Rotation Depth

Recently the Reds 2013 rotation has been confirmed, but it was done in a way that leaves some question on who will be their #6 if needed. It was only needed one time in 2012, but everyone wants some depth behind the opening day rotation to address unexpected needs. The top to candidates for Cincinnati are a couple of prospects making AAA debuts this year.

Countdown to opening day: 8 days. The projected rotation for the Reds has changed over the past couple of days with the announcement that Aroldis Chapman will abort his conversion to a starting and continue to close. It's still solid with everyone returning from a quintet that took the hill 161 times last year, however it's probably a bit too much to ask them to do that for consecutive seasons. They were fortunate to avoid injury bugs, at least until the playoffs, but over a 162 game schedule more likely than not a sixth or even seventh starter will be called upon. The lone start going to others in 2012 was when Todd Redmond ran out for the back end of a double header and he is now in the Orioles organization.

For most of the offseason those going on the assumption that Chapman would start expected plenty of depth. Now that Mike Leake has moved up a slot back into his #5 role depth beyond that is uncertain. That's not to say it isn't in good hands because two prospects at Louisville are no strangers to MLB top 100 lists. Still, they have yet to debut against savvier AAA hitters and there's no guarantee how fast they will continue development.

At the top of the list is Tony Cingrani, assuming the Reds won't use him in the bullpen. Statements made by GM Walt Jocketty during the offseason indicate that they prefer he continue developing as a starter after he had probably the best season of any minor league pitcher in all of baseball last year starting in high-A and finishing as an expansion call-up. He struggled starting early in his collegiate career before becoming a lights-out closer for Rice University. The Reds probably envisioned him returning to the rotation when they invested a third round selection in 2011 and thus far he's made their prognosis look good. They were careful to limit his innings at first but last season he averaged 5 2/3 per appearance. His walk rate was high after reaching AA but he was able to offset that with a strikeout rate above one per inning. He had excellent command at the lower levels and atop his agenda is showing it again against International League hitters while continuing development of off-speed pitches.

Dominican Daniel Corcino has often drawn comparisons to current Reds ace Johnny Cueto because of his background and physique. Had the Reds rotation been as lean as it was in 08 they might have considered skipping him over AAA like they did Cueto when he was Corcino's current age of twenty-two. His walk rate was also a bit high at Pensacola but that was no surprise after skipping high-A and his command improved over the season.

Pedro Villarreal might not be the most heralded of the prospects, but he's got more AAA experience. In 2012 he spent most of the year at Louisville after an early promotion and acquitted himself decently with an ERA under four until he got knocked around late in the season. The 25 year-old also made a MLB debut in 2012.

Relievers Sam LeCure, Afredo Simon, and Manny Para are on the 40-man roster and have started MLB games in the past. LeCure or Simon might be a quick fix for a turn or two without making a change to the roster. It's not certain if Parra will be on the active roster. He appeared to be a good candidate for an additional southpaw before the announcement that Chapman was returning to the bullpen.

It's common for AAA spots to be occupied by MLB veterans trying to hold onto a career and one of them this season with the Reds is Armando Galarraga. The 31 year-old has 91 MLB starts on his resume, mostly with Detroit. He finished in the top five for AL Rookie of the Year in 2008, but has yet to match his success of that season. Of course his name will forever be a dubious absence from the history books because of a blown umpire call costing him a perfect game on the last out. Coincidentally the batter receiving the fortuitous ruling was current Reds teammate Jason Donald.

30 year-old veteran farmhand Chad Reineke has thrown an inning at spring training. With the confirmation of Leake's return to the Reds he should be able to grab a spot at the back end of the Louisville rotation. Reineke had a brief call-up to Cincinnati in 2011.

On paper J.J. Hoover looks like a candidate to vie for a rotation spot. He offers plenty of variety in his pitches and command has been there. Of course everyone knows that games are played on the field and not on paper and he's been more effective since the Braves moved him into the bullpen. He's still trying to establish a MLB career in spite of a successful rookie season and one day he might give it another shot. Unfortunately for him that avenue probably won't be available in 2013 because injuries are unpredictable and they would likely prefer stretching him out for a couple of appearances before handing him the ball to start any major league games.

Of course Mark Prior is in camp too. Anyone betting on him getting a start this season is probably a person that can't resist putting a couple of bucks on a 99-1 entry at horse track. However long shots do come in every now and then. Prior was an elite pitcher once upon a time and he hasn't given up on his attempt to return.

Ismael Guillon and Kyle Lotzkar are also on the 40-man, but only to protect against the Rule 5 draft instead of expectations that they will be ready to face MLB hitters in 2013.

If the rotation supplied 161 starts in 2012 that's proof they can do it again. They still needed someone else to take one turn and more likely than not at least a handful more will go to some of the candidates above in 2013. Reds management is hopeful that the need will be minimal and if not the two top prospects have been effective at every level faced thus far. If they establish good command early in the season it will offer a sigh of relief in case one of them needs to be called up later. For the time being everyone should be happy waiting to see if the 2012 rotation can duplicate a splendid season.

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