I plan to do these mailbag type articles once a month during the offseason. The questions that will be chosen will be from those who support the site through Patreon. Today we will tackle the mailbag for September.

I asked for your take on Deck McGuire earlier this year and appreciated your response. Given his stellar playoff showing last night in front of the Reds’ brass, where do you see him in the team’s future plans? (BTW, I’m not stumping for the guy–all I know are his numbers. I’m just wondering where a 28-year-old pitcher who had a great year in AA fits in a team’s rebuilding plans.)

Deck McGuire struck out 13 batters in 8.0 shutout innings in the playoffs in his last start, just in case you missed that last week. Owner Bob Castellini and several front office members were there to see the game.

For McGuire, on the season, he threw 176.0 innings with an ERA of 2.66 (including the playoffs). He walked 57 batters and he struck out 183 batters. The numbers were certainly outstanding. With that said, he was 28-years-old, nearly 4 years older than the average player in the Double-A Southern League. He is probably not in the long term plans as far as the rebuilding goes. The better question is whether he could be a potential short-term fill in kind of guy.

Even with that, it would seem that the Reds aren’t sold on that one. It’s incredibly rare that minor league free agents sign more than 1-year contracts, and that’s how McGurie joined the Reds – as a free agent. That would mean that he’s a free agent after this season unless the team adds him to the 40-man roster. The fact that they didn’t do so when his season ended for Pensacola is probably telling. While it’s not too late, they could add him right after the season in order to retain him, it would be very surprising to see happen. The organization is going to be looking at trying to find 40-man roster spots for guys that are probably more in that “rebuilding” situation.

What this does, hopefully, for Deck McGuire, is get him an opportunity in 2018 with another team who may have a better path to the big leagues if he can continue what he showed in 2017.

Thanks so much for the excellent content and keeping us up to date with all the goings on in the Reds farm system Doug! With the rotation having some young guys appearing to turn a corner in Romano and Stephenson, and the expectation of Bailey, Castillo, and Desclafani being solid bets, when do you see the Reds start looking to make some moves to contend? I know it’s probably early in this rebuild, but it seems like we have a glut of talented position prospects and big leaguers, particularly in the outfield. Do you see the Reds making any moves this off-season to shore up the rotation (trading some young guys for more proven vets) and start moving to get back in competition mode, or are we still a few years away? Thanks again!

I think that it’s certainly possible the team explores the trade market for good, reliable pitcher (not that these pitchers actually exist because pitchers get hurt). The team has some depth between starting pitcher prospects/just graduated prospects and outfielders in the minor leagues. They would seem to have the ability to make the kind of trade to bring in someone of real value if that guy were to become available.

With that said, the team is in a weird position. If Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan and Luis Castillo are healthy – they are all locks for the rotation to start the season. That would leave just one spot open for Robert Stephenson, Sal Romano, Amir Garrett, Tyler Mahle – guys that the team would seem to be planning around. And that doesn’t include guys like Cody Reed, Jackson Stephens, Rookie Davis or Jose Lopez.

Now, should the team be counting on the health of Bailey, DeSclafani and Finnegan to start 2018? No, probably not. It’s placing them in a weird spot, though, because if those guys are healthy, and you bring in a 4th veteran type, an actual truly good veteran and not a stop-gap type, when you also include Luis Castillo, it means you’re sending every other guy we talked about the Triple-A or Double-A. Maybe one or two guys wind up in the bullpen. You can never have too much pitching, and if you can land a true difference maker, then the team isn’t going to turn that type of move away for unproven but promising young pitchers. But if the opportunity is only there for a solid #3/4 kind of guy, maybe they decide to hold what they’ve got and see what happens.

I’d be surprised to see them go out and make a trade for a position player, though. Even if Zack Cozart leaves in free agency, they are probably content with the starting 8. Not saying that I personally wouldn’t explore the options at shortstop and center field in particular, but I’m just not sure that they will go down that road very far.

It’s safe to say that the current wave of young pitchers (Garrett, Reed, Stephenson, etc.) has arrived. Who is the next wave? Nefti Ogando pitched well since coming off the DL. Is he in serious contention for the 2018 bullpen? Who of the current MLB/AAA INF/utility players do you think has the best chance of carving out a decent career, with or not with the Reds? Is Elizalde ever going to get any love?

