While the news of Homer Bailey missing the first two months of the season again following elbow surgery was a blow, the Reds are still in a good position with some pitching depth.
Though that depth is somewhat unproven, there is clearly some talent there and it is better to know what you possess sooner rather than later while in the rebuild process.
Three of the rotation spots are all but solidified, barring injuries there as well. Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, and newly signed Scott Feldman will likely man those roles. This leaves two open starting slots open for likely younger starters.
The team announced this week that recently claimed Lisalverto Bonilla will be stretched out in the spring to compete for a starting role. He joins the competition between Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett, and Tim Adleman for the rotation spot.
There is depth at starting pitching in the upper minor league levels as well, with Rookie Davis, Sal Romano, and Nick Travieso. However, all three have very limited experience in the upper levels. Davis tasted Triple-A for a few starts last year, but the trio spent most of the year in Double-A. Opening the season on the roster appears to be an extreme long shot, particularly for Travieso, who is slightly behind schedule. Travieso was briefly shut down after some shoulder issues.
These three could very well eventually see some big league innings this year, but it would be quite a jump to start the season. Garrett would also have a pretty lofty jump, having just 67.2 innings under his belt at Triple-A. However, that was still positive experience and Garrett could easily fill one of those spots with a strong spring.
The favorites, however, should probably be Stephenson and Reed. The talent is certainly there, but struggles in 2016 has cast some doubt on the long-term prospects of the two as starters.
Reed was extremely successful in Triple-A, but he only saw 73 innings at the level. Seeing the Reds’ track record with Reed, they will likely show no fear in a similar situation with Garrett if he pitches well enough in the spring for the job. However, service time could also play in, just as it did last season with Stephenson and Reed.
Reed showed the ability to strike hitters out, regardless of level. The issues that he saw was with pitch location, which resulted in lot of hard contact. It each level, Reed has struck hitters out at a high clip, but also pitched to contact. He has traditionally allowed just under a hit per inning. In the big leagues, that number ballooned to 12.7 H/9. Additionally, the home runs followed. He allowed 12 long balls in just 47.2 innings of work. The talent is there, it appears to just be about figuring out what he can get away with at the new level.
Stephenson is an interesting option as another likely favorite. He is very talented and there is no question about his stuff. However, his command was all over the place in 2016. While his walk numbers were pretty much on pace with his career totals at 4.7 BB/9, it seemed much more glaring last season. It even got to the point where his manager Delino DeShields questioned his motivations to listen and improve.
Reed strikes out slightly more hitters, but Stephenson’s stuff seems to miss bats more consistently. Again, the talent is there, it is just about putting it all together. In eight starts with the Reds in 2016, Stephenson saw mixed results. His early starts were certainly more efficient than his September outings. His stuff played much more hittable and the walks continued, but there were flashes and his K/9 was at 7.5.
Bonilla is the wild card. After being transitioned into a starter last season, his numbers improved dramatically. He is only 26 and has seen upper minor league experience since 2013, logging over 300 innings between Double-A, Triple-A, and the Major Leagues.
As a starter in 2016, Bonilla posted a 3.45 ERA with a 1.23 WHIP. As a reliever, he saw a 5.09 ERA with a 1.59 WHIP. Some of this could be settling back in after missing all of 2015 following Tommy John surgery. Though Bonilla has always been a strikeout pitcher, his K/9 dropped just from 10.7 to 9.0 after the transition in mid-2016, which is also encouraging. He also walked 20 hitters as both a starter and reliever. However, this was in 75.2 innings as a starter and just 35.1 out of the bullpen.
Bonilla also has three big league starts with the Rangers in 2014. In those, he worked six innings in two of them and five innings in the other one. In those innings, he allowed just 10 hits and four earned runs.
Adleman has the look of a traditional swing man. He appears to be a depth option between Triple-A and the big leagues. Injuries are certain to continue to happen. With his success last season, Adleman is a nice option for this role and has shown the ability to get Major League hitters out.
Whoever the choices are to fill these spots, the Reds are at a point where they have several young pitchers who are able to fill in for the Bailey injury. While, like last season, the wins on the field may not always add up, it is another sign that the rebuild is going in the right direction.