Today we look at the starting pitching rotation.
Possibilities: Josh Ravin, J.C. Sulbaran, Pedro Villarreal, Tyler Cline, Daniel Tuttle, Jacob Johnson, Kyle Lotzkar, Evan Hildenbrandt, Clayton Shunick, Tim Crabbe, Blair Carson, Nick Christiani, Oscar Castro, Justin Walker, Chase Ware, and others to be previewed in the bullpen breakdown.
Projecting the starting pitching rotation is a guessing game virtually every year, and in 2010, it is even more uncertain. The Dragons rotation for most of 2009 featured some combination of Matt Fairel, Curtis Partch, Lance Janke, J.C. Sulbaran, Josh Ravin, and Oscar Castro. During the second half of the season, the Reds farm system was ravaged by injuries, resulting in several pitchers who had started the season in A-ball finishing the year in Triple-A including former Dragons Matt Klinker, Logan Ondrusek, Enerio Del Rosario, Joseph Krebs, and Lee Tabor. The injuries and promotions created a vacuum all the way through the system. During one week in late-summer, the Dragons saw 60 percent of their rotation go to Sarasota when Fairel, Partch, and Janke all moved up. Their replacements performed extremely well as Mark Serrano moved up from Billings and two pitchers were moved from the bullpen to the rotation, Ezequiel Infante and Jordan Hotchkiss, and the results were generally outstanding. As those injured pitchers from 2009 return to action in 2010, the Reds will be faced with some tough decisions on assignments.
The list of 2010 possibilities above includes about four different categories of players: Pitchers with full-season experience who are behind the crowded rotation picture in Lynchburg but could still wind up there or in Dayton (Ravin, Sulbaran, Villarreal); pitchers coming off injuries who hope to show they are healthy and get back on their career tracks (Lotzkar, Hildenbrandt, Shunick, none of whom tossed a single inning in '09); teenage pitchers who showed great promise in the Gulf Coast League in '09 and would skip a level if they made the Dayton roster in '10 (Cline, Johnson, Tuttle); and a miscellaneous group of pitchers who would also figure to be in contention (Castro, Walker, Ware, Crabbe, Carson, Christiani).
There is also a decent chance that, once the Reds get a long look at the group in March, a pitcher listed in our bullpen preview will be judged to fit better as a starter and enter the mix, such as Ezequiel Infante or Jordan Hotchkiss. In total, there are 27 names in the mix for 12 pitching spots, and there is a decent chance that someone not on the list will emerge by the end of spring training.
Josh Ravin showed great improvement with the Dragons in 2009, raising hopes and expectations for 2010 for a pitcher who has always possessed an outstanding arm. Selected by the Reds in the fifth round of the 2006 draft out of national power Chatsworth High School in the Los Angeles area, Ravin's career numbers entering 2009 featured a record of 3-15 with a 7.03 earned run average and 123 walks in 144.2 innings. But in 2009, Ravin seemed to turn the corner. Though his record was just 3-8 in 15 starts, he posted a respectable ERA of 3.67 and limited opposing batters to a combined average of just .220. He also cut his walks to 40 in 81 innings, the best ratio of his career. He demonstrated great improvement with his curve ball and change-up and was a more mature pitcher on the mound. He is hoping to shake off an arm injury that landed him on the disabled list in the second half and continue the progress he showed in 2009. He could begin the year in Lynchburg or Dayton.
J.C. Sulbaran's debut in the Reds organization was eagerly anticipated in 2009 after an encouraging performance in front of a national audience in the World Baseball Classic as a member of Team Netherlands. Sulbaran, a native of the island of Curacao, moved with his family to Miami during his high school career. Concerns about his signability caused him to fall to the 30th round of the 2008 draft, but the Reds were able to get him under contract with a bonus that reportedly approximated what would typically be given to an early third round pick. By the time Sulbaran joined the Reds, he had already garnered international experience in Olympic competition and other tournaments.
