Entering 2011, the Cincinnati Reds had one of the more bottom-heavy collections of minor league pitching, in that almost all of the starting pitchers in their system that projected as possible impact guys had spent 2010 in short-season ball. Kyle Lotzkar, Ismael Guillon, Wes Mugarian, Jonathan Correa, and Mitchell Clarke headlined the class.
Now that we’re finally at the point of 2011 where short-season ball is well underway, we can finally look at some of these young guys again.
Lotzkar was easily the most-hyped starter prospect in the organization, as he has great stuff and was lights-out in 2010. His career has seen lots of injuries, however, and in 2011, he wasn’t deployed to Low-A until mid-June. He’s made four starts there, and while his 5.66 ERA doesn’t look good, his peripheral stats are solid. If he can just stay healthy from here on out, Lotzkar still projects as an impact pitcher.
Guillon’s thrown just 6 1/3 innings in Advanced-Rookie Billings, but that’s enough to raise serious concerns about his future. Am I jumping the gun? Maybe, but when you walk twelve batters in that timespan, something’s up. Reds fans better hope that it’s just a case of Guillon needing a few starts to settle in, because if not, chances are there’s an injury here. Or, worse yet, Guillon might have a case of the yips. Along with Low-A pitcher Tanner Robles and his 7.16 ERA, Guillon’s struggles really deplete the lefty pitching in the Reds system.
Mugarian falls in a similar boat to Lotzkar–he’s made three starts in Billings with a 6.91 ERA, but he’s struck out 19 in 14 1/3 frames, so his stuff is still there. Just 19, the 2010 fifth-rounder is a nice sleeper in the organization.
Clarke, another lefty, has been moved to relief duty in Billings, but he’s still thrown seven innings across two appearances, so he may be working in a tandem situation, or perhaps he’s being stretched out. From what little can be gleaned from such a small sample, he’s doing quite well. At this rate, he might wind up the top lefty pitching prospect in the organization before the year is out, at least among non-2011 draftees.
Correa, meanwhile, hasn’t pitched in 2011 at all, for undisclosed reasons. He’s just 20, so if he doesn’t pitch this year, it’s not the end of the world, but still, it’s never good for a prospect to lose a season.
Ultimately, the Reds and their fans are certainly seeing the costs and benefits of having their pitching prospects concentrated in the low minors. It’s nice to get an infusion of talent through the draft and international signings, but things can go awry in a hurry. Robles, Guillon, and Correa all had big 2010s, and one year later, the status of all three is highly uncertain.
That said, it’s certainly not entirely a lost cause, given that Mugarian, Lotzkar, and Clarke are throwing well, upper-minors reliever Brad Boxberger has bounced back after a terrible 2010 second half, J.C. Sulbaran and Josh Ravin have handled the Cal League about as well as one could reasonably expect, and Josh Smith, Daniel Corcino, and Daniel Renken have all had breakout years in Low-A.
All in all, the upward and downward movement in the system really just goes to show that with minor league pitching, what you see on paper in March is almost always radically different by July, let alone the next March.