Scouting the Prospects in the Cueto Trade

If you’re reading this, you already know that the Reds dealt ace Johnny Cueto to the Royals yesterday for three lefties: Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed and John Lamb. For an idea of where these Future Value (FV) grades would fall, check out the top-200 prospect list and the Royals prospect list from just before the season. For the big-league perspective on the deal, see Jeff Sullivan’s take, and for a more statistical look at these three prospects, Chris Mitchell has also published a piece at the site.

Brandon Finnegan, LHP, Cincinnati Reds, FV: 55

Finnegan was identified as a top prospect in his breakout sophomore year at TCU, then starred that summer for Team USA on a loaded pitching staff, then continued performing well in his draft year for TCU before some shoulder soreness before the draft. That scare coming at the worst possible time, coupled with his smaller frame, intense approach and higher effort delivery, conspired to move him down the board from a likely top-10 pick to the 17th-overall pick of the Royals.

Finnegan showed no ill effects after signing, shooting through the minors and starring in a handful of relief innings in a playoff run for the Royals. It was a mixed blessing, as early MLB relief success coupled with some questions about if a pitcher can start long-term put him in the tough situation where the team now knows that he’s close to a sure thing as a reliever, causing the patience for him learning to start gets shorter.

There have been a number of prospects that fall into this situation: Joba Chamberlain, Neftali Feliz and Jonathan Papelbon are some in the recent past and Alex Meyer and Aaron Sanchez are two young players in a similar situation to Finnegan now. The Reds tend to draft/sign upside type players in general and particularly don’t mind taking a chance on developing starter traits when there’s a talented young arm: Raisiel Iglesias was a reliever in Cuba that they’re converting to a starter in pro ball and two recent Reds first rounders, righties Michael Lorenzen and Nick Howard, were two-way players and college closers being developed as starters. Some in the organization still say that they think Aroldis Chapman would’ve become a bona fide starter if they would’ve been patient enough, if not for his situation, which could repeat itself with Finnegan.

Finnegan sits 91-95 and hits 98 mph as a starter (sitting closer to the mid-90s in relief), relying on a slider that’s above average to plus (more consistently plus in relief) and a changeup that will flash above average at times, but it and his command will waver at times, as he’s still more of an aggressive thrower with big stuff than a true starter at this point.  The common comparisons are to Scott Kazmir and Billy Wagner and scouts have been using those two names to show the upside scenario (mid-rotation starter) and the more common outcome (shutdown lefty closer).

I had Finnegan 56th in my offseason Top 200 and a 55 FV and I still have him in the same spot as this season hasn’t really shown us much that wasn’t expected to happen: some struggles with command and consistency that are magnified in longer outings. It sounds like the Royals may have thought internally that Finnegan was most likely to end up a reliever and the Reds tend to be more open-minded about who can start (especially if there’s athleticism and stuff) than other teams, so this match makes a lot of sense. I would expect Finnegan to gets some big-league starts in Cincinnati next year and possibly some down the stretch this year, contingent on what the Reds top pitching instructors think will serve his development best.

Cody Reed, LHP, Cincinnati Reds, FV: 50

Reed was a prospect only known vaguely by even local scouts early in his draft spring in 2013 when he was at a Mississippi junior college.  He threw in the low-80s in 2010 and was 88-90 early in 2013, but spiked to hit 96 mph in most outings from the second half of his draft spring, which helped him go in the second round to the Royals. There was some doubt about Reed among scouts since he was facing weak competition and was throwing hard for just a few months before the draft, so there wasn’t the track record teams would like to see.

As Reed’s velo would slip late into games in college, it also slipped a bit after turning pro, which is pretty normal for a pitcher just getting stretched out while in the longest season of his career. The command, which was never great, was also a little worrisome in his first two pro seasons, but what teams liked so much about Reed as an amateur was his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame that could hold a lot more strength, the athleticism and the quick arm: those elements were still there.

