With top pitching prospect Nick Lodolo moving closer to major league playing time, bolstered by a couple strong Spring Training outings, and Hunter Greene still in need of development before he’s ready for the majors, I thought I’d take a look at the next two most interesting pitchers in the Reds’ system: Lyon Richardson and Graham Ashcraft. Richardson sits at #7 in my Reds Top 50 rankings, and Ashcraft at #29. I know that’s quite a significant difference but Ashcraft’s profile carries some serious risk, though the ceiling is also potentially quite high if everything comes together.
Lyon Richardson, RHP
If you’ve been following this page for a while you know I’ve been quite high on Richardson for a number of seasons now. When I watched several starts in 2019, I was impressed by how advanced his “stuff” was not just in terms of movement but also by the improvement in his command and control; his walk rate fell from 11.5% to 6.6%, strikeouts increased from 17.3% to 21.3%, and his FIP fell from 5.54 to 3.76, with a big increase in innings pitched from 29 to 112.
The question mark about Richardson has been his velocity; toward the end of 2017 he had to be shut down for elbow soreness, and then his velocity was in the 89-93 range in 2018. The velocity continued to vary across the 2019 season and in bullpen sessions in 2020, so that is one area of concern, can he sustain a higher velocity across a full season? I’m still hopeful for him given the decent command and his ability to create deceptive movement on his pitches. At this juncture, I can see him being a capable 4th or 5th starter. But if he can’t sustain decent velocity over 5 to 7 innings, I could see the Reds deploying him in the bullpen for 1 or 2 innings where he could really air it out.
Graham Ashcraft, RHP
The Reds’ 6th round pick of the 2019 June amateur draft, Ashcraft spent much of his college career splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen; he would routinely throw up to 98 mph but command and control were quite lacking, as evidenced by a WHIP of 1.67 in 2017 at Mississippi State and 1.75 in 2019 at University of Alabama Birmingham and ERAs in the high 5s both years. Between all that, he had hip surgery in 2018. On the positive side of things, Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs reports that Ashcraft does boast good spin rates on his fastball and breaking ball, and he further believes that Ashcraft’s profile is the kind that should benefit from the Driveline program in place now in the Reds’ system.
The canceled 2020 season certainly didn’t help us gain any further insights into what Ashcraft may be capable of. Given that he’s been through not just one but two hip surgeries and the poor walk rates and ERA even by college baseball standards, I’m taking a more cautious approach with him, and I would certainly apply the “high risk” label until we can see what further development yields. At the moment, the consensus seems to be a relief role and I would agree with that.