Tony Santillan is a surprise candidate to be the Reds closer in 2022

Reds pitcher Tony Santillan celebrates with Tyler Stephenson.
Reds pitcher Tony Santillan celebrates with Tyler Stephenson. / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

One of the biggest nightmares manager Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell endured during the 2021 campaign was finding someone in the bullpen who could consistently close out games in the ninth inning.

Unfortunately, the Cincinnati bullpen provided more heartburn than relief for the Reds' skipper.

The Reds bullpen was woeful in 2021.

Cincinnati firemen continually threw gas on the fire accumulating a 4.99 ERA with 10 different relievers earning a save.

Trust me when I say that's not a compliment, but an indictment of how unreliable this group was this past season.

Interestingly, the solution to Bell's quandary could very well be among the Cincinnati ranks, and it's one who astonishingly didn't earn a save during his rookie campaign.

Tony Santillan had an impressive debut season in the Queen City. However, for a hurler who spent his minor league career exclusively as a starter, his best work came in relief.

The 24-year-old Texan made his debut as a starter on June 13th, tossing 4.1 innings of one-run ball versus the Colorado Rockies at Great American Ball Park.

Santillan would make three more starts in June, compiling a respectable 3.78 ERA, yet he managed to escape the fifth inning in just one appearance.

After the former second-round pick was optioned to Louisville on June 30th, Santillan would spend the remainder of the 2021 season working out of the bullpen. At this point, it appears to be a match made in heaven.

Reds rookie Tony Santillan was fantastic in relief.

A former Top 100 prospect, according to Baseball America, Santillan was a revelation in relief.

Making 22 appearances out of the Cincinnati bullpen, the right-hander allowed just 16 hits in 26.2 frames while punching out a remarkable 36 opposing hitters.

Additionally, Santillan compiled a fantastic 12.2 K/9 rate and a 1.01 WHIP when summoned from the bullpen. Most encouraging was the more experience he received working in relief, the better he got.

In his final 16 games, the North Texas native yielded just three earned runs and 10 hits in 20 innings of work.

Yet, amazingly, Santillan was even most impressive in high leverage situations. When the Reds needed Tony Santillan at his best, he delivered.

With runners in scoring position, opponents produced an anemic .095/.176/.238 slash line while fanning 18 times in 42 plate appearances. That is the definition of a shut-down weapon in the bullpen.

Obviously, with experienced arms such as Lucas Sims and Luis Cessa returning, there's no guarantee Santillan will be top of mind when considering potential closers.

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However, it would be in David Bell's best interest to allow the young right-hander the opportunity to flourish in the late innings. It's possible the next great Reds closer is already in our midst.