Cincinnati Reds: Who will make up the 2016 starting rotation?

Sep 30, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani throws against the Chicago Cubs in the second inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 30, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani throws against the Chicago Cubs in the second inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports /

One of the many questions facing the Cincinnati Reds as we inch closer to the start of the 2016 season is: what on earth will the starting rotation look like? Gone are the days when the Reds had one of the strongest pitching staffs in the game, as four of their five starters from 2014 have been traded, opening up the door for the organization’s many talented young arms. With spring training right around the corner, let’s take a look at all of the candidates and their odds of making the club.

The locks

Anthony DeSclafani: In his first full big-league season, DeSclafani was the only Reds pitcher to start and finish the year in the rotation. Pitching in 184.2 innings over 31 starts, he went 9-13 with a 4.05 ERA (3.67 FIP), while striking out 7.4 batters against 2.7 walks per nine innings. As the starter with the most experience on the team (36 starts), he opens as the early favorite to be the club’s No. 1 guy in 2016.

Raisel Iglesias: In a 2015 season void of things to be positive about, the Cuban rookie was one of the few bright spots, dominating from the month of August onward. Now in his second season, it won’t be a matter of whether Iglesias makes the starting rotation, but whether he or DeSclafani toes the rubber on Opening Day.

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Homer Bailey: Now the elder statesman of the pitching staff, the former top prospect will return at some point in May as he continues along the road to recovery from Tommy John surgery. While many fans malign Bailey for his rather sizable contract, he’s been one of the Reds’ most consistent arms over the last several years when healthy, posting a sub-four ERA and FIP in each season from 2012 to 2014. A return to form for the 29-year-old would be huge for a mostly inexperienced team.

The main competitors

John Lamb: Although his 2015 numbers won’t turn any heads, the southpaw showed plenty of potential (10.5 K/9, 4.16 FIP) last season. Lamb looked to be one of the favorites to grab a spot in the big-league rotation this spring, but it’s been learned that he will not be ready until at least mid-April after undergoing back surgery in December. As long as he isn’t passed up by others, the job will likely still be his when he returns, but it’s certainly an unfortunate setback for a guy who’s had a career full of them.

Brandon Finnegan: Many still see the lefty as a reliever in the long run, but with such an impressive arm, it’s hard to argue with the Reds giving him a shot as a starter for now. He made six appearances (four starts) with the team after being part of the return in the Johnny Cueto trade and pitched admirably, allowing three runs or fewer in three of his four outings. Finnegan stood a good shot at making the rotation before Lamb’s injury and now appears to have an inside track on a starting job to begin the year if he throws well in spring.

Michael Lorenzen: It was a season full of ups and downs for the former top-100 prospect in 2015. While he showed flashes of the pitcher he can become, he struggled with control problems and seldom pitched deep into games. However, with the talent he has, it’s far from time to give up on Lorenzen as a starter. With a full year of big league experience under his belt and an offseason of work, he should be one of the top contenders to take a rotation spot if he can display better command and impress in spring training as he did last year.

Jon Moscot: Perhaps the pitcher who benefits the most from Lamb’s delayed start to the season is Moscot. He drew rave reviews last March from manager Bryan Price and worked his way to the big leagues in June, making three starts before his season prematurely ended thanks to a separated left shoulder. The 24-year-old righty doesn’t have the stuff to blow hitters away, but knows how to get hitters out and is major-league ready. If he makes the rotation, he may eventually get bumped out when Bailey and Lamb return, but he should contribute to the Reds in some capacity this season, even if it winds up being mostly out of the bullpen.

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Robert Stephenson: After years of hearing about all that Stephenson can do on the mound, Reds fans should finally get to see him in Cincinnati this season. It just may not be right away. He worked his way up to the Triple-A level last season and largely showed improved control (though he still has some work to do in this area), but due to the team not wanting to start his service clock early, he most likely won’t get promoted until later in the season.

The long shots

Keyvius Sampson: In 13 games (12 starts) with the Reds during his rookie campaign, Sampson was not particularly impressive, posting a 2-6 record with an ugly 6.54 ERA and 1.78 WHIP. He stands a solid chance of making the club, but it will most likely be in the bullpen, where many scouts originally projected him to ultimately end up.

Cody Reed: There aren’t many pitchers in baseball who have seen their stock rise like Reed’s has over the last year. In a breakout 2015 season, the southpaw pitched to the tune of a 2.41 ERA and 1.17 WHIP while striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings against only 2.6 walks, mostly in Double-A. He’s someone who could make the jump to the majors, but with so many other pitchers in the fold, there’s little reason for the Reds to rush him.

Tony Cingrani: The Reds haven’t said what their plans are for the once-heralded prospect, but it’s hard to see him cracking the team’s rotation again. From shoulder problems to erratic control, Cingrani’s stock has plummeted over the last two seasons and projects better as a bullpen piece at this point. That said, he did spend considerable time starting in Triple-A during 2015 and the Reds may still see enough in him to give him another shot.