I don’t always turn anything related to the Cincinnati Reds into a story about Joey Votto, but I damn sure do whenever I see a golden opportunity. This, a deeper dive into how the Reds outfield might shake out in spring training over the coming months, is what I consider a golden opportunity.
While Votto did spend 51 innings in LF back in 2007, that’s not what I’m getting at here. Right now, the Reds and all parties interested are merely concerned with how ready Votto will be for the season after a major surgery to fix his shoulder and biceps, and any delay in him being ready throws a big chunk of the roster - not just 1B - into flux.
That’s mostly because Wil Myers, the biggest piece the Reds imported over the course of their mostly quiet winter, would likely be slated for a mostly full-time role as the team’s RF should the entire rest of the roster, Votto included, be 100% ready to go. That’s where he spent more games than anywhere else during the 2022 season, and he’s started more games in that position in his career than anywhere else. However, second on both his 2022 position playing time list and his career list is 1B, and it’s easy to see he and Tyler Stephenson splitting the duties at 1B and DH if Votto were to miss any time at all.
That caveat would open up a wild west for outfield playing time, as the Reds have very few ‘sure thing’ options on-hand amid a sea of players looking for something, anything akin to a full-time gig. Nick Solak and Stuart Fairchild have been fringe players on several teams in recent years, their options dwindling and their ages ticking in the wrong-end of their 20s. TJ Friedl, meanwhile, has made a habit of being perpetually overlooked despite continuing to show he’s worthy of at least a shot, and this particular blogholio is secretly hoping he’s the surprise of the spring.
Here we are, some 350 words into a look at what the Reds outfield is supposed to look like during this, another rebuilding season, and yet I’ve spent nothing but effort focusing on caveats. Nothing I’ve said yet has served to describe what, in an ideal world, the Cincinnati Reds outfield should look like with the current roster construction. That’d be Wil Myers in RF, the Jake Fraley who smoked the ball during the second half of the 2022 season in LF, and former top prospect and #2 overall draftee Nick Senzel again plying his trade in CF. Here we are, though, with the Myers caveat already spelled out before even getting to Nick Senzel still being [once again] on the recovery road from a significant surgery.
If Senzel is not ready to roll, the CF position becomes the murkiest of the bunch to predict. Each of Fraley, Friedl, Solak, and Fairchild have experience at the position, though none of them have truly stood out defensively there. Friedl, again, would be my first choice to get a crack at it in Senzel’s absence (or, in all honesty, all the time against RHP), but if a) Myers is shifted to 1B in Votto’s absence or b) if the Reds want someone whose defense stands out more at that vital position, the spotlight might well swing to young Mike Siani. While his bat has yet to truly take off, it improved enough in 2022 to earn him a cup of coffee with the Reds, and his defense in CF is second to none within the organization at the moment.
We shouldn’t lose track of potential platoons from within this group, either, especially when you factor in the Reds dismal performance against RHP last season - their collective 80 wRC+ against RHP was 3rd worst in all of baseball - and the banning of shifts that have long decimated left-handed hitting production. Lefties Fraley, Friedl, and Siani mixed-in with righties Myers, Senzel, Fairchild, and Solak gives manager David Bell the chance to mix and match - if, of course, all parties are available.
If everyone everywhere all at once is healthy in Goodyear, I’d venture a guess that the ‘everyday’ outfield would be assembled with Jake Fraley in LF, Nick Senzel in CF, and Wil Myers in RF. That scenario would, in my mind, put TJ Friedl and Stuart Fairchild as the 4th/5th OF options from both sides of the plate, with each versatile enough to cover all three OF spots.
The Senzel and Votto injury issues throw a wrench in these plans, I’m afraid. I’d bet on Votto to be the closest to being 100% by the end of camp, but Senzel’s lingering toe problems scare me just enough to think he’ll end up being slow-played back into the fold. That would then force the decision to be made on whether Siani’s defense (and whatever he shows off in camp) warrants a look as the team’s defense-first CF, or if moving Friedl/Fairchild into a CF platoon and giving Solak the 5th OF spot while Siani marinates further in AAA becomes the team’s recourse.
All of these scenarios assume that the departure of Kyle Farmer to Minnesota means that the team is 100% committed to seeing what Jose Barrero can do regularly at SS, I should add. Though they brought in Kevin Newman shortly after the Farmer deal, it’s worth repeating ad infinitum just how abysmal Newman has been at the plate since the start of the 2020 season. The Reds have experimented with Barrero in the OF mix before, and with their glut of SS options en route to the bigs later in 2023 (or in early 2024), there’s still a wonder whether moving Barrero to the OF is something they’d consider.
It’s not just a single position that’s in flux, it’s an entire position group that’s in flux. It’s enough to make camp that much more interesting once they all descend upon Goodyear, though the hope is that three play well enough to earn the starting spots while there and that injuries don’t dictate the Reds merely taking what’s left with them north for Opening Day.