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Dragons 2011 Preview: The Starting Pitchers

March 30, 2011
Breaking Down the 2011 Starting Pitchers

Part 7 of 8 in the Dragons 2011 Positional Preview

Today we look at the starting pitchers.

Hands on deck: Kyle Lotzkar, Daniel Corcino, Tanner Robles, Daniel Tuttle, Josh Smith, Daniel Renken.

In 2010, Dragons pitching coach Tony Fossas was challenged with the task of holding a staff together that saw virtually the entire opening day group promoted over the course of the season. By August, Fossas had only two pitchers left from the staff he started with out of spring training, and the results told the story. Nine pitchers were promoted from Dayton to Lynchburg over the course of the season and two others were lost to injury. No organization has the depth to replace 11 pitchers off a staff with similarly-skilled arms from extended spring training, and the Dragons fell all the way to 13th in the 16-team Midwest League team pitching rankings. A total of 29 pitchers saw game action for the Dragons in 2010, leaving Fossas with a patchwork staff that posted a final team earned run average of 4.29.

Alas, every minor league coach or manager will tell you that his job is to get his players to the next level, so in that respect, the 2010 season was a success for Fossas. His best pitcher from 2010, left-handed reliever Donnie Joseph, was rewarded as the Reds Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Three members of his starting rotation in April, Josh Ravin, Pedro Villarreal, and Justin Walker, all were promoted over the course of the season. Relievers Chase Ware, Nick Christiani, Doug Salinas, Ezequiel Infante, Blair Carson, and of course, Joseph, all pitched well in Dayton and moved on to Lynchburg.

The situation in 2011 looks very promising, not only for the starting rotation, but for the bullpen as well. There is not a weak link to the projected Dragons starting five, and when the promotions do come, there is a group waiting in the wings that might represent the Reds best extended spring training pitching staff ever.

Kyle Lotzkar is the most heralded name among the Dragons 2011 projected starting pitchers. He is ranked as the #10 prospect in the Reds organization entering the season and their second best pitching prospect, trailing only big league rookie Aroldis Chapman. Lotzkar was selected by the Reds in 2007 with the 53rd overall pick of the draft, a supplemental first round selection. The Reds had four picks in the first two rounds in 2007, and the other three have progressed to the cusp of the Major Leagues (Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier, Zack Cozart). Lotzkar has been held back by elbow injuries, but reports out of spring training indicated he was throwing the ball better than ever. The Reds will be very careful with Lotzkar, and as of this writing, it was not certain whether he would be cleared to start the 2011 campaign in Dayton.

Lotzkar is still just 21 years old. A native of Canada, he pitched briefly in Dayton in 2008 before seeing his season end prematurely due to a broken elbow. He missed all of 2009 and logged only 44 innings in 2010.

When Lotzkar did pitch last season, he was very good. At times, he was unhittable. How about these numbers in four starts for Delino DeShields at Billings: 20 innings, eight hits, one run, two walks, 33 strikeouts, and an opponents batting average of .119. That's total domination. Over Lotzkar's last 10 outings, he pitched 39.1 innings and allowed just four runs.

The key for Lotzkar in 2011 is to remain healthy and gain experience. The rest should take care of itself.

Daniel Corcino is not far behind Lotzkar in terms of his status as a prospect in the eyes of consensus observers. Baseball America rates Corcino as the 15th best prospect in the organization and the third best starting pitching prospect. Corcino has been compared to former Dragon Johnny Cueto because of his 90+ mile per hour fastball, sub 6'0" frame, Dominican heritage, and even some physical resemblance to Cueto. Corcino began last season in Billings and made nine starts, going 1-3 with a 3.40 ERA. He was promoted to Dayton and his first three starts with the Dragons were outstanding (16.2 innings, nine hits, two runs). He finished with a 1-1 record with the Dragons in six starts with a 4.31 ERA. Corcino is only 20 years old.

Tanner Robles was drafted by the Reds out of Oregon State University in the ninth round in 2010. He had an interesting high school career to say the least. He earned the Gatorade High School Player of the Year award in Utah after both his junior and senior seasons and finished his career at Cottonwood High School with a record of 33-0. After signing with the Reds, Robles was assigned to Billings and the left-hander struggled over his first five starts with Mustangs (16.1 IP, 14 ER, 20 BB). Suddenly, the light came on for Robles and he was dominant from that point forward. Over his final nine starts, he allowed a total of six earned runs in 44 innings, posting an ERA of 1.23 with 12 walks and 50 strikeouts. He was selected to the Pioneer League full-season all-star team. Opposing batters combined to hit just .179 against him for the year. Robles is 22 years old. He is not listed among the Reds top 30 prospects by Baseball America, but if he pitches in Dayton like he pitched in Billings last season, he will climb the prospect list quickly.

Daniel Tuttle was selected by the Reds in the fifth round in 2009 out of high school in North Carolina. Tuttle did not make the Baseball America top 30 list for the Reds, but when the magazine sent out its special supplement that listed a #31 prospect in every organization, Tuttle was the choice for the Reds. Tuttle made 13 starts for Billings last season, going 5-3 with a 4.32 ERA. Tuttle has a good fastball that tops out in the mid-90's, a good breaking ball, and a good change-up. Tuttle is only 20 years old and needs experience and consistency. He will get his chance with the Dragons in 2011.

Josh Smith was drafted by the Reds in the 21st round last June out of Lipscomb University, a Division I program that competes in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Smith was a first team all-conference choice last spring, going went 8-4 with a 4.66 ERA in 14 starts at Lipscomb. He pitched four complete games including three straight nine-inning complete games in March, an occurrence that would never, ever happen in today's world of minor league baseball. After the Reds signed him, they placed him in the bullpen for the remainder of the summer to limit the pitches on his right arm over the entire year. Smith was very effective for both Billings and Dayton in that role. He appeared in a combined 19 games between the two clubs and posted a 2.14 ERA, striking out 43 batters in 33.2 innings. Smith will be a pitcher to watch in 2011.

Daniel Renken was the Reds 25th round draft pick in 2010 out of traditional college powerhouse Cal State Fullerton, where he enjoyed a great career. Renken went 27-10 over three seasons as a starting pitcher at Fullerton and went 12-2 last spring. He tied for fifth in the nation in victories, was a 1st Team All-Big West Conference choice and a 3rd Team All-American. Renken signed very late in the summer and began his professional career with the Dragons, logging just six innings. He will be ready to go in 2011 and has been singled out by some observers for having a particularly impressive pre-season.

In our final positional preview, we will look at the Dragons bullpen.