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10 reasons to start the Reds’ season optimistic

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How many games will the Reds win?

That’s not a question I can put a number on with any confidence. And I haven’t talked to anyone who is willing to say with any ease what that number will be.

Why are we so non-committal?

Well, my head can’t commit to a number above 79. My heart wants to say something in the 80s. Most Reds fans, it seems, are having the same head-heart tug-of-war.

We know what the worst-case scenarios are that would produce a similar season to the past two. Just list the pitfalls of last summer.

But who wants to be negative now? Maybe you do. That’s your choice.

If there’s a time to be optimistic, it’s now. This team can be in the wild-card hunt when August arrives. Admit it. You want reasons to believe that could happen. You don’t want to be negative on opening day.

If you are feeling low (and even if you’re not), let’s focus on what could spark hope.

In not particular order, here are 10 things, that if they happen in any degree of abundance, might mean the Reds get to August with something to play for.

  1. Figure out lead off

This position has changed as the game has changed to one dominated by power hitters and power pitchers. The argument is that speed isn’t required at the top. No argument there. Get on base.

But when someone with Billy Hamilton’s speed comes along, there’s not a manager who wouldn’t try to make him a lead-off hitter. In today’s game, speed is a bonus. And it’s smart to at least try to take advantage of that bonus.

But if Billy can’t play at least close to league average on-base percentage, then he should bat at the bottom of the order.

Jesse Winker gets on base. Eugenio Suarez gets on base. Joey Votto gets on base better than anyone. What’s the answer? Winker is a popular choice, but we don’t know how much he will play.

Solving this riddle will reduce a lot of anxiety.

  1. At least 3 starters stay healthy and dependable all season

That’s not an unreasonable expectation. It happens all the time.

But I know what you’re thinking … last year, 16 different starters and not a full season out of any of them. It can’t happen again.

Think about it. Three starters healthy all year from the group of Bailey, Castillo, Romano, Mahle, Finnegan and Garrett will bring some stability and produce more victories.

  1. Fewer starting pitchers than last year

Even with three healthy and dependable starters, those last two spots could be a revolving door. That doesn’t mean the Reds can only contend if the number is six or seven.

The Astros won the World Series with 11 different starters. Yes, most were far more experienced than what the Reds have, but don’t freak out because a couple of guys miss a few starts. But if a lot of guys miss a lot of starts, freak out all you want.

  1. At least two more position players get multi-year deals after season

Even if you are not a fan of long-term contracts, signing players to them usually means you have talent.

Votto and Suarez are it for now. Mostly that’s because most of the players aren’t to the point where the Reds have to make that decision.

But if this season sees two players produce enough for the Reds to make that commitment, that can only be a good thing.

  1. Joey Votto isn’t the only Red in top 10 for MVP voting

The last Reds other than Votto to get MVP votes were Johnny Cueto and Devin Mesoraco in 2014. So even one MVP vote would be a good sign.

And it doesn’t matter who gets it.

  1. Bench production improves

A few years from now (if it even takes that long), we won’t remember names like Kivlehan and Alcantara. The Reds need some bench guys with staying power.

The four-man outfield rotation will help. And Mesoraco showed signs this spring of swinging a bat the way he used to. Not to be negative, but I’m not digging Cliff Pennington and Phil Gosselin.

Phillip Ervin is a good choice. I would rather see some prospects getting a chance and learning what the big leagues are about than guys we know will never develop beyond what they already are. If this is a rebuild, keep Brandon Dixon and Alex Blandino.

  1. Bullpen doesn’t melt down

That can’t happen like the past two years, can it? The starting rotation needs their support for 162 games.

That does work both ways. The bullpen needs the rotation to increase its number of quality starts.

  1. Winker a rookie of the year candidate

Now wouldn’t that circumstance answer a lot of questions. He has been like the backup quarterback everybody wants to see get a chance when the starter isn’t performing at a high level.

Is Winker ready for Price to give him that chance? No doubt about it.

  1. Duvall has a good second half

Is it the diabetes that wears him down? Is it the pitchers figuring him out all over again? Maybe more days off with Winker in the mix will help.

If Duvall can put two halves together, then you have your second Red in the top 10 in MVP voting. Then you’re looking at numbers like 40 homers, 40 doubles, 120 RBIs, a .265 batting average and an OPS well over .800.

Those are big ifs, but not impossible.

  1. Reds still can’t find a full-time spot for Nick Senzel

That would mean Jose Peraza, Scooter Gennett and the corner outfielders are playing well. And that means more victories.

Senzel will get some big-league time for sure, but it could be next year before he takes over a position full time. Gennett is probably gone after this year, and a season at second base might be the best thing for Senzel.

Certainly there are more candidates for this list. Use it to feel optimistic for at least the next month.

That’s my plan.

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Cincinnati Reds

How a Shortened Season can Help and Hurt the Reds

step back and attempt to look at the way the Reds can benefit from a possible shortened season and how it could hurt them.

Clay Snowden

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The world is in an obscure and unsure place. Today we were supposed to be watching a parade and cheering on the Redlegs. Instead, we are confused about the future of the 2020 season as we watch the 7th straight episode of a Netflix series, perfecting social distancing. How the 2020 season will be played has yet to be determined. I want to take a step back and attempt to look at the way the Reds can benefit from a possible shortened season and how it could hurt them.

Each day that passes without baseball is a day closer to a season without 162 games. For the sake of argument, let’s say the season is somewhere between 75-100 games. What ways can that benefit the Reds?

1. They can get healthy. Suarez, Senzel, and Galvis (amongst others) have battled some spring injuries. Extra time off only helps their recovery and could lead to a 100% healthy “Opening Day” lineup. Although Galvis is not a top ten talent at short, he is much better than the current back up options. Luckily, he should be ready to go and 100%.

2. The rotation can be a great strength. We all know how strong the current rotation is. The Reds could adjust the strategy because you won’t be worried about getting starters 32 starts and 200ish innings. With a compact season, you could let starters go deeper in games, or even go to a shorter rotation because you won’t be trying to strength out the innings over several months. Bauer and Disco are both on contract years and will be laser-focused on making the most of their fewer starts to prove their value come next offseason. If the league goes heavy on doubleheaders, Mahle and a few others could step up into the expanded rotation and stronger than many team’s depth starters.

3. How a shorten season benefits Votto? As Joey ages, he will need more days off, especially if the decline is steady. If Joey does not have to prepare himself for 162 games, it could lead to better results as he would be fresher. We all know he can get off to slow starts and avoiding that would be crucial in a shortened season.

How can the shortened season hurt the Reds?

1. David Bell is still a new manager. Fresh, unproven, inexperienced. At times in 2019, he cost the Reds some games. There is little to no margin for error in a short season. Each game means more and the lineup experimenting with playing players out of position won’t fly. Managerial experience will be extremely important in 2020 and hopefully Bell has improved after year one.

2. Lack of important experience for prospects. Tyler Stephenson, Jose Garcia, Jonathan India, and many other prospects are missing out on developmental time. This one really stings. A couple of the Reds top prospects are projected to be on the 2021 roster but needed some time in higher levels of the minors to learn and iron out a few things. You can train and work with coaches during this time, but the actual game experience cannot be overlooked.

3. Pressure. Obviously, every game counts each season. But a shortened season stresses the importance of each game. The Reds cannot afford to go on a losing streak as they did at the beginning of 2019. The expectations for 2020 remain high, and the pressure to perform is building. The adjustment to the MLB for Shogo must happen fast. Senzel has to stay healthy. The margin of error shrinks and pressure goes up. Iglesias cannot struggle to close out games or he’ll be replaced.

The 2020 season won’t be ideal. No one wants it to be this way. Watching 162 games a year is a joy and I will miss the routine of watching the Reds every night. Let’s hope this shortened season feels and plays like a playoff series where every aspect of the game is emphasized and more important. Here’s to everyone staying safe and healthy, and the Reds winning the pennant.

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Cincinnati Reds

March Mailbag

Take a look at a few thoughts before we get this 2020 season underway!

Clay Snowden

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© Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

What is this team’s greatest weakness and how do they go about addressing it? (@GeraldSHuber)

To me, it has to be defense. (Here’s an article I wrote about it: https://bit.ly/2wft1Bs ). Tucker and Casali are fine but not spectacular, Votto is mediocre, Moose is an unknown, and the outfield defense leaves you wanting more. Galvis is great at short, but many others could be troublesome. If defense is your greatest weakness, you probably have a pretty good team.

How many years until we see Jose Garcia? (@smoffe87)

Everyone’s new favorite prospect, and he should be. The future is bright. Garcia has yet to reach AA, where he’ll likely start this season. In high A Daytona he hit .280/.343/.436 with 8 HR and 37 (!) doubles. No need to rush the 21-year-old, but he likely is the SS in 2021 if all goes according to plan. The lack of depth at SS could rush him if injuries happen or he hits the cover off the ball.

Who will lead off? What do they do with Schebler, Reed, Mahle, and other players without options? (@StachlerJames)

Shogo Akiyama should see time as the leadoff. A career .376 OBP who has been closer to .400 in recent years (NPB league) has a chance to be a real difference maker.

Schebler, I think, will end up being traded or DFA. Reed has a tough first start, but its early and he looked great in limited time last season. Another lefty in the pen not named Peralta or Duke is welcomed. Mahle has an option and likely is headed to Louisville to get regular starts. The Reds will likely need him to start at some point during the season. Sims likely earns a pen spot, Travis Jankowski could be the final spot if injuries occur. His speed and defense are useful.

Is Senzel going to be a utility player or end up getting traded? (@GerryYnciarte65)

Being a super utility is not a bad thing. Ben Zobrist was a hell of a player in that role. However, I think Senzel will be seeing plenty of time in CF splitting with Akiyama. His bat is too good to be a true bench player. I don’t think he will be traded. It feels like he would have already been moved if that was the plan.

 

If Tucker or Casali get hurt do they let Farmer catch or Stephenson? (@OdeToRedsWS)

Catcher organizational depth is lacking. Stephenson could be the option if he is hitting well in AAA Louisville. I think we see him at some point this season. Only other catcher in the organization with MLB experience besides Casali and Tucker is Francisco Pena (190 AB .216/.249/.311). His stats are underwhelming at the plate but he’s a veteran and that carries value. Sadly, I doubt we see former Red great Ryan Lavarnway in 2020. Add Garcia and Stephenson to this lineup in 2021 and that team is very strong.

 

Over/Under….When do the Reds give up on the mix-n-match platoon ideas and have a regular lineup? Line is May 31st. (MTGPackFoils)  

The days of the “same lineup everyday” are gone. And they should be. Putting out the same lineup doesn’t always mean the results will follow. Some players hit lefties but not righties and some hit righties and not lefties. Play the best players for each situation. Platooning can lead to the best results at times. So OVER. (More on that here: https://bit.ly/38cbCXD)

 

What are your thoughts on Shogo playing mostly center or left, if Senzel is healthy? (@Win1SuperBowl)

As it stands today, the outfield is crowded. It will play itself out. Akiyama can play all three OF positions and I could see him getting at-bats in the corner OF when Senzel is in CF. There’s true competition for at-bats this season and that’s absolutely a good thing. Players will have to earn their playing time.

Who is the backup SS? (@GebzillaG)

Kyle Famer. He ‘s such a unique player who can play all over the field. He was a college SS and has worked their early this spring. Across all levels he’s seen 76 innings at SS and hasn’t recorded and error. Blandino could also be the back up SS. Blandino has 60.2 innings at short in the MLB and is a .941 fielder there. 1692 innings at short in the minors with a .951 fielding %.

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Cincinnati Reds

Life after Votto: The Future at First

Who will man first base in a few years?

Clay Snowden

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© Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Spring training is a time for roster debate. Constructing Opening Day rosters and batting orders is always a fun topic on #RedsTwitter. Since 2008, one name you can write in with Sharpie has been Votto, 1B. The MVP and 6-time all-star has earned that right due to his elite hitting and plate discipline. Entering his 14th season at age 36 many start to wonder….who’s next at first? Signed through 2023 with a 2024 team option with plenty of money attached, it appears Joey will retire as a Red. Finding his eventual replacement might be harder than it looks.

Since 2015, 3 names that are still in the organization have appeared on MLB.com top 30 list.

Ibandel Isabel #30 (2019) – Acquired from the Dodgers, Isabel brought legit power to the organization. In 2018 he hit a combined 36 home runs tied for the most of any minor leaguer. Like many power hitters, he struck out a ton, 161 times to be exact. 2019 he smashed 26 home runs with 153 strikeouts and an underwhelming .307 OBP. Each of the past two seasons he has hit more than twice as many home runs than doubles. Raw power is great, but he does not stand out in other aspects and likely is a one trick pony.

Bren Spillane #25 (2018) – 3rd rounder in 2018, Spillane spent 2019 in Dayton. .207/.302/.324 with 10 2B and 5 home runs to go along with 104 strikeouts. He did see some time at 3B and corner OF but will need to cut down on strikeouts and show his power potential to have any shot at seeing time at the MLB level.

Gavin LaValley #20 (2017) – LaValley spent 2019 in AA Chattanooga where he slashed .254/.339/.396 with 22 2B 10 home runs and struck out 111 times and walked 47 times. He saw more time at third but made 13 errors there. The 25-year-old former 4th round pick is not exactly an exciting option moving forward.

Other names that saw some time at first in the system: Samir Duenez (.211/.270/.314 in AA) Bruce Yari (.255/.330/.347 A Daytona) Cameron Warren (.257/.333/.353 A Dayton) are 20 plus round picks and minor league free agents who have a long way to go. The Reds signed Cuban 1B/3B Michael Triana last February and he is somewhat of an unknown and is still very young.

So…. where do the Reds go from here? Well if the DH comes to the NL, Votto could play DH and Moustakas could move over to first as he ages out of 2B. VanMeter can play first but I doubt he is the future there. Two prospects that haven’t played first but could make the change are Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson.

Players moving from their primary position to first base is nothing new. Many poor fielders or older players take this route. Currently, India is blocked at third and second. He’s logged 65 innings at SS, but moving to first is much easier than short. If not traded, a position change is needed. Corner outfield is possible but moving to first shouldn’t be ruled out.

Tyler Stephenson is a hell of a prospect. Now, let’s be clear…I think he will have years behind the plate in a Reds uniform. However, moving to first in the future could be possible. Stephenson stands at 6-4 and there simply aren’t a lot of 6-4 catchers. Of the 114 MLB players to log innings at catcher, 7 (6%) were 6-4 or taller with only 1 (Grayson Greiner 6-6) being taller than 6-4. While Stephenson has improved behind the plate, his bat is how he’s earned his name on prospect list. The most important thing is to find a way to get his bat in the lineup. Catching is a defense first focus for most MLB teams (example: Jeff Mathis) so making the transition to first is not out of question.

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