Steve Mancuso wrote an interesting piece a few weeks ago about the possibility of the Reds starting the “Filthy Five.” Essentially, he suggested the Reds start five of the six young arms that are currently knocking on the door or have run through it. These pitchers included the following:
- Cody Reed
- Robert Stephenson
- Amir Garrett
- Brandon Finnegan
- Rookie Davis
- Sal Romano
The post sparked a fascinating discussion about service time issues and the presence of veterans like Scott Feldman or Bronson Arroyo on a rebuilding team. Many fans want to hold back pitchers they particularly believe in to get an extra year of control. If they aren’t as confident in a pitcher’s long-term future, they don’t worry as much. As I considered these issues, I realized something: I’m not sure who I believe in the most out of these six. I like them all to varying degrees, but they all have their warts.
Luckily, the Reds have years of control on all of these guys, so they have time to figure out who belongs in the rotation for several years, who will transition to the bullpen, and who may end up on another team. But, I think it’s interesting to consider who may be the best between these young starters based on the information currently available to us, and I’d like your input.
I’m going to provide a little bit of information on each of these six pitchers. You are welcome to bring in other relevant data to the conversation as well. Essentially, I want to know who you believe will have the best Reds career when considering things such as floor, upside, numbers to date, and scouting information. You can only pick one and should give a reason for your selection. Fun, right?
Cody Reed (24)
Cody Reed dominated the upper minors in 2015 and half of 2016. He struck out plenty of batters while walking few and had an ERA of 2.17 in AA and 3.08 in AAA. His fastball/slider combo are well regarded among scouts, and he has a changeup that flashes average and shows potential growth.
When Reed reached the majors in 2016, he struggled in ten starts. While his walk (8.3%) and strikeout numbers (18.7%) were solid, he allowed 12 home runs in 47.2 innings and posted a ridiculously high .362 BABIP. The latter two numbers are thankfully impossible to sustain, but scouts have concerns. Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs has noted several times that Reed’s arm slot gives right handers a great look at his pitches, and the splits bear this out. Right-handers slugged .614 against Reed while lefties slugged .435.
To combat this, Reed has worked on being less predictable and throwing all of his pitches for strikes regardless of the count. No one doubts the stuff, which is really good from the left side and includes a 92-95 MPH fastball. Whether Reed can command his pitches well enough and limit hard contact from right handers remains to be seen.
Robert Stephenson (24)
Robert Stephenson engenders a special kind of frustration among Reds fans. The scouts have shown him plenty of love in the past. As recently as 2015, his stuff was “frontline starter material” with huge upside (Fangraphs). Baseball Prospectus stated that “there are only a handful of players who can match what Stephenson has.”
He possesses a mid-90s fastball and a curveball with “ridiculous depth and spin.” Stephenson’s third pitch, a changeup, has been borderline plus as well. By all accounts, his raw talent screams ace. Because of his elite stuff, Stephenson has and will receive more chances than other players with lesser stuff and better minor league results. Not that he hasn’t enjoyed some minor league success. He dominated A ball in 2013 as a 20-year-old, striking out a Kershaw like 31.3% of batters for the Dayton Dragons. He flashed brilliance at times in AA in 2015. But those same scouts that rave about his pitches also identify his biggest weakness and the root of all frustration among fans: command.
Stephenson’s pitches look great. They just frequently zip and zoom way out of the strike zone. In parts of four seasons at AA or higher, Stephenson has never posted a single-digit walk rate. That’s what we saw from him last season. He dominates when he gets into a rhythm and shows command. When he gets out of sync, which happens all too frequently, he looks borderline Ankielish. There are also reports that Stephenson’s stuff took a step down in 2016, though velocity went up some during Spring Training this year. If you believe in the pure upside, Stephenson might be your guy, but he comes with plenty of risk.
Amir Garrett (25)
Garrett is an incredible athlete. As you’ve probably heard, he played basketball for St. Johns before giving up the lesser sport to focus on baseball. Since that time, Garrett has shot up prospect lists and overtaken Stephenson as the pitching darling of the system. His walk rates have tended to run a little high, made worse by a tendency to go on walk binges during certain starts. Still, he’s missed a lot of bats in the minors and made huge progress in the last three seasons.
Many people think the jump from A ball to AA is the biggest adjustment in the minors. Garrett challenged that notion by posting a ridiculous 1.75 ERA and 25.1% strikeout rate in 77 innings last season for Pensacola. He failed to match his success in AAA but showed flashes of dominance.
