Reds: Rotation or bullpen, Nick Lodolo needs to be on Cincinnati’s roster

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 21: Nick Lodolo #86 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches in the first inning during an exhibition game. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 21: Nick Lodolo #86 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches in the first inning during an exhibition game. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /

Now is the time for Reds prospect Nick Lodolo to make his major league debut.

The Cincinnati Reds are in an interesting crossroads. Rumors are swirling about the team selling off top talent, but a decline in the division makes the NL Central crown a plausible goal for Cincinnati in 2021. With the Reds pitching staff looking more depleted than it was last year, the time has come for Nick Lodolo to join the big league roster.

Lodolo, Cincinnati’s first-round selection in the 2019 MLB Draft was a decorated collegiate pitcher.  While the Reds took him in the first round, it wasn’t the first time Lodolo heard his name called. In 2016, Lodolo was picked by the Pittsburgh Pirates with the 41st pick. He chose instead to attend TCU and fell into the Reds lap three years later as the best pitcher in the draft.

A three-year starter at Texas Christian University, Lodolo finished first or second team All-Big 12 each year. During his senior year, the left-hander sported a 2.36 ERA and struck out 131 batters over just 103 innings.

During his first bit of professional action in 2019, Nick Lodolo did not allow a walk in his 11 innings of work and fanned 21 batters. While he only surrendered five runs in his brief stint in the minors, Lodolo was likely to end up with at least a look in majors during 2020, but the pandemic-shortened season ruled out even a September call-up.

According to R.J Anderson of CBS Sports, Nick Lodolo is the team’s No. 1-rated prospect heading into next season and No. 44 among all MLB prospects according to MLB Pipeline. How Lodolo performs in spring training will have a huge impact on whether or not he makes the 40-man roster this season.

While a lot of fans would probably love to see Lodolo on the Opening Day roster, the possibility also exists that we could see the infamous May call-up to keep him an extra year. The Reds did that with former top prospect Nick Senzel in 2019. Lodolo could help the rotation, but a rookie campaign out of the bullpen could benefit Cincinnati as well.

The Reds bullpen has taken some hits this winter after the front office traded closer Raisel Iglesias and non-tendered reliever Archie Bradley. Add to that Michael Lorenzen’s possible ascension to the starting rotation and the bullpen ranks get even thinner.

With the pedigree Lodolo has, the worst-case scenario would be that the 23-year-old just isn’t ready for the big leagues and Cincinnati burns one of his three minor league options. José García wasn’t “ready” last season, but that didn’t stop the Reds brass from adding their shortstop of the future to the active roster.

The more I investigate Nick Lodolo, the more similar to Mike Leake he appears. Lodolo lacks top-end stuff, but the southpaw has the command to get the job done. Lodolo’s lack of velocity will likely limit him to a middle-of-the-rotation type of pitcher. Leake had a similar scouting report, and went straight to the pros after the draft without pitching in the minors.

Rebuild or not, Nick Lodolo is going to be a big part of the Cincinnati Reds future and I think the argument is stronger for getting him to the big leagues now as opposed to later. Regardless of the current trade rumors, the Reds have arguably the best roster in the National League Central. Adding Lodolo would only increase the team’s odds of competing for the division title in 2021.