Former top pitching prospect looks reclaim his rightful spot in the Reds' bullpen

Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Tony Santillan
Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Tony Santillan / Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time when Tony Santillan looked the part. A second-round pick during the 2015 MLB Draft, Santillan worked diligently at this craft, and slowly climbed the minor league ladder until finally making his major league debut in 2021.

Santillan, who was a starter throughout his minor-league career, gave the Reds a handful of spot starts that season, but made a return to Triple-A midway through his rookie campaign and returned as a dominant reliever. Santillan closed out his rookie season in 2021 with 22 relief appearances, a 2.36 ERA with 36 punch outs in 26.2 innings of work.

But Santillan's success was quickly derailed by injuries. A non-roster invitee this spring, Santillan is attempting to make a comeback and find his way onto the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day roster.

Former top pitching prospect, Tony Santillan, looks reclaim his spot in the Reds' bullpen

Tony Santillan was pegged by many to be the Cincinnati Reds closer in 2022. The Reds had parted ways with Raisel Iglesias after the 2020 season, and relied on a combination of Heath Hembree, Amir Garrett, Lucas Sims, and Mychal Givens to close out games in 2021. Safe to say, there was a vacancy.

The Reds traded Garrett during the offseason, and Sims suffered a horrible back injury that required surgery. The Reds were left with Hunter Strickland and a rookie pitcher everyone knew as Edwin Diaz's younger brother.

As it turns out, Alexis Diaz has since proven to be one of the best relievers in baseball and is locked in as the Reds closer. But Santillan was given an opportunity to secure the job during the 2022 season. But Santillan was a shell of himself during his second big league season, owning a 5.29 ERA in 21 games. Santillan eventually landed on the 60-day IL with a lower-back strain.

Last season, Santillan began the year on the IL with back issues, but a knee injury forced the right-hander onto the 60-day IL once again. Santillan tried to make a comeback last season, but during the three games in which he pitched, the stuff just wasn't there. The Reds somewhat surprisingly DFA'd Santillan, but no other team submitted a claim and he remained with the organization.

Santillan signed a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training during the offseason, and will be looking to reclaim his rightful spot in the Cincinnati Reds bullpen. It'll be an uphill climb for Santillan with so many talented arms competing for a spot among the group of right relievers looking to leave Goodyear. But Santillan's scoreless outing on Tuesday will go a long way toward a potential look at the Opening Day roster.