I’m not willing to go as far as saying it’s safe to say they’ve arrived. Both Reed and Garrett are sporting ERA’s over 7.00 right now and for as good as Stephenson has looked over the last five weeks, his ERA is still over 5.00 on the season. Even in the stretch where he’s looked good, he’s still walked too many batters along the way. Sal Romano, who you didn’t mention has looked pretty good of late. Tyler Mahle’s up now, too.

If we aren’t going to count Mahle in that current group, then he’s certainly the next wave. After that, you’d probably be looking towards guys like Jose Lopez, Tony Santillan and Vladimir Gutierrez – though the latter two of that group are probably still a ways out.

I don’t see Nefi Ogando surviving the offseason on the 40-man roster. He’s going to be 29-years-old next year and his big league career consists of 19.2 total innings with 10 walks and 10 strikeouts. With roster spots needed for plenty of younger guys, it’s just tough to see how he’s one of the guys that gets kept around to risk a much younger guy.

As far as utility guys: Jose Peraza/Scooter Gennett/Alex Blandino would seem to be the ones that look like the ones that have the best chance to either be that guy, or continue to be that guy (Gennett). Elizalde doesn’t fit that prototypical utility role. He can’t play up the middle and he doesn’t have the power for a corner spot.

What are a few of your biggest takeaways from 2017? What did we learn about the farm system as it relates to the big league club in the near future (2018-2020)?

Unfortunately I think there are still many questions unanswered as far as the big league guys go, particularly the pitching. The big league club simply went with too many options that weren’t a part of the long-term future in the effort of winning 73 games instead of 67 games. While it’s been fun to see Robert Stephenson and Sal Romano have success over the last five weeks, why did it take so long for the team to actually start having those guys pitch? I’ll never understand the usage of Robert Stephenson to begin the season. It didn’t make sense on paper and it made even less sense in how he was actually used. We also don’t exactly know whether or not Jose Peraza is going to be capable of being the shortstop next year – though maybe the Reds do feel that they have that answer.

What we did learn is that Luis Castillo is very good. We learned that Adam Duvall probably is who he is – a low OBP guy with good defense and some pop. Also, we learned that when Scott Schebler isn’t trying to play with a hurt shoulder, he’s a pretty good hitter. We learned that Eugenio Suarez is pretty good at third base and that may cause some interesting maneuvering with regards to he and Nick Senzel and someone making a move to another position.

As for the farm system and what we learned for the near term future, I’m not sure. A lot of the starting pitchers still have plenty of question marks with them, even the guys in the Majors now that aren’t named Luis Castillo. For the most part none of the top prospects took real steps backwards and a few guys took steps forward (among guys that are still actually prospects – not counting those who graduated from prospect status). The team has depth at most spots, but the middle infield situation is still undetermined, as is the rotation and those are the biggest areas of concern for the big league club. Who can step in at shortstop or second base? I guess it’s good that there aren’t more questions as it relates to the farm, but  I’m not sure that many were answered, either.

Vladimir Gutierrez first 10 starts, covering 52.2 innings, 65 Ks or 29.1%, His last 9 starts, covering 50.1 innings, 29 Ks or 13.7%. Any reason for concern?

Yes and no. It’s been a while since he last pitched. He didn’t pitch at all in 2016 or most of 2015 either, so from that standpoint, it’s not surprising that he slowed down in the second half. At the same time, he has never been a starter in his career, relieving both years he was in Cuba as a 17 and 18-year-old (he was 21 this year).

The numbers showed his strikeout rate falling off of a cliff down the stretch. Strangely enough, his ERA and his hits allowed rate improved. When I saw him pitch in July he was battling consistency, but the raw stuff was very good when it was at its best. He’s going to have to certainly show he can be more consistent and make his way deeper into the season, innings wise, but the pure stuff is indeed there. Questions will remain, probably for another year or two in terms of “can he hold up for a full season of innings”, though.

