For about, oh, seven seconds this past week, the Reds fielded something that could be considered without even squinting—a major league pitching rotation. Bailey, Feldman, Castillo, Finnegan, Adleman. While certainly not on the level of what we saw a few years ago when the Reds were busy going to the playoffs, it’s fair to say each of those players would make the roster of at least a few teams besides the hometown club.
But, well, you know how that went. Finnegan is already back on the DL; Bailey is ways off from stellar. Silver lining? Down in the minors, Cody Reed has been getting it together and Robert Stephenson just had his best start in almost a year. It is and continues to be a confusing picture. If we remove Feldman from the equation (he’s likely to be trade bait and certain to not be around next year), there are eleven candidates to be in the rotation when everyone is healthy, ten of whom have seen time in the majors already.
I have zero doubt the Reds could put together a good rotation from that group (yes, I really do mean zero doubt). The hard part is knowing who to count on. Or, at least, who is the best bet. A couple weeks ago, I examined it from a sooner-rather-than-later viewpoint. That clearly hasn’t panned out, so let’s take a longer view: I’ve ranked the pitchers in order of who I think is the best candidate to provide MLB value by the end of this season/beginning of next. To do this, I’ve looked at three factors: Results in the majors, risk (both in terms of injury and flopping), and ceiling. (An aside on that last one before we get going: A number three starter = MLB average; we were spoiled when Mike Leake was our fifth starter.) Okay, here we go. From bottom to top, because I like to end on an optimistic note.
11. Rookie Davis—A surprise addition to the rotation at the start of the year, Davis came into the spring with more life on his fastball, but his results weren’t very good. Then he got hurt, meaning he’s now been hurt two years in a row. Given that his ceiling is probably that of a 3-4 starter, he lands at the bottom of our list.
10. Anthony DeSclafani—This pains me, but a sore elbow has kept him on the DL all year after he was hurt last year too. He has the best results of any Reds starting pitcher over the last several years and the ceiling of a very good number two starter, but it feels like he’s headed to the operating table eventually and it’s hard to imagine counting on him to deliver quality MLB innings any time soon.
9. Homer Bailey—There’s a chance that in a couple of weeks, Homer rockets up this list, but his first two starts back from injury have been disasters. As it stands, he’s had exactly one truly good start since he went on the DL in 2014. That is a long time, folks. He has to prove he can take the mound every fifth day AND be effective again. On my end, this is the last time I’m going to be able to muster any optimism. If he doesn’t get it together soon, I’ll assume he never will. Which is too bad—injuries derail promising careers too often.
8. Robert Stephenson—He had a GREAT start this week for Louisville, but you can tell by the the way everyone involved with the Reds avoids talking about him that his stock has seriously fallen. I’ve heard some quiet rumbles that he’s getting dedicated to working on his control, but more results are necessary before we can believe that. As has always been the case, the sky’s the limit and he’s had no serious injury issues. He just has to turn top-notch stuff into results, which can be the hardest part.
7. Sal Romano—This is the part of the list where we can start to be solidly optimistic. Romano has a pretty solid minor league track record, and has been very good for the last couple of years especially. There was an injury this year, but he is, by all reports, totally healthy now. His ceiling is probably that of a number two or three starter.
6. Cody Reed—This is partially a gut ranking. Reed has never had injury issues, he has had at least a few good starts in the majors, and from conversations I’ve had with him, it’s clear he’s devoted to solving his issues and returning to the majors. Plus, Homer Bailey believes in Reed enough that he’s provided some mentoring.
5. Tim Adleman—Make no mistake, he’s a number four or five starter. He’ll never lead a staff. HOWEVER, he’s been reliable and a decent source of quality starts (six, so far).
4. Amir Garrett—We all saw what Garrett can be at the beginning of the season. We also saw what happens when he can’t find the strike zone. If he gets his mechanics back in order, he’s a legit number-two starter. I wouldn’t bet against him at all, but we need better results before he moves further up the list.
3. Tyler Mahle—The biggest unknown on the list. No one else here has better minor league numbers than Mahle. He strikes a lot of guys out and walks almost no one. Still, he has only one start (albeit an excellent one) above Double-A. His ceiling is that of a number one starter, though, and I choose to believe until he gives us reason not to.
2. Brandon Finnegan—He’s been on the DL most of the year, but as far as I’m aware, though the injuries have been around the shoulder, they haven’t actually been in the shoulder joint. This is key. He’s also younger than everyone on this list except for Mahle, Romano, and Davis, AND he already has a solid major league season under his belt. Given that, he gets the benefit of the doubt.
1. Luis Castillo—He probably shouldn’t be number one, but I don’t know who else to put here. He’s had two very encouraging starts and a completely reasonable developmental track free of injury. If Finnegan hadn’t been hurt this year, he’d be number one, but as it stands, I have to give the spot to the most promising of the young players. At least for this week, that’s Luis Castillo and his 98 mph fastball.
Jason Linden is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, Redleg Nation, and The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JasonLinden.