Johnny Cueto was once the best pitcher in the National League Central. Well, twice. He was the best pitcher in the division in a once upon a time sense, as his performances in both 2012 and 2014 pretty well distanced him from the likes of Adam Wainwright and the rest of his competition in that regard.
Having the best pitcher in the division again would both be nice and help the Cincinnati Reds dig themselves out of the cellar of the Central for the first time in forever, obviously. Given how awful the collective whole of the pitching staff has been over the last few years, it would help to correct the single most glaring problem the roster has dealt with during that time, and would go a long way towards letting fans in outfield seats avoid having to dodge dingers every five minutes during games.
Sure, you say. But how the heck do the Reds find that again?
One knowledgeable scribe thinks the Reds might well have that pitcher in place already, and that Luis Castillo is already a verifiable ace. That’s the sentiment from FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan, one that comes complete with requisite evidence, theory, and damn convincing arguments to boot. Castillo, 25, electrified in 2017 when he made the jump to the big leagues for the very first time, blowing away his opposition despite having entered the season with just two-ish handfuls of career professional innings pitched above A-ball. His 100 mph fastball gets the notoriety, but his change - which clocked in at some 10 full mph slower than his average fastball - often made whoever happened to be in the batter’s box that day look stupid, too.
As Sullivan notes, though, it was a different development that Castillo put to work that might well be the biggest secret to his ascension - a sinker, one that effectively gives him two different fastballs with which to turn hitters into goop.
When speaking about a pitcher being an ace, three specific qualities come to mind that are needed for that to be truthful talk. First, that pitcher must keep runs off the board, which Castillo did in his rookie season and has shown the capability of doing in his minors career. Second, said pitcher must have the ability to make opposing hitters look silly while also commanding the strike zone, something Castillo flashed early and often last year. Finally, that pitcher must show the kind of dependability that allows the rest of the roster (and the front office in their decision making) to lean on him, and that’s the lone component lacking from Castillo’s arsenal to date.
Here’s to hoping he puts the finishing touches on that trifecta with a kick-ass 2018.
In related news, Reds manager Bryan Price listed Castillo, Brandon Finnegan, Homer Bailey, and Anthony DeSclafani as four likely locks for the Opening Day starting rotation, as MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon mentioned earlier this week. Of course, three of those were supposed to be rotation cogs last year and that panned out terribly, but the hope is that they can anchor things while the other young arms duke it out for spot number five. Cross your fingers, toes...everything. Just cross everything.
Also from FanGraphs comes their Top 100 prospect list, which was released earlier this week. On it are the regular trio of Nick Senzel, Hunter Greene, and Taylor Trammell, but the fourth member of the Cincinnati farm to crack the list is a player who you might not expect to find there - Jose Siri, fresh off his incredible 2017 season in Dayton. Each of Tyler Mahle, Jose Israel Garcia, Shed Long, and Jesse Winker made the honorable mentions portion, while the likes of Tyler Stephenson, Jeter Downs, and Tanner Rainey made the list of lower-ranked prospects that the FanGraphs prospect evaluators “love.”
Finally, USA Today predicted the Reds will lose 94 games again in 2018, which is a load of horse-hockey. Of course, that’s the USA Today, which knows its ass from its elbow about as well as a milkshake with its shoelaces untied. Of course, the same prognosticator who made that prediction also referred to this year as ‘year 3 of the rebuild,’ and since it’s at least year 4 (and potentially year 5), that probably tells you all you really need to know about that prediction.