Fresh Arms, Old and New

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A less serious writer might begin this piece—about the three new additions to the Reds’ starting rotation—with a reference to Three’s Company, perhaps with some little joke about Mr. Roper. (Not this Mr. Roper, of course.) Such a writer might even mention My Three Sons, or if he were really ambitious, a certain Sherlock Holmes story might work its way into the opening paragraph.

That’s what a less serious writer would do. Not me. No, I have too much respect for you, the loyal reader.

I do, however, want to discuss the three pitchers who made the Cincinnati starting rotation to begin the season: Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias, and Jason Marquis. By this point, we all have some sense of who these guys are, but I have other questions. What are they capable of, and how important are each of them to the Reds future plans?

Let’s look at Raisel Iglesias first, since he probably has the most talent of the group, and the highest upside. Iglesias is a 25-year-old Cuban right-hander who was signed to a seven-year, $27 million deal last July. He had been exclusively a relief pitcher in Cuba, but the Reds envisioned Iglesias as a starter, and have begun the process of converting him into an innings-eater. I know what you’re thinking: big-money contract handed to a Cuban pitcher, with talk of making him a starter. Chapman 2.0?

Not quite. First of all, Chapman had actually been a starter during his amateur career, while Iglesias has always pitched out of the bullpen. In addition, while Iglesias has a live arm, it’s not quite the same as Chapman’s (which is not a criticism, since no one on earth has a limb like Aroldis Chapman’s left arm). Iglesias throws a consistent mid-90s fastball, and can touch 97 on occasion. He has four serviceable pitches, including that fastball and a slider that is occasionally great.

When he pitched for the Redlegs on Sunday, Iglesias became only the 24th player in the draft era to make his major league debut without first playing in the minors. The last time we saw a debut like this was last year (Iglesias’ fellow Cuban, Jose Abreu), but Reds fans are not unfamiliar with pitchers who skip the minors entirely: Mike Leake turned the trick in 2010.

Back to Iglesias: His debut was a mixed bag, with encouraging signs. He went five innings, allowing three runs on five hits and two walks, while striking out four Cardinals. His fastball was very sharp, and he only threw 76 pitches. Most of the damage took place in his final inning of work, as he surrendered a couple of doubles, a single, and a walk, and gave up all three of those runs.

The fact that Iglesias only made it through five innings—with all the damage coming in his final inning of work—will not inspire confidence in critics of converting him into a starting pitcher, but he certainly demonstrated some talent in his first start. It will be interesting to see what he can do with more experience. Of course, that experience will have to come in AAA, since he’s been sent down in anticipation of Homer Bailey’s upcoming season debut. I would have preferred that someone else vacate their rotation spot (see below), but for some reason, the Reds don’t let me make those decisions. What’s up with that?

Anyway, what can we expect from Iglesias moving forward? Over at FanGraphs, Craig Edwards opines that “(e)ven if Iglesias cannot make it as a starter, his stuff looks good enough to be a shutdown reliever.” I like shutdown relievers, but I’m still pretty optimistic that Iglesias can make it as a starter. My optimism is based on very little data, unfortunately.

At this point, if we want to project Iglesias’ future, we don’t have much to go on. Projection systems don’t do well without data to input, and Iglesias has been a mystery to almost everyone except scouts. The Reds think he can be a starter, and they’ve seen him more than I have, so we will have to trust their judgment. What I have seen, however, is enough to intrigue me. I hope the club sticks with this experiment, and I hope we see Iglesias back in the majors sooner rather than later.

So yes, I’m bullish on Raisel Iglesias, the #2 prospect in the Reds organization (according to Baseball America). Beneath him on that list (#6) is Anthony DeSclafani. DeSclafani—nicknamed “Disco,” which is kinda awesome—is the 24-year-old right-hander who came over in the Mat Latos trade.

DeSclafani also made his debut for the Reds last week, but it wasn’t his big league debut, as he posted a 2-2 mark with a 6.27 ERA in thirteen games for Miami last year (five of which were starts). His first outing as a Red was more encouraging: six innings, allowing two runs on five hits and a walk, with six strikeouts. On Tuesday, in his second outing, he was brilliant, tossing seven shutout innings against the Fuzzy Cubbies, permitting only two hits and dropping his ERA to 1.38.

