The Reds entered the 2023 season with a trio of young starters — Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Graham Ashcraft — headlining their rotation, as well as a rookie third baseman (Spencer Steer) and a closer entering just his second big league season (Alexis Diaz). None of that quintet had more than a year of Major League service time. Ashcraft and Steer both had less than one full year. The Reds might’ve spent a small amount on veteran free agents this offseason (e.g. Wil Myers, Luke Weaver, Curt Casali, Luke Maile), but one look at the roster left little doubt this was a rebuilding team.
Six weeks into the season, the youth movement has brokered mixed results. Greene and Ashcraft (Sunday’s meltdown notwithstanding) have both looked impressive in the rotation. Diaz is doing his best impression of his older brother, striking out a stunning 51.2% of his opponents through 11 innings. Steer has delivered roughly league-average offense and shown some versatility, beginning to take regular reps at first base with Myers and Joey Votto both on the injured list. Lodolo has been extraordinarily homer-prone, but his strikeout and walk rates are every bit as encouraging as they were during a strong rookie effort in 2022.
Cincinnati fans are getting a glimpse at the hopeful future core for the Reds, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that more youthful reinforcements are — or should be — on the horizon. The Reds have every reason to let Lodolo try to sort through his homer woes at the big league level, but the fourth and fifth spots of the rotation are another story entirely. Those have been occupied by veterans Weaver and the just minutes-ago-DFA’d Luis Cessa for the bulk of the season, and the results rather unsurprisingly haven’t been good.
Weaver has made just three starts to Cessa’s six, and while a 7.88 ERA doesn’t inspire any confidence, Weaver has at least posted a 26% strikeout rate against an 8.2% walk rate. They’re both better than average marks — the strikeout rate in particular. Like Lodolo (and many other Reds hurlers who have the challenge of pitching at Great American Ball Park), Weaver’s home run rate is through the roof (2.81 HR/9). The Reds spent a couple million dollars to sign him as a free agent, and Weaver’s only had three starts. Ugly as they’ve been, he’ll get another few turns, even if the leash is (or should be) short.
Cessa’s spot seemed far more vulnerable. (Hence the bulk of this piece already having been written just prior to his DFA… thanks for prompting some last-minute rewrites, Reds!) In six starts, he allowed an earned run per inning, walked more batters than he struck out, and was moved to the bullpen for his most recent appearance. He didn’t start a single game from 2019-21, making the Reds’ decision to move him into the rotation last year and then to guarantee him a 2023 rotation spot a rather peculiar one.
Cessa posted a pedestrian 4.30 ERA in ten starts last season with an even less-encouraging 5.02 FIP. That might’ve made him a fine sixth or seventh starting option, but the Reds opted to only sign Weaver this offseason and leave the rotation largely unaddressed. Veteran Chase Anderson was re-signed on a minor league deal, but he’s already been traded to the Rays after triggering an opt-out in his contract. Right-hander Ben Lively was re-signed to a minor league deal, and the Reds selected him to the roster today alongside fellow offseason journeyman pickup Kevin Herget.
It’s not clear whether the 31-year-old Lively and 32-year-old Herget are short-term stopgaps or will get an actual look on the roster in the coming weeks, but even before this afternoon’s slate of moves, the crux of this argument has been that the Reds have more interesting options than the veterans they’ve plugged into the fourth and fifth spots of the rotation thus far. The promotions of Lively and Herget don’t change that.
Lefty Brandon Williamson and right-hander Levi Stoudt both came to Cincinnati by way of trade with the Mariners, coming over in the Jesse Winker/Eugenio Suarez and Luis Castillo trades, respectively. Neither has dominated in Triple-A to begin the season, though Stoudt did make his MLB debut in a spot start last month. Williamson, currently sporting an ERA north of 7.00 in 28 1/3 Triple-A frames, has not yet pitched in the big leagues. It’s worth noting that nearly all the damage against him came in one start, where he did not escape the first inning against the Cubs’ top affiliate and was thrashed for eight runs. Stoudt needs to improve upon the poor command he’s shown in Louisville before getting a real look in the big leagues.
The Reds have one particular minor league powerhouse who looks on the cusp of MLB readiness, however: left-hander Andrew Abbott. The 2021 second-round pick has skyrocketed through the minor leagues, reaching Double-A last year as a 23-year-old in his first full professional season and then overpowering both Double-A and Triple-A opponents early in the 2023 season.
