In Betweeners: Grey-Area Cincinnati Reds

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PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 26: Adam Duvall #23 of the Cincinnati Reds doubles to deep right against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the second inning at Chase Field on August 26, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Grey-Area Cincinnati Reds

“Prospect” is a lose term that could be applied to anyone in baseball. Every career eventually comes to an end, and a prospect is simply what the baseball world calls a player they think has the potential to be a starter or better at the MLB level. Some prospects, from Cuba for instance, sign for million dollar bonuses at the age of 15. Some prospects get drafted out of high school or college and start working their way through the minor league system.

No matter what kind of prospect you are, it is clear that there are no sure-things in baseball and there is no one way to encapsulate how a player will develop. Some players like Mike Trout, Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, and Chris Sale are ready to be MVP caliber players from the very moment they are called up in their early 20s. Some players need a little bit longer to mature physically, mentally, and to finely tune their skills. There are some players that tease us with inconsistent glimpses of their true potential but are just missing the special something they need to get over the edge.

It is surely no secret that the Cincinnati Reds are in a rebuilding phase. They have traded away almost all of the core of players that took them to the postseason in the early 2010s and are gearing up to make a World Series run a few years down the road. While Joey Votto will still be under his massive contract the organization is slowly waving goodbye to players like Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart, who are 35 and 31, and are waiting with open arms to welcome the likes of Robert Stephenson and Jesse Winker to Great American Ball Park.

The Reds are not just separated into groups of 23-year olds and 31-year olds. There are many promising players attempting to find their rhythm in the big leagues and whose future with the franchise are uncertain. These players range in age from 26-29 years old and while they occupy a roster spot now and have shown respective signs of improvement, their exact role as grey-area Cincinnati Reds will leave many questions unanswered for an extended period of time. The Reds are rebuilding so that they can be good in a few years. Well in a few years, the currently young group of players will be 29-32 and will no longer be anywhere close to the status of “prospect”.

So what is most likely to happen to the grey-area Cincinnati Reds? Are they future trade pieces? Destined to be replaced? The MVP centerpieces of a World Champion? Let’s talk about the grey-area Cincinnati Reds case by case.

Adam Duvall

Adam Duvall’s All-Star level season surprised a lot of people who had no idea who the 27-year old outfielder was. He had previously hit 30 HR in an A+ season, 27 in a Triple-A Fresno season, and 26 in a Triple-A Sacramento season, so it certainly wasn’t like his power hitting came out of nowhere.

This year he has a slash line of .248/.304/.522, has hit 29 HR, with 58 total XBH, and has played a surprisingly good LF with a dWAR of 0.8 on his way to San Diego for the Mid-Summer Classic. The real question with Duvall is how well-rounded he is and whether he is more of a one-trick pony in the long run.

With a .248 average and .304 OBP, it is clear that power is by far his greatest strength. He hasn’t been unlucky, he actually has a BABIP of .283. The problem is that he strikes out 27% of his PA. So at the age of 27, even considering his All-Star 2016; there is certainly no guarantee that he holds off the likes of Jesse Winker, Scott Schebler, and Jose Peraza for long if his power starts to slide or if he fails to improve his contact hitting and plate discipline.

Anthony DeSclafani

Anthony DeSclafani was sent to Cincy with Chad Wallach for Mat Latos in what at the time was regarded as a bad trade by Reds fans. “Tony Disco” may not be as flashy on the mound as his nickname, but he has flashed some very encouraging outings at the MLB level. The 26-year old threw 184.2 IP across a solid 31 starts in 2015 and produced a 4.05 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, and 2.7 BB/9 while averaging 5.96 innings per outing.

After recovering from injury, Disco was able to build on his progress in his 94.1 IP through 15 starts in 2016. He currently has a 2.96 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, and a mere 1.9 BB/9 while going 6.3 innings each start. That is a very noticeable improvement in overall command of the strike zone.

DeSclafani certainly isn’t one of Cincinnati’s big-name prospect arms, but it gets extremely difficult trying to continually shake off what he has managed to do as a starter at the MLB level for 46 starts. He rarely walks a batter, and he continues to blow past them with strikeouts at an increasing clip. If he can continue to make 30+ starts while pitching 6.0+ innings every outing, it would be very hard to ever rule him out of the picture.

Dan Straily

If people were surprised by Adam Duvall’s season, they should do a little more digging on Dan Straily, then they will really be shocked when they see who the Reds best starter has been all season. The 27-year old was once an optimistic bright spot for the Oakland A’s for whom he finished 4th in Rookie of the Year voting in 2013 with a 3.96 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, and 3.4 BB/9, while averaging 5.6 innings per outing in 27 starts.

Three years later, through some mediocre stints with the Cubs and Astros, and Straily finds himself being picked up off the waivers by Cincinnati. He has started 25 games for the Reds this year, and as a starter; he has a 3.95 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 3.08 BB/9, and is averaging 5.8 innings per outing.

