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Joey Votto is going to walk a lot.

All angles considered, that’s the most certain, positive statement you can make about these Reds, who are running low on familiar faces as they trudge on with their rebuild. Former mainstays like Todd Frazier, Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, and Mike Leake are gone, and others (ahem, Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips) would be too were it not for extenuating circumstances. Votto, then, is the Reds’ Mr. Reliable in multiple senses: He’s been around a long while, yes, but more importantly, you know precisely what you’re going to get—superhuman-like mastery of the strike zone and ability to drive the ball the other way.

But while Votto is dependable and the single player most likely to lift Cincinnati’s spirits during an otherwise glum year, these Reds do have the potential to intrigue for another reason: their absurd amount of young starting pitchers. The catch, the reason for “potential” in the previous sentence, is there’s no guarantee the Reds’ young arms perform well enough to entertain (in the intended sense, anyway).

You’ve probably seen that wild stat floating around about how last year’s Reds sent a rookie to the mound to begin each of their final 64 games (including every contest following the trade deadline). What you might not have seen is how poorly those starters performed, even relative to other youngsters:

Select Statistics of Starters Aged 25 or Younger, 2015:

Team

GS

IP (as SP)

QS%

Braves

151

883

50.3%

Reds

104

547

37.5%

A’s

85

503

56.5%

Indians

79

464

58.2%

Marlins

73

393

45.2%

Generally, we view a team employing young starters as a good thing for their future (and their budget). The Mets just won the pennant on the strength of their flowering rotation; the Indians are a trendy pick this spring because of theirs; the Rays and A’s phoenix-like ascendances often coincide with a rising young rotation; and so on. Yet you couldn’t blame any fan who, after watching the 2015 Reds, entered winter pining for a boring vet or two to balance the risk equation.

The Reds nonetheless stayed the course, opting to enter spring with a projected Opening Day rotation whose most-experienced member has 36 big-league starts, and whose eldest member is a 26-year-old Cuban import with all of 131 innings thrown on American soil—and that includes Arizona Fall League work. (Homer Bailey should return before June, at which point he’ll take over both distinctions. He’s 29 and won’t turn 30 until May.) Dick Williams’ decision is going to lead to some painful stretches, no doubt, but it’s also the right call. The Reds have even more young pitching on the way—most notably top prospects Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed—so it makes sense to use the interim period for exploratory purposes. The mission: find out what the current crop can (or cannot) do before having to shake up roles and/or assignments.

Reds fans are going to tune in regardless of who’s on the bump. For the rest of us, here’s a quick rundown of the four most interesting Reds starters to help determine your viewing habits:

  • The favorite to start on Opening Day, Anthony DeSclafani is miscast as a staff ace. He came over from the Marlins in the Mat Latos trade with the reputation for being a fastball-slider pitcher without a true third offering slash pitch to neutralize lefties. DeSclafani has since introduced a curveball to his arsenal, but it didn’t have the desired effect of keeping his platoon splits in check (lefties hit .268/.341/.443 against him). He’ll keep tinkering, no doubt, hoping to find the answer. Until then, DeSclafani profiles as more of a mid-rotation workhorse than a frontline stopper.

  • The Reds didn’t waste much time with Raisel Iglesias (whom they signed for $27 million the previous June), as he joined the big-league rotation on a permanent basis following six minor-league appearances. Though adjusting to the culture, Iglesias showed promise by throwing strikes, missing bats, and maintaining the arm-slot funkiness that’s certain to earn him comparisons to fellow Cuban righty Orlando Hernandez. As with DeSclafani, the question with Iglesias is whether he can learn to tame lefties. If so, he could improve upon his mid-rotation projection.

  • Part of the Cueto payout, Brandon Finnegan is the biggest wild card in Cincinnati’s deck. He lacks the size you’d expect from a starter, and the Royals had enough doubts about his long-term viability in the rotation to fast-track him as a reliever. The Reds seem committed to giving him a fair shake before returning him to the bullpen, and why not? Finnegan has good stuff and the Reds have gotten results from others of similar height: Cueto, Leake, and Edinson Volquez are each listed within an inch of Finnegan’s “official” 5-foot-11 frame. Worst comes to worst, he can slot in as a late-inning reliever.

  • Another part of the Cueto package, John Lamb has had an up-and-down career: he went from a top prospect to a Tommy John surgery patient to an afterthought to an intriguing bounce-back candidate within the span of a few years. That consistent inconsistency continued during his big-league stint, as he struck out more than 10 batters per nine . . . but also gave up 10 hits, 1.4 home runs, and nearly six earned runs per nine, too. There’s no telling whether Lamb will live up to his back-end projection.

The Reds have a number of other youngsters who are likely to get starts—Michael Lorenzen, Jon Moscot, and Keyvius Sampson, for instance—but the development of DeSclafani, Iglesias, and Finnegan will play the most pivotal part in determining just when the Reds will rejoin the ranks of the competitive. That might not make for a fun 2016, for the Reds or their fans, but the long-term implications should be enough to keep everyone engaged. And if not? Well, there’s always Votto.

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jjackhammers
3/21
What do you think of Cody Reed?
cleavage
3/21
Deserves inclusion in this article as he has more upside than any of those mentioned and is not far off, particularly given the opportunities in this rotation
dgalloway15fish
3/21
Alfredo Simon has a rotation spot locked down.
oldbopper
3/21
When are we going to stop having to read about a pitcher's height? It must be because of that towering guy who heads the Blue Jays rotation, oops, he is 5'8". It must that fireballing right hander of the Royals who uses his 6'10" height to whip it in there somewhere in the, must be a misprint, low 80's. The best pitcher I have ever seen is a Dominican right hander who was 5'10" and weighed 170 and even he had to overcome the absurd bias that hovers over pitchers of his stature. Two organizations convinced themselves that he was too small. I watched that monster, Ron Guidry, all 160 lbs of him, be dominant until he was 34. A guy can either get big league hitters out or he can't. Give 'em the ball, send 'em out there, and find out!