Fay: Reds' future success could hinge on finding a hidden gem like Johnny Cueto once was

Castillo, Mella show glimpses of similar upside
Posted at 1:19 PM, Feb 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-27 13:19:23-05

GOODYEAR, Arizona -- For long-time Reds observers -- and I would fall into that category, also known as the old-guy category -- the good run that led to playoff appearances in 2010, ’12 and ’13 began in 2008.

That’s when the club put Johnny Cueto in the rotation based largely on a dominant spring. Cueto was 22 years old at the time and had made all of four starts in Triple-A. He started 2007 in high A ball in fact.

Would the Reds do that this year?

I asked Reds manager Bryan Price that on Monday, the day after Keury Mella and Luis Castillo were the most impressive pitchers in a 9-5 loss to the San Francisco Giants.

Price mentioned Cueto in his answer.

“There’s two components here,” Price said. “Some of the guys that have pitched with less experience would have to be like the Johnny Cueto of 2017 to kind of jump from Double-A ball and be the guy that’s just so much beyond the rest of the competition that we are comfortable letting those pitchers make the jump.”

“It’d be like a (Sal) Romano or a Castillo. Probably less likely with Mella because he pitched in A ball and one Triple-A start. But there are guys on the board that could make it challenging for us.”

Castillo is the 24-year-old right-hander the Reds got from Miami in the Dan Straily deal. Mella is the 23-year-old right-hander the Reds got from San Francisco in the Mike Leake deal.

Their stuff is top-notch. But it was the way they attacked hitters that pleased Price most.

“The thing that stood out for me was Castillo got the ball -- it was like watching Tom Browning pitch again -- he got the ball, got on the rubber and threw it over the plate,” Price said. “He got the ball back, got on the mound and threw a strike. It was one after another.

“The only only time he stepped off was when he fell behind 3-1 to his last hitter. He collected himself, threw a good quality pitch and got the last out. That was a very mature outing for a young pitcher.”

He was also happy with how Mella performed in relief.

“He threw good quality pitches down in the zone. Fastball, slider. He was very impressive," Price said.

Castillo threw two perfect innings and struck out two. Mella worked a 1-2-3 ninth.

Their performances came on the day when former top prospect Robert Stephenson walked the first batter he faced and allowed four runs in one inning of work.

Stephenson, Cody Reed and Amir Garrett top the Reds' prospect charts. But that can change, opening the way for Castillo, Mella, et al.

The Reds don’t have a lot to lose by putting Castillo or Mella on the fast track -- other than the fact that they’d accumulate some service time -- both are on the 40-man.

Cueto wasn’t great in 2008. He went 9-14 with a 4.81 ERA. But he made 31 starts, pitched 174 innings and was on his way to becoming a No. 1 starter.

I think it would be wise for the Reds pick the best of this camp and put them on that trajectory. 

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at