Just the sound of the surgeries undergone by Joey Votto over the offseason were daunting. Rotator cuff. Torn biceps. Working back to complete health from one, let alone another, as one’s 40th birthday looms is difficult enough to fathom - when that ‘complete health’ then requires you to be honed-in enough to hit 101 mph fastballs, well, ‘complete health’ doesn’t always mean you’re ready to go.
That became evident for Votto as spring camp wound down in Goodyear, Arizona, and whether or not he’d be ready for Opening Day with the Cincinnati Reds was called into question. That question got an answer on Monday, as Votto announced he won’t be with the big league Reds as they host Pittsburgh on Thursday. FOX 19’s Joe Danneman relayed the news.
Joey Votto will not be ready for Opening Day. Decided today to go to minors to finish rehab and will join team when he’s ready. Says he’s just not all the way ready. #Reds pic.twitter.com/faZ9PTBIKe— Joe Danneman (@FOX19Joe) March 27, 2023
Rather, he’ll head straight to AAA Louisville and get reps with many of the top prospects in the team’s system to begin the year, although we learned just yesterday that each of Elly De La Cruz and Christian Encarnacion-Strand would be sidelined for a couple of weeks as they work their way back from respective injuries, too.
It’s that latter point paired with teams across the league trimming their rosters that made me wonder if the Reds would be better served to hit the waiver wire for some help as the season begins. Namely, if bringing in former Milwaukee Brewers 1st round pick (and occasional 1B) Keston Hiura would make sense, seeing as he’s recently been designated for assignment by Milwaukee.
As things stand right now, the Reds don’t need another 1B, as they’ve got Wil Myers and Tyler Stephenson and Curt Casali in-house, with third catcher Luke Maile around and a competitive group of outfielders there to make those rotations possible. Still, with CES out for at least a few weeks and Nick Senzel still not ready, the comps between Senzel and Hiura became a bit inescapable for me.
Former 1st round picks who’ve flashed talent that can play at the big league level but who have underperformed and faced numerous injury setbacks along the way. Right-handed hitters, they both are, even if Hiura owns some pretty incredible reverse platoon splits so far in his career.
Are the Reds, who are still very much looking for pieces for the future as much as they are attempting to put Ws on the big league win/loss ledger, better off giving Hiura a couple of weeks to begin the season in the 1B/DH mix, or better off simply patching that Votto-sized hole with what’s already there, potentially opening up greater playing time in the OF for the likes of Will Benson and TJ Friedl?
Hiura, it should be pointed out with numbers, has struggled since his 84 game breakout sample in 2019 where he posted a 138 OPS+ and slugged 19 homers in that time. Still, he rebounded well enough to post a 115 OPS+ and 14 homers in just 80 big league games last year despite a K% high enough to make Adam Dunn ask questions. That’s a red flag, obviously, and the reason why he got DFA’d today in the first place. That said, it’s not like the Reds have seen extreme K% and run away immediately all the time - Benson, for instance, posted a 39.3% K-rate during his 2021 minor league season, higher than the 33.5% rate posted by Hiura at AAA that same season.
I don’t expect the Reds to make a move here, but it’s worth considering at a base level conceptually, I think. If you’re going to wait on Senzel and give him another chance to prove himself in a season that’s not expected to go anywhere and injuries at the big league level and with your depth have depleted another spot on the diamond, isn’t at least some parallel thinking that giving Hiura some run makes sense? What’s the worst that could happen - he strikes out a bunch for 2-3 weeks and one of Votto or CES healthily takes his place as the Reds 1B?
Anyway, get well soon, Joey. Let’s put all of this firmly to rest in a hurry, that’s the simplest answer.