB. Is my history weak, or are there more pitchers in the discussion than they’ve had previously. I’d think a B+ given their prior development efforts. For all of baseball, probably a straight C.
Stoudt – is he just too old or already slotted into a spot starter/long relief role? He may not have the ceiling of any of those listed, but he’s also likely to make 10-20 MLB appearances this season.
Finally – as to this season’s rotation in some of the comments – I’m still against using Cessa as a SP. Dunn is a SP unless and until he goes on the injured list. Of course they’ll use Weaver through April and May, but please have a shorter string than they’ve shown in the past – 8 starts maximum if he flounders. That gets to June at which point I expect they start moving the AA/AAA group into spot start roles to determine which of them can be ready for 2024 – clearly WIlliamson is the first on that list, but he needs a serious return to form. They may get lucky with one of the others who forces his way into MLB given the chance, and there won’t be any service time concerns if it happens mid-season.
The B- isn’t something I’m grading as “this year” compared to the other positions. My “history” with the farm only goes back 17 years now, so it’s not a forever history, but it’s a while.
For me, I wouldn’t rank any of the pitchers in the top 100 in all of baseball. Phillips risk of a reliever is too high because of the control and Petty – I just want to see where he goes in High-A and Double-A. The lack of a Top 100-ish guy for me (Phillips has been rated in the top 100 in one reliable place this offseason, I just wouldn’t put him there) dings the position. And as I noted – I think that it’s the guys that can pitch at the top of a rotation (I’ll include #2 types in here) that make a difference. Right now that group only has huge questions with it and in my mind a ton of reliever risk.
Good – thanks – I just have a sense that they have more “high ceiling” guys than the prior few decades. That, and they’ve broken out of the Nick addiction.
This time a year ago the Reds had 2 top 50 starting pitching prospects. In the last decade they had a crew that included Stephenson, Garrett, Mahle, and Reed who were all high ceiling-ish types who were highly rated.
Doug is too nice of a grader. If C is the average MLB team grade then the Reds are clearly below MLB average
I don’t believe that this group of pitchers would be 15th-ish in all of baseball farm systems when looking at starting pitchers. I think they’d probably be better than that – but not near the top, either.
The Reds really need a OF with their first pick. I personally hope they take Wyatt Langford from Florida if he falls. Then they need to take a couple college arms with the next two picks. Hopefully someone like Tanner Witt from Texas or maybe Brandon Sproat from Florida
I would be happy with any of these from the draft with their 1st pick
Hajjar is worth a mention imo—good peripherals in that he didn’t surrender the HR ball while racking up the strikeouts….walks need to come down.
Seems to be a lot of high floor guys. It seems safer than other years to anticipate a few will make solid back of the rotation pieces. If you can hit on a couple it has that virtuous feedback loop by taking stress off the bullpen both in arms needed and workload.
Sultan, I like the optimistic view. A number four or number five starter on a contender is usually a right strong starter. Mike Leake, for example. Meanwhile, I really want to know what’s going to happen with the bullpen. It’s a terrible terrible bullpen. I wish it were always that a failed starter equals a great bullpen piece.
Great compilation of where SP is at in Reds org. All of those guys have a lot to prove yet. But the good news is, we only need about 2 of those to succeed as SPs, and it would be nice to have 2-3 more that become quality bullpen pieces. That’s probably asking a lot, though.
I like the mid range guys quite a bit. I’d throw Benschoter in there, too. Possibly Franco and Parks as well, if only to add to the volume of spaghetti we are throwing against the wall looking for the 4/5 starters and bullpen pieces.
I think Boyle is destined for Bullpen… and that is OK if he can concentrate on one inning of shutdown that is an improvement for us. Pair him with our current closer, or, we might be trading our current closer at the deadline, so we will need future bullpen help. Williamson and Roa have to develop into starters and I think Abbott is 3rd or 4th starter material on the big league level. I do agree that in this draft we need to address outfield and pitching, mainly from college ranks. I highly doubt Langford falls to us but I would attempt a back flip ( and fail miserably ) if he did.
I’d agree with Boyle to the bullpen. Not sure when that transition will happen – doubt it’s to begin this season – but think that at some point the lack of strike throwing is going to force the issue.
I only see Petty as a possible long term starter in the whole system.
Boyle, Williamson and Abbot as possible, but more than likely RP or trade bait.
Too many holes to fill. Need OF’s and real SP.
I give the Reds a D+. F without Petty n Wild Thing Boyle.
Interesting problem to have — we have the three young guys at the top of our rotation but far fewer guys with strong chances to slot in at the 4 and 5 spots. I do think we have more than Petty as solid candidates, ie Phillips, Abbott, Williams, Stoudt. But there’s good value in the multiple guys who are being developed as starters who’ll end up in the bullpen. In that case, I agree with Doug, that we are a top 15 club given the overall depth of pitching. There’s good talent here.
Abbott is a three-pitch guy whose success is based on those three pitches. His stuff wouldn’t play up much in the bullpen. He’s a back-end starter. Similar profile for Williamson, but I think you’ll get one viable starter and one AAAA injury-filler out of them. I think Boyle and Phillips are relievers, but both have enough to be good ones.