Sulbaran joined the Dragons about three weeks into the 2009 season and made 21 starts for the club. He posted a record of 5-5 with a 5.24 earned run average. He had some ups and downs, notching 100 strikeouts in 93 innings but allowing 19 home runs. His roughest outings came July 5 when he failed to retire a batter in the first inning and allowed six runs, and August 16 when he recorded just two outs and allowed nine runs. But he also had several solid starts that provided optimism for the future. Most of all, Sulbaran's season was plagued by inconsistent command. Over a four start stretch June 12-July 5, he issued 15 walks in 10 innings. Then suddenly, over the next three starts, he allowed just two walks in 13.2 innings.
Sulbaran is listed as the 25th best prospect in the Reds organization by Baseball America. He is hoping that the experience gained in 2009 combined with added maturity and more time with Dragons pitching coach Tony Fossas will lead to a big step forward in 2010.
Pedro Villarreal was selected by the Reds in the seventh round of the 2008 draft out of Howard College. He opened the 2009 season in the Gulf Coast League while coming off an injury that had limited him to just two innings in 2008. After five outstanding starts in the GCL, Villarreal jumped two levels as he moved across the property at the Reds Sarasota complex to join the SaraReds of the Florida State League to fill what amounted to an emergency need for an addition arm. He went 0-3 with a 5.46 ERA in 31 innings in a challenging situation for a pitcher who had not faced hitters above Rookie ball. He will be 22 years old for the entire 2010 season and could begin the year in Dayton.
Tyler Cline is the oldest of the trio of teenagers who will try to make the jump from the Gulf Coast League in 2009 to the Dragons in 2010. Cline was the Reds fourth round draft pick in 2008 out of Cass High School in Cartersville, Georgia. After a guest appearance in the GCL in 2008, Cline spent the full season on the complex in Sarasota in 2009 and was outstanding, posting a record of 5-1 with a 2.09 ERA. He limited opposing batters to a .197 average and allowed just two home runs in 60.1 innings. His control was solid with only 21 walks.
Daniel Tuttle is a highly-regarded 19-year-old prospect who was selected by the Reds in the fifth round of the 2009 draft out of Randleman High School in North Carolina. He is listed as the 27th best prospect in the Reds organization by Baseball America and the second highest high school player taken by the Reds in the '09 draft (behind only shortstop Billy Hamilton). Tuttle made nine appearances with the GCL Reds in 2009 and went 1-2 with an outstanding ERA of 1.67. He allowed just six earned runs in 32.1 innings and only one home run. He walked just 10 hitters and struck out 30. Tuttle was a great two-way player in high school who had committed to North Carolina State as a shortstop/pitcher before signing with the Reds.
Jacob Johnson is a 19-year-old right-hander who was an 11th round draft pick of the Reds in 2009 out of Trinity Christian Academy in Lake Worth, Florida. He played in the Gulf Coast League after signing with the Reds and went 2-3 with a 2.76 ERA. Like Cline and Tuttle, he featured excellent control, allowing just 15 walks in 45.2 innings. He is the youngest of the three and the tallest, standing 6'4" and weighing 215 lbs.
Kyle Lotzkar was a supplemental first round draft pick by the Reds in 2007, taken with the 53rd overall pick in the draft out of South Delta High School in Delta, British Columbia, Canada. Lotzkar pitched for the Dragons in 2008 but saw his season end early due to a broken elbow. In 10 starts with the Dragons, Lotzkar went 2-3 with a 3.58 ERA and struck out 50 batters in 37.2 innings. Lotzkar did not throw a pitch in an official game in 2009 due to continued arm problems and eventual "Tommy John" elbow surgery in May. His return date in 2010 is unknown, but Lotzkar is hoping to be ready to go by opening night. He is rated as the #20 prospect in the Reds organization by Baseball America. Lotzkar is still just 20 years old.
Evan Hildenbrandt was signed by the Reds after being selected in the sixth round of the 2007 draft out of the same Canadian province as Lotzkar. Hildenbrandt, now 21 years old, also missed the entire 2009 season due to a right shoulder injury. He showed promise in his first season as a professional in 2008, going a combined 4-3 with a 2.98 ERA in 66.1 innings, mostly with the Reds Gulf Coast League club.
