While there may only be a handful of handfuls of games left in the 2015 season, the all-rookie rotation rolled out daily by the Cincinnati Reds has somehow found a way to make itself even rookier. On Friday, Brandon Finnegan will take the mound as a starter for the first time in his big league career, and he'll be tasked with taking down what remains of the Milwaukee Brewers up at Miller Park.
Finnegan was taken 17th overall in the 2014 MLB Draft by the Kansas City Royals as a college pitcher out of TCU, and he became the first player ever to pitch in both the College World Series and MLB World Series in the same season when the Royals brought him up to bolster their bullpen. To put in perspective how rapid Finnegan's rise has been, Reds fans can take a casual glance at the college pitcher Cincinnati selected just two picks after Finnegan, as Nick Howard spent the bulk of the 2015 season allowing a run an inning in A ball.
Friday night's game will mark the 48th consecutive game started by a rookie for the Reds - which is already an MLB record - and Finnegan will become the 9th rookie to start a game for the Reds in 2015. The 5'11" lefty is in a bit of a precarious position, however, and he minced few words in saying that the Royals "screwed [him] over this year" when speaking to the Louisville Courier-Journal just over a month after he was sent to Cincinnati as part of the trade package the Reds received in exchange for Johnny Cueto. What he was referring to, I assume, is that the Royals willingness to fast-track him to their bullpen not only prevented him from having a chance to develop as a starter in the minors, but it also started his service time clock earlier than it otherwise would have. In other words, if he's going to ever be developed as a starter in the minors to be groomed for being a big league starter, he's going to have to do so while burning options on a team's 40-man roster, and that kind of burden may well make teams much less inclined to be patient with him.
Fortunately for Finnegan, it appears the Reds are a team that's willing to let him show what he's got as a starter, as it's obvious they're looking long-term at his potential more so than at his disappointing performance with the Louisville Bats since his acquisition. In eight starts with the Bats, he went winless with a 6.23 ERA, but it's obvious the team's goal was to stretch him out for a chance to start for the Reds before the end of the season rather than for him to focus purely on getting runners out.
At least, that's what the Reds have intimated, since they've repeatedly stated that they think he's got the potential to be a starter. And while Finnegan's stature has often been cited as why a bullpen role may inevitably be in his future, there have certainly been plenty of prospect evaluators who think he's got what it takes to be a starter at the major league level.
Ultimately, I'm convinced that Finnegan has the talent and repertoire to be a solid starter in the long run, but I'm worried that the rush to get him to the big leagues in a relief role may have forced him too far down a different path to be able to see that come to fruition. The Cincinnati Reds are in a unique position to be extra patient with him, however, since they've already got an army of near-MLB ready (and MLB rookie) pitchers that are in the mix for 2016 starting rotation spots, and while they certainly hope Finnegan refines his approach enough to claim one of those, they've got ample options to go with instead should they choose to let him come along at a slower pace.
We'll get to see step one in that process on full display for the first time on Friday night.