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Don't overlook Cincinnati Reds rookie Anthony DeSclafani

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

From the Minor League Ball Mailbag:

"Tough (ugh) year for us Reds fans, but Anthony DeSclafani is a pretty good bright spot and made it easier to part with Leake and Cueto. Do you think DeSclafani can take the next step forward from being decent to being a real ace?"---Jon L., Avondale, Arizona

Yes, DeSclafani has been pretty good: entering tonight's start he has gone 9-11 (for a 63-89 team), 3.79 ERA, 3.64 FIP, with a 140/53 K/BB in 173 innings, 177 hits allowed. He's not Zack Greinke but it is a credible campaign certainly and he leads all current Reds pitchers (by far) with a 3.1 fWAR. Heck, he leads all major league rookie pitchers with his 3.1 fWAR; Noah Syndergaard of the Mets and Lance McCullers of the Astros have been more dominant on a per-inning basis, but DeSclafani earned his rotation spot in spring training and has thus racked up more innings.

This season may surprise some folks and pitching in Cincinnati gets him less national attention than some of the big media center rookies. DeSclafani's success isn't out-of-bounds however. Although he posted an ugly 6.27 ERA in 33 innings for the Miami Marlins last year, his 2014 FIP was much better at 3.77, almost the same as this year, and he posted a fine 26/5 K/BB. The ERA was misleadingly bad and the Reds did well to pick him up in the Mat Latos deal over the winter.

Conveniently DeSclafani now has 206 career innings in the majors, perfect for seasonal notation, with a 166/58 K/BB and a 3.66 FIP, 3.2 fWAR. Rotation anchor? No. Decent major league starter? Yes. What about his stuff? He can hit 96 with his fastball, averages 92, and mixes in a slider, a spikey curve, and a change-up. The scouting report from Brooks Baseball:

His fourseam fastball has essentially average velo and results in somewhat more groundballs compared to other pitchers' fourseamers. His sinker is a prototypical pitch with few remarkable qualities. His slider results in many more groundballs compared to other pitchers' sliders, is much harder than usual, has less than expected depth and has primarily 12-6 movement. His change is slightly firmer than usual, results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' changeups and has slight armside fade. His curve has primarily 12-6 movement and results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers' curves. His cutter is an extreme flyball pitch compared to other pitchers' cutters.

Well that sounds like a number three starter, too

All of that is a pedantic way to say that you're right, Jon, he's a good pitcher, and it doesn't look like a fluke to me. But does he stay a good pitcher, or can he take the next step forward to being "a real ace" like you hope?

Now we get into the realm of projection and opinion and note the following bit of history: when the Blue Jays drafted DeSclafani out of the University of Florida back in 2011, he was a sixth round pick with an erratic college track record. He threw pretty hard, 90-96 like he does now, but he was used mainly as a reliever by the Gators because he needed to develop better off-speed pitches to go with his fastball and slider. And he's done that, refining the curve and change-up in pro ball and emerging as a solid starter.

(For an informed and less sanguine counterpoint, read Jeff Zimmerman's Fangraphs take on DeSclafani after seeing him pitch in late July. Jeff was not that impressed with DeSclafani's progress).

From my point of view, this is a guy who posted an ERA over 7.00 and gave up 60 hits in 40 innings as a college sophomore. He's come a long way in learning how to pitch rather than just throw. Does he take the next step and improve further?

It's just my opinion but 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.

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