This season certainly has made a nice story for the journeyman, who at his age still has plenty of journeys in front of him. However considering Straily’s ceiling of potential and the large group of talented young starters that are waiting in the reserves, it is highly unlikely that he has a future as a Red for much longer.

That is part of the reason that it is so frustrating that he wasn’t traded to a team in need of a cheap acquisition for the back of the rotation: The Reds essentially watched a surprisingly fantastic season wasted away on a team in the cellar of the standings instead of Straily’s production not coming in vain by earning returns on the trade market.

Devin Mesoraco

The 28-year old had a phenomenal 2014 campaign with 25 HR and an .893 OPS, but in the past two years, has taken just 95 AB. He is still signed through 2018 on a 4yr/$28M contract.

This is terrible scenario. The Reds have Tyler Stephenson and Chris Okey as high-level offensive catching prospects and Tucker Barnhart currently finding his rhythm for the big-league club, and it looks increasingly unlikely that Mesoraco’s injury history would even allow for him to play catcher again. There has been talk of him playing LF, but that role is occupied by Duvall with Winker and Schebler in striking distance.

We have a lot to see before anything can be called on Devin Mesoraco. He may never be healthy enough to play again. If he does, he may not have a place. With so many factors fighting against him, it looks improbable that he would be apart of a Reds postseason run if he was finally able to safely take the field on the wrong side of 30.

The good news for now, is that he hopes to be ready for next season.

Raisel Iglesias

At 26 years old and absolutely dealing out of the bullpen in 2016 with an eye towards the closer’s spot or the top of the rotation, it is hard to believe that the Reds may be passing Raisel Iglesias up.

He may be able to hold a secure spot if he sticks to long-relief, but he is rolling the dice with a rotation spot. As a starter in his career he has shown some durability by averaging 5.75 IP per outing across 21 starts with a 3.88 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. However, he has been much better on average in his 39 IP out of the bullpen with a 1.85 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.

Iglesias has improved too much to pass over. At 26 he has a lot of time to cement his place as the ace, long-reliever, or even closer for Cincinnati. Expect for him to stick around.

Tony Cingrani

Poor Tony Cingrani gets moved around so much and talked bad about so frequently. The 27-year old southpaw had an excellent start to his MLB career as a starter, but as the Reds like to overthink and pigeon hold young pitchers as relievers or starters for life, he was moved to the bullpen because of his unusually high volume of fastballs and high walk rate.

This season, while the Reds may have started off with one of the worst bullpens of all time, Tony Cingrani and the other young gun relievers have been quite impressive in the past couple of months.

Through April and May he had a 4.43 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and a horrific 6.4 BB/9. Cingrani proceeded to shred through June and July with far improved ERA, WHIP, and BB/9 of 1.90, 0.97, and 2.66. He is finally starting to get to where he was in his 2013 coming-out party.

Cingrani isn’t an elite closer, so therefore, he is probably not the Reds closer down the line. If he can continue to keep the walks infrequent, there is still no reason why he couldn’t be a valuable upside asset out of the pen in the years coming.

Caleb Cotham

As one of the pieces sent from the Yankees to the Reds in the Aroldis Chapman deal, it is natural to want to see some sort of return from 28-year old Caleb Cotham. However; considering his age, checkered injury history, and slow development at the top levels of competition, the odds are against him.

He has poor MLB statistics. In 34 IP since 2015 he has a 7.15 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, and allows 1.9 HR/9, while also producing some solid rates as well at 3.4 BB/9 and 8.5 K/9. In 2015 with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre he pitched 57 total innings to the tune of a 2.21 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, and fantastic isolated figures of 0.3 HR/9, 2.1 BB/9, and 9.6 K/9.

He even started 2016 with high hopes. He had a a 0.00 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 8 IP from April 6th through the 19th and had a 0.77 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 11.2 IP until April 30th. Then the spiral started. In the next 12.2 innings from April 30th to May 28th Cotham had a 12.79 ERA, 2.90 WHIP, 2.13 HR/9, and 4.97 BB/9.

Soon after he was placed on the DL and, despite a comeback attempt, didn’t return in 2016. After his August knee surgery, he is slated to possibly return for the start of 2017.

Cotham has shown the ability to limit walks and produce whiffs, and he is obviously at his best when he limits HR. He had recent success at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, he was doing well this season before he was possibly hampered by injury, and he may be the victim of bad luck in the MLB since his opponents have a .371 BABIP against him.

We still know so little about Caleb Cotham. While the hope remains that the Reds can still cash in on the fourth return for Aroldis Chapman, that looks doubtful until we can see Cotham healthy and pitching at a quality level for a large enough MLB sample size.

You never really know, though. Joe Biagini is a 26-year old reliever for Toronto and is successfully pitching in the MLB for the first time with a 2.25 ERA and 1.21 WHIP after recording pedestrian 4.06 ERA and 1.35 WHIP through the minors; and San Diego has Buddy Baumann, a 28-year old reliever who posted a 2.88 ERA and 1.26 WHIP at Triple-A who is just now pitching in the show after being in the minors since 2009.

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