Analyzing the Strengths and Weakness of the Reds' Top 5 Pitching Prospects
Of those nine prospects, only one is a can't-miss starter. That young man, Robert Stephenson, headlines the group of starters we'll analyze in this piece.
The rest of the group—and even Stephenson at times—displays notable strengths and weaknesses, some of which will have a defining impact on their career paths as they trek through the minor leagues. Over the next few slides, we'll look at the team's top five pitchers—as determined by my rankings (linked above)—and take a look at their specific strengths and weaknesses as they appear in video study.
We'll kick things off with a 22-year-old righty who is flat-out dominating older batters in the hitter friendly California league, Ben Lively.
5. Ben Lively
DOB: 03/05/1992 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6'4", 190 pounds
Drafted: Fourth Round, 2013 (University of Central Florida)
Deception. Ben Lively's greatest strength is deception. The 22-year-old does a solid job of hiding the ball, leading to the easy Tony Cingrani comparison. Lively has a significant leg up over the current Reds' starter though, as he works with a deeper arsenal and better fastball.
Lively boasts a low-90s fastball, which is an above-average offering. His slider represents a second above-average option at maturity.
Though he was solid last season, Lively has really figured things out in 2014. In his first full season as a starter, Lively has averaged just over six innings per start, and the UCF product is absolutely dominating the hitter friendly California League.
Lively has a rather long arm motion and his delivery does involve slightly more effort than you would like to see from a starting pitcher
These two factors lead to inconsistencies in Lively's release point. The inconsistencies in his throwing motion and release point haven't manifested themselves into any legitimate problems this season, but one has to wonder how he'll fare as he moves up the minor league ladder to face older, more experienced batters.
4. Nick Travieso
DOB: 01/31/1994 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 6'2", 215 pounds
Drafted: First Round, 2012 (Archbishop High School, Fla.)
Travieso has a thick, durable build. The 20-year-old is naturally strong and can generate mid-90s velocity on his fastball with very little effort.
The Florida prep product also works with an average slider that flashes above average at times.
Travieso's command may be his best trait. Given his age, it's impressive how he's able to work his pitches to any part of the plate. He's able to change a hitter's eye level and that should play well in his favor as he continues to develop his slider and changeup.
Travieso's biggest weakness is his below-average changeup. The pitch is improving—he didn't use it much as a high schooler—but it still has a significant way to go before becoming a sufficient big league offering.
Travieso occasionally loses velocity when he gets lazy with his lower half. Though he has strong legs, and the ability to sit 92-95 with his fastball for an entire outing, he, at times, forgets to involve his lower half and can dip down into the high 80s.
3. Carlos Contreras
DOB: 01/08/1991 (Age: 23)
Height/Weight: 5'11", 205 pounds
Carlos Contreras' biggest strength is his plus fastball. The pitch sits in the low 90s and has good arm-side life, running in on right-handed batters. His changeup functions as a second plus pitch and features good fading action.
Despite a 5'11", 205-pound frame, Contreras is durable enough to function as a starter. In 2013, Contreras set a career high in innings pitched, logging 132.1 innings pitched between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola.
Contreras has the potential to work as a mid-rotation starter depending on the improvement in his command and his average slider. Even if he misses out on fulfilling that potential though, he could serve as a high-leverage reliever, where his fastball can play as a plus-plus pitch.
Contreras has a long, looping arm action and it causes him to be inconsistent with his release point. Inconsistencies with release points lead to command and control issues, and Contreras has both—career 4.7 BB/9 and 5.2 BB/9 in 2014.
Contreras' control issues have held him back from being able to work deep into games. Though he logged a 132.1 innings last year in his first season as a full-time starter, he averaged just five innings per start.
Until he improves his control, and his ability to command his pitches and pound the strike zone, Contreras will have difficulties reaching his ultimate ceiling as a mid-rotation starter.
2. Michael Lorenzen
DOB: 01/04/1992 (Age: 22)
Height/Weight: 6'3", 195 pounds
Drafted: First Round, 2014 (Cal-State Fullerton)
Michael Lorenzen is a stellar athlete, and it shows in his fluid motions on the mound. His athleticism and loose arm action help him generate an above-average fastball, which sits in the high 90s, with good, late life.
Lorenzen's second pitch, a slurve, projects to be a second plus offering at maturity, and when he's locating his fastball well, the pitch is a true swing-and-miss offering. Lorenzen can locate his fastball and slurve with relative consistency—his fastball more so than his breaking ball—and that figures to improve as he adapts to life as a full-time pitcher.
Lorenzen is a competitor, and he handled aggressive assignments well in 2013, working through four separate minor league levels in just a few months time. Another aggressive assignment in 2014 had Lorenzen working as a starter for the first time in his career, at the Double-A level.
The 22-year-old has stymied opposing hitters through the first half of the season, and he appears to be on the fast track toward a spot in the Reds' starting rotation.
Lorenzen is new to starting, and his fastball will likely lose a few ticks as he adjusts to working more than two innings at a time. Though it will still play as a plus pitch, Lorenzen will have to be wary of leaving the pitch up and over the plate, as he'll no longer be able to blow the pitch past more advanced hitters.
Lorenzen's changeup is still a work in progress. Compared to major league pitchers, Lorenzen's change is a below-average pitch, and he'll need it to function as at least an average offering in order to survive as a No. 2 or mid-rotation starter.
The Cal-State Fullerton product will also need to improve his command. He's walking just 2.7 batters per nine innings, but his pitch count tends to limit him from working past the fifth or sixth inning.
1. Robert Stephenson
DOB: 02/24/1993 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6'3", 195 pounds
Drafted: First Round, 2012 (Alhambra High School, Calif.)
Stephenson is your prototypical right-handed pitching prospect. The 21-year-old works with a plus-plus fastball that sits in the mid-to-upper 90s. Stephenson has the ability to sustain his velocity over the course of a full start, and that can't be overlooked.
His 12-6 curve functions as a second plus-plus pitch, and the two have the potential to function as one of the best fastball-curveball combos in all of baseball once he reaches maturity. His changeup is an average offering with decent fading action, but it figures to improve with increased usage.
Stephenson has total command over his two primary offerings and has the ability to throw both pitches for strikes at any point in the count.
He can bury his curveball in on lefties and work it through the front door against righties. The California prep product is also adept with his fastball and displays the wherewithal to change a hitter's eye level and get some weaker hitters out on his fastball alone.
The only area of concern in Stephenson's game—and it's really not a huge concern when you consider his being just 21 years old—is his command. The 21-year-old has a rather effortless throwing motion, but he struggles commanding his changeup at times.
This is something that will come with experience, as he's really only featured it heavily since being drafted by the Reds—he ditched his splitter in favor of the changeup once the club got its' hands on him.