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Monday, March 14, 2016

Prospecting Reds Pitchers with Steamer

Continuing our look at the Reds' prospects for the 2016 season season, tonight we'll turn our attention to the pitchers.  As with hitters, I'm using Steamer projections, grouping by age, and am including players who were on the active roster last year in these age groups but who no longer have rookie eligibility.

Age-25 Pitchers
The wrap on John Lamb when the Reds acquired him last summer was that he was a former elite prospect who never saw his velocity return following Tommy John surgery.  The thing was, when the Reds got him, his velocity was back up to the 92-93 mph range where it had been pre-surgery.  That ultimately did fade a bit, but he still finished with an average mlb fastball velocity of 91 mph (the bad velocity wrap started when he was maxing out in the high-80's the year before).  On top of that, he struck out well over a batter per inning, while keeping his walk rates acceptable.  The main criticism one can have of his peripherals, at least, is that he has thus far been a fairly severe fly ball pitcher with just a 37% ground ball rate.  Yeah, I know, 5.80 ERA.  But .376 BABIP.

Steamer believes.  And other analysts are taking note as well.  Most interesting was this note by Eno Sarris:
But when it comes to movement, he's set up for success. A nice riding four-seam, a decent cutter, and then that change. That change. With a 15 mph difference between it and the four-seam, Lamb owns the biggest velocity differential in baseball. Plus movement and velocity difference led to whiffs almost a quarter of the time he threw it, so it has real potential to be an elite pitch. In fact, his curve, cutter, and change all had plus whiff rates. Not above-average. Plus.
Biggest velocity differential in baseball.  Assuming that's a good thing (Chris Dial doesn't think so), it provides some extra support for those fantastic strikeout numbers.  I'm probably irrationally, wildly, sky high on John Lamb.  He's exactly the sort of guy I will flock to: a peripherals darling, overlooked by the casual fan, with pitchf/x things to point to indicating it is real.  I know I'll have to wait a little bit while he ramps up following back surgery (just hopin' that's ok), but I'm really excited to see what he does this year.

Age-24 Pitchers
Big group, and a lot of these guys look to play a role on the club in the near future.

Zack Weiss is a rising relief prospect.  Relief prospects are the worst kind of prospect, but Weiss's projection indicates that he's ready to contribute to the bullpen right now.  The Reds surely need some help in that regard.

Amir Garrett was a big riser in the Reds' prospect rankings this season, climbing all the way to #4 after giving up basketball and focusing exclusively on pitching.  Everything about him sounds good...except that he's entering his age-24 season and hasn't played above high-A.  Granted, he's fairly new to pitching, so it's not surprising that he's behind.  I'm sure he'll start in AA this year (he was just optioned there!).  If he can advance to AAA by the season's end, he'll be poised to crack the Cincinnati rotation by 2017, if all goes as well.

Michael Lorenzen rode a friendly luck dragon for the first month or so of his big league debut last season, but the fates predictably turned on him as time went on.  He didn't show the ability to avoid walks or miss bats throughout much of his stint with the Reds.  Nevertheless, at the same time, perhaps he was rushed a bit last season.  He advanced through the minors so quickly that 2015 was the first time he really failed.  It's far too soon to give up on the guy.  Here's hoping his elbow issue isn't serious.

Jonathon Crawford is a fascinating case of how quickly one's stock can fall.  He was a first-round selection in 2013, and turned in solidish performances in '13 and '14 (albeit with weak strikeout rates).  Last year, he was injured and missed most of the season.  He's getting older, but don't count out former top draft picks.  He's put up decent numbers before.  If his first half in AA (which is where I'd put him) doesn't go well this season, maybe you consider putting him in the pen and hoping he can rise quickly?

Finally, Jon Moscot is hoping for a shot to be a #5 starter.  Maybe he can be a #4 if things break right for him?  Maybe?  He won't strike guys out, but if he can avoid walks and get some ground balls then maybe can be a passable rotation cog.  My guess, unfortunately, is that he's destined for middle relief.

Age-23 Pitchers
And now here is an even bigger group!

Steamer approves heartily of the Reds' pickup of Rookie Davis, although it is worth noting that this is (for whatever reason) a projection for him as a reliever.  Brandon Finnegan also looks ready to roll as a reliever, though I'm keen to see him get a full season of starting before the Reds toss him back into relief.

Somewhat disappointing, perhaps, is the projection on Robert Stephenson, the Reds #1 prospect on most lists.  The key for Stephenson will be his ability to avoid the walk while staying effective.  His walk rates have been in excess of 4 bb/9 at both AA and AAA, so I'm very inclined to let him start the year in AAA despite the clamors we're hearing to promote him as soon as possible on the basis of his hype and spring training performance.  The prospect guys love his stuff, and we've certainly seen talented pitchers figure things out in the major leagues.  I remember trading Matt Harvey in my fantasy league back in 2012 when he was sporting a 4+ bb/9 rate, only to see him take a huge step forward and become Matt Effin' Harvey the next season.  But we've also seen guys who never figure it out and become nothing.  I'd wager there are more in the latter category than the former, but I'm rooting for him.

Cody Reed is a guy I'm pleasantly surprised to see rate so well.  Reed was another big riser year in prospect rankings as he took a significant step forward.  He was already rising when the Reds got him mid-season, and then he went on a crazy tear in the second half.  Steamer is giving him a reliever projection here, but what I'm taking from it is that not all of his rising expectation is just recency bias.

Nick Howard.  Sigh.  When I see Howard, I can't help but think that he's a case where the Reds just got too cute.  They had been having some success with the closer-to-starter thing with Cingrani and Lorenzen, so they followed suit by taking Howard.  He's been a catastrophe.  As I said with Crawford above, never count out a top pick entirely, but I think in his case, at least, the experiment with starting is over.  Now it's time to see if they can salvage a relief arm with him.

Age-22 Pitchers
I'm surprised to see that Sal Romano still is just 22 years old.  He was drafted back in 2012, and has been steadily showing improvement as he works his way through the system.  He got shelled at AA late last season, but seems likely to begin there as a 22-year old this season.  He hasn't shown particularly exciting peripherals, but he's always been young for his level.  Another good year, and he's suddenly banging on the door in Cinci.

Keury Mella was the main return for Mike Leake last summer.  He slots in with Nick Travieso as the top talents in this younger tier of prospects.  I'm been pretty tickled to see Travieso rising over the past few years, because for a while he looked like he'd been a lost selection.  He was so darn young when drafted, though, and the Reds patience and instruction is seemingly now paying off.  AA could be a big test for him.

Age-21 Pitchers and Below
Somewhat surprisingly, there aren't a lot of Reds pitching prospects entering their age-21 or below season. Tyler Mahle had a great season for Dayton last year and seems ready for his next step.  The other two didn't even get a projection in Steamer's database.  Both Antonio Santillan and Ian Kahaloa have appeared at the bottom of some of the various top-10 Reds lists, even if sometimes just listed below the top-10 as a guy to keep an eye on.

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