The rebuilding Cincinnati Reds are taking a gamble with their pitching staff as 2017 begins: four pitchers including two members of the starting rotation are rookies, with a fifth member of the staff just barely over the eligibility line. The heavy reliance on youth is a risk but a necessary one given injuries to Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani. Here’s a quick look.
Barrett Astin, RHP: Astin was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the third round in 2013 from the University of Arkansas. He came to the Reds in an August, 2014 trade, and has been a solid contributor in the farm system since, posting a 2.26 ERA in 103 innings in 2016 in Double-A with a 96/25 K/BB.
Age 25, Astin is a 6-1, 225 pounder with low-to-mid-90s sinking fastball, a hard slider, and an occasional curveball and change-up. Command of his secondaries has improved greatly over the last two years. If that remains true, he should be a valuable middle and long reliever.
Rookie Davis, RHP: Davis was originally drafted by the New York Yankees in the 14th round in 2011 from high school in Holly Ridge, North Carolina (population 1,268). He came to the Reds in the December 2015 Aroldis Chapman deal, then made 23 starts in Double-A and Triple-A in 2016, going 10-5, 3.82 with a 77/37 K/BB in 125 innings.
Age 23, Davis is a big guy at 6-5, 255. His best pitch is a 60-grade curveball; he will also mix in a show-me change-up. His fastball has been clocked as high as 95 though he’s more commonly worked in the 90-93 range. His control was quite sharp in spring training, with a 17/3 K/BB in 16 innings. He opens the year in the starting rotation and projects as a workhorse type.
Amir Garrett, LHP: Garrett was a 22nd round pick by the Reds back in 2011, but could have gone much higher: he was committed to basketball at St. John’s. He shifted to baseball full-time in 2014 and has thrived, emerging as one of the top LHP prospects in the game. He posted a 2.55 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A in 2016 with a 132/59 K/BB in 145 innings.
Age 24, Garrett has a 93-96 MPH fastball and has refined his slider into an occasional plus pitch. His change-up is inconsistent but has improved. Both secondaries are far ahead of where they were three years ago. He was decent in spring training, posting a 4.22 ERA in 21 innings with a 14/6 K/BB. Like Davis, he opens the year in the rotation, but Garrett has higher projection and could become a number two starter eventually.
Cody Reed, LHP: Reed was drafted by the Royals in the second round in 2013 from Northwest Mississippi Community College, then was traded to the Reds in the Johnny Cueto deal. He spent much of 2016 in the major leagues and was hit hard, posting a 7.36 ERA in 47.2 innings with 67 hits allowed but a 43/19 K/BB.
Age 23, Reed is just over the line on service time for rookies, while falling 2.1 innings short on innings, and won’t be eligible for Rookie of the Year. With a fastball up to 96 MPH and a hard slider, Reed can be overpowering at his best and has a lot more talent than his rough MLB debut implies. He opens the year in the bullpen but will be an option to start if a spot opens up or if Davis and/or Garrett fail.
Robert Stephenson, RHP: Drafted in the first round in 2011 from high school in Martinez, California, Stephenson posted a 4.42 ERA in 137 innings in Triple-A last year with a 120/71 K/BB. He made eight major league starts with a 6.08 ERA in 37 innings with a 31/19 K/BB but retains formal rookie eligibility for 2017.
Age 24, Stephenson’s profile has changed somewhat over the years. He used to have a 95-99 MPH fastball. He can still pop the glove at 96 but doesn’t hit his peak velocities as much as he used to. His curveball was once a classic hard bender but is slurvier now, with less depth. On the positive side, his change-up has improved considerably, and his stuff is still good enough to overpower hitters when his command is working. Like Reed, Stephenson will open the year in the bullpen with an eye on the rotation should other pitchers struggle.