I don’t know if it’s just me, but it doesn’t feel like Opening Day! Maybe it’s because it’s being played on Thursday, or possibly the fact that it’s still March, or more likely due to their being 3 inches of snow fall into Great American Ballpark 5 days ago! But whether we are ready or not, here it comes! It’s been five years now, since our Redlegs were competitive. The one game playoff loss to the Pirates signaled the end to Dusty Baker, and the end of the “window.” In comes Bryan Price, the pitching coach turned manager, who has been given a miserable hand, each and every year. In my opinion, Bryan Price is the most ill-conceived man of criticism in baseball. “The Rebuild” began mid-way through his first season, and anyone who has any clue about baseball knows that rebuilds do not happen over one season, or even two or three. The Cubs and Astros, the teams that have won the last two titles suffered through five seasons of triple-digit losses before they got remotely in the playoff hunt. I don’t count 2014 as part of the rebuild because they didn’t really start it until midseason. This is year four. Before it is all said and done, Price will be unfairly let go for Reds legend Barry Larkin to take over. That might happen at this season’s end, but let’s be real, it is going to happen soon.
Starters– Homer Bailey, Luis Castillo, Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, Amir Garrett
Bullpen – Raisel Iglesias, Wandy Peralta, Jared Hughes, David Hernandez, Austin Brice, Kevin Quackenbush, Unknown, Unknown
Injured Pitchers – Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, Michael Lorenzen, Kevin Shackelford
What was once the overwhelming strength of the team, the starting rotation during the rebuild has been filled with injuries. Every year, multiple starters, who were depended upon to start 30 games, come down with lengthy ailments. Homer Bailey, the most notable, will actually begin the season healthy, and start on Opening Day. Brandon Finnegan, who missed the majority of 2017, has a chance to return two weeks into the season. But if they ever get healthy, I believe he should stick in the pen. And Anthony DeSclafani, who missed all of last season, is hopeful to return by June. With a fully healthy rotation, the squad has a lot of promise. When it is all said and done, Bailey is the weakest of the bunch, and anything he gives them at this point, will be a surprise. The hope of the group is with Castillo, Romano, and Mahle. Castillo was unreal last season once he came up. A hard throwing righty with an unhittable breaking ball has the look of a top of the rotation guy. Romano went through a six-game stretch at the end of the season with an ERA of just above 2. That isn’t realistic over the course of a season, but a mid-3 ERA is doable for him. However, the kicker for me is Mahle. The organizations Minor League pitcher of the year started 4 times last season and cranked out a 2.70 ERA. He doesn’t throw overly hard, but he has what many of the young arms don’t: control. He throws strikes and he locates strikes. He has the chance to join Castillo at the top of the rotation. Amir Garrett looks to be the fifth guy after dominating in Spring Training. We have seen this before, as in last season. Hopefully Garrett can continue what he has started.
As for the latter part of games, it can’t get any worse, right???? The bullpen set records last season, and not in anyway that you would like. Injuries to the rotation tricked down and required people to get called up and help in the pen who had no business pitching in the majors. With the little that the Reds did in the offseason, the bullpen, barring injuries of course, should be markedly better. The two somewhat-known names that they brought in were Jared Hughes and David Hernandez, both coming off solid seasons a year ago. On top of that, they are pitchers needed in GABP. They are heavy groundball pitchers. These two, along with Michael Lorenzen (when he returns, 10-day DL) and Raisel Iglesias form a solid four to close out games. The other three will be used more sparingly, and Finnegan could help that group out if the younger starters perform well.
The Everyday Eight (but, probably nine)
Catcher – Tucker Barnhart. Barnhart is coming off a career year that earned him a 4 year contract. When Mesoraco got paid, and then hurt, and then hurt again, no could have imagined that the Reds would get the production they have from the guy behind the plate. Coming through the minors, it was well-known that Barnhart was a great defensive catcher, and that has continued, evidence by his gold glove last season. What people didn’t expect was his production at the plate. Barnhart finished last season with a line of .270/.347/.403 and a WAR just shy of 3.5. This proved he wasn’t just a serviceable backup, but a established above-average starter.