Abbott opened the current campaign with 15 2/3 innings in Double-A, allowing just two runs on six hits and three walks with an astonishing 36 strikeouts. That’s not a typo; Abbott fanned a comical 64.3% of his opponents in those three Double-A starts before the Reds rather naturally jumped him to Triple-A. He hasn’t continued on at that deity-like pace at the top minor league level … he’s “merely” posted a 3.00 ERA with a 38.7% strikeout rate in another 15 innings of work. All in all, Abbott has 30 2/3 innings of 2.05 ERA ball with an eye-popping 50.8% strikeout rate to go along with a 7.6% walk rate, 41.5% ground-ball rate and 0.88 HR/9 mark.
The 23-year-old Abbott’s most recent start just happened to fall on Sunday, which would line him up to be fully rested come Saturday, when the Reds’ listed starter is TBD. That had been Cessa’s spot in the rotation, but Cincinnati opted to start Ashcraft on four days’ rest instead of giving Cessa his usual turn. (Ashcraft was blasted for eight runs in 1 2/3 innings.) It’s always possible that they’ll look into alternatives for the time being, preferring to give Abbott more seasoning and hold off on adding him to the 40-man roster just yet. But each of Williamson (May 5), Stoudt (May 6) and Herget (May 4) saw their most recent starts fall on a date that would line them up to pitch between now and Saturday.
If the Reds are indeed going to tap into their farm to make a change, Abbott is not only the best option in terms of 2023 performance — he’s also the starter who’s likeliest to be on full rest and ready to make that start. Even if Cincinnati bypasses him in favor of Lively or Herget this coming weekend, he’s already made the clear case that he’s a better option for the big league rotation than either Weaver or Cessa. And assuming Williamson can continue to shake off the impact of that catastrophic outing against the Cubs’ Iowa club — he rebounded with a quality start in his next appearance — it might not be long before either he or Stoudt stakes a claim to the fifth spot.
Going with a youth-forward rotation obviously has its pitfalls, but the Reds’ lack of offseason activity on the starting pitching front — both in terms of established big league starters and even in terms of veteran depth on minor league deals — clearly set the stage for that to eventually be the case in 2023. It’s not hard to imagine the Reds rolling with five starters who have under two years of big league service by sometime next month, if not sooner. The next step in the process should come this weekend. It’s only six starts, but Abbott looks like one of the organization’s four best rotation options at this point. Today’s moves might have added some fresh arms in Lively and Herget, but plugging either into the rotation would only continue treading water as they were with Cessa.
Maybe I’m missing something, but wouldn’t Ashcraft normally start on four days rest?
the reds do have some good home grown talent. But they suck at bringing in FA that contribute. OR trades that bring prospects that work out. Im speaking of recent transactions. I am a Fraley fan.
I like Jake Fraley, too and have watched him closely since his Mariner days. I actually think Jake Fraley, Taylor Motter and Ben Gamel are all the same person. Is there any other reason you never see them together in the same room. The fact they all have Seattle ties clinches the argument in my book.
I they don’t spend enough money. I don’t understand how teams like the rays, reds, Bucs etc. spend so little money. In the NHL the cap is around 83 mil and almost every team is withing a few million of that mark. MLB has twice as many home games and these teams spend half of what NHL teams do.there are 6 teams in the MLB that don’t even spend 70 with most of those 6 teams under 60 while 28 of the 32 NHL teams spent over 79 and every team out spent the bottom 6 MLB teams
This one belongs to the Reds
Easy. The NHL like most sports have a level playing field when it comes to income because if a salary cap and total revenue sharing.
MLB has none of those.
This one belongs to the Reds
The first two pitchers the Reds face in the upcoming homestand make more this season than the Reds whole roster does.
Think about that.
I would argue the Reds spend plenty of money, but don’t spend it wisely. Just for starters and without going manuscript length, a team like the Reds should NEVER have an OLDER 200+ million dollar player like Joey Votto. You don’t see the Astros or Rays signing one tool players to 200+ million dollar deals. You may notice, the Ray’s ONLY 200 million dollar player(Franco) is only 22 and has SEVERAL tools.
This one belongs to the Reds
Except at the end of that contract, he will be an older high contract player!
They are never older until the end of it.
Foolishly all teams have the highest salaries at the end rather than the beginning or at the very least do a bell curve.
1b/DH types haven’t commanded that type of money in several yrs and for a small market team, carrying that sort of contract is CRAZY risky(see Homer Bailey), if the guy isn’t named “Ohtani”.
Except when they signed the $200mil player he was 28, hitting .300 with 30 HRs a year, and had just won an NL MVP
Votto has earned every cent he’s been paid
No way. His last four out of five years have killed the Reds. He’s not a leader. He’s not a good fielder. He was good early on. He has faded miserably. Good riddance.
