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MLB Opening Day 2016: Reds Reboot is in full swing

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Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Look, this season will not be pretty. The Reds have told us exactly that in no uncertain terms. We are a good year-and-a-half into the Reboot, which I consider to be right about the midpoint, I guess. If you haven’t really been paying attention (and considering the team’s performance the last two seasons, one can hardly blame you), the Reds looks considerably different now than the 2013 team that won 90 games and the second Wild Card. This team will not win 90 games, and some even think they have a decent chance at fewer than 60.

Of course, they will still be playing baseball. And if you are the kind of person that reads season preview articles on lousy backwater weblogs, you probably like watching baseball. Even crumby baseball. So there will be plenty of interesting things to captivate your attention this summer, even if a pennant chase isn’t one of them.

Lineup

The starting lineup isn’t quite set in stone yet, but it will likely look something like this:

Billy Hamilton CF

Eugenio Suarez 3B

Joey Votto 1B
Brandon Phillips 2B

Jay Bruce RF

Devin Mesoraco C

Adam Duvall LF

Zack Cozart SS

Billy is coming off a bad year. Actually, the word "bad" is a bad word to describe just how bad Billy was. He slashed .226/.274/.289 in just 114 games. His season was cut short by a shoulder injury that required surgery.

The bright spots are really, really bright, though. The tales of Billy’s speed are murmured in reverent tones. He stole 57 bases and was caught only eight times. He is also one of the top defensive outfielders in the game. If he can start hitting at even a below-average rate to go with his elite baserunning and defense, he will be one of the best outfielders in baseball.

Eugenio Suarez is ready to become one of your favorite Reds. He came to the Reds from the Tigers in one of the first deals of the Reboot Era, the Dec 2014 deal involving Alfredo Simon. He stepped in at shortstop last season when Zack Cozart’s knee collapsed like a telescope and acquitted himself very well. He slashed .280/.315/.446 in 97 games. He was XBH machine, though his walk rate was kinda paltry. He’ll slide over to 3B now that Zack Cozart is (hopefully) healthy and Todd Frazier is with the White Sox.

Little more can be said about Joey Votto here that has not been said already. He reaffirmed himself as one of the best hitters in baseball last year, finishing third in MVP voting. Given how he compares to the rest of this lineup, it’s possible he could walk 200 times. I think that’d be cool.

Brandon Phillips is still a Red. This is both good and bad. It’s good because he is still, surprisingly, a very good second baseman. Surprising because he will be 35 this year and I’ve been anticipating his demise for years now. His athleticism in the field still makes him one of the best keystone defenders going and his change of approach at the plate has helped him stay legit. He has sacrificed power for contact and become a straight-up singles hitter (his 33 XBHs last season are the fewest of his career). So, of course, he will hit clean up.

It is bad though because the Reds are really keen to get rid of him. Their biggest move of the Reboot this past winter was to trade Todd Frazier for prospect Jose Peraza (and others). Peraza is basically Billy Hamilton with better contact skills and not as much speed. He is an up-the-middle defender that could flash a Gold Glove at 2B. The Reds were hoping he would slot right in there once Phillips was traded, but it didn’t happen that way. Phillips invoked his no-trade protection twice (to the Nationals and then to the Diamondbacks) this winter to stay in Cincy. Which is cool, I guess, because he really likes it here and he’s a nice guy and well-liked by the fans. But it does gum up the Reboot, and not just a little bit.

Oh, Jay Bruce. I dunno, man. In 2012 and ’13 he finished 10th in MVP voting. He had established himself as one of the best outfielders in the National League. Then he busted his knee and came back on it too quickly.

At least, we have to hope that was the actual cause of his miserable 2014 and ’15. They tried trading him more than a few times this winter as well, by the way. The most notable was a three-way deal with the Blue Jays and Angels that fell through. Which, honestly, I think is for the best. I have to believe that Jay, who will be turning just 29 in a few days, isn’t finished.

Speaking of injuries and uncertainty, Devin Mesoraco. Der Golem lost basically the entire 2015 season due to a hip injury (and some mystifying mismanagement thereof by the Reds). You may remember that his 2014 was the brightest of bright spots for a losing team, so here’s hoping he regains that form.

