The Reds have finally come to terms with the fact that band aids and duct tape can’t patch up the gaping holes in the roster. They seem fully committed to making the tough decisions that will lead to the next winning team, even if I’m not sold on some of the moves they’ve made thus far. While I’m unsure of what to expect from this front office, I am over the moon to see more young talent infused into the organization, especially when it comes to young pitching.
The overhaul of the starting rotation began with the trades of Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon last winter and continued with the Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto trades. In those deals alone, the Reds received the following pitchers: Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed, John Lamb, Keury Mella, Anthony DeSclafani, and Jonathan Crawford. That’s not a bad group. While Cody Reed looks awfully impressive, the biggest prospect the Reds obtained at the time of these deals was Brandon Finnegan.
As we get closer to Opening Day, it has become apparent that the Reds intend to put Finnegan in the rotation to start the season. They have clearly tried to stretch him out this Spring, giving him starter’s innings or what suffices for starter’s innings during the beginning and middle of Spring Training. In his poor showing last Sunday, Finnegan threw additional pitches in the bullpen to make sure he got to 80, a number we don’t expect to see from any Reds’ reliever this season. Other rotation competitors have fallen aside because of injury, performance, or both. Finnegan will be interesting to watch this year, along with how the Reds intend to handle him.
Finnegan has always had talent, but the Royals jerked him around between the rotation and bullpen, possibly stunting his development. We really can’t blame the Royals; they were in win now mode, and their use of Finnegan reflected that position. It’s well documented that Finnegan pitched in both the College World Series and the Major League World Series in 2014. Last season, Finnegan made seven starts and four relief appearances between the Royals’ AA and AAA teams. He also pitched 24.1 innings out of the bullpen for Royals Major League squad before they traded him to Cincinnati.
In Cincinnati, the Reds used him mainly as a starter, and he impressed in limited action with the big league club. But after being tossed between the rotation and bullpen in Kansas City, Finnegan only pitched about 105 innings in 2015, which makes it difficult to believe he can pitch a full season in a big league rotation this year.
Luckily, I guess, the Reds won’t likely be in playoff contention when they need to drop Finnegan from the rotation after 120-150 innings. If they believe in him as a starter, they need to allow him to really begin developing in that role because he hasn’t had much experience in a rotation yet.
With his limited experience, it doesn’t make much sense to delve into his xFIP or ERA numbers. His development has been wonky from the start and thus, I think we should look at his stuff, age, and command to determine what might happen this year and beyond.
Finnegan turns 23 this year, so it’s not like he doesn’t have time left to develop into the top flight starter scouts envisioned when he came out of TCU. He has a solid fastball that averages about 93 MPH as a starter, a tick more as a reliever. For a lefthander, that is above average. He also throws a slider, a changeup, and a different fastball that is nearly as hard as his main pitch. His slider is impressive and on par with the quality of his fastball. Finnegan’s changeup is average with potential left, and as his third offering, is good enough to get people out. His arsenal has never been the question.
Finnegan’s potential Achilles heel is his command. He walked 13.1% of batters faced at the Major League level for the Royals in 2015 and had even worse walk numbers in the minors. That’s really poor as a walk rate of about 7.7% is average. Ouch. In his six appearances for the Reds, he did a little better, posting an acceptable 8.2% walk rate.
His command issues both in and out of the strike zone were on full display this last Sunday when he allowed six runs on five hits and two walks in one inning of work. Finnegan also allowed a run on a wild pitch. His ability to harness his strong repertoire of pitches will determine his success this season and beyond.
Scouts are also concerned with his short stature (Johnny Cueto? Mike Leake? Are we really worried about this?) and his high-effort delivery. I only worry about the latter, which may suggest a move to the bullpen at some point.
But we can dream big on Finnegan right now. He has three good pitches and is extremely young. The Reds have time for him to develop. This season, we should pay attention to his command and the number of innings he pitches. If he cut down on his wildness, Finnegan could be a starter on the next winning Reds team. I expect him to struggle some as he returns to starting on a more consistent basis, but with his stuff, I also anticipate some impressive stretches of pitching.