As we make our way through May, the Reds roster has seen a couple of pleasant surprises. Whether it be Tyler Naquin, Jonathan India, or Tyler Mahle, there is a lot to be excited about. But with their current record, a lot has been left on the table, with the pitching staff especially. In this article, I will cover several Reds prospects who just might be able to help turn this ship around.
This year’s starting staff has seen Luis Castillo and Jeff Hoffman struggle with consistency. And when you add in recent injury history for Sonny Gray, Wade Miley, and Michael Lorenzen, help is needed. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see the Reds deploy multiple strategies. Tejay Antone could very well be used as a starter but, he’s been tremendous out of the bullpen this season. Until Amir Garrett, Lucas Sims, and Sean Doolittle return to form it’s hard to remove Antone. Let’s look at who else the Reds could turn to.
Nick Lodolo looked electric in his first start at Double-A Chattanooga. In 5 innings pitched, Lodolo yielded 0 runs and only allowed 1 hit while striking out 10 batters. This level of achievement is nothing new for Lodolo who has routinely averaged a K/9 north of 11 during his college and minor league career. He came back to Earth a little bit in his second start of the year. The 6’6” lefty will be given a number of opportunities to prove himself this year. Due to his excellent ability to throw strikes and advanced pitches, that should mean major league opportunities. Unless the Reds experience a number of injuries, however, those most likely won’t materialize until after the All-star break.
While Hunter Greene is definitely below Lodolo on the pecking order for a major league call-up, throwing 37 pitches over 100MPH in a start, turns heads. The difference here is Greene is coming off of Tommy John Surgery performed in 2018. I’ll be looking for him to continue to develop his command of the strike zone and the use of his secondary pitches. Once he can become a well-rounded pitcher with a healthy arm, Greene will be starting for the Reds immediately. His first Double-A start is a huge step in the right direction and Greene wants the callup bad. The talent is there but, the Reds are not going to rush him along. Look for a potential spot start towards the end of the year if he continues to progress.
Riley O’Brien is a 2020 trade acquisition from the lauded Rays pitching system. The Reds moved on from Cody Reed to get him but, O’Brien could prove his worth soon. He sports an arsenal 92-94 MPH fastball, that can touch the upper 90’s on occasion, and a 3 pitch mix of a slider, curve, and changeup. While his command has been erratic in the past, the Reds are adamant it has improved since joining the organization. O’Brien may be better suited for the bullpen but, the Reds are training him as a starter. I look for him to be among the first to get the call if he can reign in his command early on.
To round out the starting pitching category, I’ll talk about the one who will most likely get the first opportunity at the major league level. Tony Santillan was assigned to the Louisville Bats and has seen his velocity and command return after a down 2019 campaign. One major area to watch out for is the control as Santillan consistently has struggled with walks in the past. In his first Triple-A start this year Santillan didn’t allow a walk, however. With great athleticism for his size and projectability with his pitches, Santillan may be the Reds’ best option early in the season.
The bullpen has been a struggle for the Reds this season, with a number of arms being shuffled in and out. As the Reds look to find the right arms for the perfect situations, let’s take a look a two who should get extended opportunities this season.
Ryan Hendrix has already been called up and has pitched 9.1 innings so far. He hasn’t been perfect, allowing 8 walks, but, has shown he belongs. His mid to upper 90’s fastball and wipeout breaking ball have struck out 12 hitters already. Hendrix might always have issues with walks but, he will continually rack up those K’s. So long as Hendrix is able to limit the damage done when he does issue a walk, he will provide exactly what the Reds need. Look for him to fill the lower leverage roles until higher leverage roles become available. At which point, Hendrix is a perfect candidate to fill in as a set-up reliever.
Art Warren is exactly the type of pitcher Cincinnati has been looking at in recent years. With a slider spin rate in the upper echelon of the major leagues, Warren provides a very unique skill set. He also had a solid major league debut for the Mariners in 2020. So, why did he get waived, traded, and then not make the Red’s Opening Day roster? Well, it comes down to his fastball. After sitting around 96 MPH with his fastball it suddenly lost 3-4 MPH in a matter of days during 2020. If he can recapture that velocity and use his wipeout slider the way he has in the past, Warren should fill a need for the Reds. It will most certainly be a low leverage role when he does but, that what the Reds desperately need right now.
If the Reds hope to make a playoff run this season, pitching prospects like these will have to produce. The hitting has been tremendous thus far but, it can only do so much. I’m looking forward to how the Reds develop and use their pitching prospects this season, it might just make or break their season.