1st Base – Joey Votto. Not much to say about Votto. The former MVP is coming off what have been his best season and hasn’t had a year that he has been dully healthy and not surpassed .300/.400 since his first full season in 2008. He is a generational talent and the best hitter in Reds history. Enjoy every moment with #19, Cincinnati.
2nd Base – Scooter Gennett. The most common word associated with Scooter this offseason is regression. No one believes he can repeat his 27 HR, 97 RBI clip from a year ago. However, for the Reds to be competitive offensively, he doesn’t have to. While those numbers are probably not likely, there is nothing that tells us he can’t come close. He has hit in Spring training and looks to continue his momentum.
3rd Base – Eugenio Suarez. Another shocker in this Reds lineup, Suarez came over from Detroit at the beginning of the rebuild for Alfredo Simon. When the Tigers traded him for the half-year wonder, they could have never imagined that he would be signing a 7 year contract worth just shy of 70 million dollars. Suarez has increased his HR, RBI, and OBP every year in bigs, and posted career highs in SLG and OPS on top of that last year. What makes Suarez such a good player though, has been his improvement defensively. He struggled big time when he came up to the league as a shortstop, but the move to 3rd base has been a godsend. This is a big reason he posted the 3rd highest WAR on the team.
Shortstop – Jose Peraza. The only difference in the every day lineup from ’17 is shortstop. Zack Cozart manned that spot for the better part of the last seven seasons, but he is out on the west coast playing for the Angels. Peraza will get the first shot. He started 117 games last season, so he isn’t new to this. However, he was by far the worst starter on the team. The hope is for improvement from 23 year old, who still has time to figure it out. The leash may not be long though, as there is a guy in AAA, top prospect Nick Senzel, who is breathing down his neck.
Centerfield – Billy Hamilton. He is now 27. At this point, everyone knows who Billy Hamilton is and what he can do. We also know what he can’t do. He is an elite baserunner and defensive centerfielder, who is going to struggle to hit. We have to accept that. It may be frustrating, but there is no question that he absolutely changes games with his strengths. He is the man out there until his arbitration years are over, and maybe beyond.
Corner Outfielders – Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, Jesse Winker. If a problem can ever be good, I guess it is having more starter-worthy players than you have spots for. That’s where the Reds sit with their corner outfielders. Duvall and Schebler are going to be high-power, low contact/on-base guys. They’ll drive the ball, but will also strike out a bit. The third guy is the wildcard, and the excitement from this group. Jesse Winker has long been talked about among the organization. We got our first taste of Wink last season and it was better than anyone probably expected. After starting his minor league career showing some power, a nagging wrist injury took that away. Over 191 games at AAA, Winker hit just 5 home runs and posted a .395 SLG%, despite hitting over .300. Then, a call-up in August of last season, Winker knocked 7 of the them out of the park in 121 ABs. Some guys do have an increase of power in the majors with harder, more accurate pitchers, and hopefully, Winker can continue that pop.
Bench – Cliff Pennington, Devin Mesoraco, Phillip Ervin, Phil Gosselin. The Bench has been a underwhelming piece of the Reds rebuild. In trying to get the young guys the most at-bats possible, they have often had players nowhere near their top-25 make the team. It looks to be a little better this season. Mesoraco and the outfielder of the day provide two above-average pinch-hit options, while Pennington provides versatility. Ervin can be a defensive replacement for the corner spots and Gosselin was so good in Spring Training, that they had to keep him.
Prediction: 76-86. 4th place.
Do I believe that the Reds can compete and find themselves in the talk of a wildcard spot after July? Yes, in a perfect world free of injury and full of hopeful performances. The hitting is good enough. The defense is good enough. For the Reds to truly compete and have a chance at .500, the pitchers not only have to stay healthy, they have to perform like at one time, the organization thought they could. That means Bailey is average, Castillo repeats last season, Disco gets healthy and returns to 2016, Mahle commands the strike zone, and someone else (Finnegan, Romano, Garrett) steps up and keeps them in games. However, things will go wrong, players will get hurt, and others will disappoint. The team is on a upward trajectory, but 2019, under the guide of Barry Larkin, will be the real first time the club is ready to win.
MVP: Joseph Daniel Votto
Top pitcher: Luis Castillo
Surprise of the Year: Tyler Mahle
Defensive Player of the Year: Billy Hamilton
Nick Senzel Day: June 3rd