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Reds lefty Brandon Finnegan: Should he start or relieve?

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Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

We looked at Cincinnati Reds rookie starters last week. A reader pointed out that I didn't write about Brandon Finnegan and asked if that was deliberate, wondering if I saw the young lefty as a reliever.

No, leaving Finnegan out was not deliberate. His absence is what is known to writers and internet pundits as "I had put him aside in my mind to think about the starter/relief issue, then got obsessed with the other guys in the article and forgot to go back to him." A more technical term for this is "mistake", so we'll remedy that right now.

As you know, Finnegan was drafted by the Royals out of Texas Christian in 2014 and became the first pitcher in history to appear in the College World Series and the MLB World Series during the same season. He started in college but the Royals moved him to the pen last summer when it became clear that his skills were very advanced, wanting to get some late-season use out of him without blowing his arm out after a long college season and some late shoulder soreness.

He returned to the starting role in the minors this year and struggled with control troubles much of the time (5.65, 62/36 in 57 innings), but during his time in Kansas City this summer he was used in relief again before being sent off to Cincinnati in the Johnny Cueto deal. The Reds gave him four starts in September and he acquitted himself well enough to be a strong candidate for the starting rotation in 2016.

Overall Finnegan now has 55 major league innings on his resume, which pushes him out of rookie eligibility for 2016 and off prospect lists. In those innings he has a 3.27 ERA with a 55/22 K/BB, 4.28 FIP but much better 3.47 xFIP. He's already a good pitcher.

Finnegan's 5-11 size and high-energy style make scouts wonder about his long-term durability, doubts increased by the command problems that hurt him in the minors this year. That said, given the total package my personal view is that he should get a full trial as a starter. He has the necessary pitches for the role (90+ fastball, slider, change-up) and my feeling is that he would be something of a waste in the bullpen. That doesn't mean you expect 34 starts and 230 innings from him, but he seems athletic enough to handle a judicious workload. Under most circumstances, 180 quality innings from an above-average starter will have more value than 65 from a reliever.

Reality may vary from opinion of course. What do you think? How would use Finnegan, and why?