From the Minor League Ball mailbag:
"Please assess the rookie starters for the Cincinnati Reds with an emphasis on potential long-term fantasy value. Be succinct. Thank you."---Jay M., Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
A clear question, distinctly stated. Sure thing, Jay.
In alphabetical order:
Anthony DeSclafani, RHP: Age 25, made 31 starts for the Reds going 9-13, 4.05 with a 151/55 K/BB in 185 innings, allowing 194 hits. This was not an outstanding year per-se, but he still topped all rookie major league pitchers in fWAR value and held his own overall, especially considering that he was pitching for a 64-98 team.
We looked at DeSclafani in greater detail a couple of weeks ago. My opinion hasn't changed from then. In my view we haven't seen the best from DeSclafani yet. I don't know if he becomes a "genuine ace" for any length of time, but it seems quite plausible to me that he can ring up some "Collin McHugh-2014" type seasons during a long career as an inning-eater.
Raisel Iglesias, RHP: Age 25, Cuban defector, made 16 starts and two relief appearances, going 3-7, 4.15 with a 104/28 K/BB in 95 innings, 81 hits allowed. He was shut down in mid-September for workload management reasons to complete conversion from reliever to starter.
Put succinctly, I'm a big fan of Iglesias. He throws pretty hard, consistently in the 90s, and both his slider and change-up look like quality offerings. His command was better than advertised. The ERA was misleading; his FIP at 3.55 and xFIP at 3.28 were much better and more indicative of his talent. His high strikeout rate appeals to my fascist pitching preferences.
Assuming he stays healthy and holds up to a full workload, Iglesias can be one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2016.
John Lamb, LHP: Age 25, acquired from the Royals and inserted in the rotation, went 1-5, 5.80 in ten starts with a 58/19 K/BB in 50 innings, 58 hits. Again, the ERA was misleading here as the FIP (4.16) and xFIP (3.73) were more acceptable, though still not terrific. Without doing further research I'd have to think improving the team defense would be a key goal for the Reds this winter.
I have seen a lot of Lamb pitching in the Royals system the last few years but most of that was during an excessively long Tommy John recovery period. For much of that time his fastball was stuck in the 80s and his secondary pitches lacked deception. This year he topped out at 94 and showed more of his old ability with his curveball and change-up. He can plausibly be a number three starter if everything maxes out, more of a four/five if it doesn't.
Michael Lorenzen, RHP: Age 23, went 4-9, 5.40 in 21 starts and six relief games, 113 innings with 83/57 K/BB, 131 hits. He can hit 98 MPH but does not have the strikeout rate normally associated with such velocity. Such an issue is often linked with troublesome or inconsistent secondary pitches and that seems to be the case with Lorenzen.
He was making a jump from Double-A so problems were not unexpected. I think he profiles better in relief, but given his arm strength I can understand additional patience. If a breakthrough occurs, the first objective indicator would likely be a rising strikeout rate.
Keyvius Sampson, RHP: Age 24, made 12 starts with the Reds, going 2-6, 6.54 with a 42/26 K/BB in 52 innings, 67 hits allowed. FIP and xFIP were better (though still weak) at 4.76/4.97. Sampson is another guy I've seen a lot of over the years. On the right day he looks like a number three starter with a mid-90s fastball and an average curve/slider/change-up complement. On the wrong day he looks like, well, a guy with a 6.54 ERA. The fastball gets straight and the secondaries flatten out.
Sampson reminds me sometimes of a shorter version of LaTroy Hawkins when he was a prospect 20 years ago. Big league arm, no question, but ugly stats that don't match the stuff he can flash at his best. Hawkins eventually found his niche in relief and my guess is that the same thing happens with Sampson. Whether he's pitching in the year 2035 (Sampson, not Hawkins), we'll have to see.
Josh Smith, RHP: Age 28, made seven starts and two relief appearances, went 0-4, 6.89 with a 30/21 K/BB in 33 innings, 42 hits allowed. Minor league vet type, tops out at 93, mixes in slider, curve, change-up, nothing great but it worked in the minors and he was finally given a chance to see if it would work in the Show.
Smith is in the Matt Shoemaker/Chris Heston class: an inning-eating strike-thrower who might catch lightning and contribute for a year or three and get beyond Quadruple-A status. Smith wasn't able to pull that off in his first trial and guys like this don't get many chances. He'll need to have a good spring to stay in the picture.