It was only a short time before my wife and I realized that our oldest son didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like to share. It was innate within him to hoard his toys, snacks, and other trinkets that he had deemed his own. When his younger brother became old enough to run and play as well, this problem was exacerbated.
My wife and I were determined to drive the selfishness from our son, and as with all traits that have hardened within young ones, that selfishness was a stubborn beast. We faced many a battle of wills with the oldest Carrington heir, but slowly, when asked to, he would share his plunder of snacks and toys with his sibling and cousins (an occasional snack for daddy as well).
Unfortunately, it often felt like one step forward and two steps back. He would rage at times, demanding we respect the property he was too young to purchase for or provide himself. Other times, he seemed more than willing to accommodate the desires of others.
During this last week, we were driving home from dinner at Chick fil-a, my oldest enjoying a rare treat: vanilla ice cream. Of his own accord, he began to offer bites to his brother in the car seat next to him. Together, they shared that ice cream. No screams of entitlement. No hoarding all that goodness to himself. My son freely gave up a special dessert to the delight of his brother.
As I watched this happen from the front seat, I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t help but think of the progression is took to get here. It was hard at times. Painful others. And it certainly wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t linear.
And neither is pitching development.
The Reds began this season with high hopes for their young starters and why not? Several of them ended last year on high notes and seemed poised for another step up in their development. Robert Stephenson and Sal Romano both experienced some success with the Reds toward the end of last year, even if they often did it against weaker September lineups.
Tyler Mahle rocketed from AA to the Majors and up prospect lists in a flash. Luis Castillo had us salivating as each Soto-like changeup missed the bat of MLB hitters. On the other side of things, Cody Reed struggled mightily in 2017 and needed a resurgence to resurrect his career.
The rebuild depended on these arms and still does. The 2018 season was supposed to be the year several of them took big steps forward.
Well, a pitcherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s growth is often painful, and MLB batters are too merciless to care about a young bloodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s psyche. As we wind down the 2018 season, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s take stock of where these guys are in their development.
CastilloÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ERA currently sits at 4.83, but thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s somewhat misleading. His SIERA, the best of the ERA predictors, is 3.87, only 0.24 behind last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mark when he carved up the league. What gives? Castillo has let up much harder contact this season than in 2017 and seen his groundball rate drop significantly. Harder contact on more line drives and fly balls is no bueno. Matt Wilkes dove deep into the causes yesterday.
But CastilloÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s changeup might be the best pitch in the system, and he strikes out plenty of batters. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also walking fewer people this season. As he matures, Castillo will find a way to limit the homerun ball that has plagued him thus far.
His perceived decline is probably the result of unfair expectations. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s never pitched in AAA, and while his 2017 was drool-worthy, the league refused to hide witless in the corner. They adjusted, and Castillo has taken some lumps. But take heart: Castillo still has top of the rotation stuff and the ability to dominate like no other pitcher the Reds have.
Mahle forced his way into the Opening Day roster with an excellent Spring Training. For roughly 100 innings, he acquitted himself quite well, posting an ERA of 3.66 and SIERA of 4.30 through July 6th. Then, the wheels fell off: Mahle let up 20 runs over 10.2 innings in his next four starts and earned a trip to Louisville.
A pitcherÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s warts are often exposed in the Major Leagues. Opposing hitters feasted on MahleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s secondary stuff, slugging well over .500 on both his changeup and slider. Mahle will need to refine both to take another step forward, and scouts think both show at least average potential.
Mahle is 23 and progressing as expected given that his calling card is command and not elite stuff. It is concerning that he seemed to wear down in July, but he certainly has the fastball command to challenge MLB hitters. Mahle moved sideways this year, and 2019 will be a big test.
Reed was left for dead as 2018 began, at least 10th on the depth chart for starters in Spring Training. At AAA, he has revived a stock that once hit Enron levels by making some tweaks that have improved his command and deception. The strikeouts went up; the walks went down, and good times were had by all.
Reed still lets up quite a few hits, but with improved fastball command, his excellent slider is playing up. In a small sample of 19.1 innings (pre-Tuesday night start), the slider has held hitters to a .094 average, and Reed has 12 of his 16 strikeouts with the pitch.
If nothing else, Reed looks like a solid reliever. He still has an uphill climb to become a starter, but he didn’t appear to have any chance of reaching that potential coming into the season.
Before the 2017 season, Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs wrote that Romano had good command and an above-average slider. He also wrote that RomanoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s third pitch, the changeup, needed some serious work. Fast forward two seasons and nothing has changed. Big Sal has thrown his changeup less than 6% of the time this year, and hitters have an other worldly ISO of .318 against it. For the un-ISO inclined, that means they hit the changeup crazy hard.
Romano doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t strikeout many people, so he relies on soft contact to get outs. Even with a BABIP that is well below his minor league norms, Romano has posted a 5.35 ERA this year.
That third pitch makes a big difference, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to see Romano remaining a starter unless the changeup improves quite a bit. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s only 24, so thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s still time, but his fastball/slider combination likely plays well out of the bullpen right now, and because relievers are pitching more innings than ever, he might fit nicely into a multi-inning reliever role. His starting stock has fallen.
Stephenson is exhausting. He strikes out lots of batters because his stuff is art in motion; he walks a lot of batters because he rarely locates the canvas on which to paint. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pitch seven full seasons now, and his extreme control problems continue to hinder his ability to get MLB hitters out.
The Reds donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t seem high on Stephenson. They kept him in AAA even as the Reds starting rotation worked hard to improve the fortunes of National League hitters. Their actions were justified when Stephenson walked twelve batters in 10.2 innings in his three starts.
Stephenson finds himself in a similar position as Reed last offseason. His window is closing and unless he takes drastic steps forward, the end of his Reds tenure is nigh.
What Does It All Mean?
These pitchers, between 23 and 25 years old, are still toddlers by MLB standards, trying to figure out what works and what’s good in their current situation.This year has been much messier than we wished, and the Reds have few sure things going forward. The setbacks are demoralizing, especially as we thirst for a contender in the Queen City once again.
One of the biggest questions facing the Reds is who deserves a longer rope in the learning process. If the Reds choose the wrong pitchers to invest starts in, they may doom the rebuild in its entirety.
By trading for Lucas Sims, The Reds have already added another arm to compete for a 2019 rotation spot. I assume they will add a veteran as well, though itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to predict what ownership and the front office will do these days.
Still, the Reds need some of these arms to work out, and they would get a big boost if Anthony Desclafani can stay healthy. The path to pitching success is painful, and we should still expect a bumpy ride going forward; LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just hope those bumps are less jarring than this yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s.