Solid starting pitching can turn any franchise into a contender, and the Cincinnati Reds have stockpiled arms with the intent of making the future bright well beyond 2016.
Before the 1985 baseball season, Kansas City Royals manager Dick Howser told the spring training press corps “we’ll go as far as our starting pitching will take us.” Granted, it took a well-timed bad call from umpire Don Denkinger in Game Six, but the Royals starting pitching took them to a World Series championship.
That won’t happen this year for the Cincinnati Reds. But the memory of the Johnny Cueto trade and other developmental moves made by team president Walt Jocketty and the front office should pay dividends.
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The Cueto trade brought John Lamb and Brandon Finnegan, who became a household name in Kansas City in the 2014 postseason. The jury’s still out on whether either of them will be a starter or reliever in the long term, but both are more than capable of becoming innings eaters over the long haul. Finnegan seemed to need some time to adjust to the business side of baseball. Going from a contender to a rebuilding franchise can take the wind out of a player’s sails for while, and he seems to have moved on from that initial shock.
Add those two to the places already in place, in Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias, and its easy to imagine that starting rotation being in place by the end of this year. Lorenzen is a bit of a question mark, on the 60-day disabled list with an elbow injury, and Lamb needs to get the opportunity to stake his claim on a rotation spot. But Cincinnati could do a lot worse than these guys going forward.
For the Reds to get into contention sooner rather than later, Billy Hamilton must raise his on-base percentage. The exciting part about Hamilton’s well-known ability to steal bases isn’t that he’s swiped 56 and 57 bases in the last two full seasons, or that his career-high last season came in just 114 games. What should have Reds fans fired up is Hamilton was caught stealing just eight times last year. Physically, he won’t remind anyone of Rickey Henderson or Vince Coleman, but with the right offensive support he should break 100 steals in a season within the next five years, probably sooner.
Zack Cozart and Eugenio Suarez are well-positioned to handle the left side of the Reds infield, hitting better than .300 to start the 2016 season, and Suarez showing the occasional flair for the dramatic. Tucker Barnhart has taken over behind the plate for the departed Ryan Hanigan, and with Devin Mesoraco out for the year, this is Barnhart’s time to shine.
So while the Reds won’t catch the Chicago Cubs this season (it’s easy to wonder if anyone will in the NL Central), and won’t be contenders with the PIttsburgh Pirates or St. Louis Cardinals in the immediate future, with about half the active roster in the 30-and-under category, there’s reason for optimism in the Queen City.