Is Vladimir Gutierrez in danger of losing his spot in the Cincinnati Reds rotation?

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez (53) delivers in the first inning.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez (53) delivers in the first inning. / Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer via Imagn

It seems silly to think about, but despite his solid debut for the Cincinnati Reds in 2021, Vladimir Gutierrez may be locked in a duel with some young pitching prospects this spring. If Gutierrez doesn't bring his A-game to Goodyear, there's a chance he could begin the 2022 at Triple-A Louisville.

Now, a blockbuster trade involving Luis Castillo or Sonny Gray, once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, could make this a moot point. But after seeing Gutierrez struggle down the stretch, there's a real possibility that the right-hander will be on the outside looking in when the season begins.

Will Vladimir Gutierrez be part of the Reds starting rotation?

After the Cincinnati Reds waived Wade Miley, a spot in the starting rotation became available. If no trades take place prior to Opening Day, the trio of Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Tyler Mahle will be in Cincinnati's starting rotation.

But beyond that, there's several questions. Gutierrez appeared in 22 games last season, and obviously has the inside track for the No. 4 spot in the rotation. But his final six games surely gave the Reds coaches cause to pause before just assuming he'd be lock for the 2022 starting rotation.

Prior to his start in Miami on August 28th, Gutierrez had handled his business quite well. In 16 starts, posted a 3.68 ERA and failed to go more than four innings only twice. During those 16 starts, he had his hands full with the San Diego Padres lineup, allowing 11 earned runs over 11 innings. But if you take those two outings out of the equation, Gutierrez owned a 2.57 ERA during his first three months.

Gutierrez made it through just 21 innings over his final six games of the 2021 season and looked like a shell of himself. While a lot of that can certainly be chalked up to fatigue, the right-hander went 0-2 with a 9.43 ERA and only recorded 15 punch outs over that stretch.

Which Reds prospects could steal Vladimir Gutierrez's spot?

If we're being realistic, it'll be a four-horse race for the final two spots in the Cincinnati Reds' rotation. Sure, Vladimir Gutierrez is the likely favorite once spring training begins, but you have to assume that Reiver Sanmartin will get a long look this spring. In his two outings last season, the left-hander looked very impressive. It was, however, against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Reds top two pitching prospects, Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo, will get the opportunity during spring training as well. Greene is already part of Cincinnati's 40-man roster, and both he and Lodolo are expected to make their major league debuts this coming season.

Another name to watch will be Graham Ashcraft. The right-hander impressed scouts during his tenure in the minor leagues last season, and while the jury is still out about his longterm future as a starter, you have to assume that Ashcraft will be given a chance to compete for a spot in the Cincinnati Reds rotation this spring as well.

Next. 3 Reds who'll struggle to make the 40-man roster. dark

It's far from a sure thing that Vladimir Gutierrez will begin the season as part of Cincinnati's starting rotation, but I'd put his odds higher than any of the team's top prospects. Experience matters, and unless the CBA is drastically altered during negotiations, teams will continue to manipulate service time; meaning Greene and Lodolo's debuts may be pushed back a couple months.