Joey Votto was *not* a one tool player! At the very least, he was excellent at TWO different tools, hitting for contact and hitting for power. If plate discipline counts as a 6th tool, he also had that one as well.
I remember when the Reds has Votto, Phillips and Cozart (and Rolen) and everyone thought Cincy’s infield was set forever. Seems like 1000 years ago now.
And teams like the Padres are exacerbating the problem with 12-15 year contracts, ensuring that guys will be paid huge coin at an advanced baseball age.
Yes, the payrolls are more uneven in MLB, but you’re exaggerating with false numbers. Only 5 MLB teams (one of them just barely) are spending less than that $83M NHL salary cap figure, and only one (no prizes for guessing which one) is under $60M.
As a Twins fan I have to disagree. Steer and CES look like they could hold down the corners of your IF for the next 5-10 season. For 8-10 starts from Mahle. right now I’d say you did very well on that trade. Gray trade is hard to say. Especially if the Twins put a QO on him this offseason.
The free agency part is purely because ownership doesn’t want to spend the money but we’ve seen under the old gm Williams that if you spend they’ll come. But recent prospect trades have looked great so far Mahle for CES and Steer, Castillo is an ace but they got an amazing haul for him while I don’t know how high Noelvi Marte ceiling is he’s sure looks to be at least an average to potentially above average player, Edwin Arroyo has the makeup and potential to be a top ten prospect in all the MLB and Stoudt above. They fleeced the Mets for Hector Rodriguez who is extremely young but could be something. So I would disagree with the second part
What did the Reds get back on a trade from the Tigers a couple of years ago?
Hoof, literally 2 of our top 3 and 6/11 prospects came by way of trade.
The Reds and Dbacks are the two teams relying on multiple rookie starters this year. Both have promising youngsters who need to be allowed to take their lumps in MLB starting rotations as part of their development.
For the Dbacks, Brandon Pfaadt was just promoted despite few AAA starts. Reds should do the same with Abbott. Dbacks may double down on these rapid promotions by bring up Blake Walston, should the need arise, in the second half of the season.
I have more faith in AZ’s ability to develop those pitchers than I do in Cincinnati’s. The Reds are a little bit like the Rockies in the way they operate. They just see and do things differently. I’m all for innovation and thinking outside the box, but the Reds’ track record doesn’t suggest that they are particularly good at what they do.
I will go ahead and say that yes, I’m a Cardinals fan. No, I wouldn’t trust the Cardinals organization to run a bake sale, much less develop young arms.
Except the reds have done a pretty decent job at developing pitchers. But go off my guy.
I think the key word is “decent.” I wouldn’t say they’ve been particularly good, but not horrible either. They’re not in the same realm as Houston, Tampa Bay, Milwaukee, LA Dodgers, Seattle at developing pitchers… not sure if I’m missing any obvious ones.
Cleveland. Yankees with Matt Blake (stole him from Cleveland). Baltimore is working on it as are the Cubs. Angels are trying.
Yep, definitely Cleveland. They might be top of the class at it, honestly.
Oh good job on your comparisons when 3 of your 5 examples have all been to a ws in the last 5 years, trying to compare them to the reds organization. Lmao don’t even respond bc you’re an idiot.
Lmao that’s the dumbest reply ever. Teams who are really good at developing pitchers make the World Series? Who knew! Team who is decent at developing pitchers hasn’t made the playoffs in awhile? Also, shocking.
If you think the Reds are in the same realm as those teams at developing pitching, it’s clear you don’t watch baseball. Luckily, it’s like you proved my point for me– just not sure why you simulatenously tried to insult me while doing so. Illogical. Use your brain.
It’s kinda pathetic how mad you are lol you can’t even have a calm conversation about a statement I made in which I didn’t even attack your favorite team.
And no, I think I’ll keep replying because I’m not breaking any rules. Careful you don’t get banned, though.
Who’s mad? It’s funny when you losers think people are mad simply bc they point out your stupidity.
How can I tell you’re mad? Easy. Two examples:
“Lmao don’t even respond bc you’re an idiot”
“I told your dumb ass not to respond”
Normal people don’t type that way unless they’re mad or bothered in some way (or a troll, which would just mean you aren’t normal, I guess). Your feelings were hurt enough that you couldn’t interact like a regular member of society by having a conversation and instead decided to be aggressive for some reason, despite proving my point for me.
So yeah, either you’re mad that myself and two others agree that Cincy is just “decent” at developing pitchers or your feelings are hurt that we don’t think your team is as awesome as you do.
By the way, it looks goofy telling someone not to reply, then replying twice more. You’re so triggered you just can’t help yourself? Cue the “nope, just like making idiots like you look dumb” or a comment similar in content even though you proved my point, if anything.