"Who the hell is Adam Duvall?" the internet asks. He came to the Reds at the deadline this past summer from the Giants in the Mike Leake deal. You might be forgiven if you confuse him with another Adam Du of Reds’ yore. He is a lumberer in all senses of the word. He has a good bit of power in his righty swing, but he also moves around the outfield like a Buick in a mall parking lot. Don’t be surprised if lefty hitters like Jake Cave or Scott Schebler also see time here.
Zack Cozart looks to regain his form after a brutal knee injury killed his season last year. He was hitting pretty well through the first two months and the Reds were likely looking to trade him at the deadline, so that injury was about as poorly timed as injuries get.

Fortunately, so far this spring it looks like he hasn’t really lost a step. He’s 30 now, so he probably isn’t part of the Reds’ future. And with the middle infield depth the Reds have on the farm, it’s probably only a matter of time before Zack Cozart is no longer a Red. He is a glovemerlin though, so you probably wanna try to catch a bit of that before he’s gone.

Overall, this lineup probably won’t score a ton of runs. I can really only confidently project one above-average hitter in the whole lot. So yeah, I’m kinda rooting hard for Joey to walk 200 times for real.

Rotation

The rotation is where most of the really exciting stuff is probably gonna happen this year. Stalwarts like Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and Mat Latos are long gone and in their stead the Reds have amassed a million hungry young arms. Here’s how it projects to look on Opening Day:

Anthony DeSclafani
Rasiel Iglesias

Brandon Finnegan

Alfredo Simon

Tim Melville

Anthony DeSclafani will most likely be the starting pitcher on Opening Day. He is not Johnny Cueto and he is not Aaron Harang, who have combined to start every Reds OD since 2006 (except for one).
Don’t sleep on him, though. Kid is legit. He profiles a lot like Aaron Harang, actually, mixing a steady fastball with good breaking stuff to get a fair number of strikeouts without a lot of walks. He is the de facto ace right now, but if he takes another step he could be a legit ace.

Same goes for Iglesias. He struck out over 30% of the hitters he faced after the All-Star break last year, which is like real good and stuff. He has four quality pitches and just as many arm slots, so he can confuse the hell out of a lineup when he’s on. If he can reduce the number of mistake pitches he makes (he gave up 11 home runs in just under 100 innings last season), he could be a legit ace.

Brandon Finnegan was the headline piece coming to Cincy in the Johnny Cueto trade last July. The Royals spent their first-round pick on him in ’14 and he is the only person in history to play in both the College World Series and the actual World Series in the same season. He has #2 upside, but look for him to settle into the middle of the rotation this season. If that doesn’t work out, the worst he could do is become a shutdown relief pitcher.

Alfredo Simon? Whuh? Yeah, the Reds kinda needed a veteran arm to eat up innings so they called him. I mean, whatever. He will make only $2 million, so financially it isn’t a big deal. But, yeah. Whatever.

Tim Melville is the kind of filler material cartoons use to populate the background.

It is worth mentioning that the Reds could probably put together a decent rotation with the guys that will begin the season on the DL. Homer Bailey (you remember him!) is reportedly recovering really well from his Tommy John surgery and will probably get back to the action in May or June. Michael Lorenzen was pretty awful last season, but he was clearly rushed to the bigs. His stuff and skill are really good and he has the potential to be a rotation cog. If not, his arm could play well in the ‘pen. John Lamb had off-season back surgery but he should be ready relatively soon. He is a lefty that gets a lot of strikeouts and has three or even four good pitches. I like him a lot. Jon Moscot doesn’t have much of a ceiling, but I’ll mention him here, too.

All in all, this group of young pitchers the Reds have assembled has a ton of interesting potential. If this Reboot is going to go as the Reds want it to, this group is going to have to produce.

Bullpen

As always when we talk about bullpens, let’s start at the back and work our way forward. J.J. Hoover will get the first chance to close out games, after spending the last two season in a setup role behind Aroldis Chapman. The 28-year-old had a great year in 2015 and has the stuff to close games out, but has had confidence issues in his few years in the big leagues that could show themselves in higher leverage situations.

Behind Hoover will be Tony Cingrani and Jumbo Diaz, both waiting in the wings if Hoover can’t handle the closer role. Cingrani is a converted starter with high-90s stuff out of the bullpen, and Diaz is a longtime minor league closer who has stuck with the Reds bullpen after debuting at age 30.

