Ranking the Cincinnati Reds best rookie starters heading into the 2022 season

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Reiver Sanmartin (52) throws a pitch.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Reiver Sanmartin (52) throws a pitch. / David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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Last season, we saw the Cincinnati Reds send four rookie starters (Vladimir Gutierrez, Tony Santillan, Reiver Sanmartin, and Riley O'Brien) to the bump. Who is the Reds best rookie starter heading into the 2022 season?

Gutierrez received more starts than any other rookie on the Reds team last season. The Cuban right-hander started 22 games and posted a respectable 4.74 ERA. Santillan started just four games, but made 22 appearances out of the Cincinnati bullpen in 2021. Both Sanmartin and O'Brien combined for just three starts and 13 innings of work.

While the Reds have one of the more-talented rotations in the National League, there's no guarantee that Tyler Mahle, Sonny Gray, and Luis Castillo will be on Cincinnati's roster come Opening Day. The trade rumors surrounding that trio of starters could open the door for several rookies in 2022.

4. Reiver Sanmartin, Reds starting pitcher

Reiver Sanmartin surprised all of us last season when he made two starts to end the Reds 2021 campaign. Both starts came against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Sanmartin recorded 11 punch outs in 11.2 innings and posted a 1.54 ERA.

Sanmartin will retain his rookie status heading into the 2022 season and will certainly be in the mix to find a spot in the Reds starting rotation. So why is the left-hander ranked so low? While impressive, two starts does not a successful season make, and I have a hard time passing out a great deal of kudos being that both times Sanmartin took the hill it was against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Sanmartin was acquired by Cincinnati in the same deal that brought Sonny Gray to the Queen City. Strangely, since we've heard Gray's name mentioned in trade rumors for the majority of the offseason, there's a possibility that Sanmartin could replace the two-time All-Star in the rotation.

Do the Reds view Reiver Sanmartin as a starter or reliever? Of his 25 games played in the minors last season, eight of them were out of the bullpen. With the Reds relief corps in shambles and Tejay Antone out for the season, we could see Sanmartin be a prominent member of the Cincinnati bullpen rather than the rotation.

Cincinnati Reds Graham Ashcraft (95) poses during media day.
Cincinnati Reds Graham Ashcraft (95) poses during media day. / USA TODAY NETWORK

3. Graham Ashcraft, Reds starting pitcher

Graham Ashcraft will be one of the most interesting players to watch during spring training. Both he and fellow pitching prospect Nick Lodolo received non-roster invites to join the team in Goodyear, Arizona this spring.

Ashcraft has a questionable future. While some see the 23-year-old as a slam dunk to wind up in the Cincinnati bullpen sometime in 2022, the Reds seem poised to allow the right-hander the opportunity to start.

Ashcraft has a wicked fastball/ slider combination. His heater has been clocked at 100-plus MPH and has a good amount of movement as well. Ashcraft also has an above-average slider that he'll typically use as his secondary pitch. If Ashcraft can develop his changeup into a solid third offering, the former sixth-round pick has a chance to stick in the starting rotation.

Ashcraft debuted in 2019 with good strikeout numbers and decent control and command of the strike zone. After missing out on the 2020 season, Ashcraft returned to the hill last season and showed an even better feel for his craft. The right-hander started eight games at High-A Dayton and posted a 34.2% strikeout-rate.

Graham Ashcraft's numbers tailed off a little once he received the promotion to Double-A Chattanooga, but the University of Alabama-Birmingham alum went 4-2 over his final two starts and struck out 52 batters over 51.2 innings of work.

Cincinnati Reds top pitching prospect Hunter Greene.
Cincinnati Reds top pitching prospect Hunter Greene. / Sam Greene via Imagn Content Services,

2. Hunter Greene, Reds starting pitcher

Now, many folks throughout Reds Country will look at Hunter Greene ranked No. 2 on this list and question my sanity, but bare with me for a moment. I think Greene has the potential to be a franchise-altering talent similar to what we've seen from superstars like Shohei Ohtani and Jacob deGrom.

That said, I don't expect to see that level of excellence from Greene during his rookie season. While we've heard about Greene elite skillset since the California native was taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, let's not forget that the flamethrower is just 22 years old.

Greene has spent more time rehabbing from Tommy John surgery than he has on the bump. The right-hander underwent elbow surgery in 2018 and due to rehab and the COVID-19 pandemic, didn't find his way back onto a professional baseball field until last season.

Hunter Greene was dominant against the competition he faced at Double-A. In seven starts, Greene punched out 60 batters over 41 innings and posted a 1.98 ERA. Greene was quickly promoted to Triple-A Louisville where he made 14 starts. While Greene still maintained an incredible strikeout-rate (28.6%), there were cracks in his overall game as illustrated by his 4.13 ERA and 4.46 FIP.

Greene will get his shot to compete for spot in the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation, and he may very well be on the Opening Day roster. That said, his inexperience may lead the Reds brass to send Greene to the Derby City to start his 2022 campaign. We'll see Hunter Greene at Great American Ball Park next season, it's just a matter of when.

Cincinnati Reds non-roster invitee pitcher Nick Lodolo (86) delivers in the bullpen.
Cincinnati Reds non-roster invitee pitcher Nick Lodolo (86) delivers in the bullpen. / Kareem Elgazzar, Cincinnati Enquirer via

1. Nick Lodolo, Reds starting pitcher

While many of the Cincinnati faithful get caught up in the awe of Hunter Greene's raw ability, Nick Lodolo is the more polished of the two hurlers. No, you're not going to see Lodolo light up the radar gun as often as Greene, but the former first-round pick was actually more dominant in his time at Double-A Chattanooga.

In 10 starts for the Lookouts last season, the lefty punched out 68 batters over 44 innings. Lodolo's 39.3% strikeout-rate is slightly better than Greene's (37%). Greene also posted a fine 8.6% walk-rate, but Lodolo's 5.2% mark is even better.

None of this is meant to be a jab at Hunter Greene. The right-hander missed a boatload of time due to rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season. Lodolo on the other has three seasons of college baseball under his belt and was viewed as the most major league ready pitcher when the Reds drafted him in 2019.

Lodolo posted really good numbers last season. The 23-year-old went only threw 50.2 innings, but struck out 78 batters and walked only 11. A 13.86 K/9, 1.95 BB/9, and 0.53 HR/9 will play all day at the major league level. If Lodolo's stuff translates to the big leagues, we could be looking a potential Rookie of the Year candidate.

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The only thing that slowed Nick Lodolo's progress last season was injury. The southpaw dealt with blisters on his throwing hand and had a shoulder injury later in the year. If Lodolo enters spring training healthy, I believe the California native has a great chance to land on the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day roster.