The Cincinnati Reds brought up their three top pitching prospects last season to revive a starting rotation decimated by cost-cutting measures.
Right-handers Graham Ashcraft and Hunter Greene 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 last month during the early portion of spring training in 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 the trio about how they have the chance to become a foundation similar to Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz for the 1990s Atlanta Braves. Ashcraft and Lodolo turned 25 a few days apart in early February, while Greene turned 23 last August.
"The three of us talk about being the core — every day," 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."
All three have spent time in Chattanooga with the Lookouts, the Double-A affiliate of the Reds.
Greene was the second overall pick in the 2017 amateur draft. The 6-foot-4, 213-pounder made Cincinnati's opening day roster in 2022, threw 100 mph fastballs regularly 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 and 164 strikeouts in 125 2/3 innings.
In a start against the Tampa Bay Rays in July, Greene threw 38 pitches of 100 mph or more. When he returned from the injured list in September, he threw 33 pitches of 101 mph or higher in six innings against the St. Louis Cardinals, striking out 11 batters.
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.
Lodolo (6-6, 205), who was 4-7 with a 3.66 ERA in 19 starts for Cincinnati last year, doesn't have that kind of velocity but is an intimidating presence with a high strikeout percentage and low walk rate.
The stocky Ashcraft (6-2, 240) averaged 97 mph with his fastball and cutter last season on his way to a 5-6 record with a 4.89 ERA.
"We've 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."