The last 20 years or so of Reds baseball have provided us countless derivations on a particular theme: the scrub starter. The Reds have been notably bad at developing quality pitchers for a good long while (consider: the best pitching prospect developed by the Reds between Tom Browning in the mid ‘80s to Johnny Cueto in the late ‘00s was Brett Tomko) and so we have had the great displeasure of seeing an absurd chorus line of scrub starters kick their heels on the Cincinnati rubber. Some personal favorites: Joey Hamilton, Chris Michalak, Kirk Saarloos, Adam Pettyjohn, Jerry Gunglesprout, and Danny Serafini.
It seems just about every year, the Reds reach way down to the bottom of the barrel to get one of these scrubs to pick up a start or ten. They look overmatched, they get shelled, and they get waived. It seemed to me that these past few years, Tim Adleman was that guy.
Listen: this guy was drafted in the 24th round in 2010 by the Orioles. He pitched about 150 innings between two seasons for them before they gave him the shitcan. He spent his age-24 and 25 seasons in independent ball. That’s two prime development years living in Lincoln, Nebraska and El Paso, Texas throwing junkballs at high school heroes and deluded jocks. Hell, Timmy himself was probably called that and worse. He spent 2013 playing for the New Jersey Jackals of the Canadian-American Association. As a reliever. He threw well enough to catch the eye of a Reds scout and he signed with Cincy just after the 2013 season ended. But, c’mon: this guy’s pedigree just screeeeaaaams Scrub Starter.
And, well, I guess something happened. He started 2014 with Pensacola and he was good. He spent 2015 with Pensacola again, and again he was good. In 2016, he was good in Louisville. In fact, his career to date in the Reds minor-league system has been really, really good. In almost 300 innings between AA and AAA, his ERA is a shade over 2.50. Last year, he got his first call to the big leagues. At 28 years old, he made it. And, well, he was kinda good. He made 13 starts with an ERA of 4.00.
This season, his spring training was a disaster. He kinda got himself outta whack tinkering around with a fourth pitch. So even though the rotation was notably decimated by injuries and they had to press 40-year-old Bronson Arroyo into service, Adleman started the season in Louisville. Which, I mean, of course. Indyball dude is never given anything. So Tim went down to Louisville and earned himself a spot back in the rotation.
And, well, dang. He has been pretty good. In 3.5 starts (in his first he only threw 57 pitches) he has a solid 4.22 ERA. The Cardinals bopped him around a bit on April 28, but otherwise he has looked good. His K/BB is an impressive 5.0 and his 1.125 WHIP would earn Cy Young votes in a full season. The only concern for him so far has been the longball: he has surrendered five tomaters already. Of course, that is on an absurd 16.7% FB/HR percentage, which is kinda out of whack with everything else. There is a not-crazy-at-all future where this guy, Tim “Straddlin” Adleman, settles in as a solid starting pitcher.
Taking a look over at FanGraphs stabilization page, you see that some of these really good numbers Adleman has put up so far are well within the range of stabilization. His low walk rates and decent strikeout rates have a pretty good confidence number of continuing like this. So far for his career, his WHIP is 1.187, which is Johnny Cueto territory. The batted-ball numbers are gonna need more batters faced to really smooth out, but there is plenty to suggest here that he may well not be a fluke. That concerning home run rate still has some time to settle down, too. And if he can keep a few more of those long fly balls in the park while keeping free passes to a minimum, baby, you got a stew goin’.
Look, I’m not saying this guy is a rotation anchor. But I’m not saying he’s a mirage, either. Hell, Paul Wilson once threw a complete game five-hitter. But in a system that is in the process of sorting through a dozen young and talented arms, they would be wise to give him an honest to goodness shot. For every Eric Milton and Justin Germano, there is a Bronson Arroyo. Well, it’s really more like 20:1. So for every 20 Eric Miltons and Justin Germanos, there is one Bronson Arroyo.