If you entered the 2015 MLB season with sky-high aspirations in mind for the Cincinnati Reds, you were a bit delusional then and a lot depressed now. At 54-77, the Reds sit dead last in the NL Central standings, officially eliminated from winning the division as they sit an ugly 31.5 games behind the evil division-leading St. Louis Cardinals. On top of that, they're stuck behind the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs, both of whom are en route to 90 win seasons, a playoff clash, and have a bevy of young players under team control that look to be forces for years to come.
Gone are Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon, and Marlon Byrd. Last year's 1st round draft pick, Nick Howard, fell flat on his noggin with a 6.63 ERA, 2.21 WHIP (really, look it up), and 0.62 K/BB (no, not BB/K) in A-ball. Unfortunately, 2013 1st rounder Phillip Ervin hasn't fared much better, as he's followed up a disappointing .680 OPS from 2014 with just a .726 mark so far this year. The big league club has stunk, many of the big league stars have been moved (or nearly moved), and the last two 1st round picks the team has taken don't look like they'll be much help any time soon, if ever.
Here's a handkerchief. I know it's pretty dusty in here.
Despite all of that, there have still been several truly bright spots in 2015 that the Reds can lean on as they wade through the dark days of their
rebuild reboot. Here's a look at five of those.
Eugenio Suarez looks like a steal
When the Reds plucked Suarez from the Detroit Tigers for Simon this off-season, it immediately seemed like a great return for one year of a pitcher with peripherals as awful as Jeff Loria's management skills. Given how few talented hitting prospects have changed hands among any teams in trades since that move, it seems like even more of a coup now, as all of baseball is hoarding their top bats in this age of pitching dominance.
So even if all we had to look at today was Suarez's .256/.348/.438 line from AAA, having a 24 year old SS who could post that would be enough to make us giddy.
But that's not where Suarez topped out, since he was forced to step in for the injured Zack Cozart at the big league level mid-year, and he's hit like he belonged ever since. Yes, his glove needs a bit of refining, and yes, it'd be nice if he walked a bit more, but he has flashed the kind of pop that his reputation described, and he's got a .280/.314/.467 line to show for it. He's on a full-season 25 dinger pace, and while Cozart's knee should be mostly ready by the start of 2016, Suarez has certainly shown he deserves regular time in the majors going forward.
Brandon Phillips has bucked the aging curve
When BP agreed to be slapped in the face with $72.5 million at the start of the 2012 season, most of us grumbled hearty grumbles. At that point, he was two months from his 31st birthday, and the graveyard of middle-infielders whose production falls off a cliff in their mid 30's instead of declining gracefully is a who's who of those who have played the position (Edgardo Alfonzo, Orlando Hudson, Carlos Baerga, and Jose Vidro, to name just a few). Unfortunately, his 2012 and 2013 seasons didn't leave a ton of optimism for 2015, since he failed to top 2.0 bWAR in either year and battled nagging injuries often associated with getting older.
In 2015, though, he's been a marvel, one that's not only worth his contract, but one who's having a year that helps make up for the last two years, as well. He's hitting .285/.322/.385, has already stolen 20 bases, is still playing Gold Glove caliber defense at the keystone, and with over 30 games left in the season, he's already been worth 2.9 bWAR. Even FanGraphs agrees, as he's been as or more valuable to date than peers Kolten Wong, Ben Zobrist, Neil Walker, Howie Kendrick, and Robinson Cano, and only Ian Kinsler has been more valuable among the 29 MLB players 30 or older who have had at least one PA as a 2B this year.
No, he's not getting any younger, and yes, his power has mostly evaporated, but that's still a quite valuable player who's been well worth his $12 million salary this year.
2016 Draft Position
Chris Buckley's had a pretty solid run of top draft picks since he joined the Reds as Senior Scouting Director in 2006, but he's never had a pick higher than 7th overall thanks to the recent success the club's had in the MLB standings.
Of course, that's not going to be an issue next year.
The Reds are toiling, er, climbing their way to the top of the 2016 Draft, and Buckley & Co. may finally have a chance to nab one of the top overall talents without hoping they'll fall in their lap. Most projections show pitchers flooding the top of the prospect rankings, so we'll get to see if they can pluck the team's next ace.
The last time the Reds had a Top 3 pick, they stumbled into Chris Gruler, who they drafted in the same first round that saw Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Cole Hamels, and Matt Cain go off the board after him. That was pre-Buckley, however, so here's to not seeing that disaster happen again.
He entered Wednesday's start against the Chicago Cubs with a 9.7 K/9, 3.78 K/BB, and 1.12 WHIP, and he's still just 25 years old. He throws from as many arm angles as Bronson Arroyo, but he can still dial his fastball up to 96 mph when needed. In the 9 starts prior to Wednesday since returning to the big leagues after an oblique injury, he'd struck out 62 batters in 55.2 IP, posted a 3.40 ERA, and allowed batters to hit just .199 off of him.
And, he did this:
He may not be the 2016 Opening Day starter due to innings issues, perceived pecking order, or whatnot, but he's undoubtedly the most talented of the army of rookie pitchers the Reds have rolled out so far this year. He's an ace in the making.
The Return of the Joey Votto
A .581 OBP after the All Star Break, a .315/.458/.563 line with 26 dingers and a league-leading 116 walks, and the kind of swagger that a former MVP playing at his best should possess later, and the Joey Votto we missed out on seeing healthy during the 2014 season is a thing of the past. He's 31, but looks as if he's got a ton of gas left in the tank, and that gives optimism to everyone hoping he'll be the anchor in the evolving, rebooting Reds lineup going forward.
He can tell you those things better than I can, though.