Could Reds Prospect Nick Lodolo Grab a Rotation Spot in 2021?

The Reds have made significant progress throughout the last three offseasons. This past year, “The Process” culminated with their first postseason berth since 2013. The club’s centerpiece for the last two campaigns has been the rotation, one of the most consistent in MLB. Heading into 2021, they face huge departures that need to be addressed. A surprise candidate might be on the horizon in Reds prospect Nick Lodolo.

Lodolo was drafted just a year ago but he has been frequently included in the potential pool of pitchers that could snatch a rotation spot. Cincinnati will have to deal with the departure of several starters, including NL Cy Young award winner Trevor Bauer. Bauer, who finished first in ERA and second in strikeouts per nine innings in the NL, is slated to get a big payday this winter. The Reds would find difficulties in bringing back their ace. That sparks the question of the future outlook of Cincy’s starting pitching staff.

The market provides the opportunity for the Reds to get a couple of pitchers rather than a replacement that matches Bauer’s quality. Instead, the hope would be for Cincinnati to spend their limited resources as efficiently as they can on one or two players.

Furthermore, they could elect to rely on the players they have available as of now. Players like Jose De Leon and former Colorado starter Jeff Hoffman will be interesting cases en route to Opening Day. However, the development of Nick Lodolo could be even more intriguing as the MLB season approaches.

Reds Prospect Nick Lodolo: Performance in the Minors

Lodolo has played just one season in the minor leagues, reaching the Single-A level with the Dayton Dragons, despite this, experts don’t seem to be hesitant about his lack of experience. According to MLB Pipeline, Lodolo is the Reds’ top prospect, expected to debut somewhere down the road in 2021.

Cincy selected the young TCU starter with the seventh overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, however, he wasn’t a first-round pick just once. In fact, the Pirates drafted Lodolo with the 41st pick in 2016. He declined, choosing to play three seasons with the Horned Frogs.

Nick Lodolo’s NCAA numbers wouldn’t usually provide much clarity regarding his transition to the professional game. Yet, on the other hand, these could be used for valuable conclusions as he has played just eight games in the MiLB. These games confirm trends found in his pro figures, which could be a great indicator of efficiency going forward.

Lodolo started on a low note in the Big 12, but his last two seasons were very strong. He averaged over 10 K/9 and less than a home run per nine in both campaigns. In the latter, he managed to decrease his ERA to 2.36, in addition to walking merely 2.2 batters per nine innings.

Later that year, he joined the Reds farm system, quickly earning a promotion to Single-A, where he spent the majority of the campaign. Lodolo posted a 2.45 ERA between Rookie and Single-A levels, accompanied by 14.7 K/9, 0.5 HR/9, and zero bases on balls. By recording a dominant campaign, Lodolo proved his high valuation out of college and rocketed himself to the top of the club’s farm system.

This is very understandable as Lodolo took a positive step in his development. His consistency in all three-true-outcomes components raises the ceiling high. Moreover, this is indicative that his success should be sustainable climbing the minor-league ladder.

His lack of experience and the question marks of a jump from Single-A to MLB makes the possibility of him in the rotation early on an unlikely one. Nevertheless, he could be a contender for a spot should the bottom part of the rotation struggle once the season gets underway.

Reds Prospect Nick Lodolo: The State of the Rotation

The Reds’ rotation is full of uncertainties, especially when it comes to not only the fifth spot but also the fourth one. Unless traded, Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo are amongst the best starters in the league. Tyler Mahle, meanwhile, seems to have a guaranteed spot after a decent showing in nine starts throughout 2020. Yet, his last full season, 2019, was underwhelming with 9 K/9 in 25 starts.

Trevor Bauer’s free-agent status, however, has thrown the rest of the group into an overhaul that could feature a decision amidst Spring Training. If there is Spring Training, that is.

Michael Lorenzen seems to be the most prominent candidate for the remaining two spots. Lorenzen has only started five games since disappointing as a rookie in 2015 and moving to the bullpen, however, he has been arguably the team’s most consistent reliever through the last two full seasons. Therefore, he is the most convincing pick to fill in the spot.

The fifth spot should be a subject of serious competition. Firstly, Jeff Hoffman could be promoted from the bullpen due to his experience as a starting pitcher. In six seasons with the Rockies, Hoffman was a member of the starting rotation twice. He failed miserably both times, posting ERA figures over 5.00 with K/9 in the 8.0 range and walking around three batters per nine, despite these numbers, he provides MLB experience that none of the other candidates for the job have. In fact, most of them barely have any experience.

Secondly, Jose De Leon has had just 13 appearances in four seasons. He has been rumored to be in on a breakthrough for the position after posting a 0.64 ERA in three starts in Puerto Rice winter baseball. Moreover, Tejay Antone made his debut in 2020 with 13 games on the mound, including four starts. Antone was impressive with an ERA of 2.80 and 11.5 K/9. Once again, the workload doesn’t justify the achievements.

Reds prospect Nick Lodolo could potentially face competition. However, even if the Reds don’t add a starter from the market, don’t expect them to put in risky young throwers. Lorenzen and Hoffman would be the most logical picks.

Given Hoffman’s terrible track record, it might not be long until some of the aforementioned names get their chance. But for now, it should be a small risk that the Reds are willing to take to protect one of the NL’s best rotations. In 2020, the Reds rotation posted an ERA of 3.50, good enough for third-lowest in the National League.

Reds Prospect Nick Lodolo: Where Does He Stand?

Objectively, there’s still no reason for Reds prospect Nick Lodolo to be built up as a potential short-term starter yet. Sure, Lodolo has been great thus fa,r in Single-A, and is the organization’s No. 1 prospect. However, the lack of workload and innings don’t justify these numbers. That will probably cause him to need more time to prove his growth potential in MLB.

Nonetheless, Nick Lodolo could be placed higher on the hierarchy than his track record allows him to be. The reason why is that his competition is not that tough and lacks experience as much as him. There’s a high probability, provided a good Spring Training and minor-league showings, Reds prospect Nick Lodolo could be legitimately on the front end of the queue does a starter struggle.

On the one hand, this could provide him an early opportunity to stand out, it could hold his development back. From an organizational point of view, a potential failure in a couple of years would lower his trade value as opposed to him continuing his development for one to two years.

The biggest concern might be that he isn’t even close to his ceiling, meaning he won’t put on his best display in 2021. It would be a controversial choice to feature him in the Reds rotation to start the year and it could be a very bad one on the path to preserving the stronghold of the club.

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Teodor Tsenov
Teodor Tsenov is the Jets and Marlins writer for Overtime Heroics, as well as an NFL and MLB writer for Franchise Sports UK. From Bulgaria.

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