Thanks to some mercy from the baseball gods, the Cincinnati Reds are not the owners of the worst record in Major League Baseball at the moment. They owned it when they woke up yesterday, mind you, but losses from the Kansas City Royals and Oakland A’s have pushed the Reds back up the ladder, even if the cellar is still very clear within their rear-view mirror.
It’s been tough out there for our Reds, folks. On most days, we don’t even know exactly which Reds we’ll have on the field for our rooting, as they currently have so many folks on the injured list that it’s hard to keep track. It’s been a trend that would have been disturbing in any season, but that it’s been the defining aspect that has followed their epic cost-cutting cull from last winter has hit us all - the baseball world - with a bit of a double whammy.
The thing is, the MLB All Star Game is just over one month away, and the rules dictate that despite the ineptitude of their ownership and the overall daft record that has caused, at least one player from the Reds must be called upon to represent the team on that starry stage.
This morning, I woke up and tried to figure out just who the hell that is going to be.
Tyler Stephenson is the current star of this roster, obviously. He carries the draft and prospect pedigree on which dreams are made, a former 1st round pick and imposing figure behind the plate whose bat has shown up since the moment he made his big league debut. The trade of Tucker Barnhart turned over the reins to him as the team’s catcher of both the present and future, and he immediately became the biggest, baddest force in the middle of the Cincinnati lineup while also owning a hose of a right arm that put the fear of god in opposing baserunners.
Then, he took a foul ball to his right thumb, broke it, and has officially hit the shelf to recover. Said recovery will almost certainly render him out until after the break, and while it wouldn’t be a shock to see him still tabbed as the All Star rep from the Reds despite being obviously unavailable, that he’ll have been out for over a month before the game might well mean the choosers will opt for someone with more of a chance to actually play.
Beyond Stephenson, the most likely rep is Luis Castillo, who has rounded into form after missing the first month of the season with a sore shoulder. The 2019 All Star owns a tidy 3.23 ERA, 3.32 FIP, and 1.12 WHIP, each of which sit well below his already impressive career marks, and while he hasn’t yet seen his strikeout numbers tick up to where they’ve been in seasons past, he’s been limiting both hits and homers at a better clip than ever before instead. His brand name might help him a bit in this regard, as will him getting his injury out of the way early enough to still put up a decent sample size of work before the game - and assuming he keeps up the good work, he’s likely the pick (even though there’s the chance he could be unavailable to pitch in the actual game due to his schedule in the run-up).
The resident dark horse candidate is Brandon Drury, the player currently with the most accrued fWAR on the entire roster per FanGraphs so far this year (1.5). I distinctly remember him being the final player listed on the MLB Trade Rumors free agent tracker back in mid-March who had neither retired nor signed anywhere and was listed on the shortstop page, and the Reds only brought him in on a minor-league deal once the news of Jose Barrero’s busted hamate came to light. Even then, it took Jonathan India and Donovan Solano both apparently suffering the same caliber of worst hamstring pull ever, Mike Moustakas’ inevitable sidelineing, and Max Schrock’s injury to even give Drury a path to any sort of playing time, and he’s admittedly taken that ball and run with it. His 11 homers and 125 OPS+ both pace the entire Reds roster still, and while it would likely take an even more impressive next four weeks for him to work his way onto the All Star roster amid so many other star-caliber 3B names, he’s at least worked his way into this piece on the back of his very, very good play so far in 2022.
Joey Votto. I feel like if there’s any player on the Reds (or in baseball in general these days) whose name can successfully encompass an entire appropriate sentence structure, it’s Votto. Somehow, it’s been since the 2018 season since Votto made an All Star Game, and there’s sure not much about a 97 OPS+ from a defensively limited 38 year old 1B that screams All Star...for now. His miserable April will be very hard to bury, but Votto sure as hell has been trying to do so quickly since returning from the COVID IL - he’s the owner of a 1.051 OPS in 22 games since returning with per-162 rates of 37 homers and 140 ribbies in that time - and another couple weeks of that kind of elite performance could well see him sneak onto the roster. That he had such a resurgent second half of the 2021 season also helped remind a lot of folks that he was still around and still capable of mashing, and perhaps that spotlight will swing his way more than it otherwise would.
That’s the realistic list, to me, with Castillo the clear frontrunner at the moment. This is me discounting the stellar first few outings by Graham Ashcraft, I’ll admit, and the recency bias of the way he struggled on Sunday in St. Louis sinking in. I’m still quite high on him, but I don’t think he’ll have enough of a chance to kick his way into the national spotlight between now and selection time. That’s something that I don’t think necessarily applies to Hunter Greene, however, and I do suppose there’s a chance he and his 103 mph heater can dazzle their way through enough opposing lineups in the next 4-5 starts to give him a chance to make the ASG, though I’ll give that a very outside shot. India could shock the world once he returns this week, too, and if he plays the way he did down the stretch to win the 2021 NL Rookie of the Year award he could well work his way into consideration, but with so much of the season on the sidelines I question just how much of that he’ll actually warrant.
Hey! These are some actually decent baseball players we’re talking about here! It’s the kind of group that makes you think two things - a) it would be really cool if these guys were all healthy and playing at the same time, and b) this is precisely the kind of young, exciting core around which you’d hope an owner would spend a little money to build around! Joey Votto.