Is there any update on Nick Senzel’s vertigo condition? The Reds were quick to fire Dusty Baker who I have always thought was a tremendous handler of players. Why are they so enamored with current manager? What are his strengths that have warranted the obvious commitment they have to him?

The last update on Nick Senzel was about 9 days ago – http://redsminorleagues.com/2017/09/02/nick-senzel-miss-rest-2017/

He’s doing better, but it’s just a situation that takes a few weeks to get back from and there just wasn’t enough time remaining in the season for that to happen for him.

Price’s strengths are similar to Dusty’s – he handles the players very well. His weaknesses are similar, too, though I don’t think as much – but he struggles with lineup construction and getting stuck in what he believes a player should be rather than what a player actually is.

As for their commitment to him, I’m guessing it’s as simple as this: The front office has looked at the rosters he’s had and never once thought that anyone would actually win with them. So they are going to try to give him a roster he can win with. They probably felt that they were going to do that this year, but then Bailey, DeSclafani and Finnegan all got hurt between February and April and took that chance away.

With the recent turnaround of the rookie pitchers Stephenson, and Romano along with Mahle and Castillo what kind of impact will this have on the rotation going forward? Also what will happen to guys like Garrett, Reed, Davis, and Stephens.Do you think the Reds will just let it work itself out in the spring?

Well, I think that assuming the health of the “veteran” guys, and Luis Castillo, that there could be one spot in the rotation open in 2018. It’s certainly not a foregone conclusion that everyone will be healthy, and if you put me at a point where I had to bet money on whether all three would be ready to go or not, I’d bet on not, but it’s certainly possible that they are.

If only one spot is available, then yeah, it’s probably going to come down to how guys look in spring training. I’m not a big fan of “whoever looks best in spring training gets the job” because we know for a fact that spring training stats don’t tell us much of anything. At the same time, how do you pick among a group of guys who all seemed to perform similarly down the stretch?

At some point the Reds are going to have to take some of their excess starting pitching and either trade it away to fill other needs, or move some of it to the bullpen. Personally, with looking at how everything is breaking down in terms of what I perceive as the depth chart of starting pitching, I’d look at guys like Rookie Davis and Jackson Stephens right now as potential moves to the bullpen for 2018. Let Rookie Davis focus on his fastball and splitter in 1-2 inning stints. Let Jackson Stephens work with his fastball and curveball in 1-2 inning stints. Both guys can air out their fastballs into the mid-90’s as starters, maybe they get another tick or two as relievers, and can use a quality secondary offering as their out pitch.

Whoever loses out on the open rotation spot(s) in the spring goes back to Triple-A, works as a starter and if/when a spot opens up, or they show they are clearly a better option than someone up there, they come on up.

17 Responses

  1. Doug Gray

    Sorry for such a late start today. I was very sick yesterday, and despite being in bed rather early it was not until about 7am that I was actually able to sleep for more than 25 minutes at a time. Feeling somewhat better now that I’m awake, but still just absolutely drained.

  2. Pat

    Great stuff here Doug! Young pitchers: Castillo, Stephenson, Romano and Mahle have the edge. That’s 4. Agreed that you can’t count on the 3 veterans Bailey, Disco, Finnegan. Perhaps one or two. Jackson Stephens has looked good in relief. For some reason Price is stuck on Rookie as a starter and I agree with you that his future’s in the bullpen. His second time through rotations he gets hit and hit hard. Amir is perplexing – flashes brilliance with inconsistency/control problems. Reed seems the odd man out but perhaps to the pen. The bullpen this year was really up and down save the closer position which was outstanding. Yes, there are trade pieces but I don’t see the Reds doing much of that. You’ll have a lot to write about come spring training and what AAA looks like just from pitching. Throw in Blandino, Senzel, Siri, etc…and you’ve got material and possibilities galore – good day to be running a minor league oriented site! Keep up the fantastic work!

    • DaveCT

      Not sure its Price stuck on Davis as a starter so much as the front office, but the point remains. One thing is that starters have much greater value than relievers. Plus he’s another of these big, strong guys the clubs likes as starters. My guess is that they’re tasked him with getting a three pitch mix as well as a better out pitch this year. Based on those results, he’ll continue a starter or be moved. My vote is to move him and clear space for guys who project better in the rotation, here or elsewhere.

