Kyle’s Korner ….
The 2016 Cincinnati Reds are projected to finish last in the National League’s Central Division by most publications including Sports Illustrated.
But, I, being the eternal optimist toward my favorite team, am hoping for the best.
Yes, the Reds traded away arguably the best closer in baseball in Aroldis Chapman and his 100-plus mph fastball. During the season last year , they traded away the farm – two of their best starting pitchers in Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake.
In the off season they traded fan favorite and Home Run Derby champion Todd Frazier, who was a steady third baseman provided power and was a run producer.
These trades brought a bunch of prospects that the front office hopes will pan out into productive and future starters in the league.
They have tried to unload outfielder Jay Bruce, but those deals apparently fell through. They tried to trade second baseman and Gold Glove winner Brandon Phillips, but he nixed those trades due to his tenure with the club and MLB rules.
Still the Reds have former MVP first baseman Joey Votto, who came back after a serious knee injury to have a productive season in 2015.
They will have those two veterans on the right side of the infield. Hopefully shortstop Zack Cozart can come back from a knee injury. He was having an all-star season in 2015 before blowing out his knee trying to beat out a throw to first base.
Likewise, former all-star catcher Devin Mesoraco hopes to return from hip surgery and get back to the player he was two years ago. However, hip surgery and squatting behind the plate don’t always bode well. He could be moved to another position, but where would they put him? Tucker Barnhart is a capable back-up catcher.
At third base, Eugenio Suarez, who came up to play left field last season, could be an okay person to plus Frazier’s spot at the hot corner. Ivan De Jesus, Adam Duvall and Jose Peraza will be the backup infielders. De Jesus and Duvall can also play in the outfield.
In the outfield the Reds management hopes that speedster Billy Hamilton can improve his on base percentage by getting more base hits and drawing walks. Once he gets on base, he is a threat to steal both second and third and can score a lot of runs. He just has to improve his hitting and up his percentage where his speed will become more valuable.
Bruce will start out in right, unless there is a last minute trade before opening day. He can still hit with power and has a great arm in the outfield. However, he is the most inconsistent player in recent Reds history.
In left field, Duvall could also be used, or rookie Jesse Winker. The Reds will likely platoon at that position, with newcomers Scott Schebler and Jose Peraza, getting playing time. A couple of the youngsters will likely start in the minors to get playing time.
The Reds think they have the makings of a strong rotation with youngsters Anthony DeSclafani, John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan, Jon Moscot and Raisel Iglesias set to hold the fort while Homer Bailey works his way back from Tommy John surgery. Bailey is expected back by May 1st. Of course he has had some bright moments, including a pair of no-hitters. Robert Stephenson, a pitcher the Reds thought would be a future star, will start in Triple A Louisville and the coaching staff hopes he can move up later in the season.
The front office recently signed former Cincy pitcher Alfredo Simon as a free agent. They had traded him to the Tigers in 2014 for Suarez and now the Reds will have both players. So that is a trade that did work out. Simon had a great season back in 2014 before being traded. He will likely make the 5-man rotation.
Prospects Michael Lorenzen and Robert Stephenson were expected to get looks in spring training. Tony Cingrani, Jumbo Diaz and J.J. Hoover will anchor the bullpen. Hoover is the projected closer to replace Chapman. This is one area that many fans are worried about.
Manager Bryan Price kept his job for at least one more year. The former pitching coach did have a tough way to go last season with injuries and then the wholesale trades the front office made after the all-star break.
Still, if the young arms can come through and the bullpen can hold its own,with the veterans like Votto, Phillips and the others – the Reds could surprise many fans and baseball experts and at least move out of the cellar of the NL Central.
Those are the buoyant hopes of a longtime Reds fan that grew up cheering for the Big Red Machine.
It could be another long season, but baseball fans like myself who are eternal optimists plan to continue to root for Cincinnati and have faith that this rebuilding of the roster, sprinkled with some good veterans, will provide more wins than most expect.
(Kyle Lovern is the Editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at [email protected] or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2277 or on Twitter @KyleLovern)