State of the Farm: Starting Pitchers

Today wraps up the final position in the State of the Farm series for 2012. The Reds currently have six starting pitchers at the Major League level for five spots. In the minor leagues there is also a good amount of depth.

Coming into the season the Reds didn’t have a premiere pitching prospect to their name, but rather several quality pitching prospects. That all changed in 2012 when Robert Stephenson began pitching in Billings and then eventually in Dayton and flashed out pure dominance at times, touching 101 MPH in one game with two other strong pitches. He established himself as one of the minor leagues premiere arms and the Reds top pitching prospect. Stephenson still has a ways to go and needs to improve aspects of his game, but in terms of a pure arm, very few players can match him in all of baseball.

There is a little bit of a gap to the next grouping of guys. Daniel Corcino is next in line. He doesn’t have quite the upside as Stephenson, but he is closer to contributing in the Majors. He has been compared to Johnny Cueto for years because of similar size, stuff and mechanics. Corcino threw 143.1 innings in AA with a 3.01 ERA. He struggled at times with his control, posting a high walk rate. Still, he has good stuff across the board, some success in the upper minors and a good history.

Nick Travieso was the Reds first round pick this past season and while he was a bit unheralded coming into the season, by the time the draft rolled around he had vaulted up to first round status. He has reportedly hit 100 MPH while mixing in a power slider and showing a good feel for a change up. He only threw 21 innings as a pro this season with good control. He will need to move a bit slower than some other guys as he never started until his senior year in high school in order to protect his arm, so building up innings will be pivotal. Still, there is a lot of upside with him that puts him in this group.

The last guy in this group is Tony Cingrani. Coming into the year he had one of the best debuts of any Reds prospect I can remember. With that said, there were a lot of scouts who still viewed him as a reliever despite his dominance as a starter in his debut in rookie ball. Despite the calendar flipping over and the lefty spending time with Bakersfield, Pensacola and Cincinnati, the results remained roughly the same. Splitting his minor league season with Bakersfield and Pensacola he posted a combined 1.73 ERA in 146 innings with 172 strikeouts and 52 walks. He was stronger in Bakersfield than in Pensacola, mostly revolving around his walk rate nearly doubling. He still needs to improve his slider if he wants to remain a starter, as well as relying more on his offspeed pitches, but he has convinced a lot more people that he can remain a starter after his 2012 season.

After that group of guys there is another gap down to the next group, perhaps even larger than the step down from the first to second group. Everyone in this group has questions about them that still need answering. Kyle Lotzkar topped 100 innings for the first time in his career and showed the stuff to be a starting pitcher, but he struggled with his control at times and dealt with shoulder soreness that ended his season early in August. Remaining healthy and cutting down on his walk rate are serious concerns at this point. He remains a high upside arm, but one with significant questions. His rotation mate for a few weeks in August, Chad Rogers is next on the list. The Reds moved him to the rotation after spending 2011 in the bullpen. The results were strong as he posted a 2.90 ERA in 143 innings with high groundball rates, 35 walks and 111 strikeouts. He showed very good control and two quality pitches with his fastball and slider. His lack of a third pitch may place him in the bullpen in the future, though if he can add a change up that is even average, he shows good stamina and control.

Ismael Guillon joins that group after a down 2011 season. During 2012 he split time with Billings and Dayton where he posted a 2.38 ERA in 75.2 innings with 31 walks and 90 strikeouts. As a left hander he has above-average velocity and a plus change-up. He mixes in a curveball often, though it is a below-average pitch in the high 60′s to low 70′s. He has had control problems in the past and his innings high was the 75.2 innings in 2012, but he has a strong foundation to build upon moving forward. The final guy in this group is Dan Langield, the Reds 3rd rounder this past season. He split time between the rotation and bullpen with Billings after a long season in college. With the Mustangs he posted a 2.68 ERA in 37 innings with 17 walks and 54 strikeouts. The control was spotty at times, but the stuff is there with above-average fastball velocity that has touched as high as 97. He mixes in a plus slider, above-average curveball and a change up. Control may be something that holds him back, but if he can improve the control he has all of the pitches he needs to remain a starter.

After these guys there is a sizable gap to the next group of guys. Amir Garrett has a big time arm, but he is about as raw as players can possibly come. The left hander didn’t play baseball his final two years of high school and takes on college basketball from August through March. He has an above-average fastball, but his curveball and change up are both below-average pitches right now. He made huge strides during the year from extended spring training through his time at the end of the year with Billings, but there is simply is so much room between where he is now and where he could be one day. Pedro Diaz is another big time arm in the Reds system. He posted a 5.72 ERA in Arizona at age 19 this past year, but he showed off good control, good groundball rates and plenty of strikeouts to go along with good scouting reports.

Jon Moscot was the Reds 4th rounder this past season and posted a 2.88 ERA with Billings in 10 starts with 6 walks and 26 strikeouts in 25 innings. Like Dan Langfield earlier, the Reds kept his innings limited after a long college season. His stuff is mostly just solid across the board, but his fastball, split finger, change up and slider are all at least average pitches right now with his fastball and slider with above-average potential. Drew Cisco made his pro debut in 2012 after being drafted in 2010 and missing 2011 with Tommy John surgery. Cisco doesn’t have a huge upside like some of the other guys listed, but he has solid stuff across the board and is about as polished as they come. He was brought along slowly to begin the season, but ramped up his innings down the stretch and really began showing better numbers as well to finish the year with a 3.39 ERA in 58 innings with just 7 walks and 45 strikeouts for Billings. Most guys don’t show anywhere near that kind of control coming off of Tommy John surgery, which just shows how polished Cisco really is. He could be a quick mover. Sal Romano joins this group of guys after a solid season in Billings as just one of only two pitchers in the league under the age of 19. He posted a 5.32 ERA in 64.1 innings with 23 walks and 53 strikeouts. He has three solid pitches with big time groundball rates, plenty of projection with his size that could lead to more velocity down the road.

Beyond that group are guys like Mason Felt, Jeremy Kivel and Jonathan Perez. Felt was taken by the Reds in the 5th round out of high school, but the left hander never made his debut. He has an average fastball currently, though there could be room to add velocity. He mixes in a solid curveball and change up as well. Jeremy Kivel was another high schooler who didn’t make his debut, though he sat out as he is recovering from a torn ACL that caused him to miss most of his senior season. He has a fastball that has topped out at 96 MPH in high school, a power curveball and a change up. Jonathan Perez was the Reds big international signing in 2011 out of Venezuela. They paid him $825,000 to sign and reports were that his fastball was already touching 92 MPH with both a curveball and a change up.

Overall Thoughts

The Reds have a premium pitching prospect with Robert Stephenson, several other top 100 in all of baseball starting prospects with Cingrani, Corcino and perhaps Travieso. Beyond those guys there are still plenty of guys with the potential to crack future top 100 prospect lists as starters and plenty of depth beyond that as well. The Reds may be a little thin in the middle levels on starting, but they are pretty stacked at the high end and low end of the minors. You could argue this is one of their strongest positions, if not the strongest. It has big arms, polished arms, lots of potential arms and a bit of everything in between. I would give this position a Grade A. There is just a whole lot to like at the position in an area where the big league club is already doing well in.

That wraps up the State of the Farm series for this year. To check out the entire series, click here.

About Doug Gray

Doug Gray is the owner and operator of this website and has been running it since 2004 in one variation or another. You can follow him on twitter @dougdirt24, contact him via email here or follow the site on Facebook. and Youtube.