The Rule 5 draft is a month away, taking place on the final day of the Winter Meetings in the second week of December. But teams have to make their decisions on adding players to the 40-man roster to keep them from being eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft on November 20th. That’s next week. Today we’re going to take a look at the starting pitching prospects that the Cincinnati Reds should be considering adding to the 40-man roster rather than take a risk that another organization could select them. We’ve already taken a look at the group of infielders and the group of outfielders.
Who is eligible this year? The short answer is any player drafted or signed in 2015 or earlier, and all college draft picks from 2016. There’s always a loophole or two – such as a player on their 2nd contract being eligible – this can sometimes happen if a player has their original contract voided and they re-sign. It’s not a common occurrence, but it does indeed happen. As far as I know, that isn’t the case for anyone this year for the Reds.
Just like the other position write ups, there’s one guy among the group who feels like a slam-dunk addition. For the starting pitcher group it’s Tony Santillan. The former 2nd round draft pick (2015). He entered the year as a Top 100 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. But he battled through a few different injuries – nothing that was serious, but did cost him about seven weeks on the injured list in total during 2019. His numbers took a step back from where they were in his breakout 2018 campaign with the Daytona Tortugas.
The control took a step backwards, which may very well be related directly to the health issues he dealt with throughout the season. But even with those issues coming up in 2019, there’s no doubt that a team would take him if he were left unprotected. When he’s healthy and at his best he flashes three plus pitches with his fastball, slider, and change up. He also offers up a fourth pitch with a slower breaking ball. At worst he would be very useful out of a bullpen right now. The odds he goes unprotected come down to the asteroid reaching us before the deadline to add players shows up.
This could be one of the more interesting decisions made in the next week. Tejay Antone has been used almost exclusively as a starting pitcher in his professional career. The two times that he didn’t start were when another pitcher was rehabbing and started the game and he followed. In 2019 Antone spent the year between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville. As you’d imagine, the numbers were better in Double-A where the baseball wasn’t juiced to the gills. With the Lookouts he posted a 3.38 ERA in 74.2 innings with 22 walks and 63 strikeouts. In Triple-A with the Bats his ERA jumped to 4.65 in 71.2 innings with 31 walks and 70 strikeouts.
Tejay Antone hasn’t exactly been considered a top prospect in his career. Only once, following the 2015 season, did he make the Reds Top 30 list at Baseball America when he was rated 27th. He made my list that same year, coming in at #23. But that’s not to say he wasn’t viewed as a potential future big leaguer – just that he seemed more likely to be a future reliever. And I think there’s a chance if left unprotected that a team could take a chance on him this year.
He’s a ground ball generating machine. For his minor league career he is sporting a 56% ground ball rate. Since returning from Tommy John surgery he’s also increased his strikeout rate. In 2019 he struck out 20.2% and 21.7% of the hitters he faced. As a starter he’ll throw in the 89-92 range with a solid breaking ball. As a reliever there’s a chance the velocity could increase and let the breaking ball play up a little bit.
The 2019 season didn’t quite go as planned for the right-handed pitcher. He missed several months during the season before returning late in the year on a rehab assignment. Johnson struggled in Double-A Chattanooga early in the season before his injury, posting a 6.98 ERA in nine starts. He walked 29 batters and struck out 39 over his 38.2 innings. Control was a real problem for him at the time.
Following the season he headed out to the Arizona Fall League. He didn’t pitch much – by nature the league’s short time frame just doesn’t allow many innings. But he made four starts and one relief appearance, totaling 19.0 innings. He posted a 3.32 ERA in his time in the league, striking out 18 batters and showing much better control – walking just seven.
From a stuff perspective when you see Jordan Johnson you could come away with very different reports. Some days his velocity will be in the 92-94 range, but on some days he’ll be a little higher than that. He’s also been as high as 99 MPH in the past. His curveball can also be inconsistent – sometimes it’s just an average offering, but on other days it can be a plus pitch. A team that saw him on the right day could certainly see the upside play here.
Jhon de Jesus
After missing the 2018 season, Jhon De Jesus returned for 2019 and spent the entire year with the Dayton Dragons. The numbers weren’t good during the year as he posted a 5.08 ERA in 95.2 innings with 36 walks and 68 strikeouts.
Given the numbers in Low-A, why would a team take a chance here? Upside. Jhon De Jesus is a 6′ 4″ right-handed pitcher who can touch 98 MPH as a starter and can flash an above-average slider. De Jesus is also a high spin rate guy, generating above-average spin on both his fastball and slider. There’s some stuff there to work with, though he does need to polish things up and be a little more consistent to get the most out of those offerings.
It would be a longshot, upside play, but for the right team you could see the appeal here. Put him in the bullpen and see if he can’t consistently find 95-96 and touch higher and mix in his slider. With an additional roster spot in 2020 you could be a little picky about how often, and where to use him as you try to continue developing at the Major League level.