I think a B- is about right. What’s missing is the top end.
For me Roa is the dark horse to potentially blossom into an above-average 2 or 3 MLB starter. He’s a decent size guy, seemed to have good command of his stuff from the two late-season starts I saw, and a nice smooth repeatable delivery.
Hopefully Bruce Bonnin can come back though I understand his career could be in jeopardy from shoulder issues.
The Reds also have to consider Kyle Glogoski the Rule 5 draftee for a starting spot at AA or AAA as well as Nick Wong at A+ or AA.
Rule V’s Brooks Carpenter is also new to organization but most of his High A work in ‘22 was from the bullpen. Never know what the new organization thinks however.
At this point, it doesn’t seem like any of those players is jumping off the page (or screen) as a “future ace”. Although Petty is probably the closest to forcing a consideration on that topic.
But a few of them should find a role in a major league rotation some day.
Considering the Graduation of five pitchers (Greene, Lodolo, Ashcraft, Moreta and Diaz) a grade of B- is fantastic. I also think the B- is fair. Maybe a B but B- is good.
Phillips and Petty are on the verge of being in the top 100 in all projections. Petty had a great year but the stats are masked by him being rather unlucky. Abbott could be in the top 100 in 12 months. If Williamson does well this year he will graduate. If he does not he will not be in the top 100 next year so either way he is not a top 100 prospect in 12 months. For Boyle it all depends upon on how much his control improves this year. If he gets his BB/9 below 5 he will be in the top 100. Mostly ignored because he hasn’t played in so long is Lyon Richardson. If he can maintain his instructional play he too could be in the top 100 in 12 months. That is 5 potential top 100 pitchers. They won’t all break into the top 100 but if three of them can then in 2024/2025 we have the making of some additions to the staff.
Anything from Bonnin would be a plus. I am intrigued by Hajjar, Aguiar and Rivera as well as the staff in Daytona led by Acuna, Hubbart, Huggins and Brutti.
Not to be forgotton Roa, Benschoter and Farr.
Pitching is rather volitile. Of the nine pitchers in Doug’s 2021 top 25 only three remain. Two pitchers in Doug’s top 25 are no longer in the top 25 (Roa, Bonnin). Hopefully 12 months from now the system rating on the pitching is an A-. Time will tell.
I like the way you framed all this. One thing I want to say is I have a feeling last year‘s draft class might have a lot of potential. We didn’t get to see too much from them because of the late draft. To your point about the volatility with pitching, one optimistic point of view for me is last year’s draft.
Lastly, I think it would be fun to break down these pictures by their tools. I think Boyle would obviously rank highly, and I’m sure there are some others.
I really like the Reds getting Hajjar from the Twins; just hope he can stay healthy.
Williamson to me is similar to Randy Johnson when he first came up. He had a terrible time finding the strike zone. Due to his height, he had a hard time repeating his mechanics. However, if we stick with him, he has #1 or at least #2 potential. ( please notice the word potential ) He is the Real wild card ( no pun intended ) in our staff in the minors, if he can put it together, by 24 we could have a scary staff and Money to spend on free agents and hopefully 1 or 2 of these top prospects come through and we could be relevant. A lot to ask for, but, “glass half full” is the only way we can look at it since none of us have any control.
He doesn’t have anywhere near Johnson’s stuff, even if wild. There’s not a 99/90 FA/SL split coming anywhere in his future. He’s more of a knockoff Lodolo if you need a recent comp.
If a knockoff Lodolo ends up as a #4-5 rotation starter that’s a big plus. If Greene and Lodolo develop into good-to-great, and Ashcraft, Williamson and 2 others can get near Mahle-level status, that’s a very good rotation.
It’s clear they’ll use the 23 and 24 seasons to determine if they’ve accomplished that. Still, asking a lot to find 6 or 7 starters internally.
To look 5 years ahead Ashcraft, Greene, Diaz and Lodolo all become free agents at the same time.
Ashcraft made up his debut on May 22, and has 0.136 in service time, which would make his free agency year 1 year behind the other 3.
Bringing up 4 very good rookie pitchers in the same year is a good problem to have. One or more is likely to get hurt or not develop, and they may extend one or more of them after another season or two. They had a similar issue with Cueto, Bailey, Leake and Latos about 10 years ago. It does highlight, though, how important it is for the system regularly and consistently to develop starting pitching.
There’s no way that 0.136 number is correct. Dude made 19 starts last season and spent a month on the IL in the big leagues.
Actually, it’s likely accurate. He made his first start as a Covid replacement for Mahle in Toronto and then had his contract added to the Reds 40-man on May 27. So he should have just over 4 months of service time.
Maybe I don’t understand how those numbers are calculated. How is .136 equal to roughly 4/6ths of a season?
“.136” translates to zero full season but 136 days of ML service time at both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference. Another example is Joey Votto’s service time is recorded as 15.027, meaning 15 years and 27 days.
That is so stupid. Just count the days, folks.
Is Bryce Bonnin out of run to be considered a SP prospect??
He’s not going to pitch in 2023 and at this point I honestly don’t even know how to try and evaluate him. It’s definitely a wait-and-see what happens thing, and I’d caution everyone else to take that same stance.