Harvesting Opinion is a regular feature on Seedlings to Stars. Each week, a handful of FanSided’s MLB sites send S2S a question relating to their team’s minor league system, and we answer them in this space–each question gets one article devoted to answering it. In this way, we make sure we regularly get to discuss hot-button issues relating to the systems of every team, as we cover the teams in a regular, recurring cycle.
In this edition, we tackle a question sent to us from our Cincinnati Reds blog Blog Red Machine:
The biggest problem for the Reds the past few years has obviously been starting pitching—mainly the lack of a true “ace.” Johnny Cueto stepped up as somewhat of an ace in the 2011 season, but after him, there was next-to-nothing, and as the Tigers just found out, one great starting pitcher does not spell success in the playoffs. My question is, what pitcher right now in the Reds organization has the best chance of becoming the “ace” of the staff, or at least the second-best pitcher behind Cueto?
Corcino, who ranked #75 on my Top 100 Prospects list, actually earns some Cueto comparisons due to his small build and electric arm. Like Cueto, he thus has some durability concerns, which is a negative, but if he can stay healthy, he could become a very similar pitcher with his excellent fastball-slider combination. Corcino, who turned 21 in late August, had a big year with Low-A Dayton this season, striking out 156 and walking just 34 in 139 2/3 innings.
Sulbaran, who some may remember for his excellent performance in the World Baseball Classic a few years ago, has had an up-and-down minor league career, but 2011 was one of the higher points, as he handled the high-offense California League quite well. The 21-year-old struck out 155 batters in 137 innings, and allowed just 10 homers. Another power arm, Sulbaran should be a durable pitcher, but he’ll need to throw more strikes. He walked 50 batters in 2011, which doesn’t seem so bad, but he also hit 14 and uncorked 21 wild pitches. The wildness concerns were enough to keep Sulbaran just off my Top 100 Prospects, but he’s in the next 10.
Lotzkar has possibly the most electric stuff in the system, but he has serious health questions. In his fifth pro season this year, he set a career high with all of 66 2/3 innings. He’s thus probably likely to move to the bullpen at some point to preserve his arm, but if he happens to find a way to stay a starting pitcher, he has some major upside.
All three pitched with either Low-A Dayton or High-A Bakersfield this year, so the earliest any of them could be wearing a Cincinnati uniform would be late 2013. The good news is that the Reds have possibly the best group of position players in the minor leagues, with six in my top 100 prospects overall. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if the pitcher who teams with Cueto at the top of the rotation is somebody who is ultimately acquired via trade.
Of the three guys above, I’d be most optimistic about Corcino, as the other two have significant concerns.
With Sulbaran, it’s the lack of control, which shows up in the hit batters and wild pitches as Nathaniel references. It also appears in his H/9 which, in three minor league seasons, has gone from 9.1 to 8.8 to 9.2, which is too high for a guy with his type of stuff and his kind of arm.
With Lotzkar, it’s the injuries. His elbow has already endured a stress fracture (2007) and a torn ligament (2008) that required surgery. The Reds, I think correctly, worked with him to adjust his mechanics and take some stress off his arm, but adjusting such things can sometimes put stress on the arm in different ways, which can lead to more injuries. He’s already been in the orgnazation for five years, has pitched in four seasons – he missed all of 2009 recovering from Tommy John surgery – has logged just 177.2 IP, and is still a long way from the majors.
Speaking of injuries…While he didn’t figure to be an “ace” at the major league level, I was very high on 2010 6th rounder Andrew Cisco, who the Reds eventually signed for a well-above slot $975,000 bonus. Unfortunately, he didn’t pitch last season due to signing late and didn’t appear in a professional game this season due to an elbow injury that wound up requiring Tommy John surgery this spring.
He’s still just 20 years old and was considered one of the more advanced and polished HS arms from the 2010 draft class. From that standpoint, the surgery shouldn’t set him back too much, but there has to be some concern about how it will impact his stuff. His fastball – generally thrown around 90 mph – already lacked premium velocity. While the pitch has well above average movement, any loss in velocity is sure to adversely impact its effectiveness. A decrease in the pitch speed separation of his fastball and changeup isn’t going to help matters. But the biggest unknown is how the injury and recovery will impact his curveball, which was his best and most advanced pitch in his arsenal.
In a lot of ways, the organization looks to be “Corcino or bust,” but reinforcements are on the way. The Reds used 10 of their first 15 picks in the 2011 draft to bolster their pitching corps and signed all of those arms except for 15th rounder Will Dorton. 3 of their first 4 picks brought in the talented arms of RHP Robert Stephenson (1st round), LHP Tony Cingrani (3rd) and RHP Kyle McMyne (4th).
Stephenson signed too late to debut this season, so he remains an unknown. However, it’s not hard to project him as a front of the rotation starter if he stays healthy. The arsenal, athleticism and intelligence are all a part of his package.
Cingrani was a senior draftee out of Rice University who relied primarily on his mid-90s fastball to get the job done. He’s going to need to develop his secondary pitches as he advances, but there is no question he had one of the best debut seasons of any of pitcher drafted this year. In 13 starts (51.1 IP) he tore apart his Pioneer League competition and finished with a 1.75 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 1.1 BB/9 and 14.0 SO/9.
McMyne, drafted out of Villanova, also has a power arm but his Pioneer League experience (8.00 ERA, 1.85 WHIP, 4.7 BB/9 and 9.0 SO/9) was very different from that of Cingrani.
For more on the Reds, check out Blog Red Machine
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