The Cincinnati Reds were pretty good from 2010 to 2013 where they won two division titles and made the playoffs three times. However, they could never get over the hump and failed to win a single series during that time. Now in 2017, the core of those playoff teams is almost all gone and the Reds, like their division mate Brewers, are in the midst of a rebuild. 2017 will be a long season for Cinci so buckle up buckaroo!
When the Reds traded Todd Frazier before the 2016 season, it opened up third base for middling short stop, Eugenio Suarez. This move seems to have boded well for the youngster as he was no longer a defensive blackhole and put up average defender numbers at third base. Suarez had a respectable season at the plate as he slashed .248/.317/.411 with 21 home runs in his second MLB season. His walk rate is not too shabby at 8% but his strike out rate is slightly below league average at 24.7%. He hits the ball fairly hard so the power should be sustainable and I’d expect him to flirt with 20 home runs again. Suarez hasn’t hit his potential yet so he’s an interesting player to watch as the 2017 season gets under way. A breakout is very possible, especially if he moves up in the batting order.
Shortstop will continue to be manned by long time Red, Zach Cozart. He’s an above average defender but isn’t much with the bat. In 2016 he hit for a career high 16 home runs but I don’t believe he will repeat and I’d bet he’d be hard pressed to hit 10 in a season again. He just doesn’t have the track record to make me a believer in his career high hard hit rate. The defense however is legit and proven. As Cozart is entering free agency after this season it’s possible he’s traded by the trade deadline in order to help the Reds rebuild. He currently hits in a premium spot in the batting order, but this could be at risk if other youngsters like Saurez get on a tear and warrants the move up.
With Brandon Phillips finally traded, second base will belong to youngster Jose Peraza. The soon to be 23 year old is a high batting average speedster who could profile as a lead off hitter eventually. In his minor league career he never showed any power but regularly hit around or above .300 and attempted to steal a lot of bases. Peraza’s base stealing efficiency isn’t the greatest though as he’s been regularly thrown out up to 33% of the time but he is an easy bet to steal at least 25 bases for the Reds in his first full MLB season. Peraza will have to learn to take a walk as he only walked 2.7% of the time last year and never had high walk rates in the minors either. His defense at shortstop was below average so the move to second base should help Peraza play every day and might also help him mentally at the plate as he moves to a less taxing position. I’d expect Peraza to hit at the back of the order to start the season but he has breakout potential if he moves up to lead off. His line drive rate was well above average (27.5%), and if that continues a good season should be ahead for the young second infielder.
Joey Votto continues to be one of the best and most patient hitting first basemen in the baseball. After an injury plagued 2014 season he was phenomenal at the plate in 2015 and 2016. Given the way he was hitting hard line drives over the past couple of years, there’s no reason to expect that Votto won’t continue where he left off in 2016. Votto is sometimes too patient and as a middle of the order bat you would hope he would drive in more runs but that’s not who he is as he will take a walk in around 16% to 17% of his at bats. But when he does connect to a baseball he hits it hard and flat and sprays it around the yard which yields a .300 average due to an above average hard hit, line drive and ground ball rate. The man simply does not hit pop flies and uses the entire field. A lot of hitters would do themselves wonders if they studied his plate approach. Now everything isn’t totally rosy. Votto’s defense in 2016 was really poor. He used to be slightly above average in his prime, but he’s 33 years old now and just doesn’t have the natural ability to excel on the field. His first step at first base on diving plays was very poor last year; however, he’s proven to be a resilient athlete and I imagine he can at least slightly improve from his ugly -15 defensive runs saved because I’m not sure he can be any worse.
Catching duties for the Reds will be shared between Devin Mesoraco and Tucker Barnhart. Mesoraco will be hoping to simply be healthy as he hasn’t played regular baseball in over two seasons due to some major injuries. When he last healthy he was one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. I doubt that pop will suddenly come back but the potential is there. Barnhart will likely get most of the starts early in the year due to his decent catching abilities. Like most catchers, his bat is nothing special so he will be in the 8th spot in the batting order most days.
The Reds outfield will be headlined by speedster, Billy Hamilton in center field and Adam Duvall and Scott Shebler, flanking the corners.
Billy Hamilton is fast as fuck. In A level baseball he twice stole over 100 bases a season! His speed makes him an elite centre fielder and if you want to be entertained just look up some of his highlight reel catches. The problem with Hamilton is that he is a soft hitter who has virtually no power (he’s never hit more than 6 homers in a single season whether that’s the minors or MLB). His career hard hit rate is 19.7% and it’s doubtful it will ever be much more. He has the speed to beat out infield hits and bunts, but he flies and pops up a bit too much for a soft hitter. To Hamilton’s credit he did substantially cut down on his fly balls last year and hit more ground balls instead. He needs to get that line drive rate up if he is ever to become an above average hitter though. He’s stolen 56 to 58 bases in each of his three full MLB seasons, but has battled injuries the past two years. He likely will never become the next coming of Ricky Henderson, but his defense and ability to create havoc on the bases still makes him a solid player. He’s set to lead off this year so expect the runs scored to go up but if he doesn’t fix his swing and hit more line drives, it’s possible Pereza ends up being the lead off hitter instead.
Shebler is a former 26th round pick and will be entering his third season. He’s an average defender but has some above average power. If he plays regularly it’s almost a guarantee he will hit 20 home runs but he will continue to have a mediocre average in the .250 range due to his high ground ball rate. As a left handed batter, the infield shift robs him of some hits and he’s an extreme pull hitter so that’s that.