Garrett works in the low 90s and reaches 96. He also throws a slider and changeup, though the slider is more advanced. Baseball Prospectus notes that his changeup must improve, and both Keith Law (ESPN) and Eric Longenhagen (Fangraphs) believe better command is the key. But all see him as a potential mid to front rotation starter.
Brandon Finnegan (24)
Out of these six, we have seen the most out of Finnegan in the Major Leagues. He made 31 starts in 2016, completing 172 innings after pitching a little over 100 the year before. The results were mixed. His ERA was just under 4, which for a 23-year-old is awfully good. But, he had the second worst walk rate (11.4%) among all qualifying starters and a 4.92 SIERA and he allowed 29 home runs. The walk rate improved slightly over the course of the season but not much. Frankly, the questions about whether he is a starter or reliever long term were not completely answered.
However, some serious improvement did occur. Finnegan developed a changeup that dramatically increased his effectiveness. His strikeout rate spiked from 16.6% in the first half to 24.6% in the second half, and hitters batted only .133 against the changeup. They also missed 40% of the time when they swung at the changeup, which probably made them feel silly. So, the walks remain a concern, but they are less so if Finnegan can continue striking out batters at a high rate.
Finnegan works 92-94 with the fastball and also uses a slider. We don’t have much of a track record in the minors, but he limited hits last year with a .256 BABIP. Eno Sarris predicted that Finnegan would become the Reds’ ace this season, and if you believe in the strikeout rate spike, you can see why.
Rookie Davis (24)
Davis was the main piece in the ill-fated Aroldis Chapman deal, and while we all wanted more for Chapman, Davis should contribute positively in some capacity going forward. In 2015 while still in the Yankees system, he pitched well in A+ with a 25.9% strikeout rate and only a 4.4% BB%. He was reportedly throwing mid 90s with an excellent curveball.
Then, 2016 happened. He posted a tidy 2.94 ERA in 101 innings in AA but the velocity dipped to 90-92 and his strikeout rate plummeted to an abysmal 15% as he dealt with hip flexor, hamstring, and groin injuries throughout the season. The Reds promoted Davis to AAA toward the end of the season, and he got beat around to the tune of a 7.50 ERA in 24 innings.
Well, it appears that some of Davis’ troubles were injury related. He averaged almost 95 MPH on his fastball this spring, and our Enquirer friends reported that Davis added a new slider to his arsenal, a pitch that received rave reviews. If his curveball is truly his best pitch, as some scouts suggest, then the improved velocity and new slider could propel him to new heights in 2017.
Sal Romano (23)
Our friend, Doug Gray, has been the high man on Sal Romano for several years now (although we’ve been talking about him here at RN for a while, too). The Reds drafted Romano as a 17-year-old with an 88-91 MPH fastball. He now consistently throws mid 90s with an above-average slider. His changeup seems to be improving, but it needs more refining for him to reach his potential.
Romano has always permitted a lot of hits in the minor leagues, but he’s adjusted well to each level with some time. For instance, he got lit up in the first half of 2016 in AA with a 4.45 ERA. But, in the second half, he posted a 2.14 ERA and struck out 69 batters with only nine walks in his last 12 starts. That’s an insane strikeout to walk ratio. His peripherals have always been better than his ERA and if he learns to limit hard contact, he will take a big step forward because he doesn’t walk a ton of people.
Romano impressed in Spring Training this year, striking out 25 and walking only three batters in 20 innings. The command is really impressive, and he seems like an average changeup away from being a really good Major League pitcher.
I still have a hard time choosing just one of these guys. Stephenson has the widest range of outcomes. He could be a top of the rotation guy or end up in the bullpen. I don’t like the volatility, so he’s out. I need to see what Davis looks like with improved stuff this season before I’d commit to him. Reed’s arm slot issues are just enough to scare me away, though I see more upside in him than others seem to.
I love strike throwers like Romano and am tempted to take him, but he’s pitched one game that counted over AA, so there’s just not enough data on him. That leaves me with Finnegan and Garrett. It’s hard to ignore Finnegan’s improved changeup and strikeout rate, and I love the experience he’s already had in the Major Leagues.
However, since I have to choose just one, I’m taking the uber-athletic Garrett. Since committing to baseball, he has made huge strides and while almost 25, he seems to have fewer improvements to make than some of the other youngsters.
In a year, my conclusion may change as we gain more information. I can probably be convinced of a different choice right now because of how hard this decision is. Regardless, the Reds have a group of young pitchers to be excited about. Throw in Anthony Desclafani, Raisel Iglesias, and Michael Lorenzen, and the Reds have the makings of an excellent staff.
Your turn. Who has the best Reds career?