This year, Reed has been showing the promise he flashed two years ago. Reed hit 99 mph in the California/Carolina All-Star Game earlier this year and has been up to 97 mph in most starts this season.  The slider, which was a 50-55 pitch in previous years, is now flashing plus (60) with the added arm speed and his body appears to be adjusting to the new arm speed along with some mechanical tweaks. With an easy plus fastball, potential plus breaking ball and enough changeup and command to possibly start, you could argue Reed may be the best prospect in this deal in another year or two, since the size/durability advantage over Finnegan means there’s more upside here.

Reed was one of the last few cuts from the Royals Top 28 entering the season, which was going to be an important year for Reed’s development. A scout I talked to yesterday said Reed would be 100-150 in all of baseball for him at this point and he’s roughly comparable to the 50 FV prospects from last year’s big list, so that opinion tracks with my notes as well. I’d expect Reed to spend all of next year in the upper level of the minors and then have a chance to be in a big-league rotation in September next year but more likely in 2017.

John Lamb, LHP, Cincinnati Reds, FV: 40 Video

Lamb was a former top prospect who, after Tommy John surgery in June of 2011, never got his premium stuff back but has reinvented himself as a pitchability arm with improved feel. His stuff was fringy across the board last year and it improved a bit this year to around average, with the changeup his best pitch (solid average) and the velocity sitting around 90, but the breaking ball a clear third pitch that’s often below average. Lamb was also a late cut from the Royals preseason list with Reed (both 35+ FV), but I’ll bump Lamb onto the Reds list, due to the improved stuff this year and the recent track record of average stuff/pitchability-type fringe prospects turning into solid big leaguers with a few slight adjustments.

Lamb is at least a solid inventory arm that could be a fifth starter or long man sooner than later (one scout called him “an extra guy”), but he’s big-league ready and one or two out of every ten of these type of pitchers turns into something better than a fifth starter, so getting the chance to find out if Lamb is one of those guys (and find out soon) is a solid gamble for a third piece in a deal.

Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago

I don’t think this trade was great nor was it horrible but as a Jays fan where all reports stated that the Reds would have given us Cueto only if Stroman and more prospects were in the mix, I have trouble understanding how the bar was so high for us but not nearly so high for them. Just feel like the reds settled a little bit.

6 years ago
Reply to  Garrett

Maybe I’m just jealous …

6 years ago
Reply to  Garrett

And maybe the reports are wrong.

6 years ago
Reply to  maguro

the jays don’t really have the same low floor prospects to give up. The jays have an elite group of tier 1 arms (guys you just don’t move) and a bunch of tier 3 guys who don’t have enough value unless they’re added to something else. Kansas City had those tier 2 guys, that are solid, but are not cant miss. Unfortunately, the Jays traded 3 of those type of guys away for Donaldson. Which severely limits there abilities going forward.

6 years ago
Reply to  Garrett

“All reports” was just a a reporter or two stating what they’d heard. A week ago every team was asking for the moon in trade; the Jays probably got more reasonable offers on the weekend and decided not to pull the trigger. Or they disengaged earlier. In any case, the bar would have been the same for every interested party.

6 years ago
Reply to  Garrett

Stroman was never really going to be traded and Jocketty knew that. Look at the Greinke trade to LAA – same package as Cueto, a top 50-100 prospect and secondary pieces. That’s the market value for rental players. For the Jays, that’s Norris, or Hoffman, or Pompey, with someone like a Boyd as an equivalent to Lamb and pick a lesser tier guy for a third player.

I think that’s what the Jays balked on, but it’s easier to report Stroman was the guy they were after. And I’m sure Cinci asked that, and never expected it to go through. But you don’t ask for Norris first, because that’s not smart negotiating.

6 years ago
Reply to  Garrett

Toronto doesn’t really have the depth of mid to high minors power arms that Kansas City does, so it’s understandable that they would need to take a quality over quantity approach to get something done. If Cincinnati didn’t see all three pitchers in this deal contributing at some point in 2016 and beyond, they presumably don’t accept it. Believing that all three will do so in some form makes up for none of them being all that impressive individually.