The Queen City’s Spring Training Guide
The Cincinnati Reds had an interesting offseason. Honestly, it’s been an exciting few years for the Reds organization. From the surprising run in 2010 to spring training 2016 it feels like several eras have passed. In 2010, the Reds had an unexpected surge to win the division. That season would end when Roy Halladay came in with a no-hitter and swept through the Divisional round. 2011 saw a major regression to below .500. That was followed by a phenomenal 2012 season. The Reds appeared to be the best team in baseball, honestly. Joey Votto was a freak, like always, and the pitching rotation matched. Everything was clicking for the organization. You remember, Johnny Cueto gets the ball game one in San Francisco and goes down before recording an out. It looked bad, but the Reds would win game one and two, despite the pitching woes. All they had to do was win one out of the three remaining games, all at home. They got swept. It’s one of the most crushing losses in Cincinnati history, trust me.
From 2012 on, things get weird. A team that was built with heaps of talent never won a World Series. They’ve regressed from the top of the league to the bottom of the NL Central, and now it appears the lower portion of the entire league doesn’t seem too far out of reach.
The Reds have had multiple players rise in prominence; Devin Mesoraco, Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Aroldis Chapman, and the list goes on. The team had a ton of talent, and much like the city’s NFL counterpart could’ve been deemed the most talented team. However, they could never win.
And after last season, finishing 64-98, things blew up. At the deadline the team dealt Johnny Cueto to Kansas City, Marlon Byrd was moved, and the rebuild was officially underway. This offseason the Reds have dealt star third basemen, (All-Star hero, Home Run Derby champion, and local star), Todd Frazier, thus setting off the greater portions of the fan base, much like the Sean Casey trade some time ago. Adding to the fans’ frustration, the team moved Aroldis Chapman to New York. With all of the moving parts, Cincinnati frustrations peaked around the New Year.
But now it’s Spring Training. One of the great baseball cities, Cincinnati is starving for the Reds. Despite the numerous fans threats to move on from the franchise, they’ll be back.
This season isn’t going to be a whole lot of fun if you value winning now; I’ll tell you that before we dig into the preview. However, if you would entertain me in listening, I’ll tell you why to be invested in this team in 2016.
Movement To Youth
The Reds have been an aging team since the beginning of 2010. That year the Reds used 44 different players, that’s a fairly arbitrary number. What it says is that the team used nearly 20 players that were not on the opening day roster at some point that season. A significant portion of those players were just injury holdovers or bench players. The core of that team was Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen, and Jay Bruce. Only one of those players has since departed the team, Rolen. The starting rotation included: Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Homer Bailey, Aaron Harang, and Travis Wood. Arroyo, Cueto, Leake, and Bailey would become mainstays over the next few years. Cueto and Leake were both moved at the trade deadline last season, and Bailey is the only that remains on the team.
From then on, with good health and a good core, the team would use 42, 38, and 39 players. In 2014, when things were obviously beginning to fail, the number jumped to 45. Last season, that number was 50. Okay, you don’t understand why this is important. Let me tell you.
The Reds built a core that would not only remain healthy but play well. That only lasted a few years. But it was a great core while it lasted. But in 2014, the ship was clearly sinking. Votto dealt with major injuries throughout the year; the bats turned off (Todd Frazier led the team with a .273 batting average), and the phenomenal pitching was wasted. Johnny Cueto nearly won the Cy Young, but the offense was just horrendous.
So changes needed to come. Despite the knowledgeable fan knowing this, the front office insisted they could win. The rebuild that we are about to see was slowed by a year (potentially more) thanks to this. Last season was a complete and utter disaster for the Redlegs.
But by mid-season, general manager, Walt Jocketty, and owner, Bob Castellini, finally saw the light. It was time to rebuild. Using rookie starters for a record 64 consecutive starts, the team clearly had both eyes looking ahead, not behind.
Last season was a precursor to what we will soon see on the field at Great American Ballpark. The Reds rotation will likely look like this: Homer Bailey (once he’s healthy), Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias, and then any number of up-and-comers. Amongst them, Michael Lorenzen, Robert Stephenson, Tony Cingrani, Brandon Finnegan, Amir Garrett, and a host of other names. It’s going to be a rotation with only one starter that’s seen significant playing time, and he (Bailey) won’t even be ready until May or June.
That means the rotation isn’t going to have a whole lot of track record when Opening Day rolls around.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, it’d be nice to have several veterans to teach the young arms the secrets. But that’s probably a little overrated. Admittedly, I wanted Bronson Arroyo to sign with the Reds, but he didn’t, and that’s okay. These guys will now cut their teeth by being thrown into the fire. It’s either going to work out really well or really poorly, or it’ll end up somewhere in between. In other words, nobody knows what is going to happen with this experiment.
That’s just the pitching side of things. And the pitching hasn’t been the problem for the Reds. The offense has.
On offense, things will look different, but not wholesale, not yet anyway. The Reds will likely continue to try to move right fielder, Jay Bruce, and second basemen, Brandon Phillips. Should they find suitors for each, then it’ll be a mass movement. The Reds will likely have a new face at third base and in left field on Opening Day. Adam Duvall, Kyle Waldrop, Scott Schebler, Tyler Holt, and Jake Cave are all names popping up for the open positions. One of the Reds top prospects, Jesse Winker, is ultimately going to end up somewhere in the outfield as well. So whoever gets the gig better step up quickly or Winker will likely move them at some point this season.
Across the infield, the Reds will have to find playing time for Eugenio Suarez with Zack Cozart likely claiming his starting shortstop role once again. Jose Peraza, one of the Reds favorite trade pickups, will try to find a spot on the infield as well.
And that’s not even the whole picture. The bullpen will be infused with young arms, and we will most likely see several players take a shot at the closer spot vacated by Aroldis Chapman.
There’s one assurance heading into 2016; this team will be filled with youth. And for a fan with a keen eye, this should be a fun season.
Birth of Future Stars
One thing that comes with the youthful movement is the hope that you’ll be watching a future Hall of Famer. Now, I certainly don’t feel confident saying any of the up-and-comers is going to be Hall of Fame caliber, I do know there is a good chance a few stars will play their first innings this season.
In 2007, we saw Joey Votto take his first swings. In limited playing time, he hit .321. That was the first glimpse of what we now know and love. He would hit .297 in his first full season, and since then he’s only hit below .305 one other time, and that was due to injury.
From 2008 all the way through that magical 2010 season, we saw Johnny Cueto cut his teeth from atop the mound. He slowly learned how to be a great pitcher and blossomed into one of the top aces in the Majors. The same can be said about Devin Mesoraco and Jay Bruce, even Todd Frazier. With the exceptions being Mesoraco and Bruce, the others were not highly sought after. However, they all emerged as not only local stars but superstars. All appearing in an All-Star Game.
Why is this so important?
Well after most of the trades the Reds have made fan reaction has been harsh and full of negative words. However, much like Reds stars that are now gone, the new crop could very quickly turn into a new batch of stars.
The ratings used to grade prospects are sometimes flawed; we can’t put a large stock in what we read online. Scouts have jobs because of their ability to judge talent, at times finding something that other scouts miss. And the Reds have proven that they can find the diamonds in a sea of dirt. Don’t be overly harsh. Sure, they could’ve done something different with their trades and maybe gained some higher rated prospects. But how many times do we see a top tier talent turn out to be a bust? Remember Brandon Larson? And most Hall of Famers didn’t start their careers with the same praise and glory of Bryce Harper or Mike Trout
Let the Reds develop the talent and come back to judge in five years. I feel like you’ll be glad your reserved judgment.
In conclusion, the 2016 Cincinnati Reds will likely not produce in the win column. It’s liable to be a long season at the ballpark. However, if you can turn your head towards 2017 and beyond, you’ll see the importance in 2016.
One of the great things about baseball is that we get to see teams flourish, rebuild, and prosper again. Most sports see dynasty, and that’s true in baseball. But it’s also true that we see a lot of change. Look at the past five seasons for the Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, and Chicago Cubs. Things won’t be great overnight. But it’s all part of the process.