  3. Nick

    Concerned that people seem to think Stephenson and Romano have “turned a corner.” They’ve shown some encouraging signs recently, pitching decently for a few starts, but both have a long way to go. If they finish strong, they have an upper hand on the competition in Spring Training for whatever spots are available, but the jury is still out for sure.

    I do like both, but let’s get a better sample before getting too excited.

    • Doug Gray

      I prefer to get excited, but still understand that they’ve got questions that need to be answered.

  4. victor vollhardt

    Who are the players in the farm system who have reached the point(end of this season) where they would have to be put on the 40 man roster or risk been lost in the rule five draft? Using a “complete ” list of all of those players –divide into three groups : A-those that must be put on the 40 man—-B–those that you take a chance that they wouldn’t be drafted–and finally C- those who are eligible, but are at the point of been released anyway. I would rely of Mr. Gray’s study of the system and would like to see him fill out the three above groups.

  5. Simon Cowell

    My understanding with Robert Stepenson is they wanted him starting out of the bullpen to hopefully try adjusting some of his non mechanical pitching methods. The speed, anxiety, and thought processes. I don’t see it as wasted but I don’t completely understand it either. Maybe it worked? Maybe the benefit will be a long term solution that we will never fully understand. I have learned if anything at all from reading this blog is that nobody has the full picture. Doug brings tremendous insights and facts to the table but even with his fantastic efforts of research it is impossible to obtain all of the information on the why and why not. It would be nice though to at least once see a written journal from a baseball executive explaining the entire process for a given player. I would find such a write up as a product well worth the price of purchase

    • Doug Gray

      I’d love to see it, too. There’s little tidbits here and there around the internet on different guys. What’s interesting is just how different it can be for some guys. Fangraphs has an interesting article up right now that gets into some of the things that may interest you that are kind of related to this topic – http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/how-one-club-integrates-analytics-into-player-development/

      Tailored to individual players rather than one size fits all. Which, of course, makes sense but hasn’t always been the case in sports.

      • Simon Cowell

        thanks for the link I’ll give it a read. One of things that I have heard about certain pitchers is that they have “too much energy”. Personally I would love to know what that feels like, however, I can see that sometimes in Stevenson. Tom Glavine comes to mind in having the same issue. Leo Mazzoni is on record saying that Tom had so much energy that he was just all over the place his first inning or two. It got so bad for Tom that there was a time where they would have him pitch simulated 3 or 4 innings before a start!
        I could imagine that was also a case with Nolan Ryan in his youth. I actually attended a game of Nolan’s when he pitched for Houston. Even aged he had more energy than guys half his age.
        Not sure if that is at play with Robert Stevenson, Amir Garrett, Cody Reed but it is something to certainly think about especially when a player struggles for there first inning or two and then goes on to pitch a gem.

      • Greenfield Red

        I wonder what Robin Ventura would say about Nolan Ryan’s energy level. Seriously, for me, Nolan Ryan is among the highest of all time greats.

    • Simon Cowell

      Greenfield… I’ll say. Yes, he is my alltime favorite non Reds pitcher. They way he played and conditioned himself is something that every team should study and build around. He threw so hard for so long with no major injuries until the end.

      • Greenfield Red

        Hey Simon. I guess what I’m trying to say it that in my opinion, he’s one of the 15 or 20 best players of all time. I think most people think he’s in the top 200 or so, but I think he’s much higher than that.

      • Simon Cowell

        I agree as well. Terribly under rated. I put him as an alltime top pitcher. In my book probably even ahead of Greg Maddux.

  6. Jim t

    Tracy Jones got fired today. I usually would never find joy in others misfortune but him being let go makes me a happy man.

  7. Russell Adkins

    I wonder if Finnegan ends up in the pen with Wandy to give the the second lefty. If the other guys look good that could be a reason to use him there.

  8. Pat

    Reds twitter feed list pitchers vs Cardinals as Stephenson, Mahle and Garrett. Rookie called up but no action yet…hearing anything Doug? Anyone else have ideas?