Clayton Shunick was the Reds fifth round draft pick in 2008 out of North Carolina State University. He was a 2nd Team All-American at NC State in the spring of '08, going 7-6 with a 2.76 ERA in 14 starts (the NCSU SID office speculated that Shunick would have gone 13-1 with the same run support provided his team's other starters). Shunick hit a wall after turning professional in 2008 at Billings, going 1-4 with an 8.45 ERA, and in viewing those numbers, the fact that he missed the entire 2009 season with an arm injury raises questions as to whether the injury problems may have begun in '08. As a high school hurler, Shunick was the Georgia 5 A Pitcher of the Year.
Nick Christiani was the Reds 13th round draft pick in 2009 out of Vanderbilt University. He signed too late to pitch in the Reds organization in 2009. At Vanderbilt in '09, Christiani went 6-6 with a 5.00 ERA as a senior. In 2005 as a high school senior, he was the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of New Jersey as he led his team to the state championship.
Tim Crabbe was the Reds 14th round draft pick in 2009 out of Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. Crabbe was 3-8 with a 5.35 ERA as a starting pitcher at NAIA Westmont in the spring of '09. After signing with the Reds, he was assigned to Billings and pitched as a starter there, going 1-7, 4.86 in 14 starts. He struck out 53 hitters in 50 innings.
Blair Carson was the Reds 42nd round draft pick in 2009 out of Anderson University, an NCAA Division II school in South Carolina. At Anderson, Carson set the school record for career home runs and six other hitting categories, prompting his head coach to call him "the best offensive player ever to play at Anderson." In 2009, he hit .346 with 12 HR and 57 RBI as a senior first baseman at Anderson and made 11 starts on the mound, going 4-2 with a 4.63 ERA. The Reds drafted Carson as a pitcher in June. He made four starts with the GCL Reds, going 1-2, 3.94 and then another nine starts with Billings, going 1-5, 4.67. Overall in the Reds organization in 2009, he posted a 4.50 ERA in 68 innings with just 13 walks and 39 strikeouts.
Oscar Castro was signed by the Reds as a 16-year-old free agent from Mexico in December of 2005. He progressed to a point where he spent the entire 2008 season in the Billings starting rotation and had a credible season, going 4-2, 4.14 in 13 starts. He walked just 18 batters in 67 innings. Castro began the 2009 season as the number five starter in the Dragons rotation and remained with the club for most of the year, spending some time in the bullpen due to ineffectiveness. Overall, he went 2-5 with a 7.56 ERA in 16 starts and nine appearances out of the 'pen. In August, he was sent back to Billings and made five starts for the Mustangs, going 1-1, 5.32. He will be 21 years old when the 2010 season begins.
Justin Walker was drafted by the Reds in the 41st round in 2008 out of Lamar University in Texas. He showed pinpoint control with Lamar in the spring of '08 when he walked just seven hitters in 65 innings, going 2-2, 4.85. He split 2009 between Billings and Dayton. With the Mustangs, he was 0-3, 4.75 in 30.1 innings and continued to show exceptional control when he walked only three batters. He was promoted to Dayton and made six appearances including three starts and pitched well, going 1-2 with a 2.39 ERA. Between the two clubs combined in 2009, Walker went 1-5, 3.65 as he worked 56.2 innings, allowing 59 hits with 10 walks and 54 strikeouts. He is the only left-hander on this entire list.
Chase Ware was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Reds out of Arkansas State University following the 2009 draft. At ASU, he made 13 starts in the spring of 2009 and went 5-3 with a 4.22 ERA. After signing with the Reds, he was initially assigned to the Gulf Coast League Reds where he pitched briefly out of the bullpen before being promoted to the Dragons in August. With Dayton, Ware went 1-1 with a 4.13 ERA in nine games including two starts. Like Justin Walker, Ware was proficient at throwing strikes. Between the two pro stops, he walked just 11 hitters in 47.1 innings.
2009 Dragons Starting Pitchers
Matt Fairel: Expected to play at Single-A Lynchburg in 2010 and might even make a run at Carolina with a good spring.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.