Also in the mix will be veteran Ross Ohlendorf, who joins the Reds on a 1-year deal. Ohlendorf spent spring with the Royals but didn’t stick, and will add a reliever with some major league innings under his belt to a relatively inexperienced bullpen.

After the main four guys, the Reds bullpen thins quickly. We’ll likely see former starter Keyvius Sampson in a long relief role, former 7th round pick Pedro Villarreal, and former Yankee Caleb Cotham, who the Reds got in the Chapman deal. They’ll have a Rule 5 pick in lefty Chris O’Grady, who greatly struggled this spring, and even with a week to go in camp, there are still plenty of names in contention for that last bullpen spot.

Minor leagues

The 2015 season saw the Reds do some very big things with trades, draft, and well mostly trades.  There was a huge influx of talent that has allowed the Reds to boast some of the best, young arms in the game.  So many it is almost hard to count, though I did.  Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, Amir Garrett, Keury Mella, Rookie Davis, and Nick Travieso are all exciting heads that many teams would like to hang their hats on.  This is also without talking about guys like Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, and Brandon Finnegan who were taken off the prospect lists due to innings and service time, but are all still very prospecty.  John Lamb and Jon Moscot look, or looked, like two guys that would make the rotation if not slowed by injuries.

Five of the eleven pitchers named above were acquired in trades.  Reed, Finnegan, and Lamb were brought over in the trade with the Royals for Johnny Cueto.  Keury Mella was sent over for Mike Leake from the Giants, and Rookie Davis from the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman.  Another player brought over for Chapman was Caleb Cotham, who has been looking very sharp so far in Spring Training and looks like a good shot to make the bullpen at the age of 28.

When talking about position players who may make the trip to Cincinnati at the end of the month, we need to look no further than the Reds recipients in the Todd Frazier deal, Jose Peraza and Scott Schebler.  Peraza is a highly rated prospect that can play at SS, 2B, or maybe even some CF.  He has amazing bat skills and speed, but doesn’t look to walk much and shows little power.  Schebler, on the other hand, shows tremendous power and willingness for the free pass, but strikes out at an above average rate and has an iffy glove.  These guys are the kind of "top level athletes" the Reds love.  The Reds also added 3B/OF Adam Duvall from the Giants, who has some pop in his bat, but really isn’t a prospect at this point.  Eric Jagielo, 3B/1B, from the Yankees is a former first round pick that should start the season in AAA.  He’s lost his top prospect status, but he has great power and skill at the plate.  If he comes out with a loud start he’s a realistic possibility at 3B come June or July.

This goes without mentioning what could happen with Jesse Winker and Alex Blandino in AAA.  Both are high ceiling players who could be making their impact soon.  Many people see Jesse Winker as the best player in the Reds Minor League system and one of the best advanced bats in all of minor league baseball.   Alex Blandino has been spending time at SS and 2B and also has an advanced bat with decent power.

The Reds not only improved their system by trading veteran players.  They also did very well in the draft.  Tyler Stephenson was taken with the 12th overall pick after being rumored at going #1.  He’s a big, strong, young man with tremendous power potential and skills at the plate.  His bat flip game is off the charts.  It’s just icing on the cake that he looks to be a strong defender behind the plate.  Antonio Santillan was an 18 year old fireballer taken out of Texas.  He looks to be a project, but he can gas it up into the high 90’s.  Tanner Rainey was drafted as a Senior college reliever that also throws very hard.  The Reds look to make him a starter but could be a fast mover through the minors if left in the bullpen.  Other names of note from the draft are SS Blake Trahan, SP Ian Kahaloa, and SP Rock Rucker because he has an awesome name.  There were a lot of awesome names in that draft.

The beautiful thing is the Reds have so many holes on their 25 man roster and an incredibly deep and talented minor league system.  Many of the players we are talking about will be starting at AA, AAA, or have already received a cup of coffee in the majors.  The Reds have the ability to do something crazy with their lineups and the players they want to try out.  The 2016 season will be quite the experiment leading up to the 2017.  What pitchers will pan out?  What hitters will stick?   What other players will be looking toward that horizon, and that we may be drooling over come next offseason?

