Not typically a buying team at the deadline, the Kansas City Royals made a huge splash Sunday afternoon, acquiring right-handed starter Johnny Cueto in exchange for Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, and Cody Reed. Cueto, who is 7-6 with a 2.62 ERA this season, will be a huge boon to a KC rotation that ranks last in innings per start, 13th in K/9, and 11th in ERA in the American League. At Minor League Ball, though, we focus on prospects, so let’s find out just how much the Cueto acquisition cost the Royal farm system and, simultaneously, what the Reds are getting in terms of prospects.
22-year-old LHP Cody Reed
A prospect who shot up draft boards thanks to a velocity uptick, Cody Reed was selected by the Royals with their second round pick of the 2013 draft. Some were concerned the only explanation for Reed’s velocity increase was a thirty pound weight gain. However, Cody has dropped forty pounds since signing with the Royals and his velocity has remained in the mid 90s. His slider, like his fastball, also grades out as a plus pitch. His change-up has potential to be a 50 grade in time. Assuming Reed does not add a fourth offering to his arsenal, I think the 22-year-old has a decent chance to stick as a starter. His delivery is very simple and the southpaw is able to get great extension using a high leg kick. Reed has good command of all three pitches; he’s allowed fewer walks than runs this year. With two plus pitches and good control, Reed profiles as a future No. 3 starter. Reed’s floor is that of a dominant reliever or LOOGY. He’s a nice complementary piece for the Reds.
22-year-old LHP Brandon Finnegan
Ranked the number one Royals prospect by our own John Sickels prior to the 2015 season, Finnegan is clearly the headliner of the Cueto trade. Brandon has primarily been used as a reliever for the Royals, but he should be able to make the transition to a starter if the Reds choose to go that route. In his repertoire, the left-hander has a mid-90s fastball, an above-average slider that is lethal versus lefties, and a great change-up that he throws with good deception. The combination of a hard fastball and a mid-80s change elicits visions of peak Fernando Rodney. But that may not be the pitcher Cincinnati is looking for. If he wants to start, Finnegan needs to iron out his delivery and be more consistent. Right now, his motion errs on the high-effort and jerky side. That probably explains Brandon’s 4.8 BB/9 this season. I do think his delivery can be fixed, though. And should he be able to repeat his motion with more sucess, Finnegan has the potential to be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter. The southpaw has three above-average to plus pitches in his slider, fastball, and change-up. That’s a plenty good enough arsenal should he improve his command. If the bullpen is Brandon’s final destination, he has shutdown closer potential that can be realized very soon.
25-year-old LHP John Lamb
The Reds basically are playing the lottery with John Lamb. Once ranked the 18th best prospect in at the game by Baseball America, Lamb’s career was seemingly derailed after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the middle of the 2011 season. He would return at the end of the 2012 season and post a combined 13-24 record over the 2013 and ’14 season. But this season has been an entirely different story. In 17 starts with the Royals Triple-A affiliate in 2015, Lamb has cruised to a 9-1 record and 2.67 ERA. And, in even better news, his stuff appears to have returned to post-TJ form. Lamb’s fastball has reportedly maintained velocity from 91 to 93 miles per hour and has been clocked as high as 96. Assistant GM JJ Picollo thinks Lamb is finally return to pre-surgery form. "His changeup is looking more like the changeup he had prior to surgery, with good arm speed and deception. The curveball’s got better shape. And he’s doing a much better job of being aware of the running game as well". At 25, it may finally be time for Lamb to prove his worth at the major league level. His strong fastball-change combination lead me to believe John can find a slot in the Cincinnati rotation in the very near future. Like Reed, in the worst case scenario Lamb can still contribute as a LOOGY or late-inning reliever.
Overall, I think this is a fair trade for both sides. Kansas City received the true ace they will need in a short series. Cincinnati gets three solid prospects, all with starting potential and a high floor. The most intriguing part of this deal will be to follow the Reds’ development choices with Finnegan. The organization clearly regards him highly, but they must be careful to avoid another Neftali Feliz situation.