The Cincinnati Reds brought up their three top pitching prospects last season to revive a starting rotation decimated by cost-cutting.
Right-handers Hunter Greene and Graham Ashcraft, and lefty Nick Lodolo experienced rookie struggles – with stunning flashes of brilliance mixed in – as the rebuilding Reds lost 100 games for the first time in 40 years.
“The progress you would like to see, we’ve already seen that,” manager David Bell said early in spring training at Goodyear, Arizona. “Hopefully they have many, many years to come. This is just the very, very beginning. They have to keep working to get better. You never have it figured out. That’s what I’m seeing this spring.”
Pitching coach Derek Johnson spoke to them about how they have the chance to become a foundation similar to Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz for the 1990s Atlanta Braves .
“The three of us talk about being the core – every day,” the 23-year-old Greene said. “Looking at us in that light is pretty special. Having the friendship but also the competitiveness is exciting. The chemistry couldn’t be better.”
Greene was the second overall pick in the 2017 amateur draft. He made the opening day roster in 2022, threw 100 mph fastballs and led the Reds in starts, innings and strikeouts. He had a late stint on the injured list with a strained shoulder, finishing 5-13 with a 4.44 ERA with 164 strikeouts in 125 2/3 innings.
In a start against Tampa Bay in July, Greene threw 38 pitches of 100 mph or more. When Greene returned from the injured list in September, he threw 33 pitches of 101 mph or higher in six innings against the Cardinals, striking out 11.
Having relied on a four-seam fastball and a slider, Greene has worked on developing a changeup – he threw it just 5% of the time last year, at an average of 90 mph.
“An extra tool for me to become even a better pitcher,” he said.
The 6-foot-6, 25-year-old Lodolo (4-7, 3.66 ERA in 19 starts) doesn’t have that kind of velocity but is an intimidating presence with a high strikeout percentage and low walk rate. The stocky, 25-year-old Ashcraft (5-6, 4.89) averaged 97 mph with his fastball and cutter.
“I mean we got good friendships all over the team, but us three are pretty close,” Lodolo said. “It’s good internal competition between us all, and I know all three of us are pulling on the same side of the rope.”