Reds Pitching Prospects: Back to the Future


Over the last two weeks I have attempted in vain to ignore the looming trade deadline for a simple reason.  This is the time of year when contending teams can improve the team for the short term but can sacrifice precious talent for the future unless they are judicious in their moves.  The Reds are in first place and as of last night, they are tied for the best record in baseball.  Trades at the Winter Meetings are nice because they usually are not made in the vacuum that can be a pennant race and don’t have an instant effect on team chemistry.  The National League Central looks like it will host an exciting race to the finish between the three front runners so maintaining chemistry is critical.  As the old adage goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Walt Jocketty has indicated a desire to find a lead off hitter.  I am not convinced the Reds really need this position filled as I am believe that upon Joey Votto‘s return, Brandon Phillips should bat first and Ryan Ludwick should bat cleanup.  Not everyone agrees with me and John Rentz wrote a nice article about the Reds options today.  For my money, the only deal that is marginally interesting is with the Minnesota Twins for Denard Span.  The problem is, the Twins want pitching and the Reds have a few prospects in the system.  The question becomes: Do the Reds have enough pitching left after dealing Edinson Volquez, Travis Wood and Brad Boxberger to be able to afford losing any more?  Let’s take a look into the cupboard and see what we can find.

We will start the journey in Arizona where the short season AZL Reds are playing.  The first prospect to take note of, is 2012 first round pick Nick Travieso.  It is interesting to see that he made his pro debut this week after signing June 25th.  Robert Stephenson, the Reds first round pick in 2011, did not appear last year at all.  Travieso is 0-1 but has allowed just one hit in his 3 innings of work, it just happened to leave the park.  At 18 years of age he is on his way and it is thought they he is as well prepared as a high school player could be.  He has a fastball that can reach the upper 90s, if he can learn a few complementary pitches he will be well on his way.  Arizona is 7-21 so as you might imagine there is not a lot to cheer but we will be watching to see how other 2012 draftees fare.

The next prospect I want to focus on is Robert Stephenson.  I have not read anything describing what Stephenson did after signing last season.  He worked at the Reds camp in Arizona but did not debut until the Billings team kicked off the season.  He opened the season in Billings and after 7 starts he had a 1-0 record and a 0.978 WHIP and an ERA of 2.05.  Stephenson was promoted this week to the Dayton Dragons providing them with the most exhilarating debut of the 2012 season and Robert did not disappoint.  He threw 5 innings of one hit baseball allowing a single unearned run on the way to a 7-5 victory for the Dragons and a win for the 19 year old Stephenson.  A highlight in the game during the first inning of play, Stephenson was clocked at 101 mph on a fastball on the way to striking out the side.  He allowed one hit, 2 walks and 6 strikeouts to round out a stellar debut.  Fans local to the Dragons should go out of their way to take a look at this rising star.

Daniel Renken and Josh Smith have both been of average value this season in the hitter friendly California League (every time I write that I think of Charlie Sheen in the movie Major Leagues where his character played in the California Penal League).  The problem they both have is age.  Renken is 22 and a bit behind this age group in the trajectory to the MLB but at 24, Josh Smith could have a real problem moving forward.  I loved watching Smith in Dayton last year but he has not excelled in Bakersfield the way I might have expected.

Tony Cingrani is the next pitcher worthy of a look and the future looks bright indeed.  Tony won the Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year award in 2011 and after skipping over Dayton to open 2012 in Bakersfield, he let the Reds front office know their trust in him was well placed.  He got off to a quick start in Bakersfield; in 10 starts he compiled 56.2 innings of work while allowing just 7 earned runs, striking out 71 and allowing 39 hits and 13 walks for a WHIP of 0.92.  The decision was made to rest him for a week to avoid overuse but in the ensuing start he had his worst outing of the year surrendering 6 runs in just 5.1 IP.  He is the brightest left handed prospect in the system and suggestions from Minnesota suggest he is the key to any trade for Span.  In my opinion, pitching is far to valuable a commodity to waste on a player of marginal projected value.

Daniel Corcino is also in AA ball playing for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Corcino has found the going to be a bit tougher in AA than it seemed in Dayton as expected, placing solid if unspectacular numbers.  Facing more patient hitters, Corcino has walked 48 batters while striking out 103 in 111.1 IP.  The accompanying table shows his numbers as well as all of those discussed here.

Finally, the lone reliever on this list is Donnie Joseph currently ensconced in Louisville.  Joseph is gaining control of a slider that one expert said is the best pitch in the Reds organization this side of Aroldis Chapman‘s fastball.  He was next to unhittable in Pensacola and has been solid in Louisville as well although his WHIP has creeped up into an unhealthy place.

If you consider Joseph, Corcino, Cingrani, Stephenson and Travieso as the best the Reds have to offer than things are a bit thin.  Especially at the top.  For my money, each of these young men is far more important as a part of this organization than as a trade chip for another offensive weapon that we have only a marginal need for in the first place.

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