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The battle for bench spots on the Cincinnati Reds roster

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Who will win a spot in the Opening Day dugout?

Cincinnati Reds v Miami Marlins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Barring injuries or a massive change of strategic direction from the front office of the Cincinnati Reds over the next three weeks, three bench spots appear to still be up for grabs on the team’s Opening Day roster. Devin Mesoraco and his $13 million salary will occupy one of them, of course, as he’ll serve as the backup catcher to Gold Glove winner Tucker Barnhart. Similarly, four outfielders appear to have already cemented their spot on the roster, meaning one of Jesse Winker, Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, or Billy Hamilton will be on the bench as a reserve option on any given day.

Beyond that, though, all that’s certain is that manager Bryan Price would prefer to have a seven-man bullpen. That with a five-man rotation leaves three available spots for the Opening Day 25, and nearly a dozen options to fill those spots with varying degrees of probability - and that presupposes the team doesn’t seek to fill that role from outside their own organization, as they did last year with a last minute waiver claim of Scooter Gennett.

Twelve Cactus League games have shown us very little, but we’re reaching the point where the regulars will begin to get more and more playing time, reducing the opportunities to evaluate the bench options on a day to day basis. That’ll mean cuts, which means it’s high time to take a closer look at who might actually stick around.

5th OF Options

Phillip Ervin

With Ervin, it’s less about whether he’s a capable 5th OF at the moment and more about whether the Reds still think he’s got the chance to be more than that. Their 2013 1st round draftee has the pedigree of a former Top 100 overall prospect and high-value pick, and the idea of him getting everyday playing time in AAA Louisville to continue his development has some merit.

That said, he’ll be 26 years old in July and owns just a .743 career OPS in 2214 career MiLB PA. That doesn’t exactly scream upside. He excelled in a semi 5th OF role late in 2017, also, hitting .259/.317/.448 in 64 PA after being called up to the Reds, getting sparse time in all three OF spots. A capable base stealer, he’d be great in needed spots in late game scenarios for that role, though his ability to be a plus defensive CF is a bit iffy. Still, he’s already on the 40-man roster, which gives him the inside track to win this spot.

Ben Revere

If the idea of Ervin getting everyday PA in AAA is still a priority for the front office, it’s Revere who’ll likely be the beneficiary. While he may have the single most punchless bat in the game today in terms of power, he’s not too far removed from a 2014 season that saw him lead the National League in hits, and he does carry a career .284 average in over 3000 big league PA. He’s also a speed threat with over 200 career steals, meaning he bring situational versatility that’s ideal.

His defensive skills, though, have graded out less than ideal over the years, and at 30 years old in May, odds are they won’t magically get better. That makes the idea of him as a LIDR that much less appealing, though perhaps the Reds view their collective OF defense as good enough to not need that aspect.

Backup SS

Cliff Pennington

There’s nothing truly inspiring about a 33 year old with a career .243/.310/.341 batting line, especially one who’s hit just .224/.291/.306 since 2015. That’s Pennington, though, who’ll be 34 this summer and already has 3 errors to his name in early Cactus League play.

That said, the shortstop position for the Reds right now is as unproven as it’s been in years, with Jose Peraza penciled in there for now despite having played a bad enough offensive and defensive 2B in 2017 to lose that job, too. What Pennington does have is experience, which the Reds lack, and if the front office values that this year as much as they have in recent years, odds are that Pennington will get a shot at riding pine while Peraza shows what he’s got (and while Nick Senzel dodges service time concerns in AAA).

Phil Gosselin

Everything that I just wrote about Cliff Pennington can largely be said about Gosselin, except that Pennington has accomplished about ten times more in his big league career than Gosselin. It’s also vitally important to note that Gosselin, 29, has only started 5 games as a shortstop in his big league career, which makes him 100% the opposite of the concept of veteran with SS experience to help back Jose Peraza.

He’s the longest shot for this spot I’ll include here, in my opinion.

Alex Blandino

Much like Phil Ervin, Blandino carries the pedigree of a former 1st round draft pick, but also has the same issue regarding everyday playing time. After a bounce-back 2017 season that saw him post a .382 OBP between AA-AAA and an impressive 36 doubles in 473 PA, he’s firmly back on the radar as a legitimate contributor for the Reds, and the idea of parking him on the bench most everyday probably isn’t what the Cincinnati front office would prefer.

He, too, will turn 26 years old this year, though not until November. His defensive profile also works against him, as most scouts agree that while he can physically man SS if need be, he’s much better suited as a 2B/3B option. With just 237 PA under his belt at AAA, I’d wager he’ll begin the season in the Louisville infield, but if the Reds opted to go with pure talent on the 25 man roster to open the year, he’d be the pick - especially since he’s already on the 40-man roster. Opening Day won’t likely be in the cards for him, but a 2018 call-up sure seems to be.

Bench bat with decent pop and or defensive versatility and or is out of options with a good enough pedigree that you don’t really want to just lose by trying to pass through wavers but is fighting persistent injury troubles named Dilson Herrera

Dilson Herrera

Gah.

We looked closer at what the heck the Reds could do with Dilson Herrera earlier this year, as the former top prospect is in a bit of a squeeze at the moment. Still just 23 years old, he’s in season three of fighting a balky shoulder, and the recovery program he’s in right now has kept him limited in camp for yet another year.

And now, he’s out of options, meaning if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, they’ll have to pass him through waivers to keep him in the system, and that’s a risk given how good he could still be if healthy.

At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if he opens the year on the DL, if for no other reason than to bide time with him patiently and to hopefully pause placing him on waivers until he can actually show something. If healthy, though, he’d actually be a solid option off the bench, with an impressive when-healthy batting profile, a perfect platoon bat at 2B for lefty Scooter Gennett, and a cromulent baserunning option. But much like with everything ever written about Herrera since he was traded to the Reds for Jay Bruce, who the hell really knows at this point?

Outside chance options with unique skills

Brandon Dixon

Dixon brings huge power potential along with the ability to play all over the corners of the field, though that also comes with holes in his swing, big K potential, and a minor league record that has power and not a whole lot else.

He’s having a massive spring, though, and isn’t the kind of prospect the Reds would be super worried about ‘stunting’ by having him ride pine, which might actually be working in his favor at this point.

Rosell Herrera

Similar to Dixon, Herrera has had his big moments this spring, with homers in back to back games to open Cactus League play and a 3-run triple on Monday. He also carries that defensive versatility, with plenty of experience at SS, 3B, and across the outfield. He was also a Top 100 prospect back in 2014 and is still just 25 years old, which carries merit.

He’s got a lot of names to jump to reach earning a roster spot, though, and is probably exactly the kind of guy the Reds will hope to keep around to start the year in AAA while not occupying a precious roster spot just yet.

Patrick Kivlehan

Kivlehan somehow managed to see time in 115 games with the Reds in 2017, clubbing 9 homers in 204 PA. He lost his roster spot after the season, though, but stuck around on a minor league deal when nobody claimed him. He’s in many ways the prototypical bench guy, as he’s a good athlete who can fill in at literally every position on the field if need be.

He’s not excellent at anything, however, meaning he’s more of a last option than a strategic one. In other years, he’d probably have a better shot here, but fortunately for the Reds - and unfortunate for him, perhaps - there are a wealth of more talented options competing with him who have at least one skill that’s above average.