Reds: Don’t overlook José De León as Cincinnati’s fifth starter in 2021

Reds pitcher José De León’s performance in the Puerto Rican Winter League cannot be overlooked.

José De León was once one of the Tampa Bay Rays’ top prospects. Formerly of the Los Angeles Dodgers, De León was dealt to the Rays prior to the 2017 season and the right-hander was the No. 2 rated farmhand in Tampa Bay’s system. Can De León recapture the magic that made him a Top 100 prospect and join the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation in 2021?

Can he? Yes. Will he? That remains to be seen, but his performance in the Puerto Rican Winter League cannot be overlooked. De León has a 3.71 ERA in four starts for Caguas, striking out 31 batters over 17 innings of work. De León has struck out nearly half the batters he’s faced (69).

Barring a trade, and there’s been a lot of rumors, the Cincinnati starting rotation will likely be comprised of Wade Miley, Tyler Mahle, Sonny Gray, and Luis Castillo. Anthony DeSclafani has signed with the San Francisco Giants already this offseason, and Trevor Bauer is unlikely to re-sign with the Redlegs.

The competition for the final spot in the Reds rotation seems to be up for grabs. Michael Lorenzen will certainly be given the opportunity to earn that spot, as will last year’s rookie Tejay Antone. Though Lucas Sims has starting experience, he seems like a better fit in the Cincinnati bullpen and may find himself in the mix for the closer’s role.

There’s also the possibility that some of the franchise’s younger hurlers will enter the mix as well. Former No. 7 overall pick Nick Lodolo will likely be given a chance to win a starting spot and Tony Santillan, who was promoted to the 40-man roster last winter, may be give a shot as well.

The competition will be stiff, but De León has a few things working in his favor. First, he’s out of minor league options. Though he was acquired for cash considerations, De León still has value for a Cincinnati organization desperate to save money this offseason. While we don’t yet know what Lorenzen will make in 2021, it’s estimated by MLB Trade Rumors to be north of $4M.

That number may be enough to push Lorenzen into the final spot of the rotation, but Mikey Biceps could also be in competition with Sims and Amir Garrett to fill the closer’s role recently vacated by Raisel Iglesias after his trade to the Los Angeles Angels.

The Reds have tried Lorenzen as a starter before without much success, but his performance in 2020 has earned the right-hander consideration. On the flip side, José De León failed miserably as a reliever in 2020 with an ERA of 18.00 and a 2.833 WHIP. However, most of De León’s professional career has been as a starter with 87 of his 96 minor league appearances being starts.

De León is too talented to remain off the Cincinnati Reds’ Opening Day roster in 2021, but will the right-hander make the starting rotation. Reds GM Nick Krall recently mentioned José De León as a potential starter in 2021, though he added Jeff Hoffman and Brandon Bailey to that list as well.

It sounds as though we won’t have much clarity on the team’s starting rotation until the Reds begin spring training, but De León’s performance in the Puerto Rican Winter League can’t hurt his chances heading to Goodyear.