Riley O'Brien could project as a serviceable reliever for the Cincinnati Reds in 2022

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Riley O'Brien (57) delivers a pitch.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Riley O'Brien (57) delivers a pitch. / Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

I've been a little hard on Riley O'Brien since he debuted for the Cincinnati Reds in the last week of the 2021 season. The right-hander gave up two home runs in 1.1 innings of work and was sent back to Triple-A Louisville the next day.

O'Brien was traded to the Reds during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season in exchange for left-hander Cody Reed. While O'Brien hasn't taken off since coming to the Cincinnati organization, his athletic frame could help the right-hander attain a role in the Reds bullpen during the upcoming season.

Could Riley O'Brien land in the Cincinnati Reds bullpen?

Riley O'Brien has a four-pitch mix, but it's his fastball-slider combination that could land him a spot in the Cincinnati Reds bullpen. O'Brien has a fastball that works in the mid-90s with plenty of spin and there's some tight break on his slider. O'Brien has a curveball and changeup as part of his repertoire as well, but his off-speed stuff needs some tinkering.

O'Brien appeared in 23 games at Triple-A Louisville last season, but only one of those appearances came in relief. The right-hander went 7-7 with the Bats with a 4.55 ERA and 121 punch outs over 112.2 innings of work.

The Cincinnati Reds starting rotation is cemented with Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Tyler Mahle. While any one of those pitchers could be dealt once a new collective bargaining agreement is in place, the Reds farm system is ripe with talent.

Reiver Sanmartin will be given every chance to win a spot in the Cincinnati rotation this spring. Top pitching prospects Nick Lodolo and Hunter Greene will be in the mix as well. Graham Ashcraft is another name to watch, but it's more likely that the right-hander begins his 2022 campaign at Triple-A Louisville.

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The Reds could always option Riley O'Brien back to Triple-A to begin the season and see if the 27-year-old continues to develop his skills as a starter. But, with his advanced age, the coaching might do better to shift O'Brien to the Cincinnati Reds bullpen.