With the big league club struggling to score runs, it would be nice to write that the farm teams were also out there obliterating the baseball, but outside of the Bakersfield Blaze, the offenses are off to slow starts. The starting pitching has been rather good, and when it comes from some of the top arms in the system it certainly the biggest story of the first week of the minor league season.
The season opened up on Thursday. Nick Travieso, the Cincinnati Reds 1st round pick from 2012 took the mound for the Low-A Dayton Dragons and allowed two runs in six innings without a walk and with three strikeouts. While the line is solid at best, his stuff was the best that I have ever seen it. He had his fastball and slider working well and was pounding the bottom of the zone. He induced 12 groundball outs and just three fly outs.
Mat Latos made a rehab start in Pensacola that night which pushed Carlos Contreras to the bullpen for the day. Contreras will start in the spot moving forward, but on opening night for the Blue Wahoos he fired three shutout innings with six strikeouts. That was just a sign of things to come for the Pensacola rotation.
On Friday, Daniel Corcino made the start in Pensacola. The assignment to Double-A is a step backwards for the right hander, but he struggled mightily in Triple-A to throw strikes and his stuff suffered as well. In his first start of 2014, he tossed six innings with just one run allowed while walking just one batter and striking out eight. Having Corcino rebound would be huge for the farm system and at least in his first start, he was impressive.
Saturday night was a big night as Robert Stephenson and Ismael Guillon both took the mound for their respective teams. Stephenson came in for a relief appearance of sorts after Jonathan Broxton made a rehab appearance in the first inning. With a drizzle coming down the entire game, Stephenson absolutely dominated as he struck out 11 batters with just one walk in five innings pitched. He was firing a mid-90′s fastball that touched 99 MPH and mixing in plenty of curveballs and a few change ups. The top prospect in the system got his season started off right and if he continues at anywhere near that pace moving forward the Reds are going to have to find a way to get him to the big leagues in the rotation.
Ismael Guillon took the mound for the Dayton Dragons that same night. Much like Daniel Corcino, he really struggled to throw strikes in 2013 as he led the Midwest League in walks (and in strikeouts for a rare double leader board feat). The left hander brought good velocity throughout the game, mixed his fastball, curveball and change up well and most importantly he threw strikes. He finished with six shutout innings with just one walk and he struck out six. Guillon has an elite arm and if he can start throwing consistent strikes he will be another arm to add to the Reds stable of starting pitching depth.
Sunday afternoon the best performing draft pick from the 2013 Reds draft class, Ben Lively, continued what he finished with last season. After posting a 0.88 ERA in 41 innings last year after the draft, the Reds sent him to Bakersfield. The first outing of the year was no sweat as the right hander allowed just one hit, a solo home run, in six innings without a walk and while striking out seven. That outing actually caused his career ERA to go up, which really puts into context how good he has been.
Jon Moscot was off to a good start on Sunday afternoon as well, but after giving up one run through 4.1 innings with a walk and four strikeouts for Pensacola he exited the game after developing a blister.
Last night, 2013 supplemental first round pick Michael Lorenzen took the mound for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (who have about as stacked of a rotation as you can imagine, all five starters rank among my top 11 Reds prospects). The right hander took a perfect game into the 5th inning before allowing a leadoff single that was erased on a double play a few pitches later. The former reliever went seven shutout innings with no walks and six strikeouts to go along with 12 ground outs and just one fly out. During the 2013 regular season as a reliever, Lorenzen walked 13 batters in 21 innings before heading to the Arizona Fall League where he walked 12 batters in 17.1 innings. He didn’t have any control problems in college, although in limited action. But if Lorenzen’s control problems are behind him, his value would skyrocket.
Just one start into the season, all of the top ranked arms in the system performed well in their season openers. Whether it was Stephenson or Lively building upon what they did in the 2013 season or the group of Corcino, Guillon and Lorenzen going out and showing no signs of past control issues, it was an outstanding first week from the starting pitching prospects throughout the system.