By the way Scott, congrats on a nice start to the season. I enjoy watching your team play. Since the Cardinals are basically unwatchable, I plan on spending more time watching other good young teams this season. Good luck the rest of the way.
The Dbacks offense is everything we thought/hoped it would be, including the depth they’ve already tapped in to. As is the defense. They are carrying the team right now.
The Dbacks starting pitching went to the rookies much earlier in the season than we anticipated, and the young pitchers are struggling to get their feet under them. But it’s fun to see them develop.
The bullpen was just OK for a while, but lately has looked like last year’s disastrous group. The current group will determine the success/failure of the season. If they can get back to just OK, the Dbacks will make the post-season. It will be interesting to see what, if anything the Dbacks do at the Trade Deadline? I hope they pull off another blockbuster deal for a legitimate, long term closer. Otherwise they’ll need to rely on the current group, plus the return of Mark Melancon and the development of prospects like Jameson, Cecconi and Vargas in the bullpen.
Screw pitchers, bring up CES!
He sure looks ready. McClain looks to be close to a call up as well along with Abbott. No need to rush any of the three. Let them all get their feet on the ground at AAA.
McLain should have broke camp in big league squad by comparison. He’s better than Newman or Garcia already.
Hoof, 2 of their top 3 prospects came in trades as well as 6/11 not counting Steer.
Reds have some very interesting young potential cornerstone players, with more about to come up.
The future depends on how the coaching staff works with them – the same as an other young team.
This one belongs to the Reds
Writer nailed it. Abbott is the only one on the farm who has shown he would be ready. That includes the guys they just brought up in my opinion.
They blew it not bring in a veteran starter or two for this season to teach the young pitchers. Weaver doesn’t count, he has not much more a track record than the others.
Like Crash said, they’re gonna rip you at times, don’t worry about it.
These guys will take some lumps before they learn because they will have to do it the hard way with no veteran guidance.
Complaining about a veteran backup Catcher is silly. The Reds brought in players hoping they would be able to flip at the deadline. Weaver has been awful (not surprising) and Myers has been decent with time to improve. None of the players mentioned are blocking anyone from playing time
The title was that the Reds should expand their youth movement. Fair enough. But they acknowledged that Stoudt & Williamson have basically stunk, leaving only Abbott, an unranked SP with 15 IPs in AAA.
Was that the point of this rather long article-that an SP with 15 IPs in AAA is a youth movement? My personal opinion is that they need him to establish himself a lot more than 15 innings. He’s basically proven almost nothing. But even with that, suggesting that Abbott should be promoted isn’t worth an article this long. There might be 100-200 prospects just as promotion-worthy.
What is rarely talked about is the MiLB is experimenting with a “pre-tack ball”. All of Abbot’s starts have been with this baseball except for his most recent one – “regular baseball” result was 5inn/3er….
Where are you getting that information from?
MiLB was testing it a bit in 2022. I’ve seen no articles stating that it’s being used extensively in 2023.
Mostly correct, the 3 starts in AAA are not tack balls, but the few in AA starts were.
Experimental ball is being used in Southern League only, where Abbott made those first three starts with a 20.7 K/9 – which is impressive, though maybe slightly less so when you consider the league average is 11.4. Anyway, he’s always been a strikeout pitcher but still considered more of a back-end starter for MLB given his stuff, which has graded out at 92 (100 being average) in his three AAA starts according to Eno Sarris’ model (average fastball velocity 92 mph) .
Did I read you right? 20.7 Ks per 9?
Forget the pitchers, call up Matt McLain.
CES has definitely earned a call-up but it creates a potential problem with Myers, Votto, Stephenson and and 2 other catchers all on the roster. That problem will probably resolve itself by the trade deadline if not sooner. For now, seems like they’re still giving deference to Votto to let him come back if and when he thinks he can still play.
Reds rotation should be descafani Josiah Gray + other 3 youngsters. That 5 plus Diaz and sims makes a contender in nl central. But reds ownership is terrible so they waste their money on players like moose and trade away gray for puig
The Red should expand their youth movement to 2042.
It’s impressive how Reds fans seem to always see the dark cloud in every silver lining. Fact is the Reds are somewhat competitive now, with a bunch of very talented prospects just about ready to begin their ML careers. Under Krall, Reds have drafted well and come out ahead in most of the trades they’ve made recently. I actually have confidence- and believe Reds management is worthy of a little praise and some patience- in executing their rebuild this time.
Completely agree cguy..
Hi cguy. I know what you mean and agree better days may be ahead next season but in our defense we have not been seriously relevant since 1990 so there is that.