10 things that will make the Reds interesting to watch in 2016

1. Joey Votto - There may not be a more enigmatic player right now than baseball’s Zen Master in Joey Votto. He silenced many of his doubters with a big year in 2015, and will bring the same cerebral approach to the plate in 2016. Even if the Reds don’t score a lot of runs, Joey Votto will still be marvel to watch.

2. The maturation of Raisel Iglesias - Iglesias was the main bright spot of the Reds’ rotation last year, and will look to add to his early success in 2016. He’ll hope to avoid the sophomore slump as opposing hitters have now seen him a few times to this point, but the Reds will hope he can channel the electric stuff that made him one of the best pitchers in the NL in the second half of 2015. The Reds will carefully monitor his inning counts once again, but Iglesias has the potential to make the Reds must-watch baseball every fifth day.

3. When will Jay Bruce get traded? - It seems like an inevitability at this point that Jay Bruce will be the first Red out as this rebuild continues, and if a prospect hadn’t failed a physical, he’d already be plying his trade north of the border. As of this writing, he’s still the Reds everyday right fielder, but as soon as a contending team needs a lefty bat, his name will likely be the first one mentioned. Will he increase his value and reward the Reds for not being more aggressive, or will the same bug that bit the Reds with their Frazier and Chapman deals strike again and prove that the Reds waited too long?

4. Outfield musical chairs - Going into the season, the Reds still don’t have a true everyday LF, and there are questions about their CF situation as well. Adam Duvall and Billy Hamilton look to be the front-runners there, respectively, but Duvall’s ability to play 3B could allow a few other faces to get some time there. Yorman Rodriguez and Jake Cave both have contractual obligations to make the roster right now, and Tyler Holt and Schebler have had good springs and have earned a look there. That’s not even mentioning the question marks around Billy Hamilton’s bat, which was a low point for the Reds’ lineup in 2015. Bryan Price seems determined to bat Hamilton leadoff, but you can’t steal first base, and another year of a low OBP there could doom the Reds.

5. Who’s going to close? - J.J. Hoover has earned the coveted closer’s role out of spring, but time will tell how long he’ll be able to hold it. He has the stuff and has excelled as Aroldis Chapman’s setup man the past two years, but if he can’t handle high-leverage situations, expect Price to pull the plug quickly. Jumbo Diaz has closed in the minors and could be an option there, but the smart money is on converted starter Tony Cingrani, who has a repertoire that works much better out of the bullpen and with the mentality to match.

6. Jose Peraza - The Reds obviously think pretty highly of Peraza, who was the centerpiece of a failed Chapman trade and a successful Frazier trade, but Brandon Phillips turning down trades to Arizona and Washington leave Peraza without a spot to play every day. That might force him to the minor leagues to start the season, despite him being a big part of the future in Cincinnati. Will they put him there and let him start every day in the same spot? Will they keep him as a utility player and give him time at 2B, SS, and CF?

7. The emergence of even more Reds young starters - The Reds set records last year with the amount of rookies starting consecutive games, and they’ll look to add to that this year with a few more new faces. Rookies Tim Melville and Jon Moscot are the two finalists for the final rotation spot going into the season, but look for the emergence of the Reds’ lefty-righty tandem of Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson to make their debuts in 2016. Both are highly regarded in the top 50 of most prospect lists, but the Reds will likely start both of them in AAA until they’re ready to face big league hitters.

8. Are Zack Cozart and Devin Mesoraco healthy? - Both went down with season-ending injuries last year, and are walking right back into the Reds lineup to start 2016. Both have been good at the plate so far in spring, but both have question marks about their defense to start the year. Mesoraco could barely squat at the end of the last year with his hip impingement, and we could see a lot of Tucker Barnhart early on.

9. Can Eugenio Suarez keep this up? - Nobody turned more heads on the Reds than Suarez did at the plate last year, and he’s going to take over the 3B role that Todd Frazier vacated after last year. If he can hit like he did in 2015, the Reds might not see much of a drop-off in production, but will pitchers start to figure him out?

10. How long of a leash will Bryan Price have? - After the Reds lost almost 100 games last year, there was some chatter the team could make a move at manager at the end of last year. If he can’t turn things around this year, look for those same questions to be asked, even with a vastly different roster.