Top 30 Cincinnati Prospects: No. 8

David Holmberg got off to a rough start in his first season with Cincinnati, but salvaged it with a strong finish including some solid outings with the Reds after roster expansion. Now in year two he will vie for a spot in the rebuilt Reds rotation.

As this countdown winds down it will be dominated by pitchers occupying seven of the final eight spots. First up is David Holmberg who came into the Cincinnati system one year ago in exchange for Ryan Hanigan. The big (6’3”/225#) southpaw was one of the higher-rated prospects in the Arizona system and profiled as an innings-eater at the MLB level. At that time he figured to spend most of his time at Louisville awaiting the first call for rotation help from the parent team. Unfortunately a quick glance at Holmberg’s 2014 stat line might give an impression that he turned in a clunker in year one with Cincinnati.

He got off to a slow start with the Bats where he finished up the season with a mid-four ERA. In spite of that, injuries in the Reds rotation gave him a couple of MLB starts where he was lit up twice and failed to make it out of third inning. It was a different story when he made it back up after roster expansion however with a sub-two September ernie over 25 MLB innings.

It’s nowhere close to time for lamenting the trade. Hanigan had been a solid, underrated catcher for the Reds for a long time, but it appears he’s in the sunset of his career and Devin Mesoraco’s would have grabbed the lion’s share of catching duties regardless who else was on the roster. More importantly is that Holmberg is still only 23 years old, young for the International League last year where he improved over the course of the season. He went from being bloodied for 20 ER/13.1 IP in his first four starts to 6 ER/31 IP (1.74 ERA) over his next six.

After that his season was interrupted by the I-71 shuttle between Louisville and Cincinnati. His next seven IL games were hit-and-miss over which his ERA was a couple of ticks under four. Three of them were quality starts and he gave up only two and one runs in a couple of others when he did not finish the sixth inning. Overall it appears like his problem wasn’t as much ineffectiveness as it was inconsistency, something that could have been predicted of a 22 year-old debuting in AAA.

Cincinnati is actually the third organization to employ Holmberg after the White Sox drafted him out of a Florida high school with a second round pick in 2009. However, even though he’s “gotten around” he hasn’t “bounced around” because both moves came from transactions involving established MLB veterans. A solid 2013 season at AA Mobile probably got Cincinnati’s attention when he posted a 2.75 ERA while racking up over 150 IP as a 21 year-old. It was almost a full run less than he did with the Bay Bears in the last half of the previous season after a strong start at high-A Visalia earned a promotion.

Holmberg has worked his way through the minors with a finesse game on the mound and a four-seam fastball that tops out in the low-90’s. His strongest pitch is a change-up that arrives in the low-80’s with good drop. He also varies the speed on his fastball with a sinker and mixes in a curveball and slider that are both effective when he’s sharp. He profiles with good command coming out of a smooth three-quarter delivery that projects good durability.

Though he’s coming off a marginal season, his age and finish give good reason for excitement with this prospect. The next challenge for Holmberg is to take ownership of the five-man job in the Reds rotation. Right now it appears he’s probably on the outside looking in behind Mat Latos trade return Anthony DeSclafani. If Tony Cingrani is able to rebound from an injury-riddled sophomore season to regain a rotation spot there may be less interested in a second left-hander. However what, if any, distance he trails can be overcome with a strong spring training. .

Still, bottom line is that the Cincinnati will replace two rotation spots and there is no shortage of question marks with the candidates. Injuries likely affected Cingrani last year, but there’s also concern that MLB hitters are catching up to an overdependence on his fastball. DeSclafani and Matt Magill are unproven at the MLB level. Dylan Axelrod had a few nice outings, but his previous experience led to a departure from the White Sox organization. Cuban defector Raisel Inglesias is a wild card that may end up in the bullpen. On top of that, Homer Bailey has yet to throw off the mound after an offseason surgery for an elbow injury that truncated his season and readiness for opening day is not a lock. Holmberg projects command, pitch variety, and durability; add in some MLB savvy and he may become a left-handed version of Bronson Arroyo. It will be interesting to see if he can start down that road in spring training this year.

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