Reds best reliever (future closer) may actually be pitching in the minor leagues

No, not Zach Maxwell.
Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Tony Santillan (64) delivers a pitch
Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Tony Santillan (64) delivers a pitch / Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Santillan nearly made the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day roster this spring. After being designated for assignment in 2023, Santillan was brought back as a non-roster invitee to Reds spring training. The former second-round dominated the competition and nearly broke camp with the Reds.

Santillan accepeted an outright assignment to Triple-A Louisville and has been acting as the team's closer since the 2024 campaign got underway. Santillan, unsurprisingly, has been lights out since the season began.

The Reds bullpen has been shaky at times — even Fernando Cruz and Alexis Díaz have had their fair share of struggles this season — and there is an opportunity for Santillan to receive a call-up at some point later this season. When that happens, what role will Santillan play coming out of the Reds bullpen?

Tony Santillan has been better than almost any Reds reliever this season

Some Reds fans may be asking why Santillan hasn't been called up to the big leagues yet. Quite simply, it's due to how the Reds roster is constructed. Because Santillan is not on the 40-man roster, calling up the right-hander would require the Reds to make a corresponding roster move. Santillan does not have minor-league options remaining, so when Cincinnati makes the move, they want to be sure it's the right call.

But given how well Santillan has performed this season, it's only a matter of time. Santillan has hit double-digit saves already this season, but has struggled with walks. While the 27-year-old has struck out about about one of every three batters he's faced, the free passes are piling up.

Once Santillan gets the walks in check — he's had two instances of three-plus walks this season — then Nick Krall will likely make the call to Bats' manager Pat Kelly and bring the Texas native back into the Reds clubhouse.

Santillan is acting as the Bats' closer this season, and there's reason to believe he could occupy a similar role for the Reds in either 2024 or moving forward. Díaz has not looked like himself this season, and his lack of confidence is evident. If Santillan continues to dominate down in Triple-A, he could be coming for Díaz's job.

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