Duvall had a nice little season in 2016 with the Reds. Since his September call up in 2015, Duvall has done nothing but mash taters at the plate and play solid defense in left field. He’s a flyball hitter sort of similar to Chris Davis (due to his high strike out rate) but as a righty doesn’t need to worry about infield shifts as much. His hard hit rate in 2016 was an elite 39% so even with a bit of regression it’s possible he hits 30 home runs again. The batting average was a poor .240 last year, but with a bit of line drive improvement I could see him settling in around .255. Reds manager, Bryan Price, has openly stated that Duvall will be the Reds’ cleanup hitter to start the season so a repeat of 2016 is in the cards.
The rotation isn’t very good actually scratch that, it’s really bad. In 2016 their top 5 starters only combined for 3.8 WAR and similar to the Brewers, the Reds lack high impact strike out type pitchers. The rotation is and will continue to be The Reds’ biggest downfall. Anthony DeSclafani is set to begin the regular season on the DL with an elbow issue and he was the Reds’ best pitcher in 2016. DeSclafani is nothing special either but he at least gives his team a chance to win some games. He won’t strike out a lot of batters but generates above average ground ball rates. He’s just a guy but he’s a slightly above average guy for the Reds’ and who knows how long his injury will keep him out.
Brandon Finnegan will possibly be the opening day starter and will be entering only his second full MLB season. In his rookie season he had home run issues as he allowed 1.5 HR/9 and this issue was also present in limited innings split between the Royals bullpen and a few starts for the Reds in 2015. His command is still a major work in progress as evidenced by a career 4.2 BB/9 but the strike out potential to be a 8.5 to 9 K/9 is there due to an above average change up, which is usually a hard pich to master for young pitchers. It’s hard to say if Finnegan will take a step forward this year and even so, slight improvement at most is realistic for the young lefty.
Scott Feldman was acquired this off season in free agency but he’s proven to be pretty average over his road warrior esque career. Feldman will be joining his 6th team since 2012 and is likely on the last legs of his pro career. At this point in time, he is better suited for the bullpen which is where he was last pitching for the Blue Jays, but even they left him off their 2016 playoff roster. Best case scenario is that he holds DeSclafini’s rotation spot until his return and then goes to the pen unless another starter falters/gets hurt.
The last rotation spots will go to Tim Adleman and prospect Robert Stephenson. Adleman is nothing more then a filler but Stephenson is a top prospect who possesses the potential for top notch strike outs. However, like most youngsters he has walk issues and in his case they have been extreme at every level. Stephenson is better suited for AAA at this point but injuries to DeSclafini, Cody Reed and Homer Bailey will force him into the Reds rotation. The kid could be good one day but probably not in 2017. He does not possess a good movement pitch yet and his cutter is the only offering outside of his change up and fastball. He may end up in the bullpen down the road, but he will get a chance to prove he’s not starter worthy first … we shall see…
The Reds will likely start the season with some kind of bullpen by committee but I’m sure someone will emerge as the trusted 9th inning hand by no later than June. For now it appears the inside track for closing opportunities will be former starter, Rafael Iglesias who as late as last spring was still seen as a top pitching prospect. Raisel Iglesias may be slotted as the current closer but he probably would be better served as a rotation arm due to his above average fastball and slider.
After Iglesias, former starter, Tony Cingrani, former Nationals closer, Drew Storen (he was so bad in 2016 for the Jays) and Michael Lorenzen will be part of this four man closer by committee. If Storen stops being bad (doubtful) he should be the closer for the Reds which would allow Cingrani, Lorenzen and Igelsias to move down a peg in the pecking order. Given how poor the Reds rotation is set up due to poor depth and bad health, it’s very possible some of these arms will be forced into long relief type roles so over use of this under talented corps is a definite possibility.
Blake Wood was actually serviceable in 2016 despite his walk issues and Waldo Peralta is just another guy who has shown limited upside through his minor league ascent but could end up seeing spot duty starts out of necessity. He will line up likely as the pen’s long man as he does not have the strike out ability required for high leverage situations.
162 long games will play out for the Reds in 2017 and they will be no better than last season with 68 wins. However, for the first time since 2014 they will not come in last in the NL Central but only by a hair due to the Brewers being slightly worse. The Reds have a semi potent offense but they may have tied the Brewers for the worst pitching staff in baseball going into 2017.
Joey Votto – If you play in a fantasy baseball league that utilizes on base percentage instead of batting average, Votto will bolster your OBP ratio more than anyone else in baseball. Expect an all-star slash line of 0.291/0.421/0.489 to go along with 24 home runs, 88 runs,82 RBI’s and 7 steals. What’s not to like about that kind of production out of an early 2nd round pick from the Canadian first baseman.
Billy Hamilton – There’s a good chance the speedy outfielder leads the league in steals but it’s almost a guarantee he fails to help your fantasy team in any other category. If you’re picking Hamilton it will likely have to be in the top 50 players and that’s way to steep of a price for a one to two category player. I get that speed is at a premium as less players steal bases than ever before now that team’s rely on the long ball more. However, there’s late round draft fliers who have the potential to steal 30 to 40 bases that will come at a fraction of the price. If you want to overpay for 60 stolen bases and 80 runs but receive little to no Home runs, Rbis and a poor average be my guest.
Jose Pereza – He will have triple position eligibility with second, shortstop and outfield to his credit to start 2016. He has 30 steal potential, a B+ batting average (expect .285) and he may slide his way up in the batting order as the season progresses which will increase his run potential. As a late round pick there’s nothing to lose here for an upside three category guy with multi-position eligibility.