What we’ve seen so far this season is precisely what manager Bryan Price said we’d see: “He’s historically been a strike thrower with plus stuff, especially fastball, slider and a developing changeup and curveball.” Disco’s four-seam fastball can touch the mid-90s, but generally sits around 93 mph, and he has pretty good command. In fact, he’s only walked eight hitters in 46 big league innings, after displaying similarly good walk rates in the minor leagues. He also has a good slider, inducing swings and misses on 21% of his pitches (the major league average is 13%). Even better, Disco threw 15 changeups in his first outing this season, indicating a willingness to use that pitch more often. Though we’re talking about a limited sample, that pitch shows promise. If he can successfully add a change with some natural sink to it into his repertoire, DeSclafani’s future looks more interesting all of a sudden.

On the other hand, the projection systems aren’t particularly bullish on Disco’s prospects for this season. ZiPS sees a 6-9 record with a 4.45 ERA and 4.48 FIP. Steamer projects DeSclafani to go 7-10 with a 4.25 ERA and 4.31 FIP. Both systems see a strikeout rate somewhere north of 7 Ks per 9 innings, with around 2.5 walks per nine.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see more strikeouts and fewer walks, but those numbers don’t seem unreasonable. For what it’s worth, there has been talk that DeSclafani might end up in the bullpen, but the Reds are likely to give him every opportunity to keep his spot in the rotation. If he makes some strides with his off-speed stuff, and does a better job mixing up his pitches, we could be seeing the most entertaining Disco since Donna Summers and the Bee Gees.

Let’s move on, if we must. The third name in the trifecta of new starting pitchers for the Reds is Jason Marquis. Yes, that Jason Marquis (He. Came. Here.), and I really don’t want to write about him. (Ed’s note: You MUST click on that last link.) He’s the latest in GM Walt Jocketty’s revolving door of St. Louis castoffs, and it’s really a little silly that he actually won a spot in the Cincinnati rotation. My friends at Redleg Nation have all the ugly details of Marquis’ recent career, and Steve Mancuso summed it up very well:

Jason Marquis (36) has a career ERA of 4.65 and hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2013, when his FIP was 5.65. In 117.2 innings, he struck out only 72 batters, and walked 68. Marquis has had Tommy John surgery and an oblique injury since then. He was released by the Phillies after pitching poorly for their AAA team last year.

Doesn’t inspire much confidence, eh? Well, ZiPS projects a 5.24 ERA and 5.50 FIP for Marquis, so the egghead mathematicians don’t care for Marquis either. Make of that what you will. Bryan Price must have seen something in Marquis to convince him to commit the #4 starter spot. Price is a former pitching coach and he knows more about baseball than me, I assume, so I’m perfectly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here. But the evidence is pretty overwhelming that Marquis is washed up. He hasn’t been an above-average pitcher since 2009. I’m not sure why we’d expect him to suddenly improve significantly at age 36.

If we’re trying to be optimistic, we’d say that Marquis only surrendered three runs on five hits in six innings in his Cincinnati debut, while striking out seven. We’d say that Price has found his reclamation project, and that the Tommy John surgery did wonders for Marquis’ arm.

Listen, Jason Marquis is now a Red. (He. Came. Here.) I’m a Reds fan, and I’m rooting for him, because I want the Reds to win. It’d be a great story if he became a decent starter after struggling for so long. I like great stories. But a rotation of Cueto, Bailey, Leake, Disco, and Iglesias has some real potential. Just like Cincinnati’s lineup, there isn’t much depth, but I can see a scenario where that group is the starting rotation of a contending team.

Or maybe it’s just April and I’m looking at things through (Pete) rose-colored glasses. Hope springs eternal, ya know?

Chad Dotson is a Nuxhall Way contributor. He is also the founder of Redleg Nation and a contributor to ESPN’s SweetSpot blog. 

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