Reds spring training

Reds spring training notes: Week 4

Spring training is coming to an end, and Opening Day is right around the corner. Cincinnati may be covered in snow now, but come March 29, weather is going to be back near the 60s.

Teams will start to make all sorts of moves to trim down the roster come Opening Day. The Reds are no different, but will have some hard decisions to make over the weekend as some lineup spots are still undecided.

Before we get to that though, let’s begin with some good news.

Eugenio Suarez is a Rich Man

Eugenio “Guy Fieri” Suarez started off the weekend by signing a new contract with the Reds. Suarez and the Reds agreed to a seven-year, $66 million contract with a team option for $15 million in 2025.

Reds spring training

Can Eugenio Suarez keep the positive progession going now that he doesn’t have to worry about getting paid? (Photo by Rob Tringali, Getty Images)

The Reds front office has had a mixed bag of results with their long-term contracts lately. The Reds hit on the Joey Votto deal and the early returns for the Tucker Barnhart extension look promising so far.

Reds fans will be the first to point out the money wasted on the Homer Bailey and Devin Mesoraco deals recently. Unfortunately, injuries derailed both of them, which nobody could have expected at the time of the extensions.

The good news is, Suarez’s peripherals point to success for many years to come. In the two and a half years with the Reds, he has increased his walk rate from 4.3 percent in 2015 to 13.3 percent in 2017. Suarez has a league average BABIP that shows his batting average of .260 is definitely sustainable. Combine the decent average with power to hit at least 20 home runs and Gold Glove defense, and that is a bonafide ball player. Now Reds fandom just has to start making sacrifices to the baseball gods to keep Suarez healthy.

Senzel Demotion

Nick Senzel was demoted to minor league camp on Monday, March 19. Senzel is expected to start the season at Triple-A to begin the season, playing second base for the Louisville Bats. Senzel ended spring training with a .286 batting average with reps at third base and shortstop.

The Reds will keep Senzel down in Triple-A through most of April for service time reasons. This will give the Reds another year of control over Senzel before he becomes a free agent (2024 if held down). The Reds could keep Senzel down until mid-June to avoid paying a fourth year of arbitration, otherwise known as the Super Two deadline. This would save the Reds a decent chunk of money, as arbitration salaries tend to be a lot higher than non-arbitration salaries.

Senzel played both second base and third base in his collegiate career at Tennessee. The Suarez deal all but confirms that Senzel will be spending his Reds career somewhere in the middle of the infield. It will be up to either Jose Peraza or Scooter Gennett to prove that Senzel should take the other’s position this summer.

Spring Training Position Battle Predictions

Most of the positions were accounted for already heading into spring training. Bench spots, back of rotation and a couple reliever openings were the most notable battles this spring.

Reds spring training

Has Brandon Dixon done enough to warrant a bench spot on the major league roster? (Photo by Sam Greene, Cincinnati Enquirer)

Utility infielder has been a notable war, pitting the likes of Brandon Dixon and Alex Blandino against each other. Dixon may have had the most impressive spring for a hitter not named Scott Schebler. Dixon amassed four home runs, 10 RBIs and a .342 batting average in 38 at-bats. Blandino has the first-round pedigree, but underwhelmed until his breakout 2017 season, splitting time between Double and Triple-A. Blandino is hitting .364 this spring in 33 at-bats, though with a lot less power.

The rotation battle has definitely been an intriguing one this spring. Anthony DeSclafani’s injury has opened up two spots at the backend for the Reds prospects to battle for. Amir Garrett has done everything possible to earn a spot, amassing 15 strikeouts in 13 innings accompanied with a 1.38 ERA and a 0.69 WHIP. Garrett struggled for most of 2017, but blamed it on a nagging hip injury that has been dealt with in the offseason. Sal Romano has been the best of the rest, with 15 strikeouts in 12 innings, but with a 3.00 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. Not bad at all, but is mired in the shadow of Garrett’s spring greatness.

Finally, the Reds have two unguaranteed spots in the bullpen still undecided. Journeyman Kevin Quackenbush seems to be a lock as he has yet to give up an earned run in eight innings. Prospects Jimmy Herget, Zack Weiss and Tanner Rainey have been very effective, but are likely going to start in Triple-A. The last spot is truly anybody’s guess, as nobody else has set themselves apart in the race.

Extra Innings

Now for some quick hits to wrap up the article.

  • Reds general manager Dick Williams did a reddit AMA (ask me anything) Monday evening. Most the questions were Reds related, but we also found out he is Team Skyline.
  • Doug Gray, redsminorleagues.com writer, clipped together a video of super prospect Hunter Greene’s latest start. Greene made an intrasquad start on the minor league fields, throwing 29 pitches in two innings of work.
  • Jim Day has made Reds fandom’s dream a reality. Gym Day with Jim Day is happening, with the inaugural episode with Joey Votto airing on Opening Day.

In case you missed last week’s article, the spring training week 3 notes can be found here. Fellow Game Haus writer, Jeremy Bhandari, wrote up a season preview for the Reds. All I will say is Jeremy has the Reds finishing better than last season.

In six days, the Reds will have filled out their first lineup card and handed it to the umpire. Even the most pessimistic of Reds fans still get excited for Opening Day. First pitch is at 4:10 p.m. eastern time against Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals.

 

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Cincinnati Reds 2018 MLB Draft

2018 MLB preview: Cincinnati Reds

2017: 68-94

Last Postseason Appearance: 2013

Last World Series Title: 1990

2017 Recap

For the third-straight season, the Cincinnati Reds won less than 70 games, and finished dead-last in the NL Central. August was the only month in which the Reds had a winning record. They finished below .500 at home, and a dreadful 29-52 on the road.

Much like the last few seasons, the Reds struggled on the mound. They finished 28th in total bases allowed, 29th in ERA and walks, and dead-last in home runs allowed. Although he threw just 76 innings, Raisel Iglesias had the best WAR among all Cincinnati pitchers.

Joey Votto is an absolute stud (SI.com)

While the offense as a whole wasn’t great, it would have been good enough to get by, had Cincinnati obtained any sort of pitching. Among the 15 NL teams, the Reds ranked second in steals, sixth in home runs, and seventh in batting average, OBP, and SLG.

The big reason Cincinnati’s offense was able to stay afloat was Joey Votto. Votto, the NL MVP runner-up, finished first in OBP, walks, and times on base. He also ranked fourth in OPS, fifth in WAR, sixth in batting average, and 10th in runs scored. The King of getting on-base, Votto has now led the league in OBP in six of the last eight seasons. In 2017, he joined Gary Sheffield (1996), and Jason Giambi (2000), as the only players in the last 30 years to have a season with at least 160 hits, 35 home runs, 130 walks, .450 OBP, and 165 OPS+.

In his seventh season with the Reds, Zack Cozart made his first All-Star team. The shortstop had a career year, slashing .297/.385/.548 with 24 home runs and 240 total bases in just 122 games. Eugenio Suarez continues to improve as a big-leaguer, as the 26-year old hit 26 home runs and increased his walk rate to 13.3 percent, which is his career-high at any professional level.

2018: Around the Diamond

With Zack Cozart now a member of the Los Angeles Angels, Jose Peraza, who appeared in 143 games for the Reds in 2017, will start at shortstop. Peraza looked great in 2016, hitting .324 with 21 steals, but regressed a tad over a larger sample size in 2017. He is very fast, but lacks offensive skills.

Peraza began 2017 as the starting second basemen, but was eventually benched for Scooter Gennett. This was a good move by the Reds, as Gennett finished the season slashing .295/.342/.531 with 22 doubles and 27 home runs, including a four-home-run game in June. With Suarez and Votto manning the corner-infield positions, Gennett and Peraza up the middle, and Tucker Barnhart, who won a Gold Glove and finished second in defensive WAR, behind the plate, the Reds should get decent production out of their infield.

Adam Duvall has hit 64 home runs over the last two seasons. (Sporting News)

Left to right, Cincinnati has Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton, and Scott Schebler. Duvall has a lot of pop, as he hit 33 home runs in 2016, and 31 more in 2017. He doesn’t hit for a great average, and does not walk much, but he will continue to hit the long ball and drive in runs for the Reds.

Hamilton, who, last season, finished second in the MLB in steals and triples, is essentially a lock to steal at least 50 bases. That’s awesome, but as a career .248 hitter, Hamilton needs to improve his approach to add more value. When he was up 1-0 in the count, Hamilton hit just .238. His teammate Joey Votto, in the same situation, hit .347.

In his first full-season as a major leaguer, Schebler hit 23 doubles and 30 home runs. However, the 27-year-old hit just .233. The Reds fourth outfielder, Jesse Winker, a first-round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, is having a fantastic spring. The most likely candidate to start at DH when they visit AL teams, Winker is hitting .400 with five doubles and nine RBIs in 15 spring games.

On the Bump

After missing all of last season with elbow issues, Anthony DeSclafani is back on the injury report with an oblique problem. He may miss the start of the season, which means this Reds staff, at least on paper, looks like an absolute mess.

The one bright spot is Luis Castillo. The 25-year-old righty from the Dominican Republic started 15 games last season, and posted a 3.12 ERA with 98 strikeouts in just 89.1 innings. Before being called up, Castillo had a 2.58 ERA over 80.1 innings of work in AA. He has thrived at every level, and could become the Reds ace of the future.

Joining these men in the rotation will be Homer Bailey, and lefty Brandon Finnegan, who missed a good chunk of last season with shoulder injuries. This Spring, Finnegan was forced to leave a game after feeling tightness in his forearm, which is never a good sign. The last spot in this pitiful rotation will most likely belong to Sal Romano, Robert Stephenson, or Tyler Mahle. Romano posted a 3.17 ERA over his last eight starts in 2017.

To bolster up the bullpen, Cincinnati brought in Jared Hughes and David Hernandez. These two, along with Michael Lorenzen, and Wandy Peralta, should all play key roles in making sure Iglesias has a chance to earn some saves. Iglesias struck out 92 batters in just 76 innings in 2017. Translation, he is really good and could be one of the best closers in the game if the Reds provide him with more save opportunities.

The Future

Sooner than later, the Reds will be competing in the NL Central. Yes, they probably wasted Joey Votto’s whole career, but the future looks bright in Cincy. The Reds have five members on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects list, including Nick Senzel, who ranks seventh overall.

The Reds top prospect, Nick Senzel (Cincinnati.com)

Senzel, the second overall pick in the 2016 draft, is a tremendous hitter who hits the ball hard, walks a lot, and doesn’t strike out much. Last season, in 57 AA games, Senzel slashed .340/.413/.560 with 10 home runs and 34 RBIs. He has a fantastic arm, and looks to be an All-Star third basemen in the near future. Senzel looks like a younger version of Michael Young, who made seven All-Star appearances, and won a batting title in 2005.

Cincinnati’s top pitching prospect, Hunter Greene (No.21), has arguably the best fastball out of any prospect in the league. Green was selected second overall in the 2017 draft, and is just 18 years of age. He stands tall at 6’4” and his fastball hovers around 97-102 mph. A pure athlete, Greene would have been a first round pick as an infielder. His ceiling is incredibly high, but the Reds will have to give him time to develop.

Joining Winker as the other top outfield prospect for Cincinnati is Taylor Trammell (No.43). Tramell was recruited as both a football and baseball player for Georgia Tech, which explains his crazy athleticism. In 129 A-Ball games, Tramell hit 23 doubles, 10 triples, 10 home runs, and stole 41 bases. He can do it all on the diamond, and should have Reds fans feeling ecstatic about the future.

Tyler Mahle (No.84), has a 2.45 ERA in 14.2 innings of work this Spring. Last season, between AA/AAA, Mahle went 10-7 with a 2.06 ERA in 144.1 innings. Mahle looks as though he will eventually crack the Reds starting rotation.

2018 Prediction: 71-91

Early injuries to their already depleted rotation means that it will probably be another tough season for the Reds. However, Votto will continue to put up MVP-type numbers, and guys like Suarez, Hamilton, and Gennett will be worth following. Castillo could turn into an ace, and with the way Cincy’s prospects are playing, it will not be long until the Reds are relevant again.

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Cincinnati Reds: Spring Training pitching battle

The 2018 Cincinnati Reds spring training has an air of optimism surrounding the camp. The primary weakness of the Reds 2017 season was their starting pitching. Injuries depleted the rotation, with the top three starters in the Reds rotation combining for 20 starts the whole season.

Blue-chip prospects and career minor leaguers were given opportunities to succeed, with 16 different players each receiving the nod on the mound throughout the season. The most telling stat is that it was actually a reliever who led the team in wins last season (Michael Lorenzen with eight wins).

2018 portrays a different story for the Reds, especially in regards to their rotation. Anthony DeSclafani and Homer Bailey are both healthy (knock on wood) and have secure spots at the top of the Reds rotation. Luis Castillo impressed immensely in his 15 starts at the end of the season, being tabbed by baseball media as a future frontline starter.

That leaves two spots in the rotation for Brandon Finnegan, Vance Worley, Robert Stephenson, Sal Romano, Amir Garrett, Rookie Davis, Tyler Mahle, Jackson Stephens, Cody Reed and Michael Lorenzen. I outlined three candidates below who have the best shot at cracking the rotation to start the season with the Reds, followed by a longshot candidate that could creep in unexpectedly as well.

 

Candidate #1 Brandon Finnegan

Cincinnati Reds spring training

Brandon Finnegan hopes to cement his spot in the Reds rotation for the 2018 season and beyond. Photo courtesy of Sam Greene at Cincinnati.com

Brandon Finnegan just needs to show that he can throw the innings and the job is his to lose for the fourth spot in the rotation. In 2016, Finnegan went 10-11 with a 3.98 ERA to go along with a 2.3 WAR. What was most exciting, however, was Finnegan’s second half splits from 2016.

In the last 70 innings of 2016, Finnegan had an ERA of 2.93 and 72 strikeouts (he had 73 strikeouts in 101 innings in the first half of the season). The increase in strikeouts increased his K/9 from 6.48 (1st half) to 9.17, effectively becoming a pitcher who would strikeout a batter an inning per start. Couple that with reducing his walk rate from an ugly 4.71 BB/9 to a 3.95 BB/9 in the second half, and you can see that Finnegan had started to attack the strike zone more as the season wore on.

All signs are pointing to Finnegan being healthy after surgery on his right torn labrum last season. Finnegan just needs to prove that the shoulder can sustain a starter’s workload and pitch like it is 2016 again and the rotation spot is his to lose. If Finnegan struggles, however, there are other candidates waiting to take his spot.

 

 

Candidate #2 Robert Stephenson

Robert Stephenson was a highly lauded prospect with immense upside, but only if he could control it. Bob was in the same situation at spring training last year, but could not secure a consistent starting spot. He spent time in the Reds bullpen, which destroyed his confidence and led to a demotion. Stephenson regained a starting spot in the beginning of August and gave the Reds a strong finish.

He made 10 starts over August and September and looked like he truly belonged during that time. In his last ten starts, Bob had a 2.51 ERA (only had one start where he had more than 3 earned runs), 9.1 K/9, and managed an AVG against below .200 in 50 1/3 innings. The thing to watch with Bob this spring training is his walks, which has held him back in the minors. He overcame them the last two months of the season by increasing his K% to above average levels. If Bob lowers his BB% down below 10%, while maintaining a K%>20 (something he did both the first and second half of the season), Bob may live up to his early career hype.

 

 

Candidate #3 Sal Romano

Cincinnati Reds Spring Training

Sal Romano proved he could hold his own in the majors. Can he carry that over to the Reds’ rotation in 2018? Photo courtesy of Gene J Puskar of the AP.

Sal Romano was a 2011 high school draft pick gained helium on Reds’ prospect lists in the 2017 preseason. Romano pitched well in his 2016 stint in Double-A, seemingly just a year or two away from the majors. Romano was lower on the shortlist for rotation spots relative to the other pitching prospects early on. Sal received his crack at the rotation July 6th and ran with it the rest of the season.

Romano had an interesting first run in the majors. Sal had six starts in a row (August 18th to September 16th) that he gave up three earned runs or less. This stint was highlighted by an eight inning, six strikeout shutout of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Unfortunately, the three starts before and two starts after that stretch combined for 23 earned runs (a 7.76 ERA in those 5 starts). Romano will probably start the season in AAA until the inevitable injury to somebody in the rotation. If Romano puts together a strong spring, it may be enough to earn him the final rotation spot.

 

 

Longshot Candidate: Vance Worley

Vance Worley is definitely more of a longshot opportunity. He was impressive in his rookie and sophomore seasons for the Phillies in 2011 and 2012. Worley made 43 starts for a Phillies rotation that consisted of legends like Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Vance Worley did not hold that rotation back though, as he put up 4.2 WAR combined in those two seasons.

Worley rose back to prominence in 2014, logging 17 starts for a 2.85 ERA. In 2016, Worley bounced over to the Orioles and put up decent stats as a starter and reliever. The advanced stats suggest otherwise, however, as Worley’s FIP and BB/9 preceded a 2017 downfall. Worley has shown brief glimpses into a MLB caliber pitcher, but his inconsistency has held him back to this point.

So now that we know that Worley is an inconsistent journeyman pitcher, why could he make the Reds’ rotation? It really comes down to how well he pitches in the spring. Worley’s best shot comes if one or more of the Reds’ starters are hampered by injuries this spring. Worley could eat innings for the Reds’ rotation early on, giving the Reds flexibility to leave their prospects in Triple-A. Vance is not on the Reds’ 40 man roster, but the Reds could clear space if the team deems necessary.

Brandon Finnegan, Robert Stephenson and Sal Romano have the best shots of earning spots in the Reds rotation for 2018. Bryan Price, however, is not afraid to give starts to somebody he thinks deserves it based on spring training numbers. Just last year, Rookie Davis won a rotation spot over more well-known peers due to being effective throughout spring training. Price may not follow conventional wisdom, but Finnegan, Stephenson and Romano have the best stuff among the current candidates. Two of them should be in the backend of the Reds rotation by March 29th when the regular season commences.

 

Sam Auricchio

Twitter: @SamAuricchio

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The Spring Injury Report: Next Man Up

The injury bug is a dreaded topic for teams and fans alike. Managers are settling in on their Opening Day rosters with two short weeks remaining until regular season action. Unfortunately, they must contend with the question of who will bridge the gap while the starters recover.

Today, The Game Haus takes a look at some of the most impactful injuries from around the league. Who are the big names? How will teams have cope with their absence? Who will step into the role in the short term?

 

Jason Kipnis

Injury Update:

Strained Rotator Cuff – Out 4-5 weeks

Analysis:

Kipnis experienced a brief, five-day shutdown early in camp with what was described as shoulder soreness. The injury didn’t appear serious at the time, but it has escalated from what the team originally expected.

Kipnis has no history for this type of injury, which should give fans some comfort this won’t be a reoccurring issue. However, the escalation of “soreness” to now missing over a month does provide cause for concern.

Next Man Up: Jose Ramirez

The extremely versatile Jose Ramirez played the role of ultimate utility man last season. He spent time primarily at third base and left field. Ramirez also has experience at shortstop. The transition over to second base may be challenging, but Ramirez has the skill set to manage.

The Indians don’t have many options in terms of late spring acquisition, and the farm lacks depth at second. The other problem this creates will be backfilling Ramirez at third. Fortunately for the Indians, minor leaguer Giovanny Urshela has some MLB experience and would provide a serviceable stopgap at third.

Kipnis is undoubtedly a critical part of this Indians lineup, but Ramirez has proven more than capable and should be able to carry the load in the meantime.

 

Ian Desmond

Injury Update:

Fractured Left Hand – Expected out until late April

Analysis:

This is an incredibly frustrating injury for both Desmond and the Rockies. Desmond was slated to be the everyday first baseman before being hit by a pitch during a spring training game. The Rockies made a sizeable offseason investment to the tune of five years and $70 million.

It looks as though Desmond is slated to return at the end of April after receiving surgery on his hand. Disappointing as it is, one month out of the entire season shouldn’t give the Rockies much cause for concern.

Next Man Up: Mark ReynoldsThe Spring Injury Report: Next Man Up

With Desmond out and Gerardo Parra taking increasing repetitions in the outfield, first base falls to veteran Mark Reynolds. Reynolds looks likely to win the job, but will compete this spring against younger options Jordan Patterson and Stephen Cardullo.

Reynolds hasn’t traditionally hit for average, but he did bat .282 in 116 games last season. He also brings a decent power threat to the table, which should play well in an already strong Rockies offense.

You can’t replace Desmond’s production in the short term, but if he returns fully healthy at the end of April, the Rockies won’t miss much.

 

Anthony DeSclafani

Injury Update:

Sprained UCL, right elbow – Expected out 1-2 Months

Analysis:

DeSclafani is listed as the ace of this Red’s pitching staff to put this loss in context. The Reds aren’t seen as a highly viable contender this year, but losing starting pitching hurts regardless. The good news is that the injury won’t require Tommy John surgery as is so prevalent in the MLB today. A speedy recovery should see DeSclafani back in a rotation that will undoubtedly be missing him by May.

The Spring Injury Report: Next Man UpNext Man (Men) Up: Tim Adleman, Bronson Arroyo, Rookie Davis, Amir Garrett, Cody Reed, Sal Romano and Robert Stephenson

Wow, talk about a spring training competition. Adelman is currently listed highest on the depth chart at number four out of all those names. That should be an indication of how many spots were up for grabs before this injury.

With this many rotation spots in flux, the balance of these names will end up in the bullpen. The Reds will need a lot more than one guy to step up if they’re going to successfully bridge the gap until DeSclafani’s return.

The silver lining here is that for a rebuilding team, plenty of young players will have the opportunity to develop. It may feel like an awfully long season for the Reds’ fans and their organization while they wait for that development to happen.

 

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