Cincinnati Reds’ Raisel Iglesias Pitching His Way Into 2016 Rotation


When the Cincinnati Reds signed right-hander Raisel Iglesias out of Cuba in 2014, he had next to no experience as a starter. Due to concerns about his command and lack of a repeatable delivery, many thought that the bullpen was best place for him in the big leagues.

Like they have with many other relievers, the Reds decided they were going to use Iglesias as a starter. He was named to the Reds’ Opening Day starting rotation when Homer Bailey was placed on the disabled list for the first time and showed flashes of excellence in the beginning stages of his career.

In his third minor league start, he pitched what was (at the time) a season-best seven innings, allowing two runs on four hits. He was recalled to the Reds less than two weeks later and was dominant in his second major league start. Against the Atlanta Braves on May 13, Iglesias threw eight innings of one-run, two-hit baseball en route to his first big league win.

Aside from those two starts, however, the rookie didn’t have much success early on. The trouble for Iglesias was getting deep into games, leaving many to wonder whether he was ultimately destined for a relief role.

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Through his first 12 starts this season (six in the majors, six in the minors), the two games mentioned above were the only times he made it six or more innings in a start. Even when you take away two shortened rehab starts in Triple-A Louisville, Iglesias still averaged only 5.1 innings pitched in his other 10 outings.

Since July 21, when Iglesias needed 113 pitches to get through 5.2 innings, it’s been a different story for the rookie. His many arm angles and pitches have started to fool opposing hitters not just the first time through the lineup, but the second and third, as well. He’s reeled off four straight starts of six innings or more, posting an ERA of 3.65 and a 0.81 WHIP along the way. He’s also struck out 26 hitters in those 24.2 innings.

The 25-year-old’s last start was perhaps his most impressive. Although it’s not the performance that will stick out the most when you look at his individual line scores, the outing showed not only Iglesias’ tremendous talent, but his poise on the mound. After allowing three runs on three hits in the first inning against the San Diego Padres on Wednesday, erasing the 3-0 lead he was given in the top of the frame, Iglesias didn’t allow a single baserunner in his final five innings as he retired 16 straight.

Iglesias’ pitching over the last month has made him one of the front-runners for a spot in the 2016 starting rotation. As of now, it appears that Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani are the only locks to be on the staff next year, with a plethora of candidates for the other three positions. Based on 2015 performance, Iglesias is at the top of the list of contenders.

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Michael Lorenzen has great stuff, but has been inconsistent and struggled with his control at the big league level. David Holmberg doesn’t strike many hitters out and has a tendency to give up home runs. Tony Cingrani has battled more injuries and his lone start with the Reds was a disaster. Keyvius Sampson has been impressive in his short major league stint, but the Reds will likely want to see more from him before drawing any conclusions about his future.

Meanwhile, Jon Moscot made only three starts before suffering a season-ending injury and John Lamb has only made one start, so more will need to be seen from them, too. Robert Stephenson and Brandon Finnegan also figure to be contenders, but haven’t started a game with the Reds yet.

Of course, Iglesias has been far from perfect, but he’s been the most impressive of the candidates. In spite of control concerns, Iglesias has walked a respectable 2.5 batters per nine innings between Louisville and Cincinnati, while striking out 8.4. Iglesias’ run has brought his overall ERA from 5.90 down to 4.70, while advanced metrics tell an even better story. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) sits at 3.53 and his xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent pitching) sits at 3.66. For those who may not know, FIP and xFIP attempt to convey how well a pitcher is performing based on the factors that he has full control over (strikeouts, walks, home runs, hit batters). You can read more about those stats here.

It’s still early in the rookie’s career, but Iglesias has done plenty to alleviate the initial concerns that scouts had about him. If he continues to build on his success, expect to see him in the Reds’ rotation for years to come.

Next: Iglesias